BY Cody Delistraty in Opinion | 31 MAY 19

How ‘Milkshaking’ the Far Right Subverts a White-Supremacist Trope

On a viral protest trend and the preposterous history of milk-based eugenics

BY Cody Delistraty in Opinion | 31 MAY 19

A banana-and-caramel milkshake from the fast-food restaurant Five Guys is airborne, flooding out from its cup like a wave, and then it’s on Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, his navy suit a sticky, salty, white-stained mess. ‘A complete failure,’ he mutters to his security detail. ‘Could have spotted that a mile away.’ This was on 20 May, when Farage was ‘milkshaked’ in Newcastle, and, honestly, he was probably right: they should have seen it coming – getting milkshaked has become something of a trend. Carl Benjamin, the antifeminist-YouTuber-turned-losing-UKIP-MEP candidate, has already been milkshaked four times. The UKIP advisor Tommy Robinson, at least twice. Basically, if you’re politically affiliated with the far-right and you want to go for a stroll in public, you’d do well to bring your sweet tooth and a change of shirt.

Why milkshakes? Earlier this month, Robinson’s supporters began accosting a customer-service representative named Danyaal Mahmud who was protesting Robinson at a UKIP campaign rally in Warrington. Mahmud said he froze when he was getting harassed. ‘At that point I was scared for my life,’ he told The Guardian. ‘I looked calm but I knew that I was going to get beaten whatever the outcome was. [Robinson] said I’d assaulted a woman, which wasn’t true. He said that I was aggressive and I couldn’t do shit so I just threw the milkshake in his face and ducked.’

That’s to say: the milkshake was merely a handy tool – Mahmud hadn’t given it any forethought – and the subsequent ‘attacks’ have essentially been copycats, apparently without any consideration given to the underlying historical politics. Yet, milk, in fact, has a historical affiliation with white supremacy – one so preposterous it seems almost satirical. An evolutionary genetic mutation, dating back nearly 5,000 years, enabled European cattle herders to maintain lactose tolerance beyond childhood, as a dietary necessity. Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick’s book A History of Agriculture in the State of New York (1933) claimed that this genetic mutation implied the racial superiority of white people, which now serves as the basis of white supremacists’ milk-based delusions of grandeur.

‘A casual look at the races of people seems to show that those using much milk are the strongest physically and mentally, and the most enduring of the people of the world,’ wrote Hedrick, a botanist. ‘Of all races, the Aryans seem to have been the heaviest drinkers of milk and the greatest users of butter and cheese, a fact that may in part account for the quick and high development of this division of human beings.’

Jordan Peele, Get Out, 2017, film still. Courtesy: Universal

White supremacists have recently taken to celebrating this milk-based theory of eugenics as a means to mock the races they deem to be ‘inferior’. (Ah, yes, an inability to digest lactose – the truest sign of inferiority!) Two years ago, a few neo-Nazis shot a viral video of themselves chugging milk in front of He Will Not Divide Us (2017), an anti-Trump installation made by actor Shia LaBeouf with artists Luke Turner and Nastja Rönkkö. Later that year, the internet-infamous white supremacists Richard Spencer and Anthime ‘Baked Alaska’ Gionet put milk emojis in their Twitter profiles.

Did they realize how outlandish it is to predicate a supposed racial dominance on an enzyme? Probably not. But even so, throwing milkshakes onto far-right politicians has helped to invert these strange beliefs. (Which, by the way, aren’t quite accurate: while it may be true that up to 90 percent of Asian-descended and 79 percent of African-descended people can’t process lactose, Indians consume more milk than any other nationality and those of East African descent, another cattle-breeding area, carry the same genetic mutation as Europeans.) As a result, the hashtag #SplashTheFash – referring to milkshaking ‘fascist’ politicos – has trended, and far-right politicians, for their part, have tried to work these ‘attacks’ into their larger narrative of the left’s supposed ‘anti-free speech’ ethos. Markus Meechan, another YouTuber-turned-losing-UKIP-MEP candidate, tweeted, for instance: ‘Just to be clear, anyone that comes at me with a milkshake will need the straw to eat their meals for the next few months.’ He added: ‘Man, sure are a lot of lefty verifieds supporting assault in here.’

The whole thing seems like a wickedly dumb joke, the kind that gets funnier as it doubles down on its own dumbness. Yet, rather than just laughing and moving on from this objectively ridiculous notion of a milk-based genetic superiority, some on the left have tried to leverage it for their own political messaging. Late last year, the animal-rights campaign group PETA tweeted: ‘Cows’ milk has long been a symbol used by white supremacists. One more reason to #DitchDairy.’

Even more incredible has been watching academics try to counter them. In a scholarly article called ‘Got Mylk? The Disruptive Possibilities of Plant Milk’, forthcoming in the Brooklyn Law Review, the authors sincerely propose that milk ‘may not be a word worth fighting for, given the entanglements of milk with the oppression and exploitation of women, people of colour and nonhuman animals’. They go on to wonder whether there might be an opening for a ‘disruptive milk’, one that can ‘break free from the exploitation and oppression long bound up in dairy milk’. Perhaps, they continue, ‘an act of verbal activism – replacing the “i” with a “y” to create “mylk” – may present plant-milk advocates with an opportunity to reclaim and reinvent the word for the “post milk” generation’.

There are, of course, more complex offshoots of these issues, such as the ways in which the US government subsidizes a variety of milk-based products, particularly in the education system, even as most non-white people are lactose intolerant: a certain form of discrimination. But the notion that there’s a genuine milk-based political view which deserves to be grappled with only supports the ridiculous claims by white supremacists that their tolerance for milk is a form of racial superiority. Milkshaking has done well to bring the right-wing extremists back down to earth. It’s hard to think of someone – and, crucially, it’s hard for someone to think of themselves – as a superior species when they’re dripping in a sticky caramel-and-banana treat.

Main image: Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage covered in milkshake, 23 May 2019, Newcastle. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Ian Forsyth

Cody Delistraty is a writer and critic based in Paris and New York.