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I am a black man and interviewed a former white supremacist. It was a powerful experience.

I'm a black man who just spoke with a former white supremacist. He wasn't quite what I expected.

I have to admit that when my phone rang, I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and nervousness that I haven't experienced in years.

Am I really going to conduct this interview? Can a white supremacist truly be reformed? Do I really want to hear his story?


Maybe this would be a complete waste of time, but I took a deep breath and listened to everything because I knew it was possible I could learn something from him.

The first thing I learned: The path to joining a hate group doesn't always pass through a dramatic moment.

Arno Michaelis was born in Milwaukee. He described himself as "an angry, bored teenager with a habit of provoking people." Similar to how some misguided inner-city kids turn to gangs, Arno began to embrace the white power narrative because it made him feel powerful.

"The swastika appealed to me because everyone else was so repulsed by it," he told me. "As a bully who lashed out at other kids rather than face the suffering I felt growing up in an alcoholic household, I distanced myself from my family and familiarized myself with hate and violence. The white power narrative gave it all a heroic context."

Arno as an angry teen. Photo via Arno Michaelis, used with permission.

Arno was introduced to the white power skinhead scene through music; he listened to bands that preached racial hate. He received an adrenaline rush from participating in antisocial behavior and quickly became addicted to the movement and its mission. Not long afterward, it came to define him.

In the world of white supremacy, this man could put his resume up against anybody.

He was a founding member of the Northern Hammerskins, which went on to become part of Hammerskin Nation, "the best organized, most widely dispersed, and most dangerous skinhead group known," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups. He was also the lead vocalist for a white power metal band called Centurion, a group that sold over 20,000 records in the mid-1990s.

It seemed as if his life would be nothing but a cesspool of hatred and bigotry.

Then one moment changed him: He was thrust into single fatherhood.

Arno's daughter Mija giving hugs to her pet rabbit. Photo via Arno Michaelis, used with permission.

"I was with my daughter's mother for about six months before we decided it was our duty as white people to bring white children into the world," said Arno, who was 21 when his daughter was born. "By the time she was a little over a year old, my relationship with her mother ended," he said. "That's when I made the decision to be a good dad first and foremost. Living a life filled with hate just wasn't possible if I wanted to do that."

"That's when I made the decision to be a good dad first and foremost. Living a life filled with hate just wasn't possible if I wanted to do that."

Shortly thereafter, he felt a strange emotion that he never experienced before.

Empathy.

He became more in-tune with the feelings of his fellow humans. In doing so, he acknowledged that he was causing pain to others due to his own pain.

"I knew what I was doing was wrong all along, but I poured all of my energy into suppressing that knowledge," he said. "At the time, all I was doing was fleeing a fire I lit, leaving a trail of gasoline behind me. It was a soul-exhausting, self-created hell. Raising my daughter helped me come to grips with that."

In addition to the love for his daughter, the immense power of empathy also came to the rescue.

"I realized we are all human beings, entirely capable of engaging each other outside of the construct of race," he said. "Once this connection happens, it becomes contagious. When we see ourselves in others, hate and violence no longer make sense. Understanding and love take over."

"When we see ourselves in others, hate and violence no longer make sense. Understanding and love take over."

The healing process started. He would evolve into a man his daughter would be proud of.

But Arno wasn't done.

A depraved act of hatred moved him to speak out against his old life.

On Aug. 5, 2012, a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, rocked the community and the country. The shooter, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, was reportedly a member of the Northern Hammerskins, the skinhead group Arno helped create.

Sikhs mourn the 2012 temple shooting in Wisconsin. Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images.

Feeling inspired to do something positive, Arno contacted Pardeep Kaleka, whose father was the last person murdered in the shooting. They were both members of a network that is against violent extremism, and they decided to meet in person.

Arno said they both experienced some anxiety at first, but it soon dissipated after they found common ground as dads. They both have children and found plenty to talk about. "We sat down for dinner and talked until they kicked us out an hour after the place closed," Arno said.

Although the two men began to build a bond, how could Pardeep forgive the people in the white power movement who were responsible for his father's murder?

It wasn't easy, according to Pardeep.

"It has taken me a while to get to the point where I am today," he said. "Forgiveness is a way for me to take the power back from the ones who tried to take it from me.

He said his Sikh faith helped him cope with the tragedy, including the philosophy known as Chardi Kala, which he translated as "relentless optimism." At the same time, he wants to be proactive about stopping hate. "We'll either create the world that we want, or one will be created for us," he said.

Pardeep now describes Arno as his "friend, brother, psychiatrist, and teacher." With a combined passion to improve the world, this unlikely team runs Serve2Unite.org, an organization that Arno described as "created to defy hate and violence by bringing people of all backgrounds together."

Pardeep and Arno remembering the shooting in August 2012. Photo via Arno Michaelis, used with permission.

Serve2Unite students and educators have created community art projects and block parties, book drives for incarcerated people, and peace-themed PSAs. Regardless of the task at hand, the goal of the organization remains the same: Bring people together by celebrating our similarities.

And the young men and women they lead are completely on board with the mission.

Today, Arno teaches kids to have zero tolerance for intolerance. Photo via Arno Michaelis, used with permission.

What message does a former white supremacist have for other racists (overt, closeted, or otherwise)?

"I've lived as they have," he said. "What they're doing isn't living. Racism sucks. It's a crappy excuse for existence, and completely unnecessary."

As I listened to Arno tell his story, one thing kept coming to mind: Empathy is the key to stopping racism.

Anyone has the capability to feel empathy if they choose to — for everyone from our tactless neighbor to psychopaths and narcissists. But we have to keep it real with ourselves about what the absence of empathy looks like.

A lack of empathy leads people to dismiss Muslims as extremists bent on harming our country when the reality is the overwhelming majority of them are peaceful and loving (and homegrown extremists have caused more deaths in America since 9/11 than any other extremist group).

"We'll either create the world that we want, or one will be created for us."

A lack of empathy leads people to believe that minorities constantly whine about being victimized by society, when the reality is many of us (minorities) feel hopeless and crave understanding.

A lack of empathy leads minorities to believe that white people are clueless, blinded by their white privilege, when the reality is many of them empathize with us and want to end racism, too.

We can use empathy to eliminate the us-versus-them mentality that plagues our society.

If a former white supremacist can teach us anything, it's that we are way more similar than we are different, and it's time to embrace that.

After speaking with Arno, I'm sold that a person with his dark past can be reformed. 100% sold. This man is intelligent and charismatic, and he's now dedicating his life to ending racism and bigotry. He's the kind of man I would want to be friends with.

And that's definitely not what I expected.

Science

MIT’s trillion-frames-per-second camera can capture light as it travels

"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

Photo from YouTube video.

Photographing the path of light.

A new camera developed at MIT can photograph a trillion frames per second.

Compare that with a traditional movie camera which takes a mere 24. This new advancement in photographic technology has given scientists the ability to photograph the movement of the fastest thing in the Universe, light.


The actual event occurred in a nano second, but the camera has the ability to slow it down to twenty seconds.

time, science, frames per second, bounced light

The amazing camera.

Photo from YouTube video.

For some perspective, according to New York Times writer, John Markoff, "If a bullet were tracked in the same fashion moving through the same fluid, the resulting movie would last three years."


In the video below, you'll see experimental footage of light photons traveling 600-million-miles-per-hour through water.

It's impossible to directly record light so the camera takes millions of scans to recreate each image. The process has been called femto-photography and according to Andrea Velten, a researcher involved with the project, "There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

(H/T Curiosity)


This article originally appeared on 09.08.17

Health

Her mother doesn't get why she's depressed. So she explains the best way she knows how.

Sabrina Benaim eloquently describes what it's like to be depressed.

Sabrina Benaim's “Explaining My Depression to My Mother."

Sabrina Benaim's “Explaining My Depression to My Mother" is pretty powerful on its own.

But, in it, her mother exhibits some of the most common misconceptions about depression, and I'd like to point out three of them here.

Misconception #1: Depression is triggered by a single event or series of traumatic events.

empathy, human condition, humanity

Depression isn’t just over sleeping.

Most people think depression is triggered by a traumatic event: a loved one dying, a job loss, a national tragedy, some THING. The truth is that depression sometimes just appears out of nowhere. So when you think that a friend or loved one is just in an extended bad mood, reconsider. They could be suffering from depression.

Misconception #2: People with depression are only sad.

family, parents, mom, anxiety

The obligation of anxiety.

Most people who have never experienced depression think depression is just an overwhelming sadness. In reality, depression is a complex set of feelings and physical changes in the body. People who suffer from depression are sad, yes, but they can also be anxious, worried, apathetic, and tense, among other things.

Misconception #3: You can snap out of it.

button poetry, medical condition, biological factors

Making fun plans not wanting to have fun.

The thing with depression is that it's a medical condition that affects your brain chemistry. It has to do with environmental or biological factors first and foremost. Sabrina's mother seems to think that if her daughter would only go through the motions of being happy that then she would become happy. But that's not the case. Depression is a biological illness that leaks into your state of being.

Think of it this way: If you had a cold, could you just “snap out of it"?

No? Exactly.

empathy, misconceptions of depression, mental health

Mom doesn’t understand.

via Button Poetry/YouTube

These are only three of the misconceptions about depression. If you know somebody suffering from depression, you should take a look at this video here below to learn the best way to talk to them:

This article originally appeared on 11.24.15

Here's how to be 30% more persuasive.

Everybody wants to see themselves in a positive light. That’s the key to understanding Jonah Berger’s simple tactic that makes people 30% more likely to do what you ask. Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the bestselling author of “Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way.”

Berger explained the technique using a Stanford University study involving preschoolers. The researchers messed up a classroom and made two similar requests to groups of 5-year-olds to help clean up.

One group was asked, "Can you help clean?" The other was asked, “Can you be a helper and clean up?" The kids who were asked if they wanted to be a “helper” were 30% more likely to want to clean the classroom. The children weren’t interested in cleaning but wanted to be known as “helpers.”


Berger calls the reframing of the question as turning actions into identities.

"It comes down to the difference between actions and identities. We all want to see ourselves as smart and competent and intelligent in a variety of different things,” Berger told Big Think. “But rather than describing someone as hardworking, describing them as a hard worker will make that trait seem more persistent and more likely to last. Rather than asking people to lead more, tell them, 'Can you be a leader?' Rather than asking them to innovate, can you ask them to 'Be an innovator'? By turning actions into identities, you can make people a lot more likely to engage in those desired actions.”

Berger says that learning to reframe requests to appeal to people’s identities will make you more persuasive.

“Framing actions as opportunities to claim desired identities will make people more likely to do them,” Berger tells CNBC Make It. “If voting becomes an opportunity to show myself and others that I am a voter, I’m more likely to do it.”

This technique doesn’t just work because people want to see themselves in a positive light. It also works for the opposite. People also want to avoid seeing themselves being portrayed negatively.

“Cheating is bad, but being a cheater is worse. Losing is bad, being a loser is worse,” Berger says.

The same tactic can also be used to persuade ourselves to change our self-concept. Saying you like to cook is one thing, but calling yourself a chef is an identity. “I’m a runner. I’m a straight-A student. We tell little kids, ‘You don’t just read, you’re a reader,’” Berger says. “You do these things because that’s the identity you hold.”

Berger’s work shows how important it is to hone our communication skills. By simply changing one word, we can get people to comply with our requests more effectively. But, as Berger says, words are magic and we have to use thgem skillfully. “We think individual words don’t really matter that much. That’s a mistake,” says Berger. “You could have excellent ideas, but excellent ideas aren’t necessarily going to get people to listen to you.”


This article originally appeared on 2.11.24

Pop Culture

A comic about wearing makeup goes from truthful to weird in 4 panels.

A hilariously truthful (and slightly weird) explanation of the "too much makeup" conundrum.

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

A comic shows the evolution or devolution from with makeup to without.

Even though I don't wear very much makeup, every few days or so SOMEONE...

(friends, family, internet strangers)

...will weigh in on why I "don't need makeup."


Now, I realize this is meant as a compliment, but this comic offers a hilariously truthful (and slightly weird) explanation of the "too much makeup" conundrum.

social norms, social pressure, friendship, self esteem

“Why do you wear so much makeup?"

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

passive aggressive, ego, confidence, beauty

“See, you look pretty without all that makeup on."

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

expectations, beauty products, mascara, lipstick

“Wow you look tired, are you sick?"

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

lizards, face-painting, hobbies, hilarious comic

When I shed my human skin...

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

Not everyone is able to turn into a badass lizard when someone asks about their face-painting hobbies. Don't you kinda wish you could? Just to drive this hilarious comic all the way home, here are four reasons why some women* wear makeup:

*Important side note: Anyone can wear makeup. Not just women. True story.

Four reasons some women* wear makeup:

1. Her cat-eye game is on point.

mascara, eyes, confidence

Her cat-eye game is on point.

Via makeupproject.

2. She has acne or acne scars.

acne, cover up, scarring, medical health

She has acne or acne scars.

Via Carly Humbert.

3. Pink lipstick.

lipstick, beauty products, basics, self-expression

Yes, pink lipstick.

Via Destiny Godley

4. She likes wearing makeup.

appearance, enhancement, creative expression

Happy to be going out and feeling good.

Happy Going Out GIF by Much.

While some people may think putting on makeup is a chore, it can be really fun! For some, makeup is an outlet for creativity and self-expression. For others, it's just a way to feel good about themselves and/or enhance their favorite features.

That's why it feels kinda icky when someone says something along the lines of "You don't need so much makeup!" Now, it's arguable that no one "needs" makeup, but everyone deserves to feel good about the way they look.

For some people, feeling good about their appearance includes wearing makeup. And that's totally OK.


This article originally appeared on 05.28.15

Joy

Adorable 'Haka baby' dance offers a sweet window into Maori culture

Stop what you're doing and let this awesomeness wash over you.

If you've never seen a Maori haka performed, you're missing out.

The Maori are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and their language and customs are an integral part of the island nation. One of the most recognizable Maori traditions outside of New Zealand is the haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge usually performed in a group. The haka represents the pride, strength, and unity of a tribe and is characterized by foot-stamping, body slapping, tongue protrusions, and rhythmic chanting.

Haka is performed at weddings as a sign of reverence and respect for the bride and groom and are also frequently seen before sports competitions, such as rugby matches.



The intensity of the haka is the point. It is meant to be a show of strength and elicit a strong response—which makes seeing a tiny toddler learning to do it all the more adorable.

Here's an example of a rugby haka:

Danny Heke, who goes by @focuswithdan on TikTok, shared a video of a baby learning haka and omigosh it is seriously the most adorable thing. When you see most haka, the dancers aren't smiling—their faces are fierce—so this wee one starting off with an infectious grin is just too much. You can see that he's already getting the moves down, facial expressions and all, though.

@focuswithdan When you grow up learning haka! #haka #teachthemyoung #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp #foryou #kapahaka ♬ original sound - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

As cute as this video is, it's part of a larger effort by Heke to use his TikTok channel to share and promote Maori culture. His videos cover everything from the Te Reo Maori language to traditional practices to issues of prejudice Maori people face.

Here he briefly goes over the different body parts that make up haka:

@focuswithdan

♬ Ngati - Just2maori

This video explains the purerehua, or bullroarer, which is a Maori instrument that is sometimes used to call rains during a drought.

@focuswithdan Reply to @illumi.is.naughty Some tribes used this to call the rains during drought 🌧 ⛈ #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp ♬ Pūrerehua - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

This one shares a demonstration and explanation of the taiaha, a traditional Maori weapon.

@focuswithdan Reply to @shauncalvert Taiaha, one of the most formidable of the Māori Weaponry #taiaha #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

For another taste of haka, check out this video from a school graduation:

@focuswithdan When your little cuzzy graduates and her school honours her with a haka #maori #māori #haka #focuswithdan #fyp #graduation @its_keshamarley ♬ Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāti Ruanui - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

Heke even has some fun with the trolls and racists in the comments who try to tell him his culture is dead (what?).

@focuswithdan Credit to you all my AMAZING FOLLOWERS! #focuswithdan #maori #māori #followers #fyp #trolls ♬ original sound - sounds for slomo_bro!

Unfortunately, it's not just ignorant commenters who spew racist bile. A radio interview clip that aired recently called Maori people "genetically predisposed to crime, alcohol, and underperformance," among other terrible things. (The host, a former mayor of Auckland, has been let go for going along with and contributing to the caller's racist narrative.)

@focuswithdan #newzealand radio in 2021 delivering racist commentaries 🤦🏽‍♂️ #māori #maori #focuswithdan #racism DC: @call.me.lettie2.0 ♬ original sound - luna the unicow

That clip highlights why what Heke is sharing is so important. The whole world is enriched when Indigenous people like the Maori have their voices heard and their culture celebrated. The more we learn from each other and our diverse ways of life, the more enjoyable life on Earth will be and the better we'll get at collaborating to confront the challenges we all share.


This article originally appeared on 01.28.21