How the “Unite The Right” Rally Emerged out of the College Campus Speaker Debate

by Ishmael Bishop
29 August 2017

There is no distinction between giving someone who hates you a platform on which to speak inside a lecture hall or out in public. As much resistance and criticism that we show toward the terrorists in Charlottesville, we should also show to the propagandists who come to speak on our college campuses.

After a full day of rest, I have amassed the energy to speak on the white supremacist, anti-black violence occurring not only in Charlottesville, VA, but elsewhere. The ongoing attacks upon black people, non-black people of color, immigrants, womyn, non-white queer and trans folks are indicative of a historical valuation in favor of whiteness: white children, white values, white women, white entrepreneurship, predominately white institutions, white wealth, white Whole Foods, white bread, white aesthetics, white teeth, OVER the valuation of black lives. It is infuriating, but if you have been paying attention at all in the last eight months, this moment is not exceptional. It comes as no surprise. It shocks me none. This moment represents what I already know: I am not particularly welcomed or loved in this country. A country of so-called immigrants, spilling over with “milk and honey.” This narrative has shown itself to be fraud several times over the course of US history so much so that this moment fades into the background. Once again, it is the standard, not the exception.

We have a president who not only mocks black life but views it with such disdain and apathy as to encourage our destruction. This country despises the very air I breathe (Eric Garner) and water I drink (Flint, Michigan).

Controversy in the College Campus Speaker Debate

A lot of young millennial men, not surprising they were men, but the age was surprising to me. So many young people.

When reflecting upon our current moment, I am reminded of those who advocate for an “open dialogue” during the speaker events held on college campuses throughout the US. How such a misreading of “democracy” wages that if reasonable people would only challenge or push back against menacing, vulgar, ignorant, and bigoted speakers, opinions, thoughts, and beliefs would change. I have long inveighed against this logic as ill-thought out and reductive of the incredible amount of emotional, mental, and sometimes physical labor required to “push back” against forces who would ultimately dismiss or deny you the very substance of your existence. Charlottesville is an example of a speaker event wherein those who hate are given a podium, a soapbox, a microphone, a world stage. They are animated by the press and the hundreds of speakers, ones like Ben Shapiro who rejected the Black Lives Matter movement at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 2015, who are given a crowd and despite every effort to disrupt and cancel, are still promised a platform to speak! The above quote comes from Sheryl Gay Stolberg, domestic affairs correspondent for The New York Times. Stolberg, reporting from Charlottesville, claims to have been “surprised” by the high attendance of white “millennial men” at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. However, this is less of a shock when we think about how it is mostly white men (of varying philosophical and political backgrounds) who FILL the lecture halls of these rancid speaker events. We need heightened scrutiny and added complexity to these dialogues.

The Left

Currently, the overwhelming white left is in a bind. It must confront several things including, but not limited to: its elitism, its leaders, its capital, its neoliberalism, its general phobia of black life, and so on. It has deemed its cousins, nephews, uncles, and other uncouth, unlearned individuals as the perpetrators and limits of racism. It looks at snide comments made during Thanksgiving and holiday dinners, lewd remarks about black people, supporting anti-black media and a breadth of other examples. However, this liberalism refuses to engage with upper management at their jobs, it refuses to call out business like Uber, Facebook, Twitter, and Google for their piss-poor diversity, and their high barriers to entry that only intensifies the cycle of black exclusion.

What if we thought more about the link between “intelligence” and “work experience” as the proxy through which white supremacy is reproduced, maintained, and even intensified?


If we are not willing to call in our networks and organizations that deny entrance to black people, then who do we purport to be helping? If your non-profit, NGO, or left-leaning organizations hires mainly white people, and you know which ones I am talking about, then I assume that your client base is also predominately white and that your policy of inclusiveness and diversity is lip-service. How this enigma manifests into a Charlottesville is that when we refuse to push ourselves toward diversity and inclusivity, then we fall back on staid anti-black fears and formations. When we refuse to let black folks in, we fuel racial animus ten-fold.

The Response

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.

While it was never expected that our nation’s president, Donald Tr*mp, would be able to construct the language for condemning the rally in Charlottesville — I’ll suggest that he capitulated in order to encourage his absurd base in hopes of gaining their support in the 2020 election cycle — his lacklustre response emboldens white supremacists in two ways. First, it suggests that their actions, while done in poor taste, are not unsolicited, and by invoking the phrase “on many sides” Tr*mp green lights more antagonism toward those in solidarity against white supremacy. They are construed as violent miscreants who refuse to listen to the “other side.” We should recognize this rhetoric as a tactic to dismiss or downplay legitimate concerns rather than an actual criticism. A second example of a shallow response comes from a Republican legislator from the midwest who skirts around the issue stating on Twitter that he is, “Praying for the victims & their families from the tragedy in Charlottesville.” He is not specific to who are the victims, what is tragic, or to which families he holds himself accountable. He ends by saying that he is “thankful for our law enforcement across the country.” The very law enforcement that disappears and kills black people. Such non-responses to white supremacist violence elucidates the anti-black value system I have already mentioned. It is juxtaposed next to a chorus of responses issued by Democrats (and a handful of Republicans) condemning “hate and violence in the strongest possible terms.” These statements, however, which are widely available across the Internet, point to the fallibility of an anti-black government to address anti-blackness. Duh! Although on paper it appears that our Liberal leaders are competent to deal with this moment, in actuality their track records and more specifically their voting records prove otherwise. What I am most concerned with is what will be done in the following weeks, months, and years to address systemic anti-black racism in this country. Where it will happen–in our courts, homes, schools, churches, libraries, workplaces, etc. –will matter, too. The question to grapple with is how do we rethink America outside of whiteness and its fraternal twin, anti-blackness?

In other words, how do we exist beyond racism as the underlying principle of the developing World Order?

Thank you

Finally, I want to show appreciation toward those who are putting their bodies on the front lines in this fight against fascism, white supremacy, and bigotry. Those who advocate for the abolition of police, the elimination of borders and walls, the eradication of the prison-industrial complex, and other machines and technologies of death-making. I am not in Charlottesville. Neither at this point in time can I nor do I want to be. What I want is not for those who articulate this conflict every day to stand against white supremacist violence, but for white people in positions of authority, power, prominence, and high regard to push back against this show of hate. What if at the speaker event it was not those whose identities were being attacked who had to speak up and out against the slew of hate, but those who are constantly protected by institutions and wealth and privilege who took to task these terrorists.

Solidarity is borne out of from sacrifice. To those who make such a sacrifice as to put their well-being on the line, you are thanked. To those who challenge authority, in the face of authority, you are appreciated. But to those who are sitting at home, having voted for the current president, who could care none about the events taking place– you are not my ally and have never been a friend of mine. If this is not your fight, we have nothing more to discuss.

This article has been reprinted, with permission, from Medium. You can read the original article here.

Ishmael Bishop is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Washington D.C. 

One Comment

  1. The unashamed hate displayed by white supremacists in Charlottesville was disgusting and has no place in decent society. I think a University is justified in denying those who openly advocate white supremacy or hatred of any group a platform to speak. However, there are some issues with determining who is allowed to speak and who isn’t. In the 1960’s the NC Legislature passed a speaker ban preventing any speaker with supposed ties to Marxist causes from speaking at UNC. The ban was a national embarrassment for the state and did incalculable harm to UNC’s reputation until it was finally rescinded. How do we make distinctions between hate speech and political difference of opinion, and who has the authority in a University to make those decisions? Again, when it’s someone like Richard Spencer who openly advocates hatred, then yes a university shouldn’t have to give them a platform. But people like Mitt Romney and Condoleezza Rice, who many students might disagree with, nevertheless should have the right to share conservative views of government and politics. Because what happens when a conservative government once again decides to ban speakers from the left under the argument that they are affiliated with violent causes?

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