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Redefining Possible

White Supremacist Heir Apparent  Becomes Friends with Rabbi, Denounces Past

Everyone can be redeemed and that empathy is one of the keys. Case in point below. This is an example of deliberative friendship as political work, as societal work.


Derek Black grew up the heir apparent of a leading white nationalist family. David Duke was his godfather. Matthew Stevenson, one of the only Orthodox Jews on the campus they both attended, decided (after Derek’s ideology was outed) to invite him to Shabbat dinner — for two years.” 


If you don’t feel compelled to listen to the interview, see these statements below:


“…the community would never use the word “racist,” because that means “bad person,” and we’re not “bad people.” We don’t “hate,” and we don’t “dislike”; we’re just interested in “preserving our own.” 


“An entire community of people that I had gotten to know for a semester before they knew who I was, and who I respected, clearly had come to a very intelligent conclusion that what I was advocating was morally wrong, was factually wrong. And I found that very unpleasant…”


“…outrage alone would have made me a more firm adherent to being a white nationalist. But the quiet conversations couldn’t have happened without the outrage.”


“I remember, the first time that Derek was invited over, I was very explicit with people that this was not “ambush Derek” time. I knew that shouting at him would just immediately put him on the defensive, and he’d never come back. So I was very explicit that people were not to discuss his background at the table, or the white nationalism, more generally.”


“Once we were quiet enough to talk about it, there were points to be made on — not on both sides, but there were points to be made, that white nationalism was incompatible with a free society. And it wasn’t the first time I had heard that; it wasn’t the first time that somebody had told me that racism is bad. It was just the first time that I’d been willing to listen to it.”


“the only lesson that I think that I took from my experience that I feel is fairly universal is that it was grounded in empathy; that the reason why I was not willing to listen to the argument that sounded very straightforward — that we should work towards inclusion, not separation — was because I didn’t empathize with people who weren’t part of my in-group. And I thought I wasn’t necessarily doing anything bad to them, but it was also, the priority was the people who were within my in-group.


And what changed was feeling that people who were not in my in-group were being negatively impacted by my actions and that I should care about that. And trying to reconcile that I should care about people who are negatively impacted by my actions, and I’m still doing the actions, became very difficult. And it really was empathizing with people who were not “supposed” to be part of my group and increasing the number of people who were in my group — that’s the universal thing that I think came out of what I learned from coming through that, because it can — everybody has in-groups.”

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