Posters reading “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” have generated various responses since they were found and removed Monday morning from Glenn Terrell Mall on the Washington State University campus.
“In my mind, it’s a nonthreatening statement,” said Jeff Guillory, executive director of WSU’s Office of Equity and Diversity. “Sure, it’s OK to be white. It’s OK to be African-American. It’s OK to be Latino. It’s OK to be gay.”
Guillory encourages people to sit down and talk with those who distributed the posters to facilitate a discussion.
“Who knows? Maybe we can come to some kind of mutual understanding,” Guillory said.
On Nov. 3, the Washington Post reported similar posters had been found in cities and on college campuses across the country, including at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.; at Tulane University in New Orleans; at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md; at the Harvard Yard in Massachusetts; and at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Jodi Walker, director of communications at the University of Idaho, told the Daily News she had not heard of any such posters on the UI campus in Moscow.
According to the Post’s Nov. 3 article, the idea for the signs originated from a post to 4chan, a discussion website where typically anonymous users post content, this time suggesting people print such signs, post them and watch the reaction.
But the source of the posters on campus remains unknown.
Phil Weiler, vice president of marketing and communications at WSU, said his discussions with WSU police revealed no leads into who might have distributed the posters.
Based on the widespread distribution of the posters to campuses across the country, Weiler said, they appear to be intended to provoke fear rather than thoughtful discussion.
“If the intention of those posters is to intimidate and frighten people, there’s no place for that kind of activity on our campus,” Weiler said.
At the end of the day, Weiler said, the posters are considered litter, which WSU staff members have had to spend much time removing. WSU Plant Services Manager Eric Slocum said about 10 posters were removed from the campus Monday morning.
“It’s common practice for our grounds department to remove posters that are not approved,” Slocum said, adding the department removes unapproved fliers for parties and concerts at least once a week.
The message has been decried by some as racist. Others have questioned why the posters are considered offensive at all.
To Malik Dreher, president of WSU’s Black Men Making A Difference organization, the statement has historical meaning.
“Every day we are told it’s OK to be white,” Dreher said. “We are told it’s OK to be white and we are told it’s not OK to be the other.”
But Dreher said the posters are just words and will not deter him or his organization from focusing on their own goals of promoting academic excellence. He advised those offended by the posters to continue fighting for the liberation of all people.
“Do not put in all your efforts trying to make your oppressor understand or feel bad for their oppression, because it’s not going to work,” Dreher said.
Commenting on Guillory’s advice to facilitate discussion, Dreher said he is open to talk.
“It’s hard to kind of try to have a conversation with someone that is, from the outside looking in, is just putting things up just to stir the pot,” Dreher said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter