Saturday, March 19, 2011
Canadian History X
White supremacy in Canada -- particularly in Alberta -- took centre stage recently, as a white supremacist group held a rally in Calgary.
The rally was, fortunately, met with a great deal of resistance from the local community. But underpinning that resistance is an encouraging fact: no where in Canada can these white supremacist groups survive on their own. In Alberta, white supremacist groups have been offering financial support to racists willing to move to Alberta from other parts of the country.
When these sorts of rallies are held, it seems that the natural impetus of Canadian society is to analyze Canadian history and Canadian society to determine what contributes to the creation of these movements in the first place.
The focus is, more often than not, on national history. Far too frequently do we bother to pay attention to personal history.
In American History X, the question of personal history in the adoption of white supremacist beliefs are explored when Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) turns in a book report on Mein Kampf to his high school history class. His principal, Dr Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks) instructs Danny to instead write a report on his brother Derek (Edward Norton), just released from prison for the murder of two black men.
Dr Sweeney declares this to be a specialized history course: he dubs it "American History X".
Derek turned to white supremacism after his father, a Los Angeles firefighter, is shot while battling a blaze in an unidentified predominantly-black neighbourhood. His life quickly spirals into a morass of violence, not only against what he sees as the racial antagonists of his neighbourhood.
Following going to prison, Derek has had a change of heart. Racial loyalties on the inside are not what they are on the inside. Now Derek is a victim of the violence, as opposed to its perpetrator.
However, Derek makes an unexpected friend: Lamont (Guy Torry), a black man who works with him in the prison laundry room. In time, Derek begins to turn away from his white supremacist ideology, and leaves prison determined to turn Danny away from it too.
It isn't merely Derek's and Danny's personal experience in being turned to white supremacism that is useful for understanding how the ideology takes root, it's Derek's and Danny's experience in turning away from white supremacism that are useful in turning people away from the ideology.
The typical assumption is that white supremacists are bad people. This assumption is very natural, but it overlooks what may be a key question in approaching the subject:
If Canadian white supremacists were to participate in a Canadian History X history course, what would they produce? And what would it tell us about how to conquer racism?