BY KALEEMAH MUTTAQI
“It’s Okay To Be White” flyers were found posted across the UC Davis campus the week of Halloween. Five words, printed on run-of-the-mill printer paper: “It’s Okay To Be White.” So why all the controversy? While many have written off these posters as innocuous, incidents like these provide insight into the rise of white supremacist activity on college campuses, post-election. A study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that “in months after the election…the SPLC recorded more than 150 reports of white nationalist fliers and recruitment materials on college campuses.” In addition to being posted in random locations, particular centers were targeted, including the Women’s Resource and Research Center and the Center for African Diaspora Student Success.
What appeared to be a singular campus incident was revealed to be part of a larger, more organized movement when similar reports emerged from other UC campuses, and universities nationwide, including UC Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Concordia, and Tulane. Later reports also detailed that similar flyers were found posted at the University of South Carolina, as well as Coastal Carolina University.
The detailed plan that incited these occurrences originated on 4chan, a popular website frequently utilized due to its anonymous posting features. This “Game Plan” listed out a series of steps aimed to undermine the credibility of white liberals and liberal campuses, asserting that “normies realize that leftists & journalists hate white people. So they turn on them.” Normies are a specific group of non-partisan/leftist white Americans, who appear to have been the targets of these organized campaigns. This confirms that the intention of this incident was one of white supremacist recruitment, as opposed to mere coincidence. In what was foreshadowed to be a “massive victory for the right in the culture war,” the plan worked to manipulate the sentiments of marginalized groups that would conflate white supremacy ideologies with the notion of “it’s okay to be white.” The movement aimed to create a false sense of white victimization that would make alt-right rhetoric more appeasing in the foreshadowed “massive victory”
Members of white nationalist groups have admitted to using the current political direction of the United States administration as a tool of recruitment, citing direct parallels between the two. Many claim that Trump’s victory was achieved directly through their support, and have used his success as a basis for both covertly and openly recruiting college students, as in the case of a young California local openly promoting a “message of white separatism” in a Cal State Stanislaus Ethnic Studies class last year.
Incidents such as these are indicative of the rise of “white victimization,” a construct developed by white supremacists that dates decades back, meant to express the “zero-sum mentality” maintained in relation to minority groups gaining options and opportunities they previously never had access to. Josiah Quirós, a fourth-year English major at UC Davis, further elaborated on this, articulating, “Yes, it’s okay to be white, but if you’re taking people of color’s vocalization against institutionalized white supremacy as an attack against you, it’s because you don’t want to relinquish that power. If you honestly believe that people are saying it’s not okay to be white, it’s because you’ve structured a personality around your whiteness, around your privilege and power, and don’t want to let go of either.” This idea of white identity is, of course, reliant upon a certain constructed, inadequate idea of whiteness that is reliant upon social discrimination and utilized as a means of establishing class differentiation.
When asked about the messages UC Davis administration sent out in response to such an incident, many students were neither impressed, nor surprised. “I didn’t think [their response] was direct. I thought it was a little broad, and a little bit vague as to where they stand on it,” states Eddie Bell, a third-year Economics major. “I understand freedom of speech. It just kind of leaves the door open for a group to do something like that again.”
In an email sent out the morning of Nov. 6, Vice Chancellor Adela de la Torre referred to the incident as “disruption,” further stating that the removal of the flyers was due to their “violation of [the] campus posting policy.” Similarly, Chancellor Gary May echoed this sentiment in his op-ed piece posted in The California Aggie on Nov. 9, identifying the flyers as “provocations,” and attributing their removal to their being “in violation of [the] campus posting policy.” Miles Hall, a 3rd-year English and Political Science major shared his opinion: “We were displeased with their response because we felt it was too focused on the procedural aspect of the posters being taped, it leaves it open that had they been approved, it would’ve been okay to post them with the university seal.” He further expressed his dissatisfaction with the university’s response, “if that’s the precedent they’re setting that’s completely unacceptable, because it’s promoting white supremacy.”
It is imperative that issues of white supremacy be addressed in full, so as not to spread. It is especially important when these issues relate to the safety and mental well-being of students across the nation. If we are to work towards remedying the issue of white supremacy as a whole, our first step must be calling it out for what it is.