posted on January 03, 2019 13:16
White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – And How I got Out. (2017). Christian Picciolini. New York, New York: Hachette Book Group. 275 pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-52290-8.
Shelley Price-Williams, PhD, School of Business Student Services, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, firstname.lastname@example.org
White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – And How I got Out is a rich narrative of the author’s recruitment and leadership of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement in the Midwest. Through his reflections, the author provides vivid details of early beginnings as a first-generation American; his path through violence and hatred in the white power movement; and finally, his attainment of freedom catalyzed by empathy and love. The reader acquires knowledge of the historical context of the alt-right nationalist movement, as well as key factors of recruitment.
Christian was born of Italian immigrant hairdressers, who worked excessively to achieve the American dream. He was an isolated child who experienced bullying and spent most of his early adolescence in isolation. He resented his parents for focusing primarily on economic gain. These factors qualified Christian as a viable recruit to the movement, which provided an outlet for his frustration and anger. As an early teen, Christian encountered the skinhead movement through propaganda disseminated in literature and music. Factors for recruitment centered on those who were lonely, with few friends, and scarce economic resources. Recruits were often in search of belonging or acceptance. Additionally, candidates typically exhibited low self-esteem and were likely to be traumatized from earlier life events, such as bullying.
Secondary education was a tumultuous time, wherein, Christian experienced marginalization, due to his significant role in the white power organization. He moved from one school to the next for a total of five different schools, due to his violent, racist, and aggressive attacks on non-white peers. He became more distant from his family and more powerful in the movement. Eventually, Christian transformed into a recruiter and leader. He found this newfound leadership role and feeling of importance intoxicating. This fed his innate need for a sense of belonging and acceptance. Heavy drinking and violence were central to the white power movement, which was riddled with conflicts over territory and fame.
Later, Christian’s love for his new, young wife and newborn son became the catalyst for a slow departure from the toxicity of the movement. Inevitably, empathy manifested overpowering his bitter obsession of otherness in the world. He recollected, “I still sometimes sensed myself judging people, my mind jumping to the prejudices I taught it, but when I challenged myself I learned that I simply couldn’t justify or reconcile those prejudices any longer” (p. 239). Through Christian’s own self-analysis, he viewed himself as shallow with a deep addiction to the movement, from which he eventually detoxed the debilitating effect of power and control.
This content of the book hits on NACADA core competencies for practice with its focus on the hate movement and how it fractures equitable and inclusive environments. It informs readers of the characteristics, needs, and experiences of individuals who depart from the movement in attempt to recreate their lives. We learn empathy and love are fundamental to inclusive and respectful communication across difference. While this book is not written specifically for practitioners in higher education, academic advisors will learn the factors for hate movement recruitment and related ideology. This understanding will equip advisors to be more effective in supporting victims of bias incidents or even in working with students who themselves ceased participation in white supremacy movements. As a compact, quick read, this book is informative and impactful.