Building Empathy With Students Isn’t Just One More Thing to Do
In one of my Advanced Placement classes in 2018, a freshman raised his hand to ask about the declining birthrates of white people in the United States. This occurred during a discussion about the demographic-transition model, which contributes to understanding and predicting demographic shifts by analyzing birthrates and death rates. The student had no idea that a conspiracy favored by white supremacists was the foundation for his question. It was only upon understanding that declining birthrates are a product of economic development and not an aberration specific to white America that he realized what he’d read online was false and written to mislead.
Like many students across the country, the student came across the “great replacement theory,” while browsing various internet discussion boards. French author Renaud Camus popularized the racist myth in his 2011 book Le Grand Remplacement, but it’s not new. The xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic sentiment dates back to 19th-century eugenicists, Ku Klux Klan ideology, and Nazi propaganda. It is based on a distortion of statistics, pseudo-history, and white supremacy and claims that Jews and “global elites” are intentionally “replacing” white people with people of non-European descent.
The theory continues to garner popularity among young white audiences on internet forums, seeping its way into mainstream political discourse. Some of its most ardent adherents claim that direct, violent action is necessary to ensure white people are not “replaced.” Adherence to replacement theory has inspired multiple domestic-terrorist attacks by white nationalists, including the 2018 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh; the 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas; and the shooting in May in Buffalo, N.Y.; as well as others abroad. These homegrown terrorists have one similarity: Each espoused in manifestos and online forums that they believed in the great replacement theory, among other racist myths.