Recently, I attended a workshop called “Swastikas in the Bathroom” led by Shelly Tochluk at the Across Colors Diversity Conference. As a parent, I wanted to understand how a child in a community like ours comes to write something like that on a wall. I wanted to step back and find out what made something so obviously reprehensible seem like a good idea to what might be an otherwise good kid.
Like everyone else at the workshop I was aware that my children are being exposed online to things that are at best over their heads, whether those are other gamers’ comments or memes they share on social media. But what our group was not aware of is that much of what seems random, marginal or joking is a deliberate, calculated and sophisticated strategy by white nationalist groups specifically intended to recruit young people to spread their hateful ideology.
Also known as the Alt-right or Alt-light these groups include tech-savvy millennials who navigate the internet much better than most of us can hope to. And for kids experiencing feelings of isolation or rejection the white nationalist movement is eager to engage them on their terms and provide an explanation of what they’re missing and who’s taking it from them, namely feminists, liberals and racial, ethnic and sexual/gender minorities.
Families and teachers need to get informed and build community wherever possible. While there are no easy answers, any solution begins with recognizing the dangers and resolving not to let our children become mouthpieces of toxic rhetoric as the conversations that we aren’t having are being had for us. Ultimately, this serves as another reminder about the importance of building community wherever possible and actively working to stay informed, as educators and as families.