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College’s ‘white terrorism’ talk criticizes ‘narrative of white woundedness’

Berea College hosted an online webinar Wednesday to discuss the concept of white citizenship as terrorism. It was led by Professor Amy Brandzel, author of “Against Citizenship: The Violence of the Normative.”

The one-hour lecture, while held March 17, made national headlines last week because of its provocative title: “White Citizenship as Terrorism: Make America Great Again, Again.”

A flier for the event stated “if terrorism is defined as the use of violence and threats to create a state of fear towards particular communities and identities, then this is what ‘Trumpism’ is at its core.”

Brandzel is an assistant professor of American Studies and Women Studies at the University of New Mexico. Brandzel’s online bio states the scholar “works across the connections and contradictions within feminist, GLBT/queer, postcolonial, and critical race theories on identity, citizenship, law, history, and knowledge production.”

The lecture began with a land acknowledgment, wherein Brandzel admits to being a “white settler who lives on unseated Pueblo, Navajo and Apache Land.”

The professor then addressed the negative press attention the event received last week:

“I hear there’s been some press and controversy around this talk today. Interestingly enough, those controversies and the ways that some media have described this talk, or reacted to the description of the talk actually, is exactly the point. That is, their tendency is to situate whiteness as vulnerable, as in trouble, as needing protection, and that’s exactly the kind of discourse I’m trying to name today and trying to figure out what we do with that. To say that whiteness needs protection, needs media up in arms, needs people to send threatening emails to my colleagues here, or myself, this is the narrative of white woundedness, and it’s what my talk is very much about today.”

The professor then connected historical instances of racialized discrimination to the modern day.

“Whiteness has been synonymous with U.S. citizenship. Whiteness has been imbued with rights and privileges without question,” the professor said.

“This isn’t to say whiteness itself isn’t contested. It’s complicated,” Brandzel said. “This hasn’t been the case for non-white identities. … Those communities have had to beg, fight and beg again for the legal rights to citizenship.”

Brandzel not only directly alleged that citizenship laws have long been used to historically harm minority communities, but that modern right-wing movements use the same tactics as a form of terrorism.

The professor cited as examples various policies of President Donald Trump, such as the so-called Muslim ban, efforts that did not support DACA, cutting refugee programs, banning transgender individuals from the military, and zero-tolerance policies for illegal immigrants.

“If you’re paying attention, everyday a new administrative or legal change was made by the Trump administration, at least one, that removed someone’s rights, violated someone’s rights or placed significant barriers to accessing those rights,” the professor said. “According to most scholars, the Trump administration removed more rights than any administration in our history.”

Brandzel also connected these policies to greater acts of terrorism, such as the Tree of Life, Christchurch and El Paso Walmart shootings, as well as the January 6 protest:

“I am not saying Trump is responsible for this violence. I’m merely pointing out that communities of color, transgender women and migrants, if you’re having any fear during this time, it’s justified. This fear, this constant bombardment of messages, laws and administrative actions that target certain communities, is to terrorize those communities. Terrorism is a loaded term, it’s come to take on a lot of meanings, especially racialized ones.

But let me point out here I am talking about what it means to terrorize a group of people or community, to undermine their sense of belonging and to undermine their sense of safety. …

There is a general consensus that the goal of terrorism is to create conditions of uncertainty and fear. Terrorism functions through psychic reverberations or impact upon the psyche of a group of people, telling them that they are in danger and under the threat of violence. To terrorize a group of people isn’t just to physically harm them. It’s also to make them feel that this fear could be enacted at any time.”

The professor then directly compared early 20th century nativists, anti-immigration laws, anti-Native American laws and lynch mobs to Trump’s policies.

“It’s easy to say lynching is in the past if we ignore the recent examples of lynching that have occurred in the United States. It’s easy to say that terrorizing people of color is in the past if we ignore the tweets, the legal actions and the constant debates in our media about whether this or that is racist, if this or that person is worthy,” Brandzel said.

“It’s easy to claim that violence is in our past if we keep ignoring the violence of our present, but it’s also foolish to believe violence in the past isn’t affecting us today, right now.”

During the talk, Brandzel mentioned there had been death threats fielded over the talk.

The College Fix reached out to Brandzel and the University of New Mexico for a statement regarding the speech’s content and the alleged death threats and has not received a response.

A request for comment from The College Fix to Berea College was referred back to the school’s original statement from last week defending the talk.

“We encourage open dialog on difficult topics,” it said in a statement. “Racism and white nationalism have been topics of great debate over the past five years.”

“The event planned for next week seeks to confront aspects of the political spectrum that relate to the difficult topic of race in America. While that may cause discomfort, it is a valid and important conversation in this time of political and racial division. It is our hope that these types of conversations will occur across the country.”

MORE: Princeton prof: Trump’s enforcement of immigration law is ‘terrorism’

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About the Author
Tyler Hummel -- Flashpoint College Chicago