A path beyond white nationalism

Today, many of us are saying goodbye to loved  ones after a somewhat bittersweet holiday. I had a dissent-free Thanksgiving, due to the side of the family I spent the  week with — we all spoke freely and unanimously in our humor-tinged terror. But in a different year, with others who I am closest to in the world, I would have chosen all my words very carefully.

David Duke’s godson, R. Derek Black, has something to say about making those hard conversations work, in his incredible New York Times essay, “Why I Left White Nationalism.” He offers no easy way out, acknowledging that his own beliefs only evolved after many, many passionate talks with people he was exposed to only while pursuing a college education on a liberal campus.

But his perspective is instructive. In part, because he reminds us that even as someone truly on the extreme, he didn’t see himself as doing  harm. We need to try to find empathy for people like him. And even more so, for the many millions of relative moderates who, despite making a choice that strikes fear in so many others, in their heart of hearts didn’t believe they were making a harmful choice.

Mr. Black’s story heartens me because it is a reminder that our souls really are capable of evolution. But it is also a reminder of the mandate facing all of us who believe in a just, equal America. As he tells the Times:

“Most of Mr. Trump’s supporters did not intend to attack our most vulnerable citizens. But with him in office we have a duty to protect those who are threatened by this administration and to win over those who don’t recognize the impact of their vote.”

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