White supremacy: from classroom to newsroom

February 8, 2023

Image created with photos by James Vaughan on Flickr (edited) and fauxels on Pexels

S-Jay (name changed) recalls their first encounter with extremist right-wing ideology

I’ve just been listening to an Educate Against Hate session with political and media literacy experts Shout Out UK at my college. It’s made me really think, really think about what it means to be radicalised, to be preyed upon. To be bullied and exploited essentially!

My mind is spinning back through school and there’s one year I’m replaying over and over and it makes me feel quite sick. I was in Year 8, 13 years old, and we were learning about Nazi Germany. My teacher, Mr C (name changed) did an exercise that made me feel so uncomfortable but I wasn’t entirely sure why at the time.

Mr C was teaching us about the Nazi idea of racial purity and demonstrated this by dividing us into groups based on whether we would have been considered ‘Aryan’ or racially pure – white, blond-haired, blue-eyed – and those that would not – Jewish people, people of colour and other ethnic minorities.

I suddenly found myself being separated from my friends, put into categories that until now hadn’t mattered to me – the colour of my skin, my best friend’s religion. It was jarring, the act of being divided up according to such arbitrary categories felt isolating.

I’d already begun to feel uneasy with my teacher’s account of the events that led to Hitler’s rise to power – he went into depth about how awful his upbringing was. It felt like he was excusing Hitler’s heinous actions towards the Jewish population and other minorities.

I felt Mr C was pushing his skewed and narrow perspective, and later realised this was my first experience with white supremacy, feeling pressured to value one group of people over another.

13-year-olds are impressionable and don’t always have access to world views that can help them find a balanced outlook

I can see how ‘Aryan’ students could have taken this treatment as a reason to act superior to all non-Aryan students. White students who were already exposed to these ideas of racial superiority could have felt their views were confirmed by this exercise.

Students designated ‘non-Aryan’ could have experienced racism, Islamophobia, or antisemitism and this could have solidified their views that they need to defend their religion or culture.

They may not have been consciously aware of how this exercise impacted their views or outlook; 13-year-olds are impressionable and don’t always have access to world views that can help them find a balanced outlook. They could easily have fallen victim to grooming, influenced to adopt the biased views of the adults around them.

We’re talking about white supremacy and grooming, but what do those terms actually mean anyway?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines white supremacy as the idea that white people are superior to and should have control over other races. It’s closely tied to racism, and white supremacist ideas fuel racially-aggravated hate crimes including verbal and physical abuse. It’s also often associated with extremely far-right, conservative politics such as fascism.

The NSPCC defines grooming as ‘when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.’

Social media has become a powerful tool to raise awareness of white supremacy and the threat it poses to society

White supremacy began to gain more traction in the UK in the 1930s after Hitler’s rise to power. The British Union of Fascists was formed in 1932 by Oswald Mosley and embraced the Nazi Party’s far-right policies and violent antisemitism.

Even after Hitler’s downfall, Mosley, and organisations such as ‘Combat 18‘, continued to espouse Hitler’s racist ideas; such people are now known as neo-Nazis.

Currently, newsrooms have tended not to cover white supremacy cases and fail to call it out. When they do report on white supremacy, the words “we haven’t seen anything like this before” are often used, as if it’s a brand-new issue.

However, in recent years there has been some coverage, such as the attack on an immigration centre in Dover by the BBC. Both of these attacks were perpetrated by right-wing extremists.

Recently social media has become a powerful tool to raise awareness of white supremacy and the threat it poses to society. However it’s still underreported compared to other global issues like climate change.

There have also been instances of content being over-moderated, with posts being removed despite their aim being to raise awareness of the issue rather than promote it. This could mean that people don’t have access to balanced information, potentially leading them down the path to extremism.

In Barnet, all forms of hate crime can be reported to any of the organisations on this page.

You can check out more here about how Shout Out UK’s Extremism and Media Literacy programme gives young people the opportunity to confront the issues of right-wing extremism and radicalisation.

Teachers can access resources at Educate Against Hate to safeguard their students from radicalisation and promote inclusive values in their school.

Barnet Council offers comprehensive advice for staying safe online.

Part of Exposure’s Extreme Caution campaign, enabling young people to tackle online grooming and hate, supported by Young Barnet Foundation. Due to the sensitive nature of this project author names have been anonymised.

Exposure is a youth communications charity enabling young people to thrive creatively, for the good of others as well as themselves.

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