White Supremacy, Guns, Murder

How to respond to yet another mass shooting? First, we can express sorrow and convey our sympathies to those immediately affected by the violence. The black Buffalo community that was attacked yesterday is suffering, and it will take a long time to heal. Compassion for their anguish is the least we can offer, and we do so with heavy hearts.

And we can join in condemning hate and the awful malice that lies at the core of this mass shooting — keeping in mind what happened in Buffalo yesterday was not just some generic form of hate. Given what we know about the alleged shooter’s motivations, it was politically inspired, racist violence. The ideology behind it, white supremacist replacement theory, is promulgated by important voices in the mainstream media. Its core tenets speak to the fears and resentments of contemporary neo-fascists in this country and around the world. In a country awash with the weapons of mass killing, these are murderous ideas. These are ideas that we who are committed to education must fight.

There will be a time for reflection, analysis and policy recommendations. Today is a time for mourning the lives lost, the wounds of the Buffalo community, and the persistence of violent anti-black racism in our country.

Do Something: Fight the Rise of Fascism and Terror

Another shattering few days of violence, at least a good part of which was inflicted on communities of color in the name of white nationalism. Terrorism has become a pressing part of the American political scene as choreographed racist resentment and fear mongering inspire members of already active fascist groups to use weapons of war to kill and create even more fear. As philosopher Jason Stanley has been pointing out, these are some of the ways fascism works.

Although I have written many times before, alas, about how these mass killings underscore the importance of gun safety laws, it is imperative that we see and come to grips with the ideological dimensions of right-wing terrorism. If verified, the El Paso shooter’s manifesto provides a chilling look into the mechanisms of creating violence to defend white supremacy. The fear is of an invasion, or of being replaced, and instead of seeing a demographic transition, the author envisions an apocalyptic threat. As historian Kathleen Belew wrote of the manifesto in today’s New York Times:

It has paragraphs that give rote gesture to not being white supremacist, even as the document invokes phrase after phrase, ideological marker after ideological marker, of the white power movement. These are all markers of the genre.

We can all recognize the similarities with the rhetoric of the president, who on the one hand encourages violence against immigrants, and on the other hand will condemn the El Paso shooter as “deranged.” We see the “markers of the genre” in Trump’s discourse.

These mass shootings are not just meaningless acts of isolated, troubled individuals. They are the product of ideological rage and the rhetoric that goes with it.

What are we to do after we mourn the victims? First, we understand the mechanisms for promoting domestic terrorism, and we ensure that our institutions disrupt them. Second, we organize so as to create civic institutions that respect the diversity of our country and protect its most vulnerable inhabitants. This will involve creating a public sphere that inspires trust rather than fear, that promotes connectivity among people across their differences rather than the isolation of one group from another.

Colleges and universities have a role to play here, too. We must promote civic preparedness so that our students can learn from those with a variety of political, moral and aesthetic views without this openness compromising their abilities to fight fascism when it rears its ugly head. Violence, pseudo-science and fear are being “carefully taught” to those who would abide ethno-nationalism. We can counter this by teaching how to recreate a public sphere that is open to democratic participation and is fierce in the determination to fight terror.

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” These were, according to several reports, the words of a recent Facebook post by Heather Heyer, killed yesterday in an act of domestic terrorism. White supremacists marched in Charlottesville threatening violence while evoking their Nazi heroes; with torches and fascist salutes, they call for the restoration of regimes of racial terror. “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

“It is disheartening for black folk to see such a vile and despicable replay of history,” writes Michael Eric Dyson. I know that Jews, gays and many other Americans also feel disheartened — we feel our hearts ripped apart when we watch the torches, the Nazi “Heil!” salute, the sickening displays of resentment and anger. Prof. Dyson goes on to say that “facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history.”

But face it we must, and we must reject the rise of unadorned hate and American style Neo-Nazism. As educators and students, as participants in our local communities and in our national polity, we must confront those who would restore violence and terror as mechanisms for fulfilling their contemptible fantasies of white supremacy.

And we must remember Heather Heyer, whose outrage led to action in Charlottesville, and who lost her life fighting for what she believed. May her memory inspire others and be a blessing to her fellow Americans.