Racism has been socially unacceptable for a while now. All that has done however has generated closet racists who teach their children to be racist, and go back to being overtly racist as soon as someone like Trump or Farage make it seem justified again. Shame or pain don’t change how these people think, it just antagonises them and makes them reinforce their idea of “I’m right, they just don’t get it”.
It doesn’t work
The only time attacking racists works is when they are trying to harm others. A racist government, organisation, or individual that is trying to terrorise, intimidate, hurt, or kill people must be stopped by force if necessary. This immediate response is undoubtedly morally justified to save people. Killing Nazi soldiers in World War II was, as best as I know, the right thing to do to stop them from committing further acts of genocide and torture. The usefulness of such action roughly ends there, as the only long term effect it has is to show there is opposition to racism. Unless you’re going to commit genocide of your own and kill all the racists, killing them won’t solve anything, it will just make you about as bad as them. Punching people won’t even necessarily stop them from doing racist things later on.
The reason aggression won’t change anything in the long term is because it doesn’t address the cause of the problem. Punching them, forcing them to not say racist things, arresting them, kicking them out of their jobs or clubs etc. doesn’t change their views. It may change their behaviour: they may not say those racist things anymore, and they will view it as oppression (it’s not truly oppression, but it is telling them what they should and should not do). People don’t like being told what to do, or forced to do something, or being told they can’t do something. You might get them to stop but you’ll still have an army of repressed racists that will be ready to mobilise at the first opportunity they get to do anything they think they can get away with.
Even if you force them all into abject poverty, it is unlikely they will blame their own views for it, instead they will blame you, and worse, your views and other people who share them. This is why so many foolish people now consider “liberals” and “liberalism” to be ineffective, overly sensitive, and generally silly and wrong. This also shows an ignorance to what liberalism and conservatism really mean, since conservatism is almost by definition irrational.
While attacking racists is at best a band-aid solution, another reason people might do it is to satisfy their own anger at racists. That is simply giving in to your own impulses and responding to hatred, which is the problem, with more hatred while attempting to justify it with the noble cause of standing up to racism. As explained previously, this doesn’t actually do anything to fix racism. This can be hypocritical, but more importantly is just making the same self righteous mistake they are. It is nothing more than revenge, and is selfish and sociopathic. One cannot stop empathising with someone simply because they have views or have performed actions tat you disagree with. No crime is heinous enough to make someone not human. All humans deserve the same rights and kindness. Some of these people were brought up like this and don’t know any better. Others use racism as a coping mechanism to find someone to blame or direct their sadness at something. Racism is learned and can be unlearned. It isn’t just for these people to believe in this illogical idea, and they should be shown why. The real victory here would be to show them they are wrong, to eliminate the racism, not simply to make them feel pain.
What does work
To address the problem you have to reason with them. To say they cannot be reasoned with is a terribly cynical assumption, which the vast majority of the time isn’t true. Only the most extreme, mentally unstable people who have decided to reject all new ideas cannot in any way be convinced. It’s possible to convince them, it’s just harder than most people are willing to put the effort in for. At a certain point people think they’ve tried everything, and that if the person doesn’t understand it at that point, they never will. This assumes that your argument was so good that the only explanation for why it failed to convince them was because they cannot be convinced. There is an art and a science to reasoning with people. It may take years, but it is possible. If that isn’t worth the work, then make sure their kids won’t learn the same fallacious ideas. If we cannot teach them why they are wrong, then they have been failed. It is a shame that they will have to live on with this terrible misconception. They deserve better than that.
They are not monsters or inhuman, these are just excuses we develop so we feel justified in hurting them. It is entirely possible to be human and hate other people. To forget that is to make the same mistake they made, the only difference is you had a better reason for it.
So let the white nationalists have their legal protests. They want you to be overwhelmed by anger and start a fight. Instead of fighting back, stay away from them, or if people are in danger, protect them, but do no give them the excuses they need to start the violence they always wanted while being able to claim they were justified. Instead, fight back when it’s really important. Fight back against the institutional racism in laws and loopholes. Organise protests and figure out how to protect their intended victims. Pick the important fights that will actually help people. Let’s also figure out how to teach children not to be racist so we can not only end the cycle but also ensure that no one is ever racist again, and if they are to be able to show them they are wrong.
Aggression should be a last resort to save people, but we must reason with people to make them realise they are wrong and not repeat it.