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Critical Race Network @ UW Statement Against White Supremacy, Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and Anti-Semitism

The Critical Race Network @ UW states its strong commitment to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) students, faculty, and staff at the University of Winnipeg, and to help eradicate racist and white supremacist ideologies and organizing on our campus and in our community.

The current resurgence of aggressive forms of white supremacist organizing and militancy across Europe, the U.S., and Canada must be approached with the gravity it requires. Anti-immigrant, white nationalist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic groups preparing to demonstrate near or around our university in the coming weeks put BIPOC students, staff, and faculty members in harm’s reach. These groups’ racist rhetoric, which is gaining ground on college and university campuses (including those in Canada), curtails BIPOC’s capacities and willingness to exercise their academic freedoms and to enjoy their rights to a safe working and learning environment. Furthermore, the numerous international students living in residences on our campus are made increasingly unsafe when the presence of anti-immigrant groups effectually curbs their freedom of movement and their access to basic services.

White supremacy and its historical legacy in Canada remain too often unnamed or hidden behind the catchall phrases “hate speech” or “hate groups.” As a result, conversations are easily deflected away from BIPOC voices and towards abstract conversations about “free speech,” with the effect of allowing white nationalists to claim victimhood and occupy the centre of public debates.

White supremacy is a broad ideological framework that has and continues to geographically and historically spread across Canada; it exists beyond the overt racism of “hate groups.” White supremacy is an ideology sustained by practices and institutions securing structural advantages for white people, who are then implicitly or explicitly understood as the natural bearer of rights and privileges. Under white supremacy, whiteness implicitly and explicitly constitutes the symbolic template for what identity, citizenship, nationhood, and belonging mean.

Born out of European settler colonialism, Canada was founded as a white supremacist state. This legacy endures in light of the continued dispossession and destruction of Indigenous lands by the state, its myriad institutions, and corporate interests. It is also reflected in the disproportionate exposure of BIPOC to state violence, surveillance, policing, incarceration, and criminalization. More broadly, white supremacy sustains the current and systemic social, political, legal, and economic advantages enjoyed by white Canadians when compared to BIPOC communities.

Far-right militants and white supremacists are not attempting to erect a white supremacist regime where none existed before; their aim is to salvage, protect, and strengthen an existing white supremacist system that they falsely believe to be under threat (and that they believe is entitled to continuance). Accordingly, today’s white supremacist resurgence summons enduring tropes of white self-victimization. These tropes are relayed by conspiratorial language and campaigns of misinformation. Each time, the beneficiaries of white supremacy are heralded as the “Résistance”, which allows white nationalists to frame their recourse to fascist iconography, militia vigilantism, hate speech, and incitement to violence and intimidation as acts of self-defence and as a Crusade to protect “free speech” for all.

Even if most people are not active participants in far-right groups and social movements, all of us at the University of Winnipeg live in a white supremacy. In such a context, like in any supremacist context, “equality” and “diversity of opinions” in the public sphere easily become moot and hollow concepts. No speech, actions, or opinions are ever weighted equally – or have the same consequences for those who are subjected to them – in a supremacist context that structurally benefit, value, and offer protection to certain subjects over others.

White nationalist groups are purposefully targeting university spaces in Canada and the U.S. as effective venues to promote hate and violence. They are misusing and appropriating the protective purpose of academic freedom—that is, to liberate thinkers to challenge the status quo, dominant ideologies, and empowered groups.

As active members of our academic community, the Critical Race Network @ UW insists that our priority, as an institution of higher learning on Treaty One territory, should be to critically challenge and unequivocally resist white supremacy. Contrary to what far-right supporters and many liberals would have us believe, anti-racist attempts to interrupt and suffocate white nationalist speech and organizing are not incompatible with academic freedom and freedom of speech. Quite to the contrary, standing against fascists and white nationalists, on or around campus, is an effective way to protect these freedoms for those who are targeted every day by racial violence, harassment, discrimination, and intimidation. It is oxymoronic to assume that “freedom” requires breathing room to allow fascism and racism to be constantly rekindled; racist movements must be deprived of the oxygen they need to turn a spark into a blaze.

The Critical Race Network @ UW stands in solidarity with all BIPOC students, faculty, and staff who may feel threatened, oppressed, silenced, unheard, or unsafe in their working and learning environment.