Two days after a deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump denounced the actions of white supremacist groups. The president largely criticized for failing to blame them specifically in the hours after the incident.
WKAR’s Kevin Lavery speaks with Dr. Ron Hall, a professor of social work at Michigan State University, about what motivates people to join hate groups.
RON HALL: This is a disease that impacts not only persons of European descent. I don’t know that there were any people of color in the protest march on the white supremacy side this past Saturday. But, there are people of color who support the kind of policies that they advocate. For example, there are African-Americans who supported Donald Trump, who called black communities in the country places where thugs and criminals live. So I think we’re at a point now where we need to talk about racism as a disease that affects American citizens.
KEVIN LAVERY: I don’t want to misinterpret this, but can we infer from that that it’s not the proper title to call what happened over the weekend in Virginia “white nationalism” if there are other ethnic groups involved?
HALL: Well, no...you don’t have to be white to be a ‘white racist.’ There’s a different dynamic, a little different nuance when you’re talking about people of color. But when you’re a person of color who advocates for the murder (and) discrimination against other people of color...I don’t see that individual as being as less culpable than a person who’s more direct in what they advocate.
LAVERY: Can we de-tox this disease like we de-tox alcoholism?
HALL: No doubt about that. I hear a lot of pundits on various media sources that are just really uninformed. I heard a gentleman – I forget which news station it was – this past weekend, make reference to the fact, “well, racism is just something that’s going to be here. It’s endemic.” It is not. We didn’t really have racial issues in this country until Europeans became “white.” And once they became white, they no longer were Irish or Dutch or British. So, they internalized their identity, not nationally but racially. That’s where the problem began. So, we didn’t always have this racial issue in this country. We had to learn that; people had to be taught that. And if it’s something to have to learn, you can unlearn it. So, I’m a lot more optimistic than a lot of the pundits that I hear.
LAVERY: The media can be an unwitting partner in a recruitment effort, I would imagine?
HALL: Unfortunately, that’s true. These individuals in Charlottesville, Virginia were looking for attention to facilitate their movement. Now, this is a free country, a democratic country. Luckily, we have an independent media. But at the same time, in giving certain people their rights, they’re also facilitating their ability to recruit and to spread their message.
LAVERY: I know this is a bigger question than you or I can probably answer: How do we co-exist or resolve (racial tensions) in a way that’s not a false sense of “kumbaya;” something that’s more than just superficial?
HALL: Well, I think this confrontation with and to end racism in this country needs to be a national priority. And I think we can start at the most basic psychological level. This may sound very simplistic, but I never refer to my colleagues as white. If your last name is O’Leary, I’ll assume you are Irish. If race comes up, I will refer to you as an Irishman. Any time we use the term “white,” it reinforces a whole historical dynamic that we have not been able to get rid of, unfortunately. Now, that’s simplistic and it’s much more complicated than that...but that’s where we can begin. And I can say the same for black, red and yellow.