Students and faculty at the University of South Carolina found them on a clear Thursday morning, the first of November. They were quickly removed — more people heard about them than saw them firsthand — but the damage was done at the state’s flagship university, a campus that’s seen its share of racial incidents this year, including hate speech papering the African-American studies department. “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE,” the flyer read, in all caps, stark black letters on white paper.
Unfortunately, USC wasn’t alone on that early November morning.
According to Newsweek, other college campuses, including Tufts University in Massachusetts, the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Duke University in North Carolina, and the University of Delaware all found the same flyers papering their schools. They appeared last year, at the University of Idaho, at Concordia College in Minnesota, at Tulane in New Orleans, Harvard Yard saw them, as did a few universities in Canada, according to The Washington Post. Other professors, who asked not to be named, reported them recently at their universities across the country, in every place from small state schools to R1 research institutions, including SUNY Potsdam in upstate New York. They even papered one neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas.
As USC student Ethan Fogus says, “It’s easy to dismiss racism as an old boy’s club but instances like this … remind us racism is alive and well.”
Apparently, the Post explains, like many bad ideas on the internet, this one started on 4chan. Basically, news reports would draw attention to the story. Ordinary people would decided that the “liberal media” couldn’t be trusted and actually hated white people. Then those people would decide the media couldn’t be trusted and convert to white nationalist, alt-right beliefs. It shows how white nationalist groups have tried to expand their reach to college campuses and exploit the trope of white victimhood to gain followers. Moreover, 4chan users wanted to prove that posting (objectively true) signs in public places would be seen as promoting racism and white supremacy, according to Know Your Meme.
Unfortunately, this narrative of white victimhood seems to be working.
One Scary Mommy commenter recently said, “Maybe I’m CRAZY but all of a sudden I feel bad that I’m a white person. I FEEL like people are judging me based on the color of MY skin.” The comment garnered 27 likes. The Facebook page “It’s Okay to Be White” includes over 15,000 supporters. A group with the same name boasts 1.4K members. Twitter is, of course, abuzz with chilling messages, as well:
#itsokaytobewhite All teachers and professors should take a pledge to educate not indoctrinate. We need objective educators who know their paychecks come from their students who want real education. No more white guilt leftist garbage.
— Karen BE (@KarenBE9) November 8, 2018
It IS ok to be white #ItsOkayToBeWhite. Any professor teaching what is in fact racist ideology should be disciplined.
— Not Filtering (@Having_Say) November 6, 2018
Reactions from university officials have been mixed. At the University of South Carolina, the flyers were all removed, and David Snyder, Clinical Associate Prof of History and Global Studies at USC, who serves as chair of university diversity and inclusion advisory committee, firmly believes that while the university has a responsibility as a marketplace of ideas and free speech — even unpopular ideas and unpopular speech — “Posting hit and run flyers is not a legitimate form of discourse … In the case of these flyers, they are designed to demonize and disenfranchise. Simply because you are articulating an unpopular idea doesn’t mean the university should protect you.”
On the other hand, the University of Idaho has elected to keep the flyers up on bulletin boards, according to KREM2, where “University of Idaho President Chuck Staben said the fliers placed on the public bulletin boards will remain there ‘as this is free expression of the poster’s belief, just as are other postings on those boards.’”
Fail, University of Idaho. Massive fail. Not just of the handling of a racial incident, but also of a teachable moment.
Conversely, Snyder says he plans to use the flyers to talk about James Baldwin, particularly his quote that, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
Tufts University seems to have had the strongest response. A letter from the President, reprinted by Tufts Daily tells the university, “I want to assure our community that we do not tolerate hatred and bigotry.” The student-led Executive Board wrote, “White supremacy has no place on our campus. It is more important now than ever to stand firmly against this hatred and bigotry while reaffirming that the Tufts community is strong precisely because of its diversity,”
A-freaking-Men, Tufts. Way to stand against white nationalism.
And to those of you who decided to remain silent, who think that every incident isn’t worth calling out as the hate, racism, and white supremacy, consider this: Silence is violence. Doing nothing is doing something. Only by speaking out can we end the plague that’s eating our society and actively trying to recruit our young people to white nationalism and alt-right political beliefs. Because these signs are insidious. They’re a sign of a plague creeping across America.
And it’s up to us to stop it.