I was searching on yahoo when I saw a story titled “Reformed skinhead endures agony to remove tattoos” by Helen O’Neill from the Associated Press. This artcle is about a man who used to be involved in a racist skinhead group since he was fourteen years old. He continued down the lifestyle for sixteen years and it all started out by trying to impress a family member who was also a skinhead. That is a long time of reinforced hate and violence that he has first handedly caused against people of color. When I first read this I was skeptical and I thought how on earth can a person full of hate for another human being want to suddenly change? I started reading more into it and it explained how he was a father of two and also married to a woman who was also in a racist group. He could not find decent work because of the tattoos and his menacing look. Widner and his wife Julie wanted to leave their racist past behind them and focus on their family together. He was not able to support his family with part time jobs and needed a change in his life. Bryon Widner explaned in an attached video that he did not hate anyone. He says he was taught that the Jews were responsible for all his “woes” and that he was bullied when he was younger so it felt good to be the tough guy and build up his low self esteem. He did not see a way out of his gang besides death or jail. He was constantly harrassed and recieved many death threats towards him and his family after leaving the movement and giving information to the FBI and other police on the structure of some gangs. He had to relocate a few times because of the constant danger that came with his choice for a better life.
Throughout the painful surgeries he believed he was serving his penance for all the harm he has caused. He had little money and no health insurance so an anonymous donor decided to pay for it all on the conditions that he find a job and pursue an education, which is what he wanted all along. The tattoos covered his face, neck, knuckles and torso area so the surgeries were definitely extensive. The surgeries consisted of lasering off the ink which resulted in blisters and burned skin which eventually healed up. The surgeries were so painful that the doctor began puttin Widner under general anesthesia for the remainder of the appointments. The family relocated again and is living a safe and peaceful life for now. Widner hopes he can make amends with those who he has harmed and continues to go to church. One black woman who saw the documentary approached Widner with an embrace and said she had forgiven him. He still has reminders of his old life including his child’s name which he wants to have changed. After watching the video and hearing him speak it made me see that maybe this was real. He finally saw that this lifestyle that he had pursued for so long was not only affecting him but also his wife and children. I think family is the only motivation that can stir up courage and the strength to rise up against the odds.
So what does it mean to be a racist? Racism is popularly and simply defined in our society as one race believing in their superiority over all other minority races. Racist beliefs are very strong rooted in the past of the U.S. This includes from the period of slavery, to the civil rights movement and even now in our present time. There was also a time in the 1980’s when race and ethinicty, as well as gender, were a primary cause for police brutality in Adrienne Ritchie’s piece called “Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color” in The Color of Violence. In this reading police claimed that they used proper force in controlling the siutations that involved the colored women. This includes: tasering an 8- month pregnant African American woman who dropped her son off at school, a 79-year old African American woman who was shot in the chest after pleading with the police to stop beating her grandson, women of domestic violence who were brutalized even more instead of receiving asssistance and etc. The list goes on but the point is that discrimination based on someone’s race and ethnicity happens in different stuctural situations as well as in the streets. The difference is that these policeman abused their authority to feed their racist and discriminatory beliefs. The racist skinhead groups do the same but they have no legit reason (police must use force in some situations only when necessary) but their beliefs. Widner says he joined a skinhead group because of his low self esteem so it does not seem quite the same as a racist who believes in the superiority of their race and in themselves but it still uses the same drive of hate and violence behind it.