The unfortunate events that descended on the small college town of Charlottesville, VA following the ‘Unite the Right’ rally on August 11 at the University of Virginia, were not as unprecedented as one may think. For people of color, white supremacy has plagued this country since it’s inception. From the very beginning, Article I of the United States Constitution labels slaves as three-fifths of a person. Fast forward to the Civil War, which brought a legal end to enslavement, and leaders mostly from the South still continued to operate as if they had won, from elected officials to members of the Klu Klux Klan. Although they experienced waves of notoriety since the Civil War and throughout the Jim Crow years, KKK membership slowly declined over the 20th century. Opposition to the Civil Rights Movement emerged a revitalized Klan determined to inflict terror on those not white among many other differences, but continued to see its number shrink in the time since.
The white supremacy of today deviates from the historically overt institutional forms of racism. Although rooted in alt-right ideology, racism in 2017 is emerging from places where most least expect it and from folks claiming to not be racists because they live in metropolitan area, or have Black friends, or voted for Obama. White people that believe Charlottesville was an isolated incident carried out by those clinging to the worst parts of U.S. history, or that racial inequality is an issue that is geographically relegated to the South, are sadly mistaken.
Granted Charlottesville was the first large scale gathering of overt white supremacists in decades that subsequently resulted in acts of violence in decades, the rest of the country is not immune to heinous behavior, particularly at college campuses.
College campuses have always been a place where students discover and explore intellectual and cultural diversity and for the most part tend to lean toward liberal ways of thinking. College campuses, which in many cases transcend politically red states, are targeted by the alt-right ultimately because they embrace multiculturalism. However, in the wake of protests surrounding conservative speakers being invited to college campuses nationwide over the past academic year, administrators at campuses like De Paul University banned conservative speaker and author Ben Shapiro from entering their campus. Ann Coulter also pulled out of a speaking engagement at the University of California at Berkeley after officials informed her that they could not accommodate her due to threats of violence. The institutions previously mentioned are not in the Midwest, or Deep South. Berkeley, CA and Chicago are some of the more recent cities where conservative speakers are actively recruiting students at liberal universities, in liberal cities, with liberal values.
The dust up at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA this past spring where students of color were privy to anti-black, anti-LGBTQ comments spread across social media networks. What started out as cyber-bullying tactics carried out by fellow students, turned into harassment and profiling tactics by campus police. Racial tensions have been brewing for at Evergreen for quite some time. In response to outrage stemming from racial profiling and unequal treatment of students from teachers, protests broke out requesting the firing of biology professor Brett Weinstein. Typically when protests break out on campus, students feel their right to speak freely has been compromised. Weinstein however, contends that a professor’s right to free speech was under attack for opposing the ‘Day of Absence’ where faculty and students of color meet off campus to discuss campus diversity and inclusion concerns. Weinstein objected to this year’s proposal which, in a shift, asked white people to stay off campus. Weinstein was accused of taking the problematic ‘All Lives Matter’ position.
Nuanced instances of racism have notoriously plagued employment opportunities for people of color and our nation’s college and universities are no different. Students at Evergreen State College have also demanded that Weinstein be fired for believing that new faculty members should be hired to prioritize subject matter, rather than increasing diversity and inclusion. Although Weinstein maintains that all people are equal, his stance downplays the significance of hiring faculty of color, and speaks to the severity of the absentee white nationalism that adversely impacts employment opportunities for everyone. White supremacists do not have to outwardly identify themselves as such, but attempts to adversely influence hiring practices is just as awful as some of the ultra conservative cyber-bullies invited by alt-right groups to speak at colleges.
When conservative extremists are vocal via Twitter and other social media networks about their disdain for the left, inclusion, diversity and safe spaces, it is difficult to refer to them as other than white supremacy promoters. The denial of white supremacy also tends to emanate from these speakers and groups, but to refer to them as anything other than white supremacists sugarcoats their intention of outwardly flexing supremacy over people of color and/or those who pray differently. The clutch rebuttal from organizations that support these extreme conservatives tends to stem from tenets of the First Amendment. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech, religion, and expression from government interference. It ultimately prohibits any laws establishing a national religion, infringing on the freedom of the press, and interfere with the right to peacefully congregate. Yes these protections include hate speech but what the First Amendment does not protect however is speech that is intended to incite violence.
As of this writing, Milo Yiannopoulous (a noted alt-right speaker) was scheduled to speak this fall at California State University Fullerton (CSUF) as a guest of the College Republican Club. Currently there is a petition circulating the campus started by the CSUF Students for Quality Education organization demanding a ban on alt-right or hate group speakers, and cited Yiannopoulous as a white supremacy figurehead offering no value to discourse on their campus. Conservative groups on several campuses argue that they do have the space to speak freely about their views and are riddled with criticism when accused of being racist. Inviting speakers that promote division, white supremacy and outright hate do not help their cause.
Long gone are the days of what we know as white supremacy and racism of yesterday. Today’s uprisings on college campuses expose a new sort of supremacist. No longer can we assume these racists are older white men. The current racist is of the Millennial age or younger and fearful of all things diversity and inclusion, yet are college educated and live in metro cities and blue states.
Conservative organizations on college campuses are not all extremists like Vanguard America, a hate group that believes non-white immigrants are the root cause of white genocide and boasts the need to, “free yourself from cultural Marxism”. Unfortunately Conservative Republican groups get lumped into that category. Inviting folks that regularly tweet divisive ideals won’t help that stigma either. Take note, CSU Fullerton.
So what can one do on college campuses to reject white supremacy? The Southern Poverty Law Center recently published an article, “The Alt-Right on Campus: What Students Need to Know” that provides tips on how to deter conservative extremists from even wanting to speak at your campus. The worst thing to do is provide a platform for these speakers to spew hate speech to draw a crowd, the media, and promote violence just to end up playing the victim by hiding behind the First Amendment. The useful guide tasks students to meet with students of color organizations, LGBTQ, and Muslim student associations to help raise awareness and encourage members to speak out about their experiences in hopes of combating bigotry at the institution and the surrounding community.
Being an ally moves far beyond being offended and outraged about white supremacy and instances of racism. Whether subtle or overt, white supremacy manifests in many forms and does not adhere to certain age groups or reactions to acts of war dating back centuries. Remaining idle and not doing anything about what caused the offense to people of color is just as bad as not being moved at all. This makes said ally no different than the enabler in charge of the free world. If an ally does not have a clear idea about what to do, maybe going on Twitter to ask such a complex open-ended question may not be the best approach. Take note, Lady Gaga.
If celebrities and public figures can tweet links to donate to a Hurricane Harvey relief fund of their choice, they can also encourage people to vote. A privileged white woman sitting on top of a pile of money like Scrooge McDuck from Duck Tales asking “commoners” what they should do to educate her, is less than helpful at best. Encouraging people to vote when you have millions of dollars and an equal amount if not even more followers, can be powerful.
Voting in presidential elections is not enough. If that were the case we would not be where we are now as a country. Allies need to try the midterms where circuit court judges, school board members, city councilmembers, and mayors decide our fate where people of color are adversely impacted on a daily basis.
Last week, from Monday August 28th thru September 6th, a group of students, community activists, and faith-based leaders marched from Charlottesville to Washington DC to demonstrate their commitment to fighting white supremacy wherever it is found. Although the march started in the southeastern U.S., there are many organizations that provide information and resources dedicated to combating white supremacy.
Seeking out information is key to a better understanding of where we are as a nation, what racism looks like in 2017, and how you can become part of a solution to eradicate white supremacy. Grasping as an ally why Colin Kaepernick still has not been signed to a team, yet is the most popular NFL player of the moment regardless of what city you reside in, might be another place to start digging. If allies are authentic about their intentions, then they will fully understand that Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag, and being pro-black is not anti-white, or anti-blue.
Jamal Evan Mazyck, Ed.D. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @jmbeyond7.
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