I watched all 32 minutes of Richard Spencer’s infamous NPI speech on YouTube — a masochistic but necessary chore that gave me a fuller understanding of the man who got punched by an inauguration protester last Friday. I watched it because fighting the alt-right means understanding where they’re coming from so we know what thought processes to dismantle.
I broke from my liberal newsfeeds that burst with anti-Trump, anti-Republican and pro-diversity shares. I journeyed to the other side. It’s lovely to hear and see liberal values uplifted in media, but they leave me with an erroneous and incomplete perception of a big portion of American society.
How many of us get comfortable calling someone a neo-Nazi or white supremacist just because a liberal news source told us that’s what they were? How many of us avoid understanding the alt-right movement altogether to spare ourselves ignorance-induced headaches?
When I saw the Richard Spencer video titled Neo-Nazi Gets Punched in the Face by Protester, I was immediately ready to celebrate, never having heard the man speak. I knew nothing about him or his views. I only knew what he’d been called. I wanted the truth, so I watched the speech.
Here are some of Spencer’s quotes that got the most raucous applause from the NPI audience:
“America is a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us.”
“Affirmative action is state-sponsored discrimination against whites.”
“The left has become a movement of anti-white hatred with no goals or real aspirations. We have nothing in common with these people.”
“[White people] don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us and not the other way around.”
Wait. What you talkin’ bout, Spence? Was the American economy not built on slave labor? Did Rock and Roll not derive from Rhythm and Blues? Did you not, five minutes ago, refer to liberals as “basic bitches”, thereby using a term coined by black American comedian Lil Duval? Is there some alt-history I should know about?
Spencer finished his speech by shouting, “Heil Trump! Heil our people! Heil victory!”
I went back and watched the video of him getting punched in the face. It was better the second time.
Richard Spencer denies being a neo-Nazi. He denies bearing any thought processes similar to those of Klansmen. He denies this, despite pushing the idea that America was built on European ingenuity rather than contributions of people of all races. Despite his stance against all immigration, legal and illegal, as immigrants pose a threat to the heavily Caucasian makeup of the United States. To falsify accusations that he is a neo-Nazi, he claims the alt-right movement is different from Nazism, and the reason the alt-right movement has power is because it’s rooted in the current year.
But wait. According to Merriam Webster, a neo-Nazi is a person who belongs to a group that believes in the ideas and policies of Hitler’s Nazis, who fought to solidify the white race as superior to all others. Spencer’s error is in thinking that being called a “neo-Nazi” is the same as being called a Nazi. He denies the label because it’s inflammatory. But the ideas he pushes are no more than slightly evolved versions of Hitler’s edited to fit the current year, where at least a smidgen of political correctness is required for a movement to gain any traction.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Spencer cited the push for workplace diversity as a threat to white men. The interviewer, Kristen Saloomey, immediately corrected him by saying diversity initiatives are there to give opportunities to those who were underrepresented previously. That should be obvious given, you know, America’s racist history. But Spencer answered with an “alternative fact” ripped out of thin air, claiming white people in many companies are underrepresented nowadays and that is unfair.
Let’s break for an ironic moment of silence. Richard Spencer is crying unfairness at under-representation in the workplace while bashing diversity in the workplace.
Could it be that Spencer, for all his talk of European strength and ingenuity, fears that if white people had the same odds stacked against them as other minorities, that they wouldn’t be able to achieve so much so easily?
People like Richard Spencer are happy to protect the privilege and power of white people even if that privilege leaves other groups with less. He does not aim to attack other races — he attacks them by default by fighting for the furtherance of only his own people.
Because white men have benefited from institutional and systemic privilege since America’s inception, they must relinquish some power if other groups are to reach equality. And why would anyone choose to relinquish power they were born with? System configuration error code 2017.
Members of the alt-right fear a changing nation will put them in the minority. They see, in the inclusive shift of American society, a future that relegates the white man to an underprivileged minority and elevates literally every other type of person to a position of power.
That is just not realistic for a country that is over 70% white, whose Congress is 80% white, where fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are people of color. It’s not realistic for country where white people have near total control over what they lose or gain at an institutional level. It’s just not realistic.
This fear that we must aim to punish the white man or give him a taste of his own medicine in order to share in privileges he was born with is the root of the alt-right’s delusional mindset. This lapse of understanding about what minorities actually want is why the alt-right agents look like malicious racists for, what is to them, simply acting out of their own interests.
Those of us who are marginal push for equality out of our own interests as well. The difference between us and them is that marginalization teaches us what it means to be at a disadvantage. That is why we lean toward fighting for one another despite difference of race, gender and sexuality (sometimes).
The straight, white male does not have that marginalized experience. He’s tasked, by progressives, with putting his own interests aside so that everybody can meet theirs. He’s tasked with taking off his shoes to walk in the shoes of a plethora of groups beneath him— an act that is rooted in unadulterated empathy, an empathy so often eclipsed by fear of becoming the minority he suppresses.
And that is why a push for empathy is our greatest weapon. That is why love is so celebrated as an agent against hate. But here’s what we stand to learn by leaving our liberal bubbles: full empathy means understanding what the white men of the alt-right are pushing. It means understanding that the alt-right is not purely a movement of hate — it’s a movement fueled by a missing perspective, by a blind spot that makes fairness look unfair. It spurs them to protect what they’re so accustomed to having because they, like us, want what’s best for their children. For them, the fact that maintaining their cozy privilege means standing on the rest of our necks is an ancillary trifle.