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Education can help counter hate music’s appeal, professor says

BOONE—Music has helped propel social causes ever since the civil rights, peace and feminist movements, but when it comes to the white power movement, music is used to promote hatred and violence.

White power music, or hate music, is a research focus of Professor Nancy S. Love from Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies. She is the author of the book “Musical Democracy,” which focuses on the use of music in progressive movements, such as the feminist movement and civil rights movement.

She also is co-editor of “Doing Democracy: Activist Art and Cultural Politics,” which includes a chapter that she authored titled “Playing with Hate: White Power Music and the Undoing of Democracy.” She currently is working on her next book, “Trendy Fascism: White Power Music and the Future of Democracy.”

“While there is a long history of protest music from progressive movements such as the civil rights, labor and environmental movements, I put hate music in a different category, because the music is specifically intended to recruit members and raise funds for political purposes. And those purposes are to create hatred and promote violence,” she said. “That, to me, calls for another level of attention and response, especially since the target audience is often teenagers, who may not have the information they need in order to understand the affiliations of the groups making the music.”

Love intentionally uses the term hate music to describe the music of groups, such as the 1970s British group Skrewdriver.

“Many Americans recognize the need to focus on hate speech, but I think that music still isn’t taken as seriously as a form of public discourse. I use the term hate music specifically to encourage people to make that connection between hate speech and hate music,” she said. “Today hatred is not only being expressed in words, it’s also being expressed in songs. I would argue that music increases its power to mobilize and organize.”

Hate music previously was available primarily “underground” to those attending restricted festivals or private clubs. Today, it is more easily accessed, Love said, through videos posted on the Internet and music available for downloading through online distributors.

“White power music is a multimillion dollar global industry and a source for funding of the movement,” Love said. “There are 350 active bands worldwide with 100 to 150 based in the U.S.”

White power music includes broad genres, too, from hard rock to the neo-Nazi folk group, Prussian Blue. The music is used to mobilize and energize supporters, and recruit youth who are drawn to the movement by the music’s rhythm, tone and message, Love explained.

Youth who believe they have been disenfranchised by social changes and stresses related to the economic downturn are particularly drawn to the music and its lyrics.

While she doesn’t agree with the music’s messages, as an educator and political theorist, she believes it’s important that others understand the hate music genre and its appeal to youth.

“I don’t want to have my intentions misunderstood,” Love said of her work. “I don’t argue for censorship.” Instead, she advocates for a better understanding of the nation’s political history.

“What I argue for is education, specifically regarding teenagers, that would include knowing the political history of this great nation – the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad – so that this music can be seen for what it is in that larger context,” Love said. “If we teach our political history well, it will be clear that the genocide of Native Americans, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and the New Jim Crow are countered by the principles of freedom, equality and justice and ongoing struggles on behalf of those principles. This music is appealing to only a part of our political history.”