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Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement Paperback – 9 Jul 2003
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"A must-read for its fresh, pertinent scholarship and its riveting prose."--"Publishers Weekly"
From the Inside Flap
"An important contribution to our understanding of hate in America."--Morris Dees, Founder and President, Southern Poverty Law Center"[An] innovative and superb probe into organized racism. [Blee's] findings are both significant and alarming. These women do not fit the common stereotypes. Their backgrounds are more normal than we may want to believe."--William Brustein, author of The Logic of Evil See all Product description
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The sample of women interviewed is -- understandably -- so skewed and limited that it would be difficult, in my opinion, to draw meaningful generalizations from it. Yet that is precisely what this book aims to do. For instance, in an early chapter, Blee provides a demographic breakdown of the women interviewed and states that popular assumptions about people in the hate movement are absolutely untrue. Possible, but I can't draw the same conclusions her data led her to. She introduces a paragraph about racist women's educational levels with the statement, "Most were educated." Reading further, however, she states that one-third of her interview subjects were high school dropouts. It is interesting to note that the other two-thirds had at least graduated high school, and a notable number of those had attended or graduated from college. But the number of dropouts in the general population is far lower than it is in this sample size -- and the sample size is, as I said, necessarily flawed. I'm not sure what, if anything, it means that a slender majority of the small number of racist women willing to be interviewed had a high school education.
Blee tries again and again to deduce the big picture based on the narratives that were presented her -- whereas I wanted her to get out of the way and let the interview subjects and narratives speak for themselves. Also, very little context is provided for the reader. Instead, a general familiarity with the history of the hate movement and its contemporary players and problems is just assumed. I get that Blee is a sociology professor and this work may be intended as a text, but given that the subject is of likely interest to a general audience -- and the general audience may not have done additional reading about the far right -- I think the book is unfortunately limited.
The book also suffers from problematic writing. Several points are repeated more than once in the book, for reasons I couldn't discern. Also, Blee's use of language is sometimes maddeningly imprecise. An example of both: At several points she mentions that, while her subjects addressed their opinions of African-Americans and Latinos by relating unpleasant (if often banal) anecdotes, they spoke of Jews with abstract, conspiratorial vitriol.
However -- again, this comes up at least twice, maybe three times during the course of the book -- when pressed, Blee writes, not one of her subjects "could name a single Jewish person." Two or three offered a mangled version Alan Greenspan's name, or simply issued the name "Rothschild" with no first names attached -- and these women did not seem to know much if anything about the history of the Rothschild family. Because she contrasts this lack of knowledge with the anecdotal vitriol reserved for other races, I interpreted that Blee pressed for the name of ANY Jewish person, living or dead, famous or personally acquainted by the interview subject -- and that "Alan Greenberg" was the best any could do. Given that these women came from all over the country and all socioeconomic backgrounds, I found it fascinating (and implausible) that not one had encountered a person she knew to be Jewish.
I was right: later, Blee states that some of the women acknowledged they maintained ties to Jewish friends (unbeknownst, of course, to their partners or racist friends). Likely, then, that in the conversations referenced earlier, Blee had been pressing for specifics about the interview subjects' espoused notion that Jews control history or banking, not about whether they had any personal experience with Jewish people. But that should have been clarified.
Still, Blee offers some interesting data and conclusions. I found it noteworthy that while some of the women interviewed were raised in the hate movement (though of course several were), nor even that they were brought into the hate movement by racist boyfriends or husbands -- and very few went out looking for a hate group to join in order to validate and act on previously-held racist ideas. Instead, most encountered hate groups through some other social tie (having a friend in the group, or attending a skinhead-heavy party) and gradually became more enamored of racist ideas. Also, while men in the hate movement speak of feeling "empowered" by their involvement in it, most of the women Blee spoke to felt burdened by their knowledge of "how things really work" and would not recommend that their children become involved in it. Again, these generalizations may be dangerous to make, but the observations provide some insight into how hate-group recruiting really works, and how it may be possible to get women out of them.
My first reaction to this book was one of gratefulness to the author for having done what was, she makes clear, a most disagreeable task; these subjects weren't exactly fun to be with. The book is written with intelligence, diligence, and professionalism. The author shows a commendable familiarity with the relevant recent social science literature. Most of all, it is refreshing to see a scholarly contribution to a field that is too often left to sensationalist journalists.
But my second reaction developed as I read through these dreary reports about these dreary people. I became bored and more bored as the reading progressed.
I cannot believe that these people are as pathetically uninteresting as they appear in this book. That they are disagreeable and hateful is beyond doubt. But I think that anyone who has ever observed the participants in a fringe movement will testify that there almost invariably times of enthusiasm, of excitement, of peek experience, of lives lived with great intensity. Professor Blee captures little if any such spark.
I think I know what went wrong.
First, the author tells us about the women but not about the men in these racist organizations. That seems to me to be like writing a history of what happened on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, figuring that the Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays belong somehow to a different world. It is a feminism run amok, in my opinion, to deal with a social movement consisting of both men and women as if the story of each were essentially unrelated to the other. Much of the spark of fringe social movements comes exactly from male-female interaction, especially in the younger age groups. More than one former member of radical youth groups has told me that it was precisely the stimulation of male-female relationships that made membership so stimulating.
Second, her method of eliciting life histories puts the emphasis on individual members. Group dynamics -- the inevitable internal dissentions, the struggles for leadership and prestige -- none of that is captured in this book.
Finally, the author has the unfortunale habit of quoting unrelated writers, often of the politically correct persuation, as if they were somehow relevant to her topic. "As the literary theorist Henry Louis Gates Jr. observes...." (p. 79); "As the cultural theorist Edward W. Said notes..." (p. 158); "As David Theo Goldberg argues..." (p. 174); and on and on she quotes and cites as if she were a graduate student. This writing detracts from the otherwise serious character and high purpose of this work.