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American History X

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American History X (1998) illustrates how segregation is aggravated by missing father figures as well as the herd mentality of the characters in the film. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the herd mentality states that people need a concept or a worldview to adopt in order to give meaning to their lives. This herding of people who choose to adopt this certain ideal or ideals in effect causes the stifling of individual thoughts or creativity because everyone chooses to think a certain way (Floyd). This mindset that people are attracted to is not always chosen or forced but is rather seen as an obligation because of loyalties certain people have to others.

Derek Vinyard, played by Edward Norton, starts to adopt this racist mindset that all races other than white are the downfall of society in a flashback scene where he is speaking with his father about school and his father tells him not to listen to the “nigger bullshit” of his black Social Studies teacher, Dr. Bob Sweeney played by Avery Brooks. Derek’s obvious interest in Dr. Sweeney’s lessons fades almost immediately upon hearing these words from his father and Derek begins to agree with his father’s statements. Derek is not forced by his father to feel this way; however, he took it upon himself to feel this way because he looks up to his father. His individual thoughts are stifled because he wants to be more like his father. The racism instilled in Derek from his father is not enough to bring him to the violent lifestyle he starts on to lead, but it does teach him to stay away from black kids from an early age. This herd mentality to stay only with white people has been brought to another level when Derek Vinyard’s father dies. His father is shot and killed by blacks while fighting a fire in a black neighborhood. Derek immediately places the blame on black people, not just a single black person but all black people.

After his father’s death, Derek joins forces with Cameron Alexander, played by Stacy Keach. Cameron is an older man who is a Neo-Nazi and he uses Derek to recruit young adults into a new gang called the Disciples of Christ (D.O.C.). The creation of the D.O.C. provides all the white youth of Venice Beach, California to feel a sense of belonging. Just like the young black males were a part of, and protected by, the Crips, the young white kids were protected by the D.O.C. However, the young males do not realize that the D.O.C. is an outlet for mastermind Cameron Alexander’s white propaganda. He wants to spread hate and violence against the minorities without being directly involved in it. So he lets the kids do the dirty work. Cameron Alexander is exploiting people’s need to belong to a group and then using that group to further his own hateful vendettas. The D.O.C. just perpetuated the segregation of races by giving white people a herd that they could join. The D.O.C. responds to violence with violence and to hate with hate. It worsened racial tensions in the community. In one scene of the movie, Derek challenges the black people on the basketball court to a game “for the courts”. Whichever race lost is not allowed back on the courts anymore. Derek and the white people win the game and told the “niggers to get the f*ck off their courts”. The herd mentality of the members of each race just makes the segregation situation worse.

This herd mentality follows Derek to prison when he has been sentenced for killing two black men trying to break into his jeep. As soon as Derek Vinyard enteres prison he starts to associate with the Neo-Nazi’s because that is the herd he is attracted to. He is protected by the Neo-Nazi gang of white supremacists in prison as well. However, the lines between these herds became blurred when Derek saw the Neo-Nazis doing business with blacks and Mexicans. Derek does not approve of that and got angry at the Neo-Nazis for associating with minorities. This disagreement leads to the sodomy of Derek in prison by the Neo-Nazis, the people who he shares his views with and were suppose to protect him. That is one of the single most important actions in the movie that helps Derek break out of the herd mentality that he was in. He realizes the hypocrisy in the people who were part of that group or herd. He realizes that the group is just a falsehood for feeling safe; it had no deep meaning. By becoming a Neo-Nazi, Derek is looking for something to do with his life. Derek wants his life to have some meaning. However, the Neo-Nazi cause had no meaning. It is all a front, either for Cameron’s personal endeavors or for safety in prison. When Derek Vinyard realizes this, he starts to break down and cry. The three years of his life wastes in jail were for nothing. Derek finally realizes the “holes in this bullshit” as Dr. Sweeney states. Dr. Sweeney means the holes in the actions of

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