Wade Michael Page and the two Americas

 Wade Michael Page is seen in this undated picture from a myspace.com web page for the musical group "End Apathy"

Wade Michael Page (shown in some news images above), who was 40 years old when he was killed yesterday as he was committing a heinous hate crime, didn’t look so different from the way that I look.

He was and I am a brown-haired white man in his 40s with a shaved head and a goatee. His eyes appear to have been hazel or green and mine are blue, and I have no tattoos, but still, just looking at us, just from appearances, you might assume that he was and I am on the same page.

But he was and I am not even in the same library.

Page, who yesterday gunned to death six people at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before he was gunned to death by a police officer, held a very different vision of what the United States of America should be than do I.

Page reportedly was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1998 for “patterns of misconduct” and was “ineligible for re-enlistment.” He also was a white supremacist. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and individuals who are involved in hate groups:

Wade Michael Page was a member of two racist skinhead [musical] bands – End Apathy and Definite Hate, a band whose album “Violent Victory” featured a gruesome drawing of a disembodied white arm punching a black man in the face. In the drawing, the fist is tattooed with the letters “HFFH,” the acronym for the phrase “Hammerskins Forever, Forever Hammerskins.”

The Hammerskins is a nationwide skinhead organization with regional factions and chapters that once dominated the racist skinhead movement in the United States.

Both of Page’s bands played with a revolving lineup of musicians, and their music was at one time featured on the Hammerskin Nation record label. In 2010, Page and his band mates – including Brent Rackley, a member of a Confederate Hammerskins chapter in North Carolina — played at a racist music festival called Independent Artist Uprise in Baltimore. Other bands featured at the show were Blue Eyed Devils and Max Resist, both influential mainstays on the hate music scene.

“Blue-eyed devil.” As one who possesses blue eyes, I never want to be mistaken for a white supremacist.

I don’t believe that the United States of America should be a white-majority nation, either in numbers or in political power. (Even when whites have only a plurality in terms of their population in a certain area, they still tend to wield majority political power in that area.)

I don’t believe that the racial makeup of the United States of America matters. An American, to me, is anyone who lives here. (I’m not even concerned about his or her citizenship status.) I am not disturbed that racial demographics in the U.S. are shifting, so that whites increasingly are becoming a minority in the nation as a whole. (Whites already are a minority in many regions of the nation.)

I don’t believe in an American monoculture, which is what Page and his ilk apparently have wanted: a culture of white, patriarchal, usually theocratic so-called “Christians” who believe that those who are different — those whose race or beliefs or language or customs or sexual orientation or gender identification differ from the white monoculture’s or from what the white monoculture dictates these things “should” be — should be relegated to ghettoes, driven out of the U.S. and/or even exterminated.

A monoculture of any type is dangerous. Biologists will tell you that when a species does not allow in some genetic diversity, that species’ genetic defects, which are not washed out, then, so to speak, will then threaten the species.

Ditto for culture. The closed-off white monoculture envisioned by Page and his ilk is a recipe for ruin because it lets in nothing different and new, making adaptability to a changing environment difficult to impossible.

Only by allowing in diversity can the United States of America adapt to a rapidly changing world. Others possess what the white monoculture does not possess — and what it needs. (And yes, even the white monoculture has some valuable things to offer other cultures.)

Far from the white supremacist viewpoint, mine is much like that of the late Mexican philosopher, politician and writer José Vasconcelos, who in his long essay “La Raza Cósmica” (“The Cosmic Race”)* urged the intentional mixing of all of the races in order to maximize the gifts that the various peoples of the world possess.

It’s a Utopian vision, I know. Indeed, Vasconcelos even calls the achievement of such a society “Universópolis.” You don’t get much more Utopian-sounding than that.

But is this vision really any different from the vision statement that is printed on our nation’s seal and on our currency: “E pluribus unum,” Latin for “out of many, one”?

I hold that this vision, however Utopian, is a much higher vision than that of Wade Michael Page, who was just one of millions of white American men (and women) whose vision, whether they openly admit it or not, is that of continued white supremacy — a right-wing, racist vision akin to that of Nazi Germany.

I hold that the vision of “E pluribus unum” is the true American vision, although the history of the United States of America is one big violation of this vision after another. Indeed, the American ideals were violated even as they were created. But because the vision repeatedly has been violated by those who have yet to rise up to it is no reflection upon the validity and the strength of the vision itself.

Speaking further of the truly American vision, I take the words associated with the Statue of Liberty quite seriously:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me …”

Therefore, I see anti-immigrant sentiment as deeply un-American. Anti-immigrant sentiment is as American as apple pie, you might argue, and I would agree with you that yes, in what we have seen throughout U.S. history to this present day, it sure is, but in terms of the vision, of the ideal, it is quite un-American. 

The six Sikhs whom Wade Michael Page gunned down in cold blood — five men and one woman who ranged in age from 39 to 84 — they, I am guessing, were among the “masses yearning to breathe free.” They, I am guessing, responded to the promise that the United States of America had made to them that it wanted them, that it would embrace them, that it would grant them some freedom, or at least some opportunity.

They met a white supremacist coward’s bullets instead.

They met his bullets because he very apparently considered them to be a threat to his continued survival and that of the group(s) to which he perceived himself to belong.

I consider them and others whose culture is so different from mine not to be a threat, but to be an opportunity — an opportunity to learn more, to discover more, to grow, to expand my concept, and theirs, of what it is to be a human being on planet Earth in this cosmos.

Rather than spray Sikhs with bullets, or even with rubber bands, I’d much rather spray them with questions. I’d rather compare notes.

That doesn’t mean that I’d ever become a Sikh or a Muslim or a Hindu (yes, white supremacists, they’re all different) or that I’d learn a foreign language that is incredibly difficult for someone whose first language was English to learn, such as Mandarin or Cantonese or Japanese or one of the Russian dialects.

But it means that I’m not afraid to share the same space with people who significantly are different from me, and it means that I’m willing to engage in cultural exchange that benefits everyone.

Although they might look the same on the surface, there truly are two United States of Americas.

One of them is represented by the likes of Wade Michael Page.

I am proud to represent the other one.

*Written in 1925, the essay contains some sentences that seem racist or at least stereotypical today, so I don’t endorse every word that Vasconcelos put down in his essay, but I do endorse his overarching ideas, and it does seem to me that, as Vasconcelos posited those many decades ago, Latin America might offer the United States its best hope for salvation, which is ironic, given the United States’ historic oppression of Latin America.

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