The senseless killing of George Floyd has brought into the national media spotlight once again what is an ordinary, everyday reality for many in our community, the reality of racial injustice and the devaluation of black lives. In the midst of this time of great pain, the Department of English stands with everyone who mourns his loss—and the loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more who have gone before him—who feels the anger and outrage sparked by the history and presence of police brutality, and who long for justice. We join leaders of our university in rejecting hate; in reaffirming the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and in reflecting on the ways in which we as a community fall short of practicing these values. Echoing Associate Dean Wendy Smooth, we “resolve to continue creating a community in which we all are included, respected and valued regardless of our differences,” and echoing President Michael Drake, we ask, “What can we do to make things different?”
COLUMBUS folks: see updates below
As we enter into another day of protests facing an increasingly militarized police, many in our community have questions about best practices and safety. This post will serve as a collection of best practices gathered from resources folks trust. Here are a couple to get the discussion started. Send on own and we will add them to the list:
- Safety During Protest (Amnesty International USA)
- Protesters’ Rights (ACLU)
- Guide to Your First Protest (Vice)
- BLM Resources List (USITT)
Resources for Protests | Columbus, Ohio (Public facebook group)
Columbus Activists in the Know (Private facebook group)
Stonewall and Mozaic are offering free trauma counseling with licensed therapists and social workers for protesters & community members from 6:30-9:30 p.m at Stonewall
The open letter below was originally published on Medium by Prof. Pranav Jani, a member of the Department of English at OSU. You can find the original post here: https://medium.com/@pranavjani/drop-the-charges-open-letter-to-columbus-mayor-andrew-j-ginther-on-mlk-day-arrests-d8ee834cb667
All are invited to share the letter, sign the petition for the charges to be dropped against Dkéama Alexis and Mia Santiago, and contribute to the action fund to support the protestors legal challenges.
Columbus Freedom Coalition’s emergency fund for protesters: https://fundly.com/emergency-fund-for-peaceful-protestors
January 21, 2020
Dear Mayor Ginther:
I’m writing this as an “open letter” so anyone can read and share it. I have no illusions that someone of your position will read this appeal, but if anyone can make use of it to support today’s struggles against injustice and to reclaim the real meaning of MLK Day, it will have served its purpose.
As you know, Monday, January 20, marked the 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Breakfast in the city of Columbus — a grand affair involving hundreds of people and, it is said, one the biggest such celebrations of MLK Day in the US.
I was there too, as a member of the choir performing at the event. Musical and dance numbers, including a song by the wonderful children’s choir and other artistic tributes to Dr. King, opened up the program nicely.
But then an ugly event occurred that marred the festivities: the shutting down and arrest of two peaceful, non-violent protestors who were attempting to bring awareness to the killing of Julius Tate, Jr. by undercover Columbus police on December 7, 2018.
These protestors, Dkéama Alexis and Mia Santiago of the Columbus Freedom Coalition, I am shocked to learn, are being charged with criminal trespassing — even though they had bought tickets to the event.
I am writing to assert that this arrest and persecution of the activists directly contradicts the message and spirit of MLK Day. In honor of Dr. King and what he stood for, and in acknowledgement of the continuing racism and violence experienced by Black youth in Columbus and in the US, I join the Columbus Freedom Coalition and many others in asking you to put the considerable weight of your office behind this case, and encourage the prosecutor to drop the charges.
I write as an eyewitness to the protest and the draconian response of the police and organizers. I write as a concerned resident of Columbus, livid at both repeated instances of racist police brutality and the tough treatment meted out to peaceful protestors. I write as a faculty member in the English department at Ohio State, a community that Santiago belongs to as a student and colleague.
Needless to say, the thoughts and opinions here are mine alone and do not officially represent OSU, the English department, or the choir, Capriccio Columbus.
Positioned in the corner of the venue and far from the center stage, I could not see you or your exchange with the protestors. But the chants of “Justice for Julius” rang loud and clear — and, frankly, were a refreshing reminder of what the day was about and who we were celebrating.
But the response they received was also dreadfully familiar to anyone who has stood up to the powerful in the interests of justice: no dialogue or alternative means of taking on a challenge, just the steady march of the cops across the room, the removal of the “disturbance,” and the silencing of protest.
Please consider: if MLK himself, whom we all claim to cherish, were witnessing that event would he be on the side of the protestors, or the police?
Would Dr. King stand with the family of Julius Tate, Jr. and call for us to take to the streets? Or with the muzzling and disciplining of two individuals who merely used their voices and expressed their opinions to address the serious matter of police brutality?
You and I may disagree on whether Columbus police were to blame on December 7, 2018 when Julius Tate, Jr. was killed — which I, frankly, regard as deliberate entrapment. And we may have a different take on what happened on June 6, 2016, when 23-year-old Henry Green was killed by police — leading to protests and fundamental changes to the “summer safety initiative” under your administration.
In September 14, 2016 when 13-year-old Tyre King was killed for the crime of wielding a BB gun, you noted the tragedy of losing a child so young but failed to condemn the grand jury that exonerated Officer Bryan Mason.
You see “strained relations” between the community and police; many of us see ages and ages of unremitting, systematic discrimination and racism.
But my appeal to you here is not about whether you agree with me and community activists on the questions of ongoing racism, persistent police brutality, and the racialized, structural violence and inequality of housing, education, and healthcare in our city, even as the wealthy make profits hand over fist. A divided and untenable crisis in US society that Dr. King famously named “the two Americas” in a 1967 speech.
I am saying something much more basic than this.
Anyone who values the words and life of MLK, especially if they have prominence and political power, needs to recognize what a fundamental contradiction it is to openly or tacitly support Monday’s arrest — and the antagonizing of non-violent protestors that happens in this city, in this country, and all over the world.
When it happens elsewhere (especially in a country we don’t like), we in the US call it “repression” and make speeches about democracy. When it happens here, and especially to Black people, we call it “law and order.”
Innumerable ironies and hypocrisies abounded on Monday for all of those of us who read and follow the path of Dr. King, and his incessant and righteous calls for a mass civil disobedience.
For example, when I went to get breakfast I could see an image of Dr. King’s “mug shot” from one of his many arrests on the massive screen behind the stage. I marveled how easily organizations today can praise MLK’s jail-going of the past but do not hesitate, for a second, to arrest protestors in the present. In his time, as we know, Dr. King was seen by the powers that be as nothing but a “disturber of the peace.”
Apparently, as I heard later, after the arrests someone from the platform said it was ok to protest but not to be “rude.” Has this individual ever read King — whose tactics had nothing to do with passivity and politeness, but had everything to do with standing up for the downtrodden and oppressed, for direct action, and for speaking truth to power?
In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963), responding to the charge that he ought to negotiate and not protest, King insists: “We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up…”
In fact, Dr. King goes on to say, in the same essay, that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’…”
What a wonderful idea — not a “negative peace” and “order” with injustice, but a “positive peace” that involves struggle and transformation.
We heard many speakers on Monday saying Dr. King taught us to “turn the other cheek.” But imagine if the city authorities and leaders would put that into practice, even a little bit, when confronted by unarmed protestors chanting slogans?
Why is the violence of armed police always the response? Would it have harmed the event to let them get to the microphone and have their say, seeing their passion and commitment? Would it have hurt to have them, say, put up a table in the hall so that others could receive and consider their information?
As a society, we haven’t come close to understanding the depths of Dr. Kings’ thinking on non-violent direct action, his critique of the “three evils” of “racism, excessive materialism, and militarism,” his opposition to the Vietnam War as a form of extreme, state violence, and his refusal to give an inch to white supremacy.
Dr. King has been whitewashed and his message has been tamed, as if all he wanted was some pleasant speeches and hand-holding across racial lines. But the real Dr. King was complex, nuanced, self-critical — and always evolving towards an understanding that the ills he battled were systemic, inter-connected, and deeply rooted in US society.
In truth, Dkéama Alexis and Mia Santiago were not disrupters of the event. They, in fact, embodied the rebellious spirit that Dr. King spoke about and practiced. They showed us what it looks like to treat MLK, and indeed the Black freedom struggle as a whole, not as historical artifacts to be worshipped from a distance but as a set of ideas and practices that are guides to fighting injustice today.
We — all of us — have to take up King’s challenge in his Nobel speech, “The Quest for Peace and Justice” (1964), to be witnesses to truth. To be witnesses to a righteous struggle. To put ourselves against the ongoing injustice and repression faced by Black and Brown masses today — and the Black and Brown activists who speak up to protest this state of affairs.
In the absence of this, talking about diversity and peace are empty words. And there’s no time for that anymore. If there ever was.
The charges against the MLK Day protestors must be dropped, immediately.
Dr. Pranav Jani | firstname.lastname@example.org
To add your name to this letter, please visit this Google Form.
The Ohio State University
Members of the Department of English (and Friends)
164 Annie and John Glenn Ave.
Columbus, OH 43210
November 20, 2019
Dear Members of Syracuse University’s Administration and Board of Trustees:
We, the undersigned, have learned that Genevieve García de Müeller, an assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at Syracuse University (SU), was targeted this week at work—via her work email—with hateful, anti-semitic speech. We are also aware that what has happened to Dr. García de Müeller is but one incident among a number of racist and anti-semitic incidents happening at SU. We write this statement as an expression of solidarity with Dr. García de Müeller and the broader campus community. We, too, stand against hate in our hallways, campus classrooms, and any other place where members of our communities feel threatened, alienated or excluded.
With members of SU’s Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition, we also write to encourage SU to release a statement in support of Dr. García de Müeller. Specifically, we echo our colleagues’ argument that in such a statement, SU must
- acknowledge what has happened to Dr. García de Müeller and to other members of the campus community;
- describe what they will do to fight this kind of hate speech and violence; and
- articulate their support for their colleagues’, students’, and staff’s safety.
As The Ohio State University Department of English is also grappling with how best to respond to hate speech posted in our hallways, we understand that now—this very moment—is both the time and place to live up to our institutions’ self-professed values. We find Syracuse University’s lack of a public response troubling. We are hopeful that Syracuse University will model ethical leadership by standing against hate-speech, even if such a stance engenders a PR quagmire.
To add your name to this letter, please visit this Google Form.
As is well documented, assaults on U.S. campuses by white supremacist hate groups have increased steadily in recent years. This fall, the attacks have been coming repeatedly across the country, suggesting a new stage in this war on American universities by those fundamentally opposed to diversity, inclusion, reason, and knowledge.
At Ohio State, our administration has thus far chosen not to respond to the incidents on campus that have targeted various departments and institutions. Their reasoning, it would seem, is that by not responding, they are refusing to “dignify” those targeting our campus with the attention they desperately desire, refusing to magnify the actions of a select few. No doubt, they also recognize that these flyer campaigns are a trap, designed to trigger accusations of “over-reacting” on the part of students, faculty, and administration. By not responding, they believe, they are beating them at their own game.
While I understand the thinking that leads to this kind of paralysis and inaction, history tells us that silence in the face of these forces does not work. And many of these white supremacist flyers are designed to be traps, to be sure; but they are traps that will go off whether we respond to them or ignore them. Why then would the university not want to use its power and resources to resist and educate? If they are going to go off either way, how much better to confront them directly, explaining to the whole community why flyers like “It’s OK to Be White” are not the innocuous statements they pretend to be, but are explicit white nationalist propaganda with origins in the most vile fantasies of race war and genocide. Educators educate: we speak out against those who would attempt to elevate the forces of ignorance and hate. And we have on our side a command of history, language, facts, and reason that those who would infect our campus can only play at.
In the absence of a response from the university, we will continue to organize together. But the failure of the university to address the impact of these attacks on our community—and especially on those most vulnerable to the explicit and implicit threats of white nationalism—is a profound disappointment. The responses of many of our peer institutions have been much more forceful and clear, and I can only hope our university leadership will turn away from a strategy of silence that will only be read as appeasement and assume the leadership we desire and expect.
My critique of the “It’s ok to be white” flyering campaign builds from Jared Gardner’s point that “These are not posters to be judged by their words alone.” Understanding the slogan’s origins in white supremacist organizations is key to making manifest their racist intent. But it is also worth elucidating how the words themselves operate within a context marked by a collision between institutionalized “diversity and inclusion” and the recent rise of white supremacist violence and messaging.
In its most neutral guise, the statement “It’s ok to be white” places all racial groups on the same plane and thus erases power asymmetries between white people and people of color. Less neutrally, the meme implies that white people are victims marginalized, presumably, by “liberal” or “political correctness” agendas on American campuses, thus inverting dominant and subordinate subject positions and rendering white people as susceptible to harm and in need of comfort. This inversion appropriates the methods deployed by minoritarian identity politics that base their incitements to social change and political redress on grievances grounded in that identity’s historical and contemporary oppression. Disregarding those grounds, the slogan, when read as addressed to white people, aims at assuaging a sense of guilt for racial privilege and potentially recruiting the disaffected.
The notion that white people are structurally equivalent to or under siege by people of color exploits the use of “diversity and inclusion” as the name designated for academic offices, policies, curricula, and programming meant to address conditions of inequality and oppression due to race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, immigration status, veteran status, etc. At one level, the slogan seeks to provoke a response that capitulates to the faulty assumption that white identities are equal to non-white identities in terms of power and privilege—a trap that at least one campus spokesperson fell for in the past by iterating white, black, brown, Christian, Muslim, straight, gay, conservative, and liberal as though they existed on a level playing field.
At another, more insidious level, the meme seeks to elicit responses that contradict the principle of diversity and inclusion for all: “Is it not ok to be white? Are white people not welcome in spaces that purport to be diverse and inclusive?” Here, the slogan exploits the unspecific language of “diversity and inclusion.” For example, OSU’s diversity web page is headed with these words:
Ohio State values diversity in people and ideas.
We’re an inclusive, supportive community where you can comfortably join in or confidently stand out.
Again, wouldn’t any criticism of the flyer, taken at face value, transgress these declarations of the institution embracing all kinds of people and ideas and supporting those who wish to confidently stand out?
The idea that a predominantly white institution like OSU discriminates against white people not only erases or inverts the racial power dynamics operating in the U.S. but also mischaracterizes (or, at minimum, miscomprehends) the basic tenets of critical ethnic studies. Far from taking racial categories for granted, much less reifying them for the sake of celebrating cultural diversity, this interdisciplinary field examines how racial differences—including whiteness and its hierarchical relation to non-whiteness—are produced at specific historical junctures and reproduced through an array of institutional, material, and discursive policies and processes. From this point of view, the flyering campaigns in their repetitious plastering of signs on walls and doors constitute a blatant attempt to reassert a static, mythic, pure racial whiteness untainted by non-whiteness and is directly aligned with contemporary white supremacist discourses and activities.
Finally, while the slogan extends consolation to aggrieved white people and invites those sympathetic to its message into its “nationalist” cause, it is clearly meant to send a threatening signal to people of color and their allies. The fact that the flyers were put up anonymously and secretly contributes to the sense of intimidation that they pose to vulnerable populations in that they give rise to an atmosphere of uncertainty: Who is behind these campaigns? Are they in our classrooms, residence halls, offices, public spaces? How many people are participating in these actions? To what extent might these stealth tactics escalate into more direct, confrontational actions? In this respect, the actions forfeit any appeal to the notion that they should be allowable under the cloak and cover of “diversity and inclusion.” Even the most toothless, bureaucratic version of campus diversity prioritizes dialogue across differences as the fundamental means by which inclusion is made possible. By refusing to engage in dialogue and retreating into a monologic proclamation, the flyering campaign abandons any pretense to accountability and thus violates a central precondition of how diversity and inclusion is enacted on the ground.
[Note: all links marked with an asterisk are to material from websites dedicated to spreading hate; these links are to archived pages, so they will not add to hits for the site]
One of the most insidious campaigns we face on campuses today is the plastering of “It’s Okay to Be White” flyers on our hallways and faculty office doors. The goal is to create a false front of a seemingly bland assertion (“it’s ok”), and then attempting to weaponize the response of those, like me, who tear these flyers down. “See,” they say, “they don’t think it is ok to be white!”
It is a lie. All of it. It is, in fact, a campaign first cooked up by far-right internet trolls at 4chan’s /pol/ channel in October of 2017. Shortly after, Andrew Anglin, a former OSU student who would go on to become the founder of the Neo-nazi website the Daily Stormer, put out a call to readers to go “viral” with the campaign. The plot was to bring strategies of trolling and race-baiting honed for years in the darkest corners of the web into the “real world.” Here is how Anglin announced the plot on his website* in November 2017:
Please, print off some of these papers on a printer and go post them around.
We need these everywhere.
All you do is: print “it’s okay to be white” on a piece of paper and post it up.
You can even hand write it with a marker.
Let’s make this a phenomenon that is scene everywhere – an IRL viral meme.
This can go on for infinity. These k**es will keep saying that if you think it is okay to be white, you are evil. They will be screaming that as they get shoved into cattle cars.
But be careful – they’re hunting people down who post these hate posters.
I have somewhat reluctantly censored the antisemitic insult for Jews above—reluctant because I do think it is important to see all of this for what it is, behind the mask when they think they are talking only to themselves. The goal here could not be more explicit: it is, as Anglin writes here, to create “an IRL viral meme” in which a seemingly bland statement can be weaponized to cause confusion in those who don’t know its purpose, allowing them to believe that those who resist “hate posters” (as Anglin himself calls them) are objecting to the notion that it is ok to be white, rather than to the true purpose of these posters. That purpose, as the above makes clear, is to encourage the true goal of neonazi and white supremacist groups like this: in the short run, to radicalize vulnerable students; in the long run, race war and genocide (as the fantasy of Jews on cattle cars makes clear).
These are not posters to be judged by their words alone. It is a symbol designed to provoke responses of fear, a symbol whose goals are no different from those of the swastika that lurks behind it.
It is ok to be white. It is not ok to be a white surpremacist. These flyers are the work of white supremacists, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. Tear them down.