Pervasive Polarization Spares None, Seaholm Included

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Image courtesy of Wellcome Images

December 21, 2018
The Editorial Board

Racist, derogatory, abysmal and stereotyping language appeared on an Instagram story from an account construed as a Seaholm sophomore on Tuesday, December 11. They contained no images, but for most, the words were harsh enough. An individual behind the posts, who is likely a Seaholm student, wrote statements advocating for violence against African Americans, indirectly praising the Ku Klux Klan and sharing flawed racial stereotypes about black people, prolifically using the n-word throughout. That night, screenshots and shock spread within the student body, and several reports were made.

By the end of the school day Wednesday, Seaholm administration had opened an investigation into the comments and referred the case to the Birmingham Police Department.

About 10 minutes prior to the end of school, Seaholm Principal Kyle Hall made an announcement over the PA system.

In her address, she exonerated the student framed for the act, denounced the racist comments, and assured African American students their safety and acceptance at school. Next, however, she deviated from appropriate rhetoric and stopped helping, reviling the student responsible, implying that they are hate-filled and cowardly. Ultimately, she rejected the individual, who is likely a Seaholm student, from the Seaholm community, stating that they are not welcome in this forest. That statement reversed any progress made against the larger problem at play, racism, and instead targeted a symbol of it.

This effective exchange between Hall and the unknown student illustrates the presence of the one of the world’s worst problems. Pernicious and relentless, it’s why neither party’s helping in the situation, and it’s not racism.

Hall’s approach of addressing the racism is to denounce it, then assail its representative, the student, with whom she is effectively diametrically opposed. Those facts make this now an issue of polarization, the nasty phenomena which in its viciously circular tendencies may lead from a simple or complex impasse to violent attacks, fear and, sometimes, literal war.  

Polarization, in essence, is the process of making two groups of people become more of the opposite of one another, to divide them and drive them apart. The process requires the coincidence of at least two conditions: a basic fact of two parties’ opposition, and behavior that can be viewed as hostile or threatening by one party. The first, and primary condition, the substantial opposition of two things, is fairly simple, merely requiring the interests or beliefs of two groups of people to be opposed in some way. It’s possible for only one or no party to perceive or even believe in the fact of opposition, so long as they objectively are, the condition exists.

Secondly, some action(s) taken by one party, and viewed by the other as hostile must transpire for polarization to initially begin and to be perpetuated.

Preventing or reducing these conditions from forming allow for the reduction of polarization and associated incursions.

These proclaimed, broad aspects of polarization are consistently found in diametric, polarized conflicts, and without the function of each of them, polarization cannot occur. This doesn’t mean that it can’t remain, it simply means it may not develop further.

Briefly, take the Israel-Palestine conflict for example. They’ve been absolutely opposed since the late 1940s, and continue aggression against one another today in the form of military or individual acts which come to represent each group as a whole. Therefore, the concept is not disproven.

Offering an understanding of the nature of polarization is the circumstance of the Generation Identity, a French-based European white nationalist organization which is gaining popularity in France, the U.K., and Germany, among other countries. In France, the movement’s primary objective is to promote policies of “re-immigration,” the removal of any non-native French people from France to reverse what they call the “Islamification” of Europe. They believe Middle Easterners, many of which are fleeing violence, war, and hunger, are attempting to degrade French identity, which Identitarians believe Muslims hate, specifically in depriving Europeans of their nationality and whiteness.

Identitarians fear what may become of them and their nation if Muslims continue to enter, according to a 6-month undercover investigation into a sect of Generation Identity in northern France by the Qatari news outlet Al Jazeera.   

One Identitarian, Jean Davie Cattin spoke at a meeting saying, “People live like foreigners in their own neighborhoods. People feel their sense of Identity taken away,” he said to a group of identitarians, unaware of Al-Jazeera’s secret recording. “Their own areas stolen from them. Their means of socialization are stolen from them. People can’t have two homelands. You have one, and we feel this extremely violently.”

Identitarians also fear the hatred of Europe they claim exists throughout the entirety of the faith of Islam, which is inaccurate, and, as

“The level of hatred is at its highest,” Cattin said. “A hatred which has found its standard beared in political Islam and in Islam. This is a hatred of French people, a hatred of who we are as Europeans.”

This hatred of a perceived enemy leads those who fear terrorism to become terrorists themselves, and dehumanizing Muslim and Arab people, and prompting unprovoked violence against Arabs.

Al-Jazeera footage captured the moment when a young Muslim woman was assaulted, the assailant boasted of his “accomplishment,” and expressed a mindset dehumanizing the entire group. 

“Girl, or no girl, I couldn’t give a f**k. They’re just Arabs,” the assaulter said.

Since the Identitarians were opposed to the Arabs, and view terrorism and immigration as harmful hostile actions, polarization exists.

In circumstances of polarization, especially on a grand scale, the opposing ideas and groups attract people and organizations within their spheres of influence, including in present-day U.S. politics where Republican and Democratic voters are being pulled further left, with movements like the 2018s Bernie Sanders-backed progressives and Trump politics.

The ever-separating Republican and Democratic parties in U.S. politics, too, is polarization, as the parties oppose one another, due to their own interest in doing so, and actively act hostile towards one another to win elections.

One consequence of their opposition is the impasse which exists when parties, whose beliefs and ideologies are shaped to oppose and defeat those of the other, have to cooperate to run the government.

In the case of Seaholm, the polarization which occurred wasn’t a great one, as, fortunately, there are few to none known extreme racists at Seaholm, however, it still had multiple effects characteristic of other polarization.

The racism itself prompted discussion among students who either feared what the hate at our school represented, or considered the degree to which students are entitled to an opinion, especially one outside of school.

Hall’s words to the racist would not have done anything but promote further racism, as such hostile and unnecessary opposition to the individual would merely foment further separation and radicalization due to the dogmatism paradox, an epistemic paradox, which according to a lecture by professor Roy Sorrenson, avers that if someone knows something to be true, they have an adamantine conviction, then any information to the contrary must be either false or misleading. Since this locks strong believers of a conviction into their set of knowledge, Hall’s perceived “insults,” regardless of their validity, will only hamper the difficult process of acting against the individual’s racist ideologies, as she, to the racist, is wrong simply for opposing what to them is the truth, thereby hardening their racist beliefs.

The opposition which was reinforced by and followed Halls remarks were, just as with Generation Identity members’ conversion to ostensible terrorism to oppose different types of terrorists without leaving their country, some Seaholm students consider violent reprisal to be their preferred response to racism.

One student tells The Highlander that, if no consequences would follow their actions, that he’d “do everything he [the unknown proprietor of the Instagram account] wanted to do to African Americans to him. Everything he thinks they deserve.”

Polarization, in multiple respects the process of broader conflict, proliferates throughout humanity. Its occurrence tends to, broadly, be self-perpetuating, cause radicalization, exacerbate or cause severe detriments to involved and peripheral parties, engender dehumanization and escalate the conflict, along with other conflict-specific results.  Atop of experiencing the awful, racist dogma of the account, Seaholm’s polarization brought aspects of all of the above traits of polarized conflict to some degree as well.

The events succeeding the comments, as well as the comments themselves did not spare Seaholm a potent, bitter taste of polarization, and we, as a community, digest what it shows us to prevent polarization and its consequences in our own lives, at school and in the world.

 

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