How did we get here? It’s easily the question that has been on everyone’s mind since the election results came in and it’s one that I believe warrants discussion on a Magic the Gathering blog. After all, the demographic that drove the election result was white men, the same demographic that makes up the large majority of the Magic community. Obviously not all white men agree. As a community themselves, white men are clearly divided, but also clearly angry. The question I’ve been pondering is just what kind of community is the Magic community?

My thoughts at this time turn to the film¬†American History X. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you find a copy and watch it, immediately. It is not for the faint of heart though, so you may prefer to head over to IMDB and read the synopsis instead. It will tell you everything you need to know for the purpose of this discussion.

Derek (Ed Norton) begins this story as the leader of a gang of skinhead neo-nazis from a blue-collar family in the Los Angeles area. His gang commits violent hate crimes. One night three black men attempt to steal Derek’s car. Derek shoots two of them before the third one escapes. One of the black men dies from the gunshot wounds. Derek finishes the other one off himself. Derek goes to prison where he is exposed to some harsh truths. He seeks out the white supremacists in prison for protection from the Blacks and Hispanics. He soon discovers that the skinheads in prison are greatly outnumbered and rely on the Mexicans to protect them. Disgusted by the revelation and still full of hate, Derek abandons the neo-nazis and tries to survive on his own. He soon gets assigned to laundry room duty where a black inmate eventually breaks through his hatred and shows him that he’s a real person. Derek learns to empathize with Lamont and for this the skinheads he abandoned rape Derek in the shower. Derek wants out. He has learned the dark road that hatred leads down. He has discovered empathy and kindness. Derek is a reformed white man who can understand the suffering of others.

Danny (Ed Furlong) is Derek’s younger brother. He idolizes Derek and wants to be like him. When Derek is in prison Danny joins the skinhead gang where his older brother’s legacy makes him an accepted part of the family. Danny is full of hate and rage and these are fueled by the incarceration of his older brother, the loss of his role model in life. Danny commits hate crimes and writes a book report on Mein Kampf. Danny believes that the non-whites are taking everything away from the whites and that he needs to protect his race. The school principal, upon learning about Danny’s report, and knowing about Derek’s newfound empathy, assigns Danny a new project: write a report on his older brother. Danny is full of rage and hate toward a world he believes is taking everything from him. He is told white people are the problem but all he sees is the suffering of his people.

Derek and Danny are two sides of the white male community. They are full of fear, hate, anger, despair, and a wide array of other emotions. They suffer, greatly, and blame that suffering on non-whites. Their life has been devoid of any positive interaction with non-whites. The skinhead gang is a family for them. It is a place where they belong. Where they are accepted. Where they are loved. They do not know of a life like that involving non-whites. Derek is forcefully confronted with hate, literally, and learns about it in a way that is more intimate than the hate he ever exerted upon his victims. He learns empathy. Danny does not have this experience firsthand, but he is taught about it by Derek.

In the end Danny never has the opportunity to experience empathy the way Derek has. The next morning, after writing his paper on his reformed brother, a black youth shoots Danny in the school bathroom. Henry appeared earlier in the film as part of a group of black kids beating up a white kid in the bathroom. Danny saved the white kid from the beating and blew cigarette smoke in Henry’s face. Clearly it had a lasting effect on Henry to the point that Henry took Danny’s life.

The Magic community has aspects of both Derek and Danny within it and as a whole. We’ve been exposed to the darker side of hate. Have we learned empathy from it? Are we Derek? Faced with our own hatred do we learn to embrace and love one another? Are we Danny? Fearful for our own future, do we protect ourselves at the expense of others and to the point of shutting everything else out?

I want to believe that the Magic community is Derek. We’ve seen the ugliness of bigotry against our non-white friends and family, the terribleness of misogyny against the women in our lives, the horrifying reality of transphobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of prejudice. We’ve seen it now first-hand, had it shoved in our faces; and decided we don’t want it anymore, rejecting the elements of our community that cling to it and struggling to show those close to us a better way.

I am afraid that the Magic community is Danny. It has no role model and seeks a strong leader to fill that void. We are full of fear and anger and we are prone to lash out uncontrollably. That translates into a hatred that is focused outside of the community, at minorities, at women. It makes us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel like our family is safe, and secure. The cost may be other communities but ours is the one that matters. We don’t understand why other communities like ours tell us we’re wrong. We don’t understand why they’re telling us we’re bad, and it makes us recoil into ourselves.

I don’t know what the Magic community will do in the wake of current events but obviously I have my own bias. I think that everyone believes they’re Derek. We all think we know what’s best. It’s difficult to recognize the Danny within us. Unfortunately it needs to be thrown in our face, something difficult to do when we bury our heads in the sand.¬†American History X is narrated by Danny, and after his death he shares what he’s learned from Derek, the lesson I hope all the Dannys out there can learn from the Dereks in their lives before it’s too late:

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. Derek says it’s always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can’t top it, steal it from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you’d like.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Those words, quoted by Danny, come from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address to the nation after becoming our 16th president on March 4th, 1861. Those words, spoken on the eve of the opening of the American Civil War, were Lincoln’s plea to the south. It was Derek’s plea to Danny. It must now be the plea of white men who oppose hatred to white men who live by it. It is my plea to those of you, white men, who feel like you’ve been shamed into a corner, fearful that your world is being taken away from you by non-whites.

I am not your enemy. I am your friend. Though passion has strained our relationship, it must not break. The strength of our memories together when recalled, which they will be, shall guide you to your own better nature.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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