UPDATE: Comment from Life After Hate editor Arno Michaels:
Thank you for a spot-on account of Life After Hate.
I would like to add that we welcome submissions for future issues. While LAH is a sort of former-racists-anonymous and there will be much more of that kind of content, we’re by no means exclusive. Angie has never had a racist bone in her body, yet she has fantastic stories to tell and deep lessons to teach. LAH welcomes the creative expression of anyone who is concerned and conscious. See our submissions section for the particulars.
I am honored by the comparison to C.P. Ellis, and will do my best to live up to the example he provided.
Issue 2 will have an interview with Milwaukee artist Bashir Malik, the next four chapters of My Life After Hate, and a piece I’m working on about the soundtrack that accompanied my life. You are so right about the epic role of music and thanks for the idea.
Here’s to clapping on the odd beat!
Of the many riveting characters one meets in Studs Terkel’s Race: How Black and Whites Feel About the American Obsession, C.P. Ellis is one of my favorite.
The former Ku Klux Klan official and ardent segregationist’s recounting of how he, largely through his relationship with black activist Ann Atwater, turned into an agitator for civil rights and a trade union official makes for compelling reading.
A big part of the attraction for me lies in Ellis’ unflinching honesty about his former views and how they eventually changed, in my mind, for the better.
In Race, Ellis does not spend much time dwelling on his past activities, but rather discusses how seeing that black and white workers were going through the same struggles made him realize they had a common opponent and cause.
Ellis died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2005, and Ann Atwater eulogized him at his funeral.
About five years later, a new and younger crop of former haters turned embracers of humanity has emerged-this time in a recently launched online publication, Life After Hate.
Founded by former white power skinheads and the friends that helped steer them in a better direction, Life After Hate seeks to chronicle the journeys of those who went down a dark path before emerging on the other side.
Part catharsis, part cautionary tale, the site has first-person essays and art, all of which it says it is dedicated to the idea that, in the words of Editor Arno Michaels, “ Our planet and thus the very life of every human being is under dire threat from fear, greed, and hatred that can all be conquered beginning with a simple smile.”
The first issue contains an editorial note from Michaels, whom I have met on the phone but not in person, about his changed vision of Dr. King,essays about women and a childhood relationship with a Laotian girl and her family by Angie Aker.
It also has a brief essay from former skinhead Christian Picciolini.
Picciolini opens the piece by describing a performance he and his band, “Final Solution,” gave before 3,000 fans in Germany in the early 90s:
“Absolute devotion to white power pulsated through the crowd on that foggy March day in 1993. I imagined this is how Hitler had felt when he led the Germans on his mission for a pure race. He was dead—persecuted and misunderstood as far as I was concerned—but I was more than ready to step in and undertake his mission.
Laws favoring blacks were taking white jobs and we were overburdened with taxes used to support welfare. Neighborhoods of law-abiding, hard-working white families were being overrun with minority gangs and their drugs. Gays—a threat to the very propagation of our species—were demanding special rights. Our women were being conned into relationships by minorities. Clearly the white race was in peril.”
Chilling stuff, to be sure, and particularly so for me because of our family’s history.
Picciolini goes on to explain briefly that over time he arrived at a different view of the world-a view that he has continued to develop and expand.
He also writes that he wonders now at times how he could have been so misguided.
From conversations with Michaels about his own writing, reading the first four chapters of his book that are posted on Life After Hate, and from reading Picciolini’s essay, I have learned that music often plays a key role in young people’s descent into hatred.
In a larger sense, though, one feels in both Michaels and Picciolini a desire to understand the choices they took and the hope for some sort of redemption from them through their current works.
The source of that redemption can come both through other people, through self-forgiveness and through spiritual inspiration. For her part, Ann Atwater became convinced that Ellis’ change was authentic and worked productively and closely with him for more than 30 years.
We’ll see how today’s generation responds to what Michaels, Picciolini and others have to offer. For my mind, their efforts are worth more than a look.