To Major Media Outlets,
A part of the fight against white backlash and extreme conservative populism exists in how we challenge the public when it labels the people who have championed Donald Trump’s most socially heinous rhetoric. The media has condoned their behavior through the more or less conscious decision to award them with the title they have chosen to call themselves: the Alt-Right. In American history, few other terroristic campaigns have been given the privilege of euphemizing their causes and deliberately curating culture to their benefit. By tying themselves to a seemingly benign political ideology, conservatism (the right), and convincing outlets to use this euphemism in regular dialogue concerning their terroristic agenda, the group has successfully infiltrated the ranks of just protest and rightful assembly.
They have gone so far as to debase the premises of grassroots organization, a strategy most often attributed to the left in defense of minority and oppressed groups. The “Alt-Right” instead has proven that similar tactics can be used in the name of hate. They have rallied, they have taken to the streets, and they have gained executive political power that the far left has been vying for since America’s founding. Perhaps because their tactics resemble what society has always credited to the liberalism and progressivism, the “Alt-Right” euphemism has not been challenged to the extent to which it must be. Regardless of how peaceful and organized their tactics may be (and they are not, especially in light of Heather Heney’s murder in a counterprotest at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville), it is important that we recognize the impact that this has on the shaping of a culture.
Before the Black Panthers, who were not a terrorist organization, but an organization created for the defense of a people subject to destructive institutional discrimination, could be called by the name they chose, they were “Black Nationalist terrorists” or worse. Now they are associated with this [stale] stigma. It doesn’t matter how often historians and advocates mention the free breakfast program they created, which the United States to this day still employs, that “terrorist” label sticks. To the public, the term Black Panther is equivalent with malicious Black militants who harmed American society, rather than the altruistic group who defended a minority of people who were largely defenseless in a racist America. The label the public is first given lingers. It takes decades to overturn a word and correct the cultural damage done, which is why we must protest the “Alt-Right’s” right to be called anything in the public sphere other than white supremacist terrorists.
In shaping cultural responses to social phenomena and issues, language is powerful tool. When America made the decision to call Barack Obama “Black” rather than “biracial” or “mixed,” all of society consciously viewed the president as a Black man, aligning him and his family with the prejudices and stereotypes Americans apply to Blackness. (Now, of course, President Obama made the decision to call himself Black and there are many other factors besides media’s or the public’s labeling, including the one-drop rule, dictating his race). But imagine if Barack Obama constantly and publicly brought up the fact that his mother was white. What if he reminded everyone of this by calling himself “mixed.” Instead of the first Black president, he would have been the first multiracial president, with significantly different implications on culture and on the response to his race.
Words have the ability to shape the perception of groups and people, ultimately giving power or taking power from those groups or people. To align one’s self to the “Alt Right” is significantly easier than aligning one’s self to the white supremacist group that they are. Their rhetoric and their ideologies are much easier to swallow for the middle of the line white who voted for President Obama in ‘08 and has already proven to themselves that they aren’t racist. Building a following and a movement depends largely on the words they choose to place at the forefront of that movement. The “Alt-Right” is a name that is not inherently evil, although what they stand for is. If we challenge ourselves and all media outlets to stop rewarding the group with a euphemistic name like the “Alt-Right,” we may be able to slow their momentum and defeat them more easily. Fortunately, not too many whites want to publicly be called white supremacists, nor do they want to be aligned with white terrorism. Let’s do our best to call it like it is because it’s all in how you say it: they’re white supremacist terrorists.