Stickers a cause for concern on campus

“Blatant white fragility” behind racist postering campaign, activist says

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Students have spotted stickers featuring the phrase “It’s okay to be white” on the outskirts of  the University of Winnipeg (U of W).

Mitchell van Ineveld, a student at U of W, found several stickers near campus.

“It’s certainly upsetting and disgusting that people are engaging in what is (an) explicitly white supremacist dog whistle campaign, but it’s also not surprising,” they say.

“It’s blatant white fragility,” Alexa Potashnik of Black Space Winnipeg, says. “The more that marginalized people challenge systems of white supremacy, the more white supremacists reflect on their position in the world and how privilege and whiteness impact their lives positively. They feel threatened.”

On Halloween, a thread on 4chan outlined a call to action to publicly post signs reading “It’s okay to be white.” The thread asked that participants conceal their identity while postering by wearing Halloween costumes.

The campaign is an effort to incite racial and political tension, and indicative of the efforts white nationalist groups have made to recruit in and around university campuses and other public spaces.

The original thread states that the intention behind the posters is to bait those who are politically left-leaning into challenging people that agree with the phrase “It’s okay to be white.” In doing so, it pushes people who agree with the phrase further right on the political spectrum.

This is an attempt at affecting the Overton window, a theory used to explain the barriers at which discourse goes from being considered mainstream to extreme.

“Another reason why white supremacists employ this seemingly innocuous language is because if they were to come out with an overtly racist message, the campaign wouldn’t be as successful,” Scott Price, a member of activist group Winnipeg Against Fascism, says. “This is a more insidious thing. It’s a dog whistle, a calling card. Those in the know will recognize it and identify with it.”

“It’s important that the U of W recognize this for what it is. It’s harassment,” Potashnik says. “Faculty and staff should be just as concerned as students. People of Colour should not have to be subjected to this nonsense.”

The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) currently has a postering policy in effect, which is meant to ensure that nothing with hateful language is posted on bulletin boards or anywhere on campus.

“I’m afraid that white students will see these stickers and posters and will feel emboldened to join this cult of victimhood,” Laura Garinger, UWSA president‚ says. “Racialized students are going to feel that they are being marginalized further.”

The UWSA also has the final say on student group posters.

“If things like this ever came from a student group on campus, we would step in and evaluate what they’re getting up to,” Garinger says. “We have staff that keep an eye out and do take down posters that don’t abide (by) our guidelines. It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for. We’re keeping our eyes open.”

The UWSA advises students who spot racist posters on campus to cover them with something else, or to take them down using their keys. Reports of razor blades being stuck to the back of some posters have come out of the University of Toronto.

Published in Volume 72, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 23, 2017)

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