I grew increasingly alarmed over Thanksgiving, watching as the holiday news cycle kept reporting on a white student group in Toronto and how it was spreading across America at illustrious schools like NYU, Berkeley, and other premier universities. Incredulous, the commentators kept tut-tutting the routine questions – how could this happen? Here? In America? Our children? And I supposed, standing in queue at the terminal that this was all that they could say with journalists at home for the holiday or abroad reporting on the road to war. After all, what can be said when the formation of white groups seems a natural reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement and race-baiting of Republican candidates? It is reminiscent of the anti-drug commercials of the early Nineties. Parents who do racism, have children who do racism.
So far, the loose movement Students for Western Civilization has made no calls for radicalization, made no statements of racist, even nationalistic intent, and denies that it promotes “white supremacy.” In fact, the title “movement” is a bit premature since no member, organizer, leader, or agent has stepped forward to provide enough information for any of us to scrutinize them individually or collectively, what their intentions may be, or the vague parameters of their organizational name. Students who study at any university outside of Asia – the last terrestrial frontier and too often made the subject of exotic fantasy – are, by definition “for” Western Civilization. Students who leave Asia to study in Europe or America are, by definition, “for” Western Civilization, so a great deal of the comments and inflammatory hyperbole surrounding the SWC is, perhaps, premature or, at best, functioning as bait to lure out some agent to speak on their behalf, especially unofficially. At this point, the SWC is a Facebook account with photos one could collect from any Midwestern Tumblr account: lakes, forests, rivers all seen through filtered lenses, and an exceptionally thin website with the tripartite mission statement
- To genuinely explore ethnic and cultural politics in a forum which does not exclude rightist or conservative perspectives.
- To organize for and advance the interests of Western peoples.
- To promote and celebrate Western Civilisation.
Together, this scant social media presence has generated a tremendous amount of attention for nothing substantial. Assuming there is, indeed, some plan to beyond stirring a great deal of discussion, the group is at this point consider an extension or reorganization of the student group, Youth for Western Civilization which has seen tremendous pushback for their affiliation with Tom Tancredo, formerly a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives who lost a bid for the Presidency in 2008 before joining Mitt Romney’s campaign in an advisory capacity. Tancredo publicly opposes illegal immigration and, as a result, was routinely called a racist at public rallies including a speech given at the University of Chapel Hill on behalf of the Youth for Western Civilization. Without downplaying his harsher statements, by comparison, Donald Trump is a far more alienating political figure than Tancredo has been, though the GOP has not distanced themselves from either figure.
Accordingly, Students for Western Civilization would do well to stay focused and on point, committed to their Mission Statement in the following ways:
Embrace your history. All of it.
As someone interested in promoting white cultural values, you probably feel marginalized and want to restore European history, values, and culture to prominence. I can certainly understand and value that, but one of the most important things in educating people about the history of Whites is to be honest and open. Yes, whites have dominated the pages of history. Yes, they have made significant contributions to the world. But they have also done this at the expense of other races and cultures, too often from behind of a sword, spear, whip, pyre, or gun. Part of discussing the contributions of the white race is also discussing where they – we – have gone wrong and done terrible things, not shy away from or minimize it. Admitting the mistakes of the past is the first step towards a better tomorrow.
Though I was raised in the South, my parents were aggressive in showing me documentaries and films about the rest of the world, encouraging (even incentivizing) me to read essays by the great names in the Civil Rights Movement. Members of the SWC would do well to learn from those who have addressed themselves to matters of race previously and seen success, appeal, even acclaim. Seriously – how can you read Malcolm X and not see his point, or the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr. and not have your sense of wonder, of justice, of the possibility of humanity expanded? Their contributions to the topics of race, economy, and societal injustice forced me to pay attention to issues like poverty, malnutrition, racism, and xenophobia. More, what they had to say caused me to understand that every hashtagged “blessing” comes with a cost that too often someone else has to pay. Sometimes, you need to be “the better person” and represent your culture in a way that is patient, kind, and generous enough to hear what people who look and sound nothing like you have to say. Your values are, I hope, stronger than the isolationism and fear of your predecessors. The future demands that you consider and respond to what people are saying; closing your hearts, lives, minds, and ears is not who you are or who you want to be. If you believe your mission is valuable and true, then it will survive scrutiny.
I’ve met hundreds of individuals who believe “West is Best”, even “white it right.” They are amazing, beautiful, loyal, compassionate, god-fearing individuals. Which is why I become confused when their personality turns into something mean, hostile, and vitriolic. I sincerely hope that you will not live into the expectations your detractors have assigned you and succumb to these traits. I hope you believe that there is a better way and aspire to that – a friendlier, more patient way to discuss things rationally than the assumptions being made of you. If you truly believe Western, even white people have made the world a better place and instilled principles like logic and reason into the global economy, then utilize and maximize those qualities within yourself. Teach them to your children. Be friendly, be encouraging, be supportive, and be a model of the world you envision.
Evaluate your image.
I’ve also met hundreds of people – let me go on a limb here – who support white “traditional” values and still manage to look nice, dress nice, become well educated, and have numerous friends with disparate values. Yet the face of White Values is too often an overweight, stubbly, t-shirt wearing factory worker without a stable relationship (familial or romantic) and whose personnel file has some version of the phrase “does not work well with others.” That’s not the face of White Values people I know, but that’s the face that gets attention. It’s time to change the face of White Values. The poster used by Students for Western Civilization are clean-cut, well-groomed, well-dressed, upwardly-visioned men. But, perhaps tellingly, they were cartoons. Not real people. Where are those individuals in real life? It’s time to take back your identity from militarized racists crowing on and on about “taking back what is theirs.” First, take it back from the ignorant extremists among you. It’s time to do some serious PR work, friends, and to embark on a new journey.
Find common ground instead of perpetuating isolationism.
Three years ago, two friends of mine started the organization Level Ground. Their mission was to do something unimaginable at the time – bring Evangelicals and gays together to discuss their differences. They particular avenue is the arts, believing that even though there are sharp and distinct political or social differences, people still enjoy music, film, and art and that this shared interest can stimulate conversations that those with deeply entrenched differences would never have otherwise. I hope the same of true for you, that you resist the temptation to congratulate yourselves while ignoring the rest of the world. During the height of the Civil Rights Era, the North Carolina chapter of the Ku Klux Klan saw tremendous social appeal because they came out of the woods, took off their hoods, and peacefully shared streets, schools, and public venues with African Americans. They were not ashamed of what they believed in, but they also knew what united their community, made up of different races and beliefs, was greater than what divided them as whites from African Americans. In like kind, while your organization stands for Western values, it is possible, even commendable for you to always keep in mind that we have but one Earth, that one’s candle never becomes brighter by blowing another’s light out, and that every one of us love our children every bit as much as you love yours.
I believe there is a better way to communicate your mission and look forward to you doing so, hoping that you will follow the example of the best minds and orators of Western Civilization by supporting and expressing tolerance, understanding, kindness, and compassion while articulating your position – whatever that may be.