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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: It’s OK to be white, but bad to be dumb

Racist CDs left on cars at Sandpoint High. Anti-Arab graffiti written on a pumpkin in Spokane. “It’s OK to Be White” flyers posted on the WSU campus in Pullman.

Which of these things is not like the others?

Racial slurs painted on the Martin Luther King Jr. children’s center. Bigoted signs posted on a preschool at the Community Building. “It’s OK to Be White” flyers hung at WSU.

Which of these things just isn’t the same?

Anti-refugee flyers spread around downtown Spokane. A proud skinhead threatening a 66-year-old black man in Spokane, using racist slurs and firing a gun into a house. “It’s OK to Be White” flyers pasted up at WSU.

Can you tell which thing is not like the others?

Trick questions: These things are cut from the same fabric, though it may not seem so if you don’t think much about it. They are drams of the same poison, in different concentrations, and it’s a poison that has seeped into the political moment, as the rhetoric of white-grievance springs forth everywhere with a refreshed permission.

Those who want to insist it’s OK to be white are holding hands under the table with those who argue that it’s better to be white. Best, really.

The connection doesn’t feel like an accident.

The up-and-coming generation of white “nationalists” in American colleges are taking the old recipe of racial provocation in a new direction, with the “It’s OK to Be White” campaign. It’s a stunt that moved primarily from the bowels of racist-troll internet, and it’s meant primarily as bait: Try to get ’em to say it’s not OK to be white, dudes!

An alt-right speaker gave a presentation under that slogan at the University of Connecticut, wearing a tuxedo that he called an “outfit from white history.” Protesters disrupted the speech, and he was eventually arrested for scuffling with one of them. The flyers have shown up on campuses around the country, including at WSU.

Wazzu’s young conservatives are infected with a dose of this toxicity these days, centered around one young man in particular, James Allsup, a sniggering, proud acolyte of Richard Spencer who attended the Charlottesville, Virginia, torch parade. Allsup has reached a level of prominence in Pepe-ville, making videos that put forth racist arguments for the protection of a white homeland and playing insult-meme games.

It’s hard to say how large a factor he may be among conservative youngsters in Pullman. It’d be nice to believe he isn’t one at all.

Another young WSU conservative reached out to me after a past column I wrote about Allsup, wondering whether it wouldn’t be better to simply ignore him, rather than giving him even negative attention. Fair question. My sense is that you don’t do that for the same reason you don’t ignore cockroaches in the kitchen – just because you don’t see them when the lights are off doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Meanwhile, they’re spreading filth through the house.

Allsup resigned as president of the College Republicans at WSU after his participation in the Charlottesville rally. Last week, he was re-elected, though apparently that vote has been declared void for procedural reasons, according to the student newspaper, the Daily Evergreen.

Still, it seems there might be more than one cockroach in the kitchen of WSU’s College Republicans.

Here’s the thing: The notion that white people are suffering discrimination when others raise their voices for equality reflects the same selfishness, race-blindness and privilege that fuels outspoken, unapologetic racism. A feeling of disenfranchisement. A feeling of defensive victimization. A narcissistic lack of empathy. An ignorant lack of understanding about your own good fortune. A refusal to acknowledge realities that are so obvious to people of color – or to anyone familiar with statistical evidence or historical context.

Is it so wrong to say it’s OK to be white? That is the faux-naif question at the heart of this stunt, but it’s offered in bad faith. It’s offered as a repudiation. As with All Lives Matter, it’s a way of sticking your fingers in your ears and blathering while someone else is talking.

It’s like listening to someone tell you about their suffering and asking in return: “But what about me?”

Of course it’s OK to be white, you big babies.

But it’s never good to be dumb and selfish.

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