The other day, I was watching television while I was sewing. I have been repairing a quilt for my daughter by hand, a far larger project than I had anticipated.
I’m no seamstress, but I get by. I find the repeated stabbing of fabric with a sharp object to be rather calming at the end of the day, a nice way to decompress.
Perhaps I need to lower the stress level of my life.
At any rate, my television viewing habits of late run to binge-watching shows. I’ve finished quite a few, and have taken to watching documentaries. Imagine my surprise when I came across some familiar faces on a documentary series called “Hate Thy Neighbor” on Hulu. It was made in 2017-18 for the network Viceland, and aimed to confront racism around the world.
The first episode of the series was about white supremacists in the National Socialist Movement. You may have guessed, the host — biracial British comedian Jamali Maddix — visited the Burnside family in Ulysses, along with visiting other people involved in the neo-Nazi group (who incidentally, don’t like being called Nazis, although they name-drop Adolph Hitler with frequency).
In the show, Maddix asked pointed questions, designed to elicit an explanation of the dogma behind the movement. I can’t say that I came away with any clarity.
I’ve thought a lot about that show, and then I watched several more episodes, including ones on black supremacists, ministers protesting abortion, and a group protesting a gay pride festival.
The episodes are interspersed with standup commentary, in the style of comedy, by Maddix.
At first, I was appalled by what I saw in the series. And then I was fascinated.
And then I had an epiphany.
Maddix pulled back the curtain, letting everyone get a glimpse into the lives and minds of the people who spew hate. Getting straight answers from some of the hate group leaders is like nailing Jello to a wall, but Maddix gave it a serious try.
With knowledge comes understanding. With understanding comes a weakening of the grip of fear.
With the show, a purported “KKK bar” in Georgia became just another country bar where people cling to a belief system that most abhor. The “street preachers” decrying homosexuality or the mixing of races are looking for a reaction, and leave when they don’t get it.
It seems that every few years, some story will surface that thrusts members of these groups into the spotlight for awhile, like in 2018 when a young sheriff’s deputy removed a Nazi flag from the Burnsides’ property in Ulysses.
And when the fervor dies down, the Burnsides remain in Ulysses, following a belief system that is abhorred by most. Their minds aren’t going to be changed by righteous indignation of others.
That is the message of the entire documentary series, really.
Yes, there are people who believe things that others do not. There are folks who feel skin color is a measure of the quality of a person, or that sexual preference, religion, gender or monetary success somehow make a person more or less important than others.
I don’t claim to know anything about how or why this documentary was made, but in my mind, I am sure the featured parties were happy to get the publicity. While many purport to hate people of different races, Maddix was welcomed into homes, rode in vehicles with group members, and even dined with some. His biracial heritage seemed to matter less than the fact that he brought cameras and international exposure to the groups.
In the episodes themselves, the viewer is given the story from the side of the hate group, with some commentary from the host. It’s a snapshot, really, a behind-the-scenes look at the untenable beliefs that lead to hate. The entire series is like the end of a Scooby Doo episode, when the monster’s mask is removed and under it is just an angry person. The fear lessens when the unknown is revealed.
The point I am trying to make is this: America is at a crossroads. More and more people are standing up against hate.
And the haters? Their minds aren’t likely to be changed.
Rather than trying, perhaps we need to work on creating a society that sees behind the curtain, that takes the power away from bullies, that refuses to engage in oral altercations with people spewing hate.
I’m often reminded of the words of Rodney King, a black man who survived an act of police brutality in California in 1991 only to see his attackers acquitted the following year. Riots ensued in Los Angeles. His simple words, spoken after the trial, still hold power: “Can we all get along?”
(Marcie Schellhammer is the Era’s assistant managing editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)