Required Reading… “The white flight of Derek Black”

stormfront0101476316631There’s an incredible story in today’s Washington Post about Derek Black, the son of Don Black, the man behind the white nationalist website site Stormfront, and how he came to renounce the racist ideology he’d been raised to believe in. Given all of the terrible things we’ve seen taking place this election season, as Trump’s rhetoric has paved the way for the so-called Alt Right to bring their message of white nationalism to the mainstream, it’s good to be reminded that people have it within themselves to change, and that, in some instances, all it takes is for someone to take a chance and extend a hand in friendship. In the case of Derek Black, that offer of friendship would come from a fellow student at Florida’s New College by the name of Matthew Stevenson, who, having discovered that Black was an avowed white nationalist, decided not to confront him directly, but instead invite him to share a Shabbat meal. That one meal would lead to others, and, over time, the young man who had been seen as a rising leader in the white nationalist movement began to undergo a process of transformation, which would ultimately lead to a very public refutation of everything that he’d spent his life up until that point promoting. There’s much to like about the article, but I was most struck by the courage shown by Matthew Stevenson and the other members of his weekly Shabbat group, who made a conscious decision to welcome the godson of white supremacist David Duke into their homes, knowing that he was, at the time, still producing a radio program directed at young white supremacists. Here, to give you a sense as to what Stevenson was thinking, is a clip. [Stevenson (left) and Black (right) can be seen above playing Monopoly.]

…Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.

It was the only social invitation Derek had received since returning to campus, so he agreed to go. The Shabbat meals had sometimes included eight or 10 students, but this time only a few showed up. “Let’s try to treat him like anyone else,” Matthew remembered instructing them.

Derek arrived with a bottle of wine. Nobody mentioned white nationalism or the forum, out of respect for Matthew. Derek was quiet and polite, and he came back the next week and then the next, until after a few months, nobody felt all that threatened, and the Shabbat group grew back to its original size…

I know it’s not always practical to invite a white supremacist over to share a loaf of challah and play a game of Monopoly, but it’s good to think about the potential we all might have within us to change lives and help put this nation of ours on a better path forward.

One last thing… It’s probably also worth noting that Black feels bad for any part he may have played in paving the way for Donald Trump and the Alt Right. “It’s scary to know that I helped spread this stuff, and now it’s out there,” he’s quoted as saying in the piece.

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  1. Kim
    Posted October 17, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The story of him coming out to his parents as a non-racist was really great.

  2. Nina
    Posted October 17, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    A perfect example of why now is not the time to disengage.

  3. English Teacher
    Posted October 17, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink


    Thank you.

    I need more hope in the face of Trump.

  4. Posted October 17, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Note that he would be called a “flip flopper” in an election.

  5. John Galt
    Posted October 17, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    This is why you never let your children go to college.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted October 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    These two guys have to write a book.

  7. Posted October 24, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Some powerful reactions to an emotionally moving subject.

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  1. By So, what happens on November 9? on October 19, 2016 at 7:41 am

    […] « Required Reading… “The white flight of Derek Black” As if we needed yet another reason to vote the Republican Party out of existence, John McCain says he intends to continue blocking the appointment of a ninth Supreme Court justice if Clinton wins » […]

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