Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE FILE
Defenses of Blue Lives Matter and Zionism showcase white supremacy on campus
In the past few days we’ve seen a shooting at a synagogue by a white man with direct connections to a mosque burning earlier this year. We’ve seen a school shooting at University of North Carolina, Charlotte — by yet another white man. We’ve seen the murder of four Sikh family members in Ohio, in what appears to be a racially and religiously motivated attack. Amidst all this terror, amidst the onslaught of white supremacist violence facing marginalized communities in the United States, we must each interrogate what white supremacy is and how it operates — not just in explosive moments of direct terrorism by white men, but in everyday actions.
What connects white supremacy, from the extreme to the casual, is the belief that whiteness is categorically superior. Whiteness is not an ethnicity in that it doesn’t constitute a shared set of symbols or cultural practices. Instead it is a category of racial difference — marking out certain populations as biologically different than others (contrary to current science). All of us, white or not, risk upholding this ideology by engaging in practices that benefit whiteness and shore up its privileges. While not every person can be racist, we can all participate in actions that defend and support white supremacy. This is important in our current moment, as so many of us turn to look at these egregious acts of violence and ask ourselves, “How did this happen?” Here, I’d like to turn to acts of white supremacy on our campus, because these larger events emerge from the very normal fabric in which we are already embedded.
Two specific instances of white supremacy have situated themselves on our campus as “marginalized voices”: the Blue Lives Matter movement (and policing generally) and Zionism. This “victimhood” frame is effective only as long as we ignore the power relations and history at work. As a scholar who focuses on white supremacist organizing in the United States, I’ll do my best to avoid anything too abstract, and use two recent opinion articles from The California Aggie to highlight how white supremacy and victimhood is functionally a part of both movements.
The first example of white supremacy at UC Davis is the Blue Lives Matter movement and its defendants on campus and in the ASUCD Senate room. Others, including myself, have already discussed the long history of racism associated with the Blue Lives Matter symbol. Columnist Nick Irvin and former ASUCD Senator Noah Pearl have both participated in defending police from critique, and Pearl has actively participated in attempting to get a resolution passed that uses the thin blue line imagery — the metaphor of a thin blue line between civilization and chaos.* The image of “chaos” is a common racial “dog whistle” for Black and Brown people attempting to live their lives in ways that are dignified and respected. Dog whistles signal race to those in the know, without bringing down direct stigma on those who use them. When people defend the police, you’ll often hear these dog whistles. The Black, immigrant, deviant body is and always has been made criminal through this reading — the chaos the police are supposed to protect good (read “White”) law-abiding citizens from. The defense of the police levied by Irvin and Pearl make them, at best, complicit in white supremacy. Pearl’s direct association and Irvin’s ideological connections with Michael Gofman, the former ASUCD president and Zionist who incited direct death and physical harassment of Black and Brown people on his presidential Facebook page on Jan. 11 by tacitly endorsing rampant anti-Blackness and transphobia, demonstrate that this is not simply accidental white supremacy, but part of a pattern of political behavior.
This brings us to another example of white supremacy on our campus, which emerges in the form of Zionism. Zionism, as a political ideology, advocates for the creation of a settler-colonial ethno-state in Israel. Conversely, anti-Zionism is a political position that decries those same political structures. It is not to be conflated with anti-Semitism, which is structural and interpersonal violence against Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is on the rise across the United States, and we’ve seen a number of incidents in Davis in just this past year.
In a recent opinion piece, Pearl argued that he could not be white supremacist or fascist because of his positionality as a Jewish American. He argues, with no evidence, that “the majority of Jews believe in Zionism”; statistics demonstrate this to be false. A 2013 Pew Research survey of American Jews indicates the community is quite divided on Israel’s place in their Jewish identity, and an overwhelming majority said criticism of Israel was a valid part of being Jewish. People like Rebecca Pierce (Jewish Voice for Peace organizer and speaker at Monday’s Anti-Zionism Week event) strongly condemn Zionism as a settler-colonial ideology. There is a long history of contention, pre-dating the creation of the state of Israel, between various Jewish religious and intellectual leaders on the ethics, necessity and morality of creating such a state. Pearl does a disservice to both religious and intellectual voices by erasing their contributions.
But how does Zionism tie into white supremacy? Pearl, and other Zionists like Gofman, fail to address that whiteness affects Ashkenazim (Jewish people of European descent) and shapes their participation in white supremacist projects. The state of Israel is virulently anti-Black. Miri Regev, a member of the Israeli Parliament, has called Sudanese refugees a “cancer on the body of Israel.” It has sterilized and limited the birth rates of Ethiopian Jews without their consent or knowledge. In just the past few months, there have been uprisings from Ethiopian Jews protesting the police violence they experience at the hands of a Jewish state that prioritizes people who are closer to the white, idealized citizen of Israel. Additionally, far-right supporters of Israel — including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have repeatedly aligned themselves with white supremacists. Zionism bridges the distance between white supremacy here and abroad.
Blue Lives Matter supporters and Zionists both use their manufactured status as “others” on campus in order to claim that they are ostracized and silenced. But the fact is that white supremacy, wherever it is found, must be ostracized. It is our duty to stigmatize it — to rid ourselves, as Michel Foucault says, of the fascism in ourselves and others. Fighting the white supremacy of white mass shooters demands nothing less. Let’s leave the use of “victimhood” to sad little white men and set about creating a world in which white supremacy is impossible to imagine. Let’s make a world that’s strong enough to survive the death knells of nationalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.
Written by: Blu Buchanan
The writer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at UC Davis, studying white gay men’s participation in conservative social movements. As a Black trans scholar and activist on campus, they primarily work with labor and anti-racist organizations to build community capacity, a strong understand history and an intersectional approach to mutual liberation.
*Editor’s note: At the Jan. 24 Senate meeting where SR#8 was discussed, Senator Noah Pearl voted to divide the house on removing lines from the resolution and votes yes to remove them. He also voted to divide the house on the final vote and abstained during the final vote on the resolution. The official minutes from that Senate meeting can be found here.