author – activist – faculty – mom
I teach creative writing in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. This evening, I got a message from the Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, about hate speech flyers that were printed on campus printers by a white supremacist hacker. It was even written up in the NY Times.
I blinked several times as I read the email. I recalled just this morning, I had seen one of the flyers on our department’s shared printer. It advocated “Global White Supremacy” and had two nazi swastikas. It was anti-Semitic, and xenophobic.
I have had that feeling. That sick feeling. That catch in the solar plexus, frightened unsafe feeling. I’ve had it in all the identities in which I feel vulnerable, in which my people are targeted, in which the institutions seem to be gunning for me. So I am very familiar with the intake of breath at the hateful graffiti, the knot in the stomach with the overheard slur. But I didn’t feel any of that this morning.
I recall looking at the flyer, sitting there on the copy machine, as yet unclaimed, its text and images in crisp black print on white paper. I recall thinking, wow, someone must be doing a lecture on Trump and the current rise of fascism, and comparing it to the rise of the nazis. Because it’s the African American Studies Department, everyone who has access to that printer is generally in agreement that racism is hateful and irrational, but that racism has a great deal of institutional and historical power. There is a consensus that racism must be dismantled. So when I saw the flyer, I could only understand it as a tool for dismantling racism. It never occurred to me that it was advocating racism. I assumed that it was exposing the history of racism, and possibly making the connection to the current racism of Donald Trump. Wow. I was totally mistaken.
I probably would have felt very different if I had seen that flyer in a majority-white department, or a white-dominated department. So I think the biggest take away is that when we are connected to our people, and have a strong sense of the power of our resistance, it takes a lot more to knock us over, or even to shake us up. Racism has its own power. But racism plus isolation, has much more power. I’m a keep my people close.