March 17, 2019

CHANG | Identity Politics Is an Absolute Necessity

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A friend recently told me that they didn’t think white supremacy was a large or hegemonic problem anymore. While I don’t deny that there have been material changes, like repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act with the Magnuson Act in 1943 or passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, white supremacy undoubtedly exists both in our international and interpersonal communities. We can’t allow it to fester.

On March 15, a 28-year-old man opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 49 and injuring at least 48 others. The shooter’s 74-page explanation of his motivation and 17-minute video of the shooting clue us into the horror of such violence and the justification for it.

From this documentation, we now know that the shooter was a white nationalist who described himself as “just an ordinary white man” who executed the Islamophobic attack “to show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands . . . as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands.” His manifesto reflected the language of previous white nationalists, who invoked the coming “white genocide” in fear-mongering attempts to rally like-minded groups and individuals.

A Vox article analyzing the historical patterns of terrorist manifestos traces the New Zealand post to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s justification for his acts of violence and even Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The Christchurch shooter’s manifesto isn’t necessarily reflective of the shooter’s own personality but rather a better reflection of how white nationalists impel others to perpetuate similar supremacist ideologies.

Yet, it is the content of these manifestos that shows the abhorrent staying power of white supremacy. Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Paul Hasson, who was arrested in February for stockpiling weapons and planning “focused violence” to form a white state, used the same language as the Christchurch shooter. The same ideologies were espoused by Dylann Roof when he killed nine people during a prayer service at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Each one of these shootings (or planned shootings) represent an instantiation of white hate. Moreover, they represent broken families, dead bodies and the seeds of another attention-seeking attack.

As specific instances of terror, we should resist these violent acts. But Anti-Defamation League data indicates that white nationalism isn’t restricted to small and isolated acts across several years: propaganda efforts increased by 182 percent and rallies increased from 76 to 91 events in 2018. Whether because white nationalists fear the perceived rise of the left or they feel protected by the fact that President Trump has said white nationalism is “not really” a rising threat, we have a serious problem on our hands that has the potential to escalate into widespread violence.

What should be the answer to the white supremacist onslaught against every other non-white and non-normative identity or ideology? We shouldn’t descend into pointless name-calling or seep into a “call-out” culture that only seeks to verbally excoriate others who don’t share our beliefs. We shouldn’t erase our differences and pretend that identity categories or religious differences don’t exist in America. Rather, we can find commonalities that resist the causes of white nationalism at both the level of policy and activism. We should use our identities as starting points to critique the erasure of marginalized people from the perfect white nationalist state. After all, if they don’t want us, we should choose to vibrantly and clearly exist so that they can no longer ignore our presence.

As Cornellians, we tend to quickly forget about white supremacist acts because white supremacy doesn’t seem like a daily problem. The three Swastikas found on North Campus last semester soon faded from our memories because any further neo-Nazism probably won’t strike our Ithaca bubble. But what if it does? Our response to these events should be to channel our anger and heartbreak to address white supremacy on the level of the everyday. It’s not funny to make jokes about the Holocaust, or white nationalist shooters, because violence gets reproduced. It’s crucial to align with and in groups that recognize and act against nationalist violence, like the ACLU or the Black Student Union.

We should not resolve the white supremacist attack on people of color, LGBTQ people and Muslims by bending to their will and removing or hiding these markers of difference. Specifically in the context of Islamophobic attacks and Islamophobic rhetoric from political and community leaders, we can apply what Sun columnist Michael Johns Jr. wrote about the importance of religion to the national fabric of the United States. While Michael focuses on national unity under Christianity, we have to expand our conception of “American religion” to Islam too. We know Christian institutions are under attack; but when mosques are the sites of shootings and people are banned from the United States on the basis of their religion, we now know (and have known for quite a while) that non-Christian religions are also under attack.
We can’t get around hate or white supremacy by simply banning it. In the age of the internet, the backlash against First Amendment limits would be tremendous and antithetical to a long history of protected free speech from civil rights and anti-war advocates. We can’t turn away from white supremacist ideology when it produces violence and consider nationalism as simply an idle threat. The consequences are far too large. As ACLU attorney Lee Rowland writes, we should “dance to our own tune” and decide when and how to protest white supremacy instead of silencing conversations that we must have.

Darren Chang is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dchang@cornellsun.com. Swamp Snorkeling runs every other Monday this semester.