Several posters by a white supremacy group appeared around Purdue's campus last week.

The images appeared last week, plastered on walls and poles at Purdue University’s campus in West Lafayette, my alma mater. “We have a right to exist,” proclaims one poster featuring a drawing of an Aryan-looking man and woman gazing stoically at the viewer. In another, a white woman and child stand together with the words: “Defending your people is a social duty not an anti-social crime.”

A third poster portrays a white male wearing shackles. The chain linking his wrists reads “white guilt” and and the poster states, “Free yourself from cultural Marxism.”

The group responsible for these posters calls itself “The American Vanguard,” a Southern California-based white supremacist group that claims to have chapters across the West, Midwest, and South. The site includes a manifesto by “Casus Belli” (Latin for “a case for war”), stating: “White America is under attack. . . . As we apply to colleges and enter the workforce, we see the corrupt System that has been forced on us, one that blatantly works against White Americans.” The stated goal is to fight for “White America,” which can only happen if “we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth.”

While I doubt there will be long lines to sign up for American Vanguard, my gut tells me that their posters and message will find sympathizers and future acolytes. Purdue’s student population is overwhelmingly white, American, and male (Purdue is 58 percent male and 79 percent white).

Juanita Crider, a current doctoral student in American Studies, agrees. “It has been my observation that campus climate continues to be an issue for students of color.” Ms. Crider, who is African American, also notes “The majority of students here have minimal day to day contact with people who are not like them.”

While the rise of white supremacy groups is horrific, we really shouldn’t be surprised by it. The American Vanguard launched this particular hate campaign in the days leading up to the presidential election, in which we had a candidate refuse to disavow an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader and recalcitrant white supremacist David Duke. The now president-elect has feigned ignorance about current Klan leadership’s cheers for his rhetoric.  American Vanguard’s manifesto is perfectly primed to find adherents in this college climate.

Now, more than ever, we must discuss race and racism openly in order to dispel the myth that whiteness is a victim status, and to have real discussions of what equality for all means. An important step is to get rid of the insidious notion of colorblindness, a coded means by which white Americans avoid the discussion of race and racism by claiming to not see color, and that to see color is to be racist. The result is that white people do not have to acknowledge the inequities that exist, and when racial minorities discuss race they are charged with inciting racism. In the minds of many white Americans, people succeed by merit alone. When someone points out the problems of institutionalized racism and discrimination, they are tagged as “racist” for insisting that color does matter in our so-called colorblind democracy.

The American Vanguard uses the pronoun “our,” to say that America is under attack by racial minorities, non-Christians, and non-white immigrants. The group’s proclamation “We have a right to exist” plays into a “colorblind” mindset that fails to see the racism beneath the claim of white victimhood. It aims to make white, college-aged youth feel victimized and belittled because of their whiteness while paradoxically claiming the idea of their superiority over those who are not white and Christian.

Purdue University’s president, and former Republican Indiana state governor Mitch Daniels released a statement after the fliers were found on campus. Daniels labeled the group’s views as “inconsistent with the values and principles we believe here at Purdue.” He stated that the fliers were “a transparent effort to bait people into overreacting, thereby giving a miniscule fringe group attention it does not deserve.”  

The statement was met with disappointment by faculty, staff and students, who felt it was insufficient especially in failing to address why these posters appeared in the first place, and why some white students may not understand the feelings of students of color. Crider puts it this way:

“If these students have not been exposed to history or literature outside their cultural or ethnic experience, they have no context to aid them in understanding or engaging students of color who are feeling vulnerable.”  

The paradox is staggering—and all too familiar. Anyone paying attention can see how racial rhetoric in the presidential campaign opened to door to hate groups on Purdue’s campus.

Lisa Beringer is an Assistant Professor at Ivy Tech Community College and a graduate of Purdue University.

 

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Purdue. Located in hoosierland. Mike Pence land. The Alabama of the North. Why am I not surprised....

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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