Brow Beat

Drexel University, Apparently Unfamiliar With White Supremacist Lingo, Censures Prof For “White Genocide” Tweet

The kind of person who uses the phrase white genocide in earnest. The flyer reads, in part, “Say NO to Cultural GeNOcide.”

William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, provoked the wrath of the internet’s worst people on Christmas Eve when he tweeted, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In a follow-up tweet, he added, “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a very good thing indeed.” (The tweets are no longer available online, as Ciccariello-Maher has since made his Twitter account private.) In context, it seems clear that he was tweaking white supremacists for their repurposing of the term white genocide, which is disingenuously invoked nowadays to pretend that uncontroversial things like interracial dating are as threatening as the slaughter that took place in Haiti in 1804. But Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets were as good a reason for a witch hunt as any, and what better time to hunt witches than Christmas?

Breitbart, as usual, was the most openly racist about it; its writer Warner Todd Huston went out of his way to link Ciccariello-Maher to the largest university in Mexico, apparently as a disqualifying factor, and characterized his Twitter feed as “filled with hateful, obnoxious messages, anti-Americanism, slams of President Donald Trump, attacks on Jews, as well as pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-communist sloganeering.” The story quickly went as viral as dysentery, spattering its way all over the right-wing media—there are currently four separate stories about it on the Daily Caller alone—and the customary wave of obscenities, calls for Ciccariello-Maher’s firing, and death threats crashed into Drexel.

None of this is exactly surprising—it’s the business model, after all. What is surprising, and dispiriting, was Drexel’s response: On Christmas Day, it issued a press release calling Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets “utterly reprehensible” and suggesting the university would be taking further action against him:

Drexel became aware today of Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s inflammatory tweet, which was posted on his personal Twitter account on Dec. 24, 2016. While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University.

The University is taking this situation very seriously. We contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail.

It’s perfectly understandable to find a morbid joke about the 1804 Haiti massacre to be in poor taste, but to think Ciccariello-Maher’s statements were “reprehensible,” Drexel’s administration must have no idea about the origins or current usage of the term white genocide. It doesn’t even qualify as a dog whistle—it’s the kind of phrase that’s offensive enough on its face that even Breitbart writers don’t seem to use it (though they can’t keep it out of their comment section). So in the interests of aiding future university administrators, here’s a brief history.

For years, white genocide meant “genocide committed by whites,” whether it referred to the slaughter of Native Americans or plots against the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Community. In the 1980s, anti-assimilationists in the Armenian community used it to refer to the loss of their cultural identity, in a deliberately provocative reference to the Armenian genocide. Its first widespread use in the mainstream media to mean genocide committed against whites didn’t happen until 1998, when reporters looked into the Council of Conservative Citizens after learning Republican luminaries Bob Barr and Trent Lott both had ties to the hate group. Its platform included the belief that “interracial marriage amounts to white genocide,” according to the Washington Post, which led to the usual shocked-to-find-gambling-at-the-casino sputtering from powerful, genteel racists. But the Council of Conservative Citizens was unlikely to have coined the phrase. Although it’s difficult to date precisely, white supremacist publishing houses being somewhat less reliable than Simon & Schuster, that honor probably belongs to the late David Lane, terrorist, white supremacist, and author of an execrable little essay called “White Genocide Manifesto.” Here’s his explanation of exactly what he means by it:

Let it be understood that the term “racial integration” is a euphemism for genocide. The inevitable result of racial integration is a percentage of inter-racial matings each year, leading to extinction, as has happened to the White race in numerous areas in the past. As the White remnant is submerged in a tidal wave of five billion coloreds, they will become an extinct species in a relatively short time. This genocide is being accomplished by deliberate design.

In other words, it’s nothing but a garbling of Lothrop Stoddard’s worst fears; except Stoddard could write coherent—if deplorable—sentences. Lane, on the other hand, banged out grandiose gibberish like “The Illegal and Malicious Imprisonment of David Lane” from a federal penitentiary, where he was serving 190 years for his role in the murder of talk show host Alan Berg. (He also believed his birth had been foretold by, in his words, “an incredibly precise prophecy, encoded in the Great Seal, in the Great Pyramid, and in the hidden structure of the K.J.V. Bible,” although the prophecy’s incredible precision somehow omitted details about his death behind bars in 2007.) David Lane’s thoughts on white genocide were exactly as worthwhile as his pyramid prophecy, but when miscegenationexited polite discourse, white supremacists had to replace it with something. And so the phrase moved from crackpot manifestos to billboards in Alabama to the Twitter feed of the president-elect of the United States.

Which doesn’t make it any less bullshit. “White genocide,” when used by the people who throw around terms like white genocide, means diversity, shifting demographics, multiracial couples, access to abortion, and immigration, all of which are relatively noncontroversial Christmas wishes. But as soon as it became advantageous to pretend Ciccariello-Maher was referring to literal trains and camps instead of mocking the histrionic code words of a pack of racists, Breitbart was there, ready lead its moronic light brigade into battle.

At this point, cycles of outrage are as inevitable as the tides, and this certainly won’t be the last time a university overreacts to harassment from the internet’s winged monkeys. But the first Google result for “white genocide” is a Wikipedia article titled “White genocide conspiracy theory,” which makes Ciccariello-Maher’s point clear enough. Is a quick search too much to ask of an institution of higher education? Fortunately, Ciccariello-Maher is explaining rather than backing down. In a statement sent to Jezebel, he calls white genocide “an imaginary concept” and “a figment of the racist imagination,” adding that “it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.” With any luck, he’ll get the point across to Drexel when they meet to discuss it. Here is his full statement:

On Christmas Eve, I sent a satirical tweet about an imaginary concept, “white genocide.” For those who haven’t bothered to do their research, “white genocide” is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies (and most recently, against a tweet by State Farm Insurance). It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.

What I am not glad about is that this satirical tweet became fodder for online white supremacists to systematically harass me and my employer, Drexel University. Beginning with—formerly the domain of Special Counselor to the President-Elect, Steve Bannon—and running through the depths of Reddit discussion boards, a coordinated smear campaign was orchestrated to send mass tweets and emails to myself, my employer, and my colleagues. I have received hundreds of death threats.

Drexel University issued a statement on the matter, apparently without understanding either the content or the context of the tweets. While Drexel has been nothing but supportive in the past, this statement is worrying. While upholding my right to free expression, the statement refers to my (satirical) tweets as “utterly reprehensible.” What is most unfortunate is that this statement amounts to caving to the truly reprehensible movements and organizations that I was critiquing. On the university level, moreover, this statement—despite a tepid defense of free speech—sends a chilling message and sets a frightening precedent. It exposes untenured and temporary faculty not only to internal disciplinary scrutiny, but equally importantly, it encourages harassment as an effective means to impact university policies.

As my students will attest, my classroom is a free-for-all of ideas, in which anyone is welcome to their opinions, but expected to defend those opinions with argument. I teach regularly on the history of genocidal practices like colonialism and slavery—genocides carried out by the very same kind of violent racists who are smearing me today. That violent racism will now have a voice in the White House is truly frightening—I am not the first and I won’t be the last to be harassed and threatened by Bannon, Trump, and co.

White supremacy is on the rise, and we must fight it by any means. In that fight, universities will need to choose whether they are on the side of free expression and academic debate, or on the side of the racist mob.