The Kids Aren’t Alt-Right (but the Alt-Right grown-ups are White supremacists)

On Wednesday, November 9th, the day after the US presidential election, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Student Association set up an open-microphone session in a central spot on campus. Over two hundred students vented their shock, anger and despair at Trump’s victory, most poignantly, several undocumented Latinx students who publicly declared how afraid they were. I saw a number of students unable to control themselves, breaking down in tears as they ceded the mic to the next student. However, there were also six or so students who were delighted by Trump’s improbable victory, and they taunted the students of color. “You are really going to need a safe space now!” chanted a group of white male students. Another of their white male confrères chest-thumped that this watershed moment would mark the end of political correctness on campus.

This led to a screaming match and I went over to mediate with another faculty member. It was here I noticed two white students who had taken my “Global Whiteness” course the year before; I was surprised to find them allied with what the African-American activist and media commentator Van Jones calls “whitelashing” male students. The students were both smart humanities majors and two of only ten or so white men to have taken the class, something I teach most years here at the flagship university in a former slave state. I greeted them, but before we had a chance to speak campus security arrived and the crowd doubled in size, pushing us apart.

I’d heard rumors of a small brotherhood of “alt-right” students at UNC, the new movement in Europe and the US of white nationalist and white supremacist men critical of immigration and globalist multiculturalism who have enjoyed a coming out party with the recent victories of Brexit and Trump.[1] I couldn’t help emailing the students the next day to ask why they didn’t think what their friends had done was problematic. Two days later they responded by telling me frankly that they didn’t support the taunting episode at the open-mic event. But they also added in defense of their allies—who self-identity as “thinking conservatives,” not as alt-right—that in general they try to embrace “racialism” while refusing “racism”. The students reminded me that this was in fact one of the topics in our whiteness class: the crucial difference—for some population geneticists and for most of the alt-right—between racialism and racism. At its most informed, racialism draws from recent genetic science to argue that there are differences at a genomic level—allele frequency, single-nucleotide polymorphism, etc.—that could plausibly be demarcated by “race”. In fact, the students continued, the ideological field in the US is clearly divided between official colorblindness on the one hand, and racialism on the other, as the US Food and Drug Administration had already sanctioned race-specific pharmacogenomics drugs, beginning with the approval of Bidil in 2004 targeting African-Americans with hypertension.

Although I had clearly staged this “tension” in the whiteness class between racialism and racism, the students expressed frustration that the position I ended up taking was that of a simplistic, politically correct anti-racist. They challenged me to explain how I could continue to defend PC anti-racism having taught that a similar anti-racism inscribed in the 1950 UNESCO statement on race was almost immediately rejected and replaced by the “racialism” of the 1952 UNESCO statement, written by population geneticists and molecular biologists. The students and disciples of the authors of the 1952 statement have in the subsequent six decades—unbeknownst to most anti-racist progressives—not achieved any consensus about racialism; some think it’s a legitimate scientific position in our genomic age, while some construe it as the legacy of 19th century racist science.[2] The students finished their discussion with me by saying that beginning with the tension in the debate in the 1950 and 1952 UNESCO statements, they have since gone on to find additional resources to bolster their belief in racialism. Finally, they supported Trump because they appreciated his openness to racialist themes.

Jared Taylor, sixty seven-year-old editor of the on-line magazine American Renaissance (together with the on-line Radix Journal, the two main platforms for the alt-right) is the alt-right’s main thinker of race in the alt-right and he is adamant about rejecting the growing criticism of their racism. Rather, he insists that the alt-right is overwhelmingly racialist (or “race realist”) and avoids the ranking of races infamous in nineteen and twentieth-century racial science. In fact, Taylor claims to be inspired by Black and Native American/First Nation thinkers on racial separatism and autonomy. Although “racialism” can have several different meanings, Taylor and the alt-right tend to use it in the sense of what Alondra Nelson calls “racial naturalism”.[3]

For the alt-right in general and Taylor in particular, race is self-evident—as alt-right media star and Taylor acolyte Richard Spencer sound-bytes: “Race is real; race is fundamental; race matters”. The alt-right magnum opus on race, Taylor’s 2010 White Identity, lays out this argument in agonizing detail. First, Taylor assumes a security wall between “white,” “black,” “Asian,” and “Hispanic;” there is no place in the newly mainstreamed alt-right for mixed-race people. To underline this, Taylor dedicates a section of White Identity to re-confirming the nineteenth century notion of the “tragic mullato”. Working against the assumption that mixed-race people are the vanguard heroes and heroines in the colorblind march beyond racial identity, Taylor argues that “rather than move freely between two groups mixed-race people may be uncomfortable in both” (124). There is no real hypothetical though, as Taylor cites two studies to bolster his twenty-first century tragic mullato upgrade that mixed-race folks are more prone to depression and suicide than monoracials. Taylor writes that, lacking any proper racial belonging, mixed-raced “outcasts” find themselves lost and alienated in multi-racial Anglophone societies increasingly segregated by race. (125)

This dismissal of racial mixing serves as one of several justifications for Taylor’s racial naturalism. From his perspective, race is the ground for everything—identity, family, society, and, finally, civilization. And because he thinks that, as groups, Blacks and Latinx are doing relatively well in the contemporary US—thanks to strategic self-segregation and racial pride—Taylor advises white people to follow the lead of people of color, who in negotiating racial identity, “come to it early, feel it strongly, and make no apologies for it” (xvii). Without the firm anchor of racialist identity, Taylor avers, postmodern whites are nothing but rootless cosmopolitans, buffeted by the storms of multicultural media and culture from Blacks, Latinx and East Asians.

Taylor argues that the absence of an affirmative white racial identity has resulted in the insidious infiltration of Black and Brown bodies and culture into the formerly impregnable fortress of white Euro-America. Tragically, Caucasians in the West can’t see that they are losing out in an epochal demographic struggle. Although this struggle isn’t expressed in the stark eugenicist terms of Madison Grant’s 1916 The Passing of the Great Race, Taylor’s version still points to a kind of Black and Brown Threat/Peril assailing Euro-whites. The difference between 1916 and 2016 is that Taylor is alarmed at Black and Brown people’s new aggressivity towards white people (evidenced in the Black Lives Matter movement and in rap music), an assertiveness with the potential to unleash a #whitegenocide”—a popular hashtag for the alt-right.

Although not using #whitegenocide himself, Taylor construes the displacement of white culture from the socio-political center of the United States as “dispossession”. This dispossession is much more than a slow evolutionary process of shifting population ratios in multiracial societies—it is impelled by the confident sense of race and community for Blacks and Latinx in the US. What is unacceptable for Taylor is that this confidence has morphed into a violent assertiveness, one supported by the US federal government in the form of welfare, affirmative action and other entitlement programs, culminating in the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare”. Taylor seems clueless about the fact that many of these entitlements have been dismantled by a succession of Republican and Democrat administrations in lockstep with conservative Supreme Courts. However, this ignorance of expanding austerity in the US (albeit partly reversed by Obama) is benign when compared to Taylor’s warning that the assertiveness of racial minorities can increasingly be found in actual violence—specifically, Black on white crime.

When Donald Trump tweeted in November 2015 that 81% of white homicide victims are killed by Blacks, there was a rush by the mainstream media to point out that this was completely false. Although this was just one of the racist white lies told by the Trump campaign, the truer number of only 13% of white homicide victims having a Black perpetrator was only occasionally brought out to correct Trump’s lie. But what went completely unmentioned in the media were more accurate statistics such as one Black male killed every 28 hours in the US by police or vigilantes, and that whites are now 4.5 times more likely to be killed by other whites than Blacks. The silence around this “white crime” problem allowed the race panic of Black on white crime to hold throughout the election, excited by Trump’s promise to be the “law and order” president; to “clean up” the inner cities; to “keep an eye on” the Black Lives Matter movement; and to urge the US public that the exonerated Central Park 5—4 young Blacks and one Latino falsely accused in the 1989 New York City assault and rape of the 28-year-old white woman Trisha Meili, who ended up spending between 6 and 12 years behind bars—were in fact “really guilty”. My two conservative students would no doubt want this aspect of Trumpism to be called “racialism,” but I would contend that racialism only acts as a ground upon which an unambiguous white racism stalks and terrorizes.

Unbeknownst to most commentators on the alt-right (whose numbers have exploded after the media coverage of the annual meeting of Richard Spencer’s white supremacist National Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. on November 20, 2016), Jared Taylor was the original source for the panicked “blacks are slaughtering whites” meme circulated by Trump and his new white nationalist foot soldiers, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Steven Bannon of Breitbart News (the self-proclaimed “platform” for the alt-right). In 2000, Taylor’s New Century Foundation published a booklet called The Color of Crime, exhaustively detailing the “innate” criminality of Blacks. Wildly misconstruing its standard legal meaning, The Color of Crime argued that most Black on white violent crime should be categorized as “hate crimes”. In other words, for Taylor Black on white crime isn’t caused by the sociologic of African-Americans in the US being 3 times more likely than whites to be poor, or white families possessing 8 to 10 times the wealth of Black families. The fundamental cause of Black-white crime according to Taylor is the racialist fact that Blacks simply hate white people. To ignore this under the spell of political correctness is to invite white dispossession. Taylor’s inflammatory hate crimes hypothesis snowballed into a kind of common sense on Daily Stormer and other white supremacist websites. Dylann Roof, who calmly slaughtered 9 African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015, confessed that he was motivated to kill Blacks because he kept coming across the “fact” on right-wing websites that Blacks were increasingly targeting and killing whites.[4] Taylor and Richard Spencer insist that political correctness and white liberal guilt blind Euro-whites to the actual race war being won by Black and Brown people. They position their own writing as offering white people what Spencer calls the “red pill” (from The Matrix), enabling them to pierce the veil of liberal multiracial doxa. It’s fair to say that Taylor’s The Color of Crime was Dylann Roof’s red pill.

One of the reasons Taylor himself has incited White on Black violence is that he believes, like 19th and early 20th century racial science, that there is a biological link between Black bodies and criminality. Taylor’s evidence for this? Backpacking in Africa in the 1980s. As he explained at the National Policy Institute’s November conference (and revealing that Taylor’s racialism, like Trump’s, operates as a decoy for the most virulent racism), “travelling in Africa cured me of politically correct diversity”. Evidently overdosing on red pills, it dawned on Taylor in Africa that Black people are genetically predisposed to violence and socio-political chaos—European colonialism, IMF austerity programs, extractive capitalism, and climate catastrophe be damned. As Taylor came to believe in innate Black criminality he sought intellectual resources to support this racism. However, completely different from my conservative students and other kids (that) aren’t alt-right, Taylor demonstrates no knowledge of contemporary race theory, genomic science, or population genetics. The resources bolstering his racism are limited to ideas only taken seriously by scholars before 1945. As is evident in his White Identity where he relies on “genetic similarity” theory and evolutionary psychology’s claim that humans cling desperately to ethno-racial homogeneity, he is clueless about even the basic difference between phenotype and genotype. This is no small matter, as his collapsing of phenotype into “biology” leaves his racialism accounting for six genes out of 24,000 in the human genome. In what should be an embarrassment for the alt-right hungry for scholarly recognition,[5] these six genes are assumed by Taylor to express an obvious (or race realist) difference separating Euro-whites from Blacks, and from East Asians.

My students assured me they are not alt-righters, but are simply struggling to negotiate a contemporary landscape of racial knowledge that has been complicated by the capitalist pharmaceutical industry getting race-specific drugs approved in the US and the EU.[6] Somewhat reassuringly, the conservative male students seem to realize that this aporetic tension between a tentative endorsement by government health officials in the US and EU of race-specific and population-specific drugs and the anti-racist declaration after the mapping of the human genome in 2000 by most scientists that humans are 99.8% the same (and moreover, feature a wider genomic diversity intraracially than interracially) is not going to go away by taking the red pill dealt by the alt-right. But this tension can’t even be intellectually addressed by Jared Taylor. I would argue that there was never a red pill moment for Taylor and the alt-right on race; it was always a stubborn substance abuse problem of popping the poisoned pill of white supremacy.



[1] The director of the National Policy Institute and editor of the on-line Radix Journal, Richard Spencer, developed the term “alternative right” in 2010 to distinguish the movement both from mainstream conservatism and neo- conservatism. The shortened “alt-right” went viral in English-language media after the controversy surrounding the National Policy Institute’s annual conference in D.C. on November 20, 2016, which celebrated Donald Trump’s electoral victory. In addition to Radix Journal, the matrix of alt-right ideas in the US is Jared Taylor’s on-line American Renaissance, which also has an annual conference. In addition to these two journals, a few publication houses call themselves alt-right, the most important of which is Arktos Media headed by the Persian-American Jason Reza Jorjani. Arktos publishes translations of the Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin and French rightists like Alain Benoist. Arguably the most visible presence of the alt-right can be found in on-line (what alt-rightists call the “manosphere”) trolling; see Breitbart News for examples of this.

[2] They were referencing a book we used in the class by the sociologist Jenny Reardon, Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics. Princeton University Press, 2007. 

[3] Nelson, Social Life of DNA. Beacon Press, 2015.

[4] New York Times, December 10, 2016, 18.

[5] Taylor’s book and pamphlets are endorsed by an excessive number of “former” professors and “emeritus” scholars, many of whom were just lecturers or occasional speakers. The exception is J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario, a white supremacist professor and comrade-in-arms of Taylor.

[6] Bidil is the only race-specific drug to be approved in the US (although one more passed through trials and is waiting approval), while the EU has approved two—not, however, using the word “race,” but “population biomarker”. On this see Jonathan Kahn’s 2011 Race in a Bottle, and Dorothy Roberts’ 2012 Fatal Invention.


Mark Driscoll is Associate Professor of East Asian and Global Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has published two books with Duke University Press on East Asian cultural and political history and is finishing a third called The Whites are Enemies of Heaven! He has also published widely in the areas of cultural studies and postcolonial studies, including essays in Social Text, Postcolonial Studies, Cultural Critique, and Cultural Studies.