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Hate Crimes in American History X

Racism has a strong history in this country and even though it ended nearly 150 years ago, it still exists today. American History X is a movie surrounded around the hate crime caused by the division between the white supremacists and other minorities. Blacks and whites refused to even play basketball with one another and rejected each other because of the skin color. But no one is born with such hate, it is learned. There are many ways one can learn, but the movie focuses on two ways, rhetoric and Socratic dialect. Derek Vineyard, a former skinhead, becomes a victim of these forms of teaching.

Derek Vineyard is introduced as a vicious murderer who possesses pride in his hatred towards minorities. He is sent to jail for killing three African American boys during their attempt to steal his car. He smiles with gratification after he curb stomps one of the boys and even keeps his smile when he is getting arrested. It becomes evident that Derek is racist, but where his racism comes from is not revealed till much later in the movie. Throughout the movie Derek makes it clear that his dad was killed by a black guy, and that is where most of his animosity comes from.

But a flashback of Derek’s whole family, including his dad, at the dinner table unfolds the true mastermind behind Derek’s racism: his dad. At the dinner table Derek raves about Mr. Sweeney, a black teacher and is automatically stopped by his father. Derek’s father tells Derek not to “swallow everything [Sweeney] feed [him] whole”. He does not give Derek the option to consider what Professor Sweeney teaches him. His dad also asks him “are you going to trade in great books for black books? Does that make sense, huh? Derek is never given the opportunity to answer his question, but the question its self is rhetorical. His father forced non-black books as the better type of book. He left Derek to believe the African American culture was not an option. While in jail Derek struggled to make it on his own, he was an outcast from his former skinhead family and the minority community. He did not understand either group in the jail and refused to learn. During his job in the jail, Derek encountered an African American inmate, Jamal, who was his coworker.

Derek rejected his talkative coworker, giving him attitude everyday. One day Jamal was fed up with Derek’s hostility, and eased it with humor. Even though this part of the movie was less than two minutes, Derek’s fellow inmate was the main one who had a Socratic conversation with him. He did not question him and intimidate him like Socrates however he made him think about his thinking. Jamal mocked a KKK member and said “I’m going to go hate me some niggers, I don’t know why I hate them but I hate them”. This put a smile on Derek’s face but at the same time made him question why he hate them.

There he was a sworn racist who shared a smile with the kind of person he is supposed to hate. Hearing those words come out the person’s mouth that he used them against sounded absurd that even Derek had to laugh. In the end, Jamal became a real friend to Derek. American X is a beautiful movie in a sense of its reality. The movie holds many lessons to take away from of it. Because of the tragic death of Derek’s brother caused by Derek’s belief, everyone can walk away with this one lesson: Any one can be a teacher. That is the reason we have to watch what we teach.

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