Being white is extremely alluring to a certain kind of not white person. I realized this when a relative once proudly told me that Persian people, of which half of my family is, were technically among the first Aryans. Persians, they explained, literally come from the Indo-Iranians or Aryan people that came out of the Hindu Kush mountains. The empire changed its name in 1935 from Persia to Iran, which translates to “land of Aryans” in the Persian language.
This was news to me. As a secular, mixed-race family in the wake of 9/11, we slid by the worst discrimination that Middle Eastern people and Muslims in particular endured from both government and the public. But not all of it. We, including that relative, had no illusions about not being white. But what this person wanted was to join the club on some technicality, and to enjoy the freedoms that come with being among the hegemonic identity whose interests society is designed around.
When outlets including Bellingcat started reporting on the Allen shooter’s seeming neo-Nazi beliefs, this confounded some people. How could a Latino man or any person of color be a white supremacist? We don’t have the full picture yet of who this man was and why he shot his victims, but what we know indicates that some part of it was probably rooted in a more extreme version of the thought that went through my relative’s head: being white is not a bad deal.
White people are often considered more employable, are more likely to receive promotions, dominate the most prestigious industries, have a larger share of wealth, are often more sought after in the dating pool, and so on and so on. Most minorities don’t want to be white, but they do want a larger share of the privileges the mainstream white world enjoys.
A lot of people from minority communities engage in this striving, famously on the far right. Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys who also has links to further right and neo-Nazi groups, is Hispanic. White nationalist Nick Fuentes is a quarter Mexican. Long after his grandfather’s entrance to the US, he describes his family as successfully assimilated, which he has said makes him white. The extraordinarily racist far-right provocateur Laura Loomer is very open about being Jewish while maintaining a public relationship with Fuentes, who has denied the Holocaust.
Even outside the furthest right reaches of American politics, you can find all sorts of members of different races, white or not, being racist to all sorts of other races. There is not necessarily a cross-racial camaraderie in the idea of being a “person of color.”
When you combine this with the fact that people’s conceptions of their own race also run the gamut, it increases the probability for seemingly bizarre outcomes like Hispanic and Latino white supremacists. This week, the Washington Post‘s Phillip Bump noted a 1989 study that found that Hispanic people identify as a range of races no matter their observed skin color. Even among the darkest-skinned Hispanics, over a quarter self-identified as white. If someone wants to be white badly enough, there’s nothing stopping them from thinking that they are. In fact, certain kinds of people are incentivized to do so.
Tanya K. Hernández, a Fordham University law professor and author of the book “Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias” used a question to explain as much to the Boston Globe in 2022: “What’s the best way to distance yourself from feeling like you’re part of an oppressed group? It’s to align yourself with those who are part of the oppressors.”
These sorts of seeming contradictions are often encouraged by white supremacists. For as much as Nick Fuentes refers to minorities in slur-laden derogatory terms, he also welcomes them into his flock to serve as useful cover. The function of his movement and other white power projects are often to not bring harm to individual people of color—at least immediately—but to make entire populations suffer. At the expense of tolerating a few individual people of color, far-right groups gain chips that they can use to launder their reputations.
In Charles Manson’s white power vision, he explicitly saw Black people as unwitting tools that would help him carry out his project. Manson’s Helter Skelter prophecy was a fantastic delusion, where Black people would get fed up with racism from whites, carry out a race war, and defeat them. Manson’s plan was to have his cult lay in hiding until the Black people had won, and then come out and rule over them, per what he believed to be the natural order.
More organized and serious white power groups may have less absurd, surreal visions for the white ethnostates they envision, but still see minorities like the Allen shooter as tools they can use to help them get there. And people like him are willing to do it, in the hope of somehow earning whiteness.