The white freakout over college students grappling with “the problem of whiteness” has just found a new target.
TPM previously reported on an Arizona State University course about “the problem of whiteness” that rose to national attention in January, prompting neo-Nazi types and white supremacists to threaten the professor teaching it.
The course also angered a white nationalist group, which put up flyers in the professor’s neighborhood labeling him as “Anti-White” and protested on campus to demand that the university administration fire him. Now that group, the National Youth Front, has turned its attention to a bulletin board campaign mentioning “white privilege” at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
The bulletin board aimed to get passing students to reflect on whether they benefit from white, male, class, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual or able-bodied privilege. Strikingly, news of the bulletin board bubbled up through the conservative blogosphere and made its way to Fox News before it came across the National Youth Front’s radar. The group set its sights on the “problem of whiteness” class after conservative media shined a spotlight on it, too.
The National Youth Front’s leader, Angelo John Gage, told TPM in a phone interview Thursday that he believes the bulletin board amounted to discrimination. He repeatedly took issue with the portrayal of white people and Christians as having “privilege.”
“State and federal law says you must keep the school discrimination-free. They’re not doing that,” Gage said. “The Civil Rights Act says you can’t have discrimination based on race, sex, gender — all that stuff. Here comes a board that discriminates against people for their race, sex, gender, religion. It’s the complete opposite.”
He defined privilege instead as something “handed to you.”
“‘Oh you’re black, here you go, here’s a scholarship.’ That’s a privilege,” Gage explained. “Or here’s a racial quota. ‘You’re not qualified but you’re black, so here’s the job’ — otherwise it’s racism.”
Gage said he first learned of the bulletin board when he came across an article on Campus Reform, a student news website backed by the Leadership Institute, which organizes conservative groups on campus. Fox News ran with Campus Reform’s story in a “Fox & Friends” segment, which Gage said he watched.
“Fox and Friends” host Elizabeth Hasselbeck spoke with an Appalachian State student earlier this month who said she was cyberbullied after she posted a photo of the bulletin board on Facebook. The photo was picked up by Campus Reform. The student, Laurel Litter, who is white, told Hasselbeck that the felt the bulletin board intimidated her and made her feel shameful about her heritage:
The fliers that had been posted on the bulletin board were originally the brainchild of three professors at the University of San Francisco, who designed them with the intent to make people stop and “reflect on their identities and the ways in which they can use their respective privileges to advocate for others.”
“If you can expect time off from work to celebrate your religious holidays, you have Christian privilege,” one poster reads.
Another poster tells the observer he has “white male privilege” if he’s “confident the police exist to protect you.”
Gage and his group took a two-pronged approach to combating the bulletin boards. In what he called “Operation Bully Board,” Gage first urged the National Youth Front’s supporters to email the chancellor of Appalachian State, Sheri Everts.
No supporters of the group who emailed Everts got a response, Gage said. But he said he believed his group “influenced” the administration enough to get the bulletin board taken down.
When a second bulletin board cropped up, Gage and his group had supporters put up fliers around the school mocking the campaign:
A National Youth Front flier mocking Appalachian State’s privilege boards. Image via YouTube.
Gage said this second phase of “Operation Bully Board” raised an “outcry” on campus, but not the kind he’d intended. He said students threatened him on the National Youth Front’s Facebook page.
Gage declined to say who put those fliers up and whether his group had student activists on campus, but he said there was a pocket of the Appalachian State community that supported the National Youth Front’s message.
“There are other students that actually destroyed the Christian board before we did,” he told TPM. “They put ‘F you’ across the whole thing and then they had to make a new Christian board. This is before we even got involved. So other students, aside from the hatred that we got, said thank you.”
But Andy Koch, a professor at Appalachian State who also serves as the chair of the Faculty Senate, said he doesn’t think Gage’s group made as much of a splash as it would like to believe.
“There was no kind of backlash on the campus,” he told TPM in a phone interview. “The only discussion that was ever had about the content of the posters was whether or not we should be doing it in the dorms. Some students want the dorms to be a refuge from all of that kind of discourse.”
Koch said that he participated in a panel discussion on privilege at the school on April 13, right before the National Youth Front’s fliers appeared. He recalled that “very few” people at the meeting, which was attended by almost 500 students, said they were upset by the bulletin boards.
“There were a couple people that expressed that they’d like to go back to their dorm rooms and relax and felt bombarded a little bit,” he said. “Most of the discussion was about how we can make people aware of the privileges that they have so they could sort out the arenas in which they have privilege and they don’t.”
Fox News’ segment was also brought up in passing during the panel discussion, Koch said.
“It’s unfortunate that Fox News drives this kind of discourse and creates this false narrative that there’s actually a discussion about this when the campus has been pretty supportive,” he told TPM.
TPM illustration by Christine Frapech.