I met my first alt-rights in Malaysia. Despite the strong links with white supremacy, these whom I met are not white. (The following names are strictly pseudonyms.)
He is that kid your parents warned you about.
He smokes between classes and coerces others into doing the same. He spends every minute of his free time drinking with his dude pals and driving around the city at 2AM.
As a person, however, he’s loyal to friends. He listens to your problems without judgment, doles out good advice, and regularly expresses fondness for those close to him. Because of this we became fast friends. I hung out with him every day.
But every now and then he would say or do things that got my blood boiling. He loved offensive humour… but I love offensive humour only when things actually stay within the joke.
First, he mocked the #MeToo movement. Second, he made fun of the masculinity of our guy friends, because it made them ‘gay’. Third, he especially loved to belittle black people.
The only thing that made me hold my tongue was that, despite all this, I knew him well enough to know that he treated his female friends with respect. He had no problem with the LGBT people in our group of friends. And he, ironically, had the darkest skin tone in our class.
I wondered if he’d ever even met a black person. Why he ever found this bigotry so attractive puzzled me at first. Later I just marked it down as some ‘show of masculinity’: how ‘little’ he cared… proving he wasn’t ‘sensitive’… Whatever.
His racial jokes were all based on American stereotypes. Or whatever was popular on the Internet. And not at all based on his own world.
That went on for a while. A new year came, and with it, new students. One of them joined our little gang. Let’s call him Rajesh.
I hated Rajesh the minute he opened his mouth. He only knew how to talk about himself. He would find some niche way to relate the topic back to himself. And then carry on from there. When we talked about things he had suffered, he was the expert on the topic. But if we talked about some other problems, something he knew nothing about, it became ‘invalid’ and ‘ridiculous’.
He, too, hated ‘feminism’, the ‘LGBT community’, and the ‘liberals’. Except he would return home to troll and harass liberal social media influencers—to frequent the alt-right reddit threads. And he made no effort to get to know the women in my friend group. To him, we were just the token eye candy. I wasn’t the only one who despised him.
The only reason he still joined us was because Nareev loved him. Rajesh was everything Nareev wanted to be. Rajesh didn’t just make empty jokes to create some persona. He lived and breathed bigotry. He was so unsympathetic that he was desensitized to everything.
Soon, every conversation and group chat we shared was full of them and their ‘Jew’ jokes.
From here I started to build a picture of the alt-right movement.
Foremost I think I’m quite tolerant. Although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where I stand on the spectrum, I agree with some arguments from both the left and right.
The only thing I find intolerable, however, is intolerance. The alt-right, to me, seems to have a lot of basis in intolerance.
The alt-right, like any other extremist movement, is unnecessarily far from the democratic ground. Its limited reach means that many, many, people will not find sympathy from them. The picture that I built of the alt-right was that it is pure farce.
By the cases of Nareev and Rajesh, the alt-right zeal is clearly not built on any real political, economic, or social concerns. It derives instead from some personal immaturity. It thrives from a poor understanding of personal emotion which leads to hateful expression upon others in order to validate yourself.
Bigoted fear of ‘the Other’ simply shows the inability to think of anything besides yourself.
- It is one thing for a worried conservative family to avoid immigrant neighbourhoods, for fear of the ‘crime rate’.
- It is another for them to express this by desecrating the graves of a said race with hateful imagery, to target innocent passer-bys of the said race and beat them to a pulp, or to brag about how appealing the ‘idea’ would be to a group of friends.
Do you see the difference—and more, the danger?
What actual benefit does this behaviour have in a healthy, functioning society?
How have the insecurities of bravado among a few men come to influence collective policies?
How did this type of politics ever come to validate itself?
I’m still fond of Nareev, despite his behaviour. I feel like it’s something he’ll grow out of. He wasn’t really against women’s empowerment, he was just against the label of ‘feminism’ because a certain social bubble influenced him to. What I learnt, from watching Nareev and Rajesh’s friendship, was that we cannot resolve problems with intolerance as much as it does not resolve problems with ‘the Other’.
I’m not expecting Rajesh to suddenly learn to put himself in other people’s shoes. There’s really no easy resolution to this; bigotry is nothing new in human history. I can only hope that one day he realises that there are much better ways to express himself than hate.
Written by Natasha binti Nor Azmi
Featured image from enacademic.com.
Views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNMC IGNITE.