By Anne Trubek
The first time I heard the term “alt-right” was this spring, when a writer pitched an article for Belt that would follow an alt-right group planning to attend the RNC in Cleveland later this month. I assumed, wrongly, that the term was synonymous with another recently coined term, “Trump Supporters,’” which is most often used as a catch-all to refer to working-class white men, the core constituency fired up by Trump’s candidacy.
I realized my mistake this weekend. Trump’s use of an anti-semitic meme on Twitter originated on an “alt-right” site (or reddit post, or something) I learned, and “alt-right” refers to white supremacy groups. Researching further, I found other descriptions of the group as “the loosely assembled far-right movement that exists largely online,” “a movement … which rejects the premises on which modernity is built, like democracy and egalitarianism,” and a “white supremacist movement.”
“Alt-right” is very quickly snaking its way into our parlance; any minute now it will explode. Yesterday, I was with a friend who follows the news closely, and I used the term. “What’s alt-right?” she asked. “Basically white nationalism,” I said.
“I’ve never heard that term before,” she said.
“By the end of the week you will have heard it numerous times,” I replied.
Sure enough, I heard it on NPR this morning.
Language is power. We all know this. The terms we use to describe groups and people matter. We understand why we no longer use Negro, or Oriental, or how Queer has shifted from slur to point of pride. “Alt-right” is a term that should not be adopted by mainstream media — or leftist media, or people discussing the news with friends.
“Alt-right” — shorthand for the the Alternative Right — is, like “pro-life,” the term the group gave itself. It is misleading, misrepresentative, and, most importantly, a benign or even attractive term. “Alternative” has long been used to refer to progressive, non-mainstream politics and art. When I hear the term my first thought is of alt-country, a music genre I adore; I think of Usenet groups, and the progressive news site Alternet as well.
I do not think of white nationalism.
So let us pick a new term to refer to this new group — and not the term the group has given itself. “White supremacist” works for me. “White nationalist” seems apt as well. In some cases, “neo-Nazi” applies.
If you have other ideas, let’s hear them. But let us not let adopt the term these bigots use to describe themselves, a term that hides their sickening violence and hate. We can very easily take that power away from them.