American History X: Why is It Important to Study African American History

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Danny Vineyard opens American History X by proclaiming he does not care for anyone who is not White or Protestant. A powerful monologue for the opening of this particular film, a highly controversial and barbarous story of racism in a family and the seeds that hate can sow. Loaded with countless examples of sociological concepts, this film embraces do broad a view of the grip racism has on America, that its tale of conversion will serve as a light of hope in the present time.

This film takes place in Venice Beach, Ca. Blossoming with diverse cultures and simmering in the summer heat, proves a fertile ground for the formation of angry groups of insecure, frustrated, ethnocentric while males. The fact that the community is changing around them makes many of the males feel uneasy about their place in society. What seems to inflame their anger is the growing number of illegal immigrants in the city and the governments lazy policies which pander to their needs. Their goal of the advancement and preservation of the white race is cloaked under the guise of saving American society from the social diseases that dare to threated its very existence.

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In a united showing of social dominance orientation, the young supremacists feel obligated to debase other social groups who they view as inferior and dangerous to the survival of the white race; the dominate recipients of the so-called American dream. They feel that their white Protestant upbringing is the backbone of the country’s morale and is far superior that those of any other race. This example of social dominance is at its very core, extreme ideas of ethnocentrism. When watching this human hate machine, it’s natural to wonder how their line of thinking appears plausible to many. This can be understood by paying attention to our main characters Derek and Danny. For Derek, the changing of one’s self concept can be subtle, yet painful too.

One of the films main protagonists, Derek Vineyard starts out as a normal teenager, but after his father is murdered by a group of ethnic minorities, he descends into a downward spiral of racial hatred, blaming the multi-cultural society he lives in for his death. Derek’s lifestyle eventually sends him to prison after he murders tow gang members for trying to steal his car. He shows no remorse and justifies as revenge for his father. Derek begins his prison sentence by aligning with fellow skinhead inmates and increasing his influence outside of prison. Eventually, he begins to feel betrayed by his skinhead brothers and becomes friends with an African-American named Lemont. Derek begins to lose faith in his simple-minded beliefs after suffering a brutal gang rape by his former skinhead crew. He eventually makes it out of jail in one piece and as a new man thanks to Lemont and is eager to change his brother’s (Danny) ideologies and hate before it is too late.

American History X permits us to see all of the factors that come into play with our protagonists (Derek and Danny). The film describes the many ideologies that give rise to racism, that result in some immoral cations which lead to the characters alienation. It also denotes the concept of hegemony; the ignorant ways and domination of the more powerful class over the other. In the case of Derek and Danny, their actions and beliefs lead the to their own demise. Sadly, this is when the proverbial light goes off. Derek begins to see the unjust racist world around him through the help of Lemont. He helps Derek understand the reasons behind what had been going on around him.

Another example of racism in this flick is how Derek refers to the immigrants as “parasites” and claims the only reason they are crossing the border is to exploit America (Kaye 1998). He also claims that people on welfare and individuals with AIDS are not the problems of white people, so they should not be concerned with them. For example, Derek compares the parasites to the people like his father who was murdered by a black man while putting out a fire in a black neighborhood…. which he should not have cared about. Per Derek, minorities do not deserve the benefits whites deserve. All of these beliefs are used as justification for destroying an innocent immigrant’s grocery store. This film demonstrates evidence of internal colonialism (Dillon 405, 2014).

The secluded minorities are not welcomed by the Americans. In fact, the minorities do not even understand they are being dominated until they are forced to deal with their loss. In particular, the Asian who owned the grocery store or the black men murdered by Derek. But this raised a bigger question: Are these social concepts the only element enraging these white Protestants, or are their deeper roots? One could argue that most killers have emotional scars from their past. In the case of American History X, Derek felt hate towards blacks because his father was killed by one. Knowing this, we would sympathize but, in the movie, we learn that Derek’s father fills his head with atrocious ideologies about minorities. For example, in a flashback scene, Derek is lauding a black teacher at school and his father reminds him that the only reason the teacher got the job was because of affirmative action. The black teacher had the advantage of being a minority and the government policy to overcome ethnic inequality by hiring him. Derek’s father thinks affirmative actions to be unfair to the white man and feel threatened he will be replaced someday. Such race issues are often related to class, especially if you are in a precarious economic position. The idea that other races are viewed as competition leads people to believe that people are trying to take something form them, to subvert them. When Derek’s father is murdered, Derek views that action as something being taken away from him.

In the film’s final act, Derek manages to convince Danny to join him in abandoning white supremacism. In reality, there is never an end to the repercussions from the violence of supremacists. The murder of Danny takes precedence of Derek confronting his old crew members. A single act of violence interrupts both protagonists from turning their newfound anti-hate into actions that help stop white supremacy.

American History X dramatically portrays the stronghold that hate can have on a society, on groups, families, and individuals. It is true that pockets of racism exist and are passed down through generations. The film proves through its examination of sociological elements that we do not have to fall victim to our surroundings and cater to the whims of the social beings around us. It is possible to break free from the mold of our ancestors and create a new legacy.   

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