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Derek Vinyard, one of the main characters in the movie American History X, becomes a white supremacist at a fairly young age. Years later he is forced to re-evaluate his attitudes do to Cognitive Dissonance .
Cognitive Dissonance occurs when there is a discrepancy between what a person believes, knows and values, and persuasive information that calls these into question.
We will evaluate how he came to acquire White Supremacist values and what lead to a change in those values.
Derek’s beliefs were, in part, a legacy left to him by his father.
We find out early in the movie that Derek worships his father. We are later shown a flashback scene that gives us insight into how he set the groundwork for Derek to become a White Supremacist.
Derek is in this scene with his mother, Doris, and father, Dennis. Sweeney, Derek’s teacher, is also referenced, he will come up later as well.
DENNIS I'll tell you one more thing. This "affirmative blaction" shit is driving me up the fucking wall. Firefighters gettin' 99's on their tests while rappers who score a goddamn 62 walk away with the job. DANNY Don't we have to have "affirmative action?" DENNIS Not when a job requires ability. No. DORIS A lot of people say otherwise, Danny. Including me. DENNIS A lot of people don't know shit, either. DENNIS If I'm fightin' a brush fire... surrounded by thousand degree flames.. .who would I want watchin' my back? A guy who scores a 99 or a guy who scores a sixty? You don't see half the NBA with whites, gooks and spics. DORIS Nooo...what you don't see are minorities on the boards of Fortune 500 companies cause whites won't stand for it.
DENNIS Doris! I'm tired of your damn argument! You sound like an idiot!
DEREK Sweeney actually had a pretty good take on affirmative action the other day.
DENNIS (smiling) Really? I didn't know you spoke "African", Derek?
Where'd you learn that shit? Johannesberg?
DORIS Honey? Please don't speak that way. They don't–
DENNIS How am I speaking, Doris!? Hunh?! I'm speakin' fine (quickly to Derek) Hey.
Don't let that him confuse you over there, Derek. Look at me.
This shit he's pulling is a load of crap. Hey. Look at me, Derek. I mean
it. If we keep givin' niggers everything, there'll be nothing left for us.
DORIS You can be a stupid son of a bitch sometimes.
DENNIS You know what I mean though, right?
DEREK (nodding) Yeah.
We can see through this scene the kind of impact a fathers beliefs can have on his son.
But something happens later that has even more of an impact on Derek.
The death of his father.
Derek's father, a firefighter, is murdered while fighting a fire in a crack house. Derek is deeply scarred by his death. The media interviews him about how he feels about his fathers murder, it plays on television…
REPORTER To my right I have Lieutenant Vinyard's oldest son Derek. (to Derek) How do you feel about all this, son? DEREK How do I feel? How do you think I feel? It's typical. REPORTER Typical how, Derek? DEREK Well...look at our country. It's a haven for criminals. Black...brown... yellow...whatever. REPORTER So you're saying the murder of your father is "race" related?
DEREK Every problem in this country is "race" related. Every problem, not just crime. These problems are rooted in the black community, the Hispanic community, the Asian...every non- Protestant group in our society. (then) Look at the shit. Immigration... welfare...AIDS...they're all the problems of the non-white. Look at the statistics. REPORTER Most of these issues you're referring to though son are related to– DEREK (interrupting) No no no! Don't say poverty right now cause that's not it. They're not a product of our fucking environment either! Minorities don't give two shits about this country! They're here to exploit...not embrace. Millions of white Europeans came to this country and flourished within a generation! A generation! So what the fuck is wrong with these people?! REPORTER What does any of this have to do with your father? DEREK Because my father was doing his fucking job! Saving a nigger neighborhood he didn't give two shits about! And he got killed by some drug dealer who still collects a fucking welfare check.
Now that his father has been murdered, Derek beliefs are cemented. He becomes one of the major White Supremacists in Venice Beach.
One night two Crips members come to Derek’s house in order to steal his car. Derek’s brother sees them and warns Derek. The following scene changes Derek’s life for good.
Derek kills the two gang members in an extremely brutal way, he makes one of them put his mouth on the curb and he kicks him in the back of the head.
He is convicted of murder and is sent to prison.
While in prison Derek is protected by the white supremacists there. He is famous among the community because of what he did. But soon everything changes.
Derek turns his back on his allies when he realizes they are buying drugs from the Mexican gang and selling them to the Whites. He sees this as a betrayal of what they believe in and voices this opinion.
He is gang raped by the Whites for questioning them.
While Derek is recovering his old high school teacher, now his brothers principle, visits him.
SWEENEY Honor and loyalty run thick, Derek. Not skin color. Skin is thin. I don't get you, man. I don't. (after a beat) I got my Doctorate in Education...not in medicine. But if you think babies come into this world evil...you're fucked up, Derek. You're way to smart to believe that shit. (then) There's nothin' more beautiful Derek, nothin' more pure, nothin' more innocent...than a baby.
DEREK They killed my father, Sweeney.
SWEENEY Jesus Derek. Use that brain God gave you for chrissake. What are you gonna do? Seek revenge your whole life and become a lifer in here. That's what these guys are like, you wanna be like them? Fucking little boys in prison? Think, man. None of your guys back home give a shit about you. (after a beat) They only care about your brother. The new blood. And he sure as hell can't take care of himself like you could. (Derek looks at the man with regret.)
DEREK Get me outta here, Sweeney.
Sweeney promises to help him get paroled. He gives Derek books to read and visits him often in order to help him change his views on race.
Derek works in the laundry room with a black man named Lamont who becomes his friend. His only friend now that he left the Arian Brotherhood.
Without the protection of the Brotherhood Derek fully expects that he will be killed in prison. There are many Crips housed in the prison that know what he did.
But no retribution ever comes.
When Derek is released from prison he says goodbye to Lemont and tells him that he knows he is the one that kept him alive in prison. He stuck his neck out for Derek and protected him with his influence.
It took a major journey for Derek to let go of his White Supremacist values. He had to abandon what his father taught him and he had to get over the fact that his father was killed by a black man.
He was only able to change because of what happened to him in prison.
In the end, the people the people that looked out for Derek’s well being were not the ones that he had been calling brothers, but the ones that he had hated.
This made him call into question his deeply held beliefs and reject them in order to adopt a different set of values.