To see and not see
Raymond Ramirez | Tuesday, February 20, 2018
A style guide is critical for legitimate journalistic publications to imbue articles with consistent quality and tone. In most instances, such guides cover grammar, spelling, citations and other elements of writing, which should be consistently followed by contributors to support the overall presentation and credibility of news and editorial content. But extreme elements of the alt-right, most notably the editors of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, have fashioned a style guide that lays out a clear plan for mainstreaming racial bigotry and provides tips for using humor as a cover for those efforts. Fortunately you do not have to surf the dark web or visit the Daily Stormer site (neither of which I recommend) to view the style guide, recently made available by the Huffington Post.
Of course, the Daily Stormer style guide provides the expected standards for spelling (e.g., “‘Muslim’ should be spelled ‘Moslem,’” as one can only presume it makes the religion seem more foreign), as well as tips for the general format of articles submitted for publication. The payment for each article accepted is a small, but symbolically important sum: $14.88. “Fourteen” likely makes allusion to the 14 words of David Lane’s slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The double eights refer to the eighth letter of the alphabet (“HH” or “Heil Hitler”). So 1488 is a secret handshake, knowing nod and insider wink amongst alt-right true believers. The aforementioned David Lane was a white supremacist leader who was convicted for the 1984 murder of Alan Berg, a Jewish radio talk show host. Lane died in 2007 in the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Making the vile ideas and attitudes espoused by white supremacists palatable for general consumption is a daunting task, but it is an incremental effort of many years. For some persons, the prospect of financial gain or social acceptance is reason enough to tolerate rank bigotry, but others need the cover of racism disguised as humor or satire to spout racist dogma. Stepping over lines of decency and ignoring the demeaning nature of comments or actions might be called being “politically incorrect” or “ironic racism.” The persons practicing this technique might seek to justify their actions as being intended as humorous or a joke. Some people have even taken this type of justification to an extreme level, bragging they cannot be racist because they mock all races and further explain they have moved beyond racial inequality.
Especially if you have ever found yourself justifying your actions or attitudes with this type of rationale, understand that it is an approach that is directly out of the neo-Nazi playbook. As the Daily Stormer style guide states: “The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.” The plan is to use satire and humor as a force field for hate, seeking tolerance from persons those who should otherwise repudiate the underlying message. The guide is clear on this approach: “Packing our message inside of … humor can be viewed as a delivery method. Something like adding cherry flavor to children’s medicine.”
Minorities, women and other groups marginalized or seen as “others” by the majority of society have endured bigotry in the form of “humor” or “satire.” The guide provides some cover for this tactic: “When using racial slurs, it should come across as half-joking — like a racist joke that everyone laughs at.” The tables now can be easily turned, and anyone offended by racist or demeaning comments is “hypersensitive,” a “snowflake” or just being a jerk for making those around them uncomfortable.
Well, guess what — being a racist, however it is cloaked or justified, should be uncomfortable. In the same way that Louis C.K.’s onanistic comedy monologue was eventually shown to be nothing more than a flimsy cover for his actual sexual predation, racist humor is typically little more than a transparent effort to disguise crass, racist attitudes. While some persons who were used to spread racial humor without recourse are taken aback at being criticized for such supposed comedy, the truth is not that these jokes are suddenly offensive, but rather that historically marginalized groups have a little more power to be heard. I suggest you can assume that if your justification for racially charged witticisms mirrors the approach outlined in a neo-Nazi writing guide, then you and your humor are bigoted.
Additional cover for racist humor unfortunately also comes from political leaders who have built their reputations and careers on disdain for so-called political correctness — even though the term is left undefined and subject to individual interpretation. It is not being oversensitive to point out the techniques and hypocrisy of persons committed to racist ideologies. If you purport to oppose the Nazi ideology, which admittedly is the lowest of moral bars to cross, then you must acknowledge the use of humor and the trappings of civilized discourse to normalize verbal assaults on fellow human beings. To be blind to this reality puts the “not see” in Nazi.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.