The wounds of racial and ethnic division in our country are painful and deep. The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia highlight how the alt-right and its white nationalist ideology are on the rise. Rather than seeking ways to bridge racial divides in the country, university students and administrators often add fuel to this fire. While universities could play a constructive role in fostering unity, academia often exhibits a fixation with race that only divides the country further.
Stanford is no exception. This fall, Stanford introduced a new course, “White Identity Politics,” in which students will examine strategies geared toward “abolishing whiteness.” Moreover, the course decries “whiteness” as a societal reality. In doing so, however, Professor John Patrick Moran is providing legitimacy to a dangerously radical concept which white nationalists wish to make mainstream. According to the University of Calgary’s “Anti-Racism Education” program, “whiteness” is a pervasive, socially and politically constructed dynamic in which white beliefs, values behaviors, habits and attitudes result in power lying in the hands of white individuals. By legitimizing the pseudo-intellectual concept of “whiteness,” and attributing the result of last year’s election to the successful utilization of “white identity politics,” Stanford is assisting the alt-right’s white nationalist agenda.
While our Constitution and laws do not target individuals for their race, the alt-right longs to institutionalize the concept of “whiteness”. Richard Spencer, President of the National Policy Institute, a flagship alt-right think-tank, has become the face of white nationalism in recent years. He claims that the alt-right is interested in “power, exploration and domination.” Spencer further proclaims, “I just want to bathe in white privilege," while insisting that “America is a white country, designed for ourselves (whites) and our posterity.”
Meanwhile, Professor Moran, in the course description alone, discusses how his course will draw “from the field of whiteness study,” while examining texts that “push whiteness studies in new directions.” In describing “whiteness” as a “field of study,” Professor Moran is simply adding intellectual legitimacy to a white nationalist dream world. By treating the ideology of racists like Richard Spencer as a contemporary reality, academia runs the risk of making alt-right ideas more mainstream, and in turn more palatable to a centrist audience.
The course on “White Identity Politics,” along with the new student group “Disrupting Whiteness,” could conceivably foster the sense of alienation and isolation that would make white identity politics possible in the first place. Professor Moran’s class, and others like it, encourages students to scrutinize, psychoanalyze, and generalize about white Americans. Polling data indicates that some white Americans have begun to feel victimized. Could it be that this sense of victimization comes from the scrutiny that white Americans face in academia, the media, entertainment and elsewhere?
Identity politics play to painful emotions of fear and victimhood within certain parts of their constituencies, pitting fellow Americans against each other. The left has used identity politics with significant success, by playing to the insecurities of people belonging to ethnic minorities. Moreover, identity politics is at the heart of what the alt-right stands for. According to Richard Spencer, the alt-right exists to advance the interests of white people. Could it be that a feeling of alienation, caused by leftist movements, is leading some whites to flock to racists like Richard Spencer?
The course’s proclamation that President Trump’s victory was a result of his successful employment of “white identity politics” is not only untrue but dangerous. The racist alt-right crowd made up a statistically insignificant portion of President Trump’s voter base. Nevertheless, the untrue narrative that racism, or “white identity politics,” propelled Donald Trump to the White House predominates on the far-left and in academia. In espousing this baseless narrative, the campus left finds itself in agreement with the alt-right. Richard Spencer is more than happy to credit Trump’s victory to his detestable, albeit overrated, attempt at “white identity politics.” In Spencer’s words, the alt-right “willed Donald Trump into office.”
By promoting this narrative, academia is emboldening the alt-right. Giving the alt-right credit for Trump’s being elected gives them an undeserved victory. While this is often done in an effort to malign the President as a racist, proponents of this narrative should understand that they are bolstering the confidence of actual racists. The alt-right represents a grave threat to the principles that make America truly great. It rejects the most fundamental American ideals of individual liberty and the inherent equality of all people, while promoting the very ethnic tribalism that may sow the seeds of America’s social unraveling. While the left is not entirely responsible for the existence of the alt-right, its divisive identity politics has built an ample political climate in which the alt-right can grow. The strength of America and American principles are imperilled not only by the alt-right, but also by the leftists whose divisive message adds fuel to the alt-right’s fire.