It’s been a wild week for one Dixon D. White, the 48-year-old self-described “redneck” whose anti-racist YouTube dispatches from the front cab of his F-150 have, for better or worse, launched him to sudden viral superstardom.
Just over two weeks ago, moved by a no-nonsense vlog posted by anti-racist YouTuber Elijah Hamilton, and emboldened by a clip from “Too Big to Ignore” comedian Ralphie May, White (who years ago had abandoned plans to be a filmmaker) once again picked up his camera — more precisely, his phone.
“I woke up in the morning and I just thought, You know what? I don’t care how I look. I don’t care how fat I am. I’m gonna put my big, country, fat face on this smartphone, I’m gonna get in my truck where the acoustics are good, and I’m going to talk from my heart how I feel about race.”
The result is a sleepy-eyed and unexpectedly intense front-seat anti-racist recital — its message bucking any ready-made stereotypes of what his growling drawl and occasionally NSFW baritone might mutter. Slowly, methodically, White picks apart “a white supremacist culture that caters to white people,” calls for his white viewers to “take some responsibility,” and rails against claims of a post-racial society. He sounds exhausted and exasperated. He gets loud. He cusses plenty. He means business.
White uploaded the clip to YouTube under the moniker “W Honky” — a name he later thought better of and changed to “Dixon D. White” (itself an alias for Jorge Moran, who, in the interest of maintaining a low profile in his real life, discloses only that he lives in “a Southern state”). From there, he was everywhere.
The video (“I’m a redneck and I love America”) and the hundreds of shared iterations of it raced across Facebook and YouTube. White’s personal Facebook page soon swelled up against its 5,000-friend limit; and a “Public Figure” page he posted to catch the overflow quickly drew thousands of followers. And a call for “Dixon White Challenge” emerged among the commenters on his posts, with users of all races and across several platforms swiftly uploading their own testimonials of experiences with white supremacy, white privilege, and systemic racism.
His handful of videos (all recorded in his truck) now have millions of views among them. His phone won’t stop buzzing. Long columns of comments grow under everything he posts, positive and negative. And of course, he’s received the requisite death threats that attend virtually any flash of viral fame: “A couple of them,” he says. “Nothing crazy.”
White himself grew up in his small Tennessee hometown dropping the N-word and espousing a foundation of racist beliefs (“It’s how I was raised. I was taught that”), but by 19 he had set about actively flipping his perspective on race. He’d made some personal revelations about his own history with abuse, and when he went to college in Savannah, Ga., the experience of witnessing his African-American roommate be repeatedly harassed and arrested by local police infuriated him. “What I saw him go through was heartbreaking,” he says.
“I made an oath with myself and with God,” he recalls over the phone, “that I was not gonna be a product of my environment, and that I was gonna strive to reprogram myself with the truth.”
This push has cost him jobs and gotten him in more than a few unpleasant confrontations (his video “White Supremacy and the Bass Pro Shop” details one such run-in); and online, White’s vlogs enter an intensifying dialogue around the racial implications surrounding recent police shootings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, and other unarmed black men. While the concept of “white privilege” has long been with us, the term has reached something of a flashpoint online, becoming the ignition and the fuel for intense debates and discussions — and raging denials.
White understands that the stark contrast between the connotations of his “redneck” presentation and what he actually presents is a large part of the viral hook of his videos. But he also acknowledges the uncomfortable discrepancy at the heart of his unwitting ascent to the face of a movement.
“I’ve said nothing that people of color have not been saying for centuries,” he says. “The attention I’ve gotten is undue and not earned. It’s a sad state of affairs, and it kind of proves the point of our nation of white supremacy, the fact that black and brown people can scream the things I’m saying all day and nobody hears them. Then one Southern guy like me says something and it’s a national event.”
As blogs gobble him up, haters take aim, and his voice mail fills with inquiries from around the country, White admits he’s a little overwhelmed by the response, disoriented by the sweep of attention, and sleep-deprived from the stress. But he’s also grateful for the chance to rally what he calls “white racial responsibility.” You could say he’s fully signed on.
“When you have a cancer, you don’t ignore it, you address it straight on, you come up with a plan to fix it,” he says. “Racism is exactly the same way. It has to be dealt with straight on, it has to be destroyed.”
Watch a video from White:Michael Brodeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.