The current discussion on race has produced a number of insightful books. In particular is the history and attitudes of low income rural white voters and the rise and motivations of the alt-right movement. Add to this are new books about young white men who make the transition from organized racism to self discovery of an enlightened belief in the common humanity of all people and you begin to have a first hand account of why white supremacy is appealing to them in todays volatile social order. Rising out of Hatred is a fascinating story of how the heir apparent to the white supremacist movement was rescued from a life of organized hatred by the efforts of new found friends at a liberal arts college in his home state of Florida.
Derek Black, the subject of the book, is the son of Don Black and the god son of David Duke, both of whom were leaders of the Klu Klux Klan. His father was sent to prison, for violating the neutrality act, as a participant in a plan to invade the island of Dominica in 1981, called Operation Red Dog. After a 3 year prison term Don founded Stormfront, a white supremacist website focused on promoting beliefs in the superiority of the white race. Derek grew up with this ideology as his foundation and as his father began to suffer with declining health he was expected to assume the mantle of leader of the white supremacist movement in America.
In 2010 Derek enrolled at New College of Florida, in Sarasota. Not wanting to compromise is education by revealing his beliefs to the student body, he kept his background as a white supremacist hidden. He socialized with students of color and Jews, all whom he believed were beneath him, and even dated a Jewish coed, until she found out his secret. When the student body found out about his racist history there was the expected debate as to whether Derek should be allowed to remain a student. A memorable statement by one of his few close friends on campus was, “There is no better way to make sure Derek keeps these abhorrent views than if we all exclude him.” This perspective became the guiding attitude of the few friends he had on campus that helped him see a new reality.
Derek’s change of perspective required constant reflection on what was an alternative truth. He began a relationship with a woman one year his academic junior and she took a personal interest in exposing him to alternative points of view that he would normally discount as liberal talking points. Derek was accustomed to citing IQ test scores and urban violence as proof that white people were culturally superior. Allison became his girl friend and saw a gentler and more compassionate side to him that belied his personal beliefs.
After a few years of constant encouragement Derek could not escape the need to make a complete break from his white supremacist past. What he dreaded most was what his new attitude would mean to his family. They had met Allison but she never allowed her personal opinions to conflict with what was being spoken in mixed company. Derek eventually decided to renounce his white supremacist beliefs on the website Stormfront and the immediate effect was mixed. Some followers thought the post was a hoax and Derek’s family stopped speaking to him. His godfather, David Duke, thought Derek was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. When his conversion was realized to be true, he was abandoned as a traitor to the cause.
After graduating from New College, Derek enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Chicago. He changed his name from Derek Roland Black to Roland Derek Black and tried to stay under the radar. The author, Eli Saslow, was able to convince him to participate in the writing of this book and his father also made himself available.. With the publication of this book he has become more comfortable in public and has given some public interviews. The author, Eli Saslow, was able to convince him to participate in the writing of this book and his father also made himself available for interviews.
This book presents several questions of what responsibility society has in creating the social space to replicate Derek’s conversion. Should colleges and universities allow white supremacist to give speeches on campus and how are they to be received? And what role do we all have in creating that space where racism is confronted and unlearned? I believe that the discussion on race begins with history and Derek’s story is now part of that history.