“I like it because you wear robes, and get out and light crosses, and have secret handshakes,” Abarr said, according to the Star-Tribune. “I like being in the Klan — I sort of like it that people think I’m some sort of outlaw.”
–Paige Lavendar, KKK, NAACP Leaders In Wyoming Have Historic Meeting. (It’s posted on HuffPo but until they’re actually paying their writers I’m not acknowledging them as anything other than a host, any more than anything I post here should be credited to WordPress.) Via Son of Baldwin (on Facebook).
This is this thing. Some people seek out overt hate groups purely because they hate some group of people and want to take action. But some seek out *antagonistic groups*, which include hate groups but also any group that claims to know a hidden truth and demands that outsiders bear witness, because they want a community that celebrates their desire to be rebels; these are often people with no specific commitment to that group’s antagonistic beliefs outside of that group, but they’re happy to have a community to do something rebellious with. To rebel is to take ownership, and to rebel with others is to take ownership with allies.
Teenage rebellion just takes a safety pin, a cigarette, a skipped meal. As a minor, your body is not your own and any act against it is a step toward owning it. It’s hardly the only act of rebellion teens take, but it’s easily available and familiar, and unlike being an adult, turning harm inward as a teen is respectable rebellion – often more respected than turning harm outward. As an adult, your body becomes something you are most likely responsible for, and pointing harm inward is more likely to seem teenage, or suicidal, or foolish, or simply debilitating from the sort of life you want to live. Turning harm outward may still make you a fool, but a dangerous one to watch closely, and it allows you to treat your body as something deserving health. This is a key: to turn harm outward is an act rebellion through self-preservation, and an accessible step “up” from teenage rebellion. And to turn harm outward you need allies to survive.
To join an antagonistic group and adopt its politics is easy. You don’t even have to be political – just open to being part of a group and doing the thing that is friendly to others in that group, such as agreeing with them. Like moving to a new town and rooting for the local sports team and against others to fit in. Sometimes you might share their politics and actually be adopting their approach, or share one set of politics and find another conveniently compatible regardless of your own opinion. And it still can be rebellion, which is after all rarely about being different or unique: it’s about being at odds with something you don’t want to be like and which appears to have power over you. To join a hate group, it either has to be a convenient community or you must have that political stance already and seek that community out. It’s a harder group to sustain, especially because the political core which defines the group has a harder time adjusting as times change. So we get articles like this, which seems like it’s out of the Onion, while antagonistic groups with dynamic definitions can adjust to allow their members fresh and present ways to act out.
None of this is to say that rebellion or acting out or even demanding that others bear witness to your truth is a bad thing. It’s to say, we must consider why we do these things. When we find ourselves doing something hurtful or hateful as a form of self-preservation, we must be absolutely certain that it is the only option, and we must be absolutely certain that the self we are trying to preserve is not in fact a self that is stubbornly refusing to be part of a planet. One day we’ll be more than one planet, so better get practicing now.