Awards, English 1A

American History X

Many people have hatred towards certain races based on personal experiences, stories from ancestors as well as current events...

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Many people have hatred towards certain races based on personal experiences, stories from ancestors as well as current events that are happening around them. Racism looks like it’s not going away anytime soon. The Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi’s still exist to this day worshiping those who slaughtered many African-Americans along with many other races. The film “American History X” shows the attitudes of two American brothers who had been influenced by their father, a firefighter, who had critical views towards the African-American culture. Some people grow up following what their parents believe, even when it’s wrong. Nobody is born racist but it can easily be learned with no effort at all. This film shows what following the views of others can do and how people can turn their life around.
In this 1998 film, the two brothers, Derek and younger brother Danny cope with their father’s death, who was killed in the line of duty. Derek now becomes a father figure to his family as well as becoming a white supremacist and joined a neo-Nazi group to show his hatred towards African-Americans. Committing numerous crimes and ending up in jail with a three-year sentence of voluntary manslaughter for curb-stomping an African-American man who was trying to carjack his vehicle. During his absence, younger brother Danny supports his brother’s neo-Nazi ways and starts hanging out with more white supremacists. While Derek was in jail, he noticed that the white supremacists inside the jail didn’t act like the ones outside of jail. They made deals with the Mexicans and Blacks which is something no true white supremacist would ever do. Derek ends up getting assaulted by who he thought were his brothers shortly after confronting them about the nonsense. He realizes nobody has his back anymore. During his three-year sentence he ends up making friends with an African-American man, showing him that people are people no matter what race they are. After Derek was released, he comes home to find that his little brother is hanging out with his old neo-Nazi buddy as well as the leader. Derek tries telling him that he needs to be focused on school and to stop this white supremacist crap. Danny thinks his brother has gone nuts and keeps asking questions as to why he has changed and what happened to him in jail. Derek just wants to save his little brother from what he had been wrongfully believing before it’s too late.
Even after eighteen years American History X can still relate to issues that are occurring today. There was a neo-Nazi rally outside of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento earlier this year and protestors came to confront them. FOX News reported, “Video shot by an ABC10 reporter of several fights showed the two groups bashing each other with sticks and throwing objects in a violent, chaotic fracas. Blood stains were visible on the ground and several of those involved were bleeding following the fights, including two neo-Nazis visibly bleeding from their heads” (Par. 10). This is a very clear example of how we are still dealing with these issues today. Many people despise anyone who is affiliated with any kind of white supremacist group. Our country was devastated when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States last month. Riots broke out hoping that would change something, it didn’t. In John O’Donnell’s book, Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump-His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall, he quotes Trump saying, “I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else…. Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think that [black man] is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is; I believe that. It’s not anything they can control” (O’Donnell). Our President to-be is a very openly racist man, he can try to deny it but he can’t take back what he has said. This is a man who our children will have to listen to ruling our country for the next four years. There is no knowing as to what our country is in for with Donald Trump as our so-called leader. In the article, YOUNG: The alt-right is based on white supremacist, neo-Nazi ideals, it states “With the election of Trump, white supremacy took a hold on America. Van Jones called it a “white lash”. White America had been fed up with talks of racism and conversations about “safe spaces.” They intended to return to an America that pretended there was nothing wrong–an America that benefited the working white middle class. A middle class that didn’t have to pay attention to the marginalized people they stepped on to get the America they loved” (Par. 4). This “alt-right” movement has been the spotlight this year due to Mr. Trump’s candidacy. This group wants America to be dominated by white people. Cas Mudde, a researcher at University of Oslo, in his Huffington Post Article Stop Using the term “Alt-Right” wrote, “The term ‘alt-right’ is nothing more than a clever marketing tool by white supremacist activist, who knows that his ideology is considered unacceptable in today’s society” (Par. 5). They are just using a term that doesn’t sound extreme, and hoping nobody catches it. Cosmopolitan Magazine writer Michael Sabastian writes, “White nationalists are part of the “alt-right,” but they’re also a group unto themselves. For many people, “white nationalism” is just another term for “white supremacist” or “neo-Nazi” …” (Par. 13). These groups believe that if they change the name it will make it sound less hateful. Thankfully, people aren’t as stupid as they look, it’s obvious that it’s just a cover for these white supremacist groups. They act like they are doing good but they are doing the exact same thing.
We are all easily influenced by people around us. Many look up to celebrities, friends, siblings and parents. They serve as a role model and things they do rub off on us. There is a scene in American History X that shows us that people are easily influenced by someone, even your own father, and this can change one’s perspective on how they think. Edward Norton, who plays older brother Derek, is sitting around the dinner table with his family. Derek is explaining to his father, Dennis, about a new teacher, Mr. Sweeny, who is an African-American and is teaching a black literature unit. The father looks confused as to why they would be doing this. The father goes into how things have changed with trying to make everybody equal. Dennis explains to Derek, “I’ve got two black guys on my squad now who got their job over a couple of white guys who actually scored higher on the test. Does that make sense? Everything’s “equal” now, but I’ve got two guys watching my back…responsible for my life…who aren’t as good. They only got the job because they were black, not because they were the best” (American History X). Derek seemed to like this new teacher he had but his father shoved his own critical views into his head. After his father was killed while on the job a news reporter had an interview with Derek and it clearly shows how much his view-point had changed on African-Americans. Once their father had died, Derek was now the father figure for younger brother Danny and the family. But once Derek went away for the hate crime he committed, Danny thought of his older brother as a role model and started hanging out with Derek’s white supremacist friends, shaved his head and got an official tattoo from Cameron Alexander, who is the head guy of the whole neo-Nazi group. Danny gets in trouble for writing an English paper on Adolf Hitler and praising him. He thought it would make Derek proud, that’s why he wrote it. This is such a great example of how being influenced by others can turn bad and that nobody is born racist; it is taught. Sometimes people who end up affiliating themselves in these groups aren’t influenced by role models, but by personal experiences as well. Like William H. Hoff Jr., who had been a person that helped African-Americans learn to read as well as volunteering to distribute clothing, food and toys to Hispanic and African-American children. But then suddenly changes and becomes a different man who has hatred towards African-Americans. Jim Pfiffer reveals a story that the little brother, Sheldon Hoff, wanted to tell. Sheldon Hoff explains, “He got involved with the extremist groups when he was 17 or 18, after he was dishonorably discharged from the Navy for allegedly getting into a fight and badly injuring by a black man.
That’s when his hatred for blacks and other minorities became evident. He attended neo-Nazi rallies and Hitler birthday parties” (Par. 5). No matter if it’s from personal experiences or your family, there will always be a reason why people turn to these types of views.
There have been some cases where people who are affiliated with white supremacy that have turned their life around. That is exactly what Derek does in this film. He realizes that what he had been taught was not the answer and now it was his responsibility to save his brother from this nonsense. In the article, BOYZ N DA HOOD, Felix Allen writes, “A Ku Klux Klan boss is inviting black people, Jews and homosexuals to join its ranks in a bizarre recruitment drive.
A branch of the white supremacist hate group has “rebranded” itself and claims it welcomes other races, religions and sexual orientations…” (line 1). This sounds very odd coming from a group that has been known for the hatred of many races, religions and sexual orientations. But this shows that it’s possible that anybody’s views can change. Towards the end of the film, Derek finally explains to Danny what happened to him in jail and why he had changed his views. Danny was shocked and didn’t know what to say. When Derek was released from the jail, on his way out he spotted his new black friend Lamont. He tells Lamont, “I’m thinking the only reason why I’m getting outta here in one piece is you” (American History X). Lamont tells him that he’s crazy and that he wouldn’t put his neck on the line for some white guy. But Derek deep down knew that Lamont saved his ass from getting assaulted again.
During this film, Mr. Sweeny assigned Danny to re-write his English paper on his older brother and explain what he had learned from him. It seemed to be hard for him to write this paper, but once Derek had told him about what happened, he was able to finish his paper easily. Danny writes, “So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned – my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it” (American History X). This clearly shows that Danny sees the whole picture now and that following these groups of hatred is pointless. Unfortunately, Danny was shot and killed the day he was supposed to turn in his paper. The boy who had shot him was an African-American. In the beginning of the film, this boy was bullying a white boy in the bathroom for snitching on him. Danny comes out of a stall and stares at him strongly but the boy leaves. After that he strongly hated Danny and had told a few of his black friends about him. I believe this boys older friends had put him up to it. I believe that if Danny had the chance, he would’ve made amends with this boy, but it was too late. Derek had blamed himself for Danny’s death.
We all need to understand that we cannot live our lives in fear or hate of another’s nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. Like Danny said, “Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off…” This is the best quote I think in this whole movie, and it hits you hard. This film is an incredible example how people can be easily influenced by the wrong ideas by the wrong people. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite” –Nelson Mandela.

Annotated Bibliography

Allen, F. (2014, Nov. 11). “BOYZ N DA HOOD.” The Sun. ProQuest.

American History X. Dir. Tony Kaye. Perf. Edward Norton. 1998. DVD.

Cunningham, D. (2016, Mar. 13). “The Ku Klux Klan.”

Jaeger, Kyle. “Here’s How Big the KKK Really Is Today.” N.p., 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Mudde, Cas. ‘Stop Using the Term “Alt-Right”!’. Huffington Post. 25 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

O’Donnell, John. “Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump-His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall.” 1991, May. Book.

Pfiffer, J. (2007, Apr 20). “Unlocking a family secret.” Star-Gazette. ProQuest.

Sabastian, Michael. ‘What is the “alt-right”? 9 Things to know about the movement.” Cosmopolitan Magazine. 30 Nov. 2016. Web.

“YOUNG: The alt-right is based on white supremacist, neo-Nazi ideals. (2016, Nov 30). University Wire. ProQuest.

Written by Justine Palk
Going to VC to become an OB Nurse. About to get an Associates in Art then on my way to the Nursing program. Trying to take some fun classes on the side. :) Profile

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