Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist
Derek Black was, for much of his life, “the wunderkind of intolerance,” said David Holahan in CSMonitor.com. A godson of David Duke and the son of the founder of the neo-Nazi website StormFront.org, Black was groomed to be a white nationalist leader, and he excelled. By high school, he was co-hosting a local Florida radio show with his father and had launched a white nationalist web forum for kids. By 19, he had won a seat on the Palm Beach County Republican committee. Personable and articulate, he spoke out against threats to “American culture” while hiding his conviction that nonwhite and Jewish Americans should find another country to live in. But that was in 2008. Five years later, Black renounced racism, and Eli Saslow’s new account of Black’s journey proves “at once disturbing and uplifting.”
Rising Out of Hatred “creates the sensation of living inside someone’s conscience as it gradually but definitively shifts,” said Chris Vognar in The Dallas Morning News. At 21, Black enrolled as a transfer student at a small Florida liberal arts college and decided to blend in. He was outed a few months later, and there were widespread calls for his expulsion. But by then, he’d made friends with a diverse group of classmates who decided to try to change his views. One, who hosted weekly Shabbat dinners, invited Derek to join the gatherings. Another, who became Derek’s girlfriend, emailed him studies showing how racism harmed vulnerable people. Shortly after he graduated, Black denounced white nationalism in a widely read public statement.
For the reader, Black’s redemption comes “a little too easily,” said Wes Enzinna in The New York Times. He says he’s sickened to think that he helped divide America and spread hatred, but his racist past seems to have cost him nothing, while StormFront has been cited as an influence on six murderers, including Dylann Roof, who in 2015 fatally shot nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. Black merely changed his mind and changed the side he speaks for, and while the change is welcome, “it’s a bit anticlimactic.” ■