I feel like right now the entire world has an “Us vs Them” mentality. Whether or not it’s deserved or not is beyond me. What I do know is that we are destroying ourselves. We the people of every country, every city and every tiny little place on the planet are destroying ourselves.
From the outside looking in it’s very much a war against ourselves waged by those in power who don’t want us to focus on the real issues.
Last night I wanted to escape my own brain. Someone had sent me some stuff on this Pizza Gate bullshit and I needed to escape so I went to our old friend Netflix.
Which is where I found the Documentary “Erasing Hate” Have you seen it? You should.
“Erasing Hate is a 2011 American TV documentary chronicling the efforts of reformed white power skinhead Bryon Widner to remove his numerous racist facial tattoos. Written, produced, and directed by Bill Brummel, it first aired on June 6, 2011 on MSNBC.”
Wikipedia/Netflix Docu Bio
It was a heart breaking film.
Bryon and is wife both talk about the years they felt isolated – raised by hatred not because they wanted to hate but because it was all they knew. The only “love” that they had been taught came from people who were filled with anger and hate.
Byron wasn’t raised with a family filled with love and laughter. At the age of fourteen he was getting tattoos partying and already drinking too hard. I admit I skipped through the surgical procedures, which took a whopping fourteen months. The amount of respect I have for Byron and his beautiful family is beyond measure.
Byron says that the moment his son was born was the day that he understood what love felt like. I can understand this. I can look at him and see the intimidating guy that was angry and broken and wanted the world to burn not because he was a hateful person but because he just didn’t know any other way.
I can relate to him very much. I can understand how his wife Julie felt growing up in a house that did not allow her to have black friends.
I can understand what it must have felt like to be conditioned to hate.
Bryon and Julie had a choice. They had a choice to stay in a place filled with anger and rage and disrespect for not just black people, colored people, but towards anyone who did not agree and they chose to leave to fill their lives and their home with love. For the next generation.
“You hear them talk about protecting children while they’re raping women and beating their wives. It isn’t about their kids, it’s about their anger. It isn’t a place filled with love.” – Bryon Widner.
The best part of this documentary was the fact that their redemption came in the form of a Black Man and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
It was conversations with two very different groups of people that Bryon’s own crew had a “Death on sight” order that changed the way these two amazing people think and feel and I am so humbled by their journey.
It was Julie’s watching men train rape under age white girls at Nordic Fest that opened the door wide enough to let her angel’s show her the light.
It was conversations of wanting more for their children – and themselves that made them make phone calls that would change their lives forever.
If you read my blog you know damn well I’m a believer in the idea that people can change. That people can become better, stronger, wiser. Byron and Julie are proof of that.
Sometimes I forget that. When my life seems to suck and I feel totally broken and I’m screaming about how unfair my world is I realize that my journey isn’t over yet.
Byron went through more than fourteen months of having severe painful tattoo removal from his face. Not because he enjoys pain as much as his youngest daughter may believe, but because he truly wanted to change. He wanted to give his children their best hope at a new life.
After they made the decision to leave the White Supremacist groups they were a part of they faced death threats and were forced to move and currently live in hiding to protect their family from revenge and retribution.
In the film “Erasing Hate” Byron talks about his tattoos a lot. His first one was his knuckles. It spelled H.A.T.E. The mentality of a 14 year old boy who knew nothing better.
In the beginning of the film you see Julie beg Byron to remove it and he’s adamant he won’t. It’s his first tattoo, a reminder of who he was, a young boy he never wants to be again.
I admit this film is hard to watch. It’s not easy to listen to Byron talk about how much hatred he used to have for people of color. It isn’t easy to listen to him talk about how a good beat down can take anywhere from 10-15 seconds. Purely because the people his “Crew” were beating were a couple of mixed race.
It is however easy to see how much love Julie has for her husband, how she was the one who showed him life could be better. Julie taught Byron to love. Something he’d never known before.
What’s easy to watch is the way his youngest daughter talks about the reason that Julie and Byron met was because this beautiful angelic little girl who knew no different saw a man who’s face was heavily tattooed and wanted a picture.
Something so innocent. Something so truly pure and innocent as a child asking for a picture changed the path a man was on. A man mind you, who was in charge of recruiting for Neo Nazi’s.
Byron does not refer to his former self as “Alt Right” he refers to his past as a life surrounded by Neo Nazi’s. It’s something we need to stop being afraid to say.
Removing his tattoo’s does not in any way shape or form change who Bryon was. It alters who he is going to become. It makes it clear to the former Neo Nazi’s, many of whom still want to kill Byron and would inevitably end up raping his wife and daughters should they be found – understand that this part of their life is over.
Byron is now living a life filled with love. He has a community of support, a family that loves him and he is on his way toward doing his best to Live As If The World Were What It Should Be To Show It What It Can Be.
Byron and Julie are proof that some people are not put here to hate. That the shit we go through is shit we go through so that we can do better.
Byron and Julie are proof that even the darkest souls can find the light and if you happen to read this I want to wish you the very best Christmas ever because I’m crying as I write this. I’m crying because I realize you’ve given the world a gift. You’ve proven that people can change, if they want it. Nothing says “I want change” than having your entire face blow up like a balloon.
I can only hope that more people find the courage to seek more to find the light.
With all my love, and my hope for a future with more people like you both,
You can watch Erasing Hate now on Netflix America and Canada, and you can follow and meet Julie and Byron here