Being Right: Alt-Right Posters Assert It Is Alright to Be White

Max Goldenberg, Maroon-News Staff

It is, in fact, okay to be white

Recently, a number of unusual posters popped up on college campuses and in neighborhoods across America. These posters were plain, white pieces of paper with a few, short words in bold, black font. Six words, in fact – a phrase powerful enough to spark a controversy covered by nearly every major media outlet and multiple primetime television hosts. The phrase was “It’s okay to be white.”

The reasons for this storm of debate are valid. The posters were organized and put up largely by alt-right members attempting to elicit a response from academic circles. The posters, some have argued, carry an unspoken threat in and of itself to those who are not white. Yet that explanation, when taking the message on its own, and coupled with responding graffiti and insulting articles, fails to satisfy. The statement that it is acceptable to simply exist as a white person, regardless of who put it up or what response they intended to elicit from it, should not be a contentious statement. It is deeply troubling that this notion could be so disputed as to warrant coverage from national news to audiences of millions.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has invested any serious thought in the matter willing to argue the point that Black and Asian student associations at American universities are anything but a boon, aiding minority communities greatly and allowing those without raw force of numbers to have representation in campus interests. Similarly, the idea of a white student organization seems silly, particularly at a disproportionately-white university like Colgate where white representation is  the norm. Still, as a white student, it can be somewhat awkward or even disconcerting to exist in a space with specific, targeted outlets for every sort of identity save your own, all of which encourages people to be proud of who they are. At times it can feel as though the expectation is that you ought be ashamed of whichever aspects of your identity fit into the majority, such as being white, most obviously. The reason why having a white student organization sounds so ridiculous is because the implication is, as the majority, that this ‘mainstream’ identity is fully accepted in most normal aspects of university life. 

If that’s true, then why does a statement like this cause uproar at universities and schools across the country? The answer is a fringe element of academia which holds that being white is unacceptable. The most comfortable explanation is that the attention the posters have generated stems from these groups; even that does not sit particularly well with me, because it admits the existence and begrudging acceptance of such groups. White supremacy is almost universally denounced by modern academic circles with enthusiasm; that denouncement stems from the insistence of supremacy, not just whiteness itself. If that is the case, then all notions of racial superiority or inferiority should be rooted out by campus culture with the same enthusiasm that it pursues white supremacy. Contesting it means that one believes it is not okay to be white, or that European Caucasians are racially inferior to other groups and do not have a right to self-determination. To contest the statement – not adding addendums, or countering implications, but contesting – means to believe that white people do not have a right to exist.

 University culture is at a tipping point. The growth of Richard Spenser, the alt-right movement and white nationalism within America has prompted many administrations and campus organizations to denounce or ban said groups, a motion which seems to represent the general atmosphere of university culture. Yet there seems to be a growing tolerance to its inverse of white inferiority, a quieter if no less insidious element which holds that a poster saying, “It’s okay to be white,” is something that should be torn down and spat on. A decision must be made in the near future of American universities – are these ideas something abhorrent to denounce and exclude entirely, or should both sides be given to openly state their cases in free, universal exchange? Neither choice will be easy nor clear-cut in their paths of decision. But either would be preferable to existence as a hypocrite.

Contact Max Goldenberg at [email protected].