This article has been edited since its original publication.
The last few months have seen Black Lives Matter protests taking place around the world and increased reflections on systemic racism in political discourse. However, this increased awareness of racial inequality and demands for justice have inevitably been met with opposition. In late November, posters were put up by the Students for Western Civilization on McGill’s campus, promoting a white students’ union. The organization claims that McGill, like many other universities, has “many ethnicity-based student groups, but none which defend the special interests of white students.”
…the very idea that there are white people who claim to be ostracized (especially in a time marked by increasing urgency for racial justice) demonstrates just how complex and fraught race relations are, even in our own backyard.
While SSMU Vice President Brooklyn Frizzle has said that the university has no intentions of recognizing or associating with the group, the very idea that there are white people who claim to be ostracized (especially in a time marked by increasing urgency for racial justice) demonstrates just how complex and fraught race relations are, even in our own backyard. Conceptions about white student unions and criticisms of “overly PC” university environments are not new. However, the continued push by alt-right white nationalists to frame themselves as victims reveals their fears of ethnic minorities, when in reality, white people are disproportionately the beneficiaries in Canadian society—even in liberal spaces.
Ever since Trump was elected in 2016, we have seen a rise in white nationalist movements in the United States and Canada. Why has this happened? While white nationalism is not a new concept by any means, there are many white people who feel threatened and isolated by demographic changes as well as what many see as unfair institutional accommodations for minorities. Although this rhetoric is rare among McGill’s relatively progressive student body, this does not make it any less dangerous. According to George Hutcheson, the leader of the Students for Western Civilization, the group chose to advertise at McGill because they were contacted by five students who wanted to start a white students union. Hutcheson claimed that after the McGill branch was introduced, it received eleven applications for membership. While these claims are not verified, the possibility that there are students who share Hutcheson’s beliefs is not shocking. The fact that students who hold white nationalist views are relatively silent about them is just as dangerous as those who espouse them. Their silence covers up the reality—McGill and the greater society face racial tensions that run much deeper than we initially thought.
Although the university has made statements and an action plan that promotes anti-racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, these actions are purely lip-service and fail to fully address racism on campus or on a greater scale.
White nationalism is no longer a fringe movement and the Students for Western Civilization’s attempt to radicalize impressionable college students should not be taken lightly. The organization employs slick techniques to recruit members and twists language to make their ideas more palatable. They refer to themselves as “white nationalists” and see themselves as advocates against “anti-white hate speech,” branding themselves as such in order to reach a mainstream audience. By portraying themselves as victims of “anti-white rhetoric” and questioning what they see as exclusionary minority-based associations, the Students for Western Civilization raises an argument that even those outside of the alt-right have made. Proponents of these views fail to understand the hypocrisy behind this argument—institutional racism in Canada and the United States was created by white people. However, when BIPOC establish groups to raise awareness and discuss their experiences with racism, they are often met with a reactionary wave of those who believe that they are fostering the message that “all white people are racist” and that “only black lives matter.”
The vast majority of radicalization is done through online forums, but in recent years there has been a greater push by these groups to recruit members in a more aggressive manner. Although the university has made statements and an action plan that promotes anti-racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, these actions are purely lip-service and fail to fully address racism on campus or on a greater scale. The growth of white nationalist movements combined with McGill’s lacking anti-racism efforts raises red flags. If the university continues to carry somewhat passive attitudes towards addressing its problematic past and current racial issues, complacency will be further normalized. An environment of unassertive anti-racism plans may empower organizations like the Students for Western Civilization to attempt stronger recruitment efforts on campus. While SSMU has issued a statement concerning these posters, the university has not. If McGill continues on this path, who will take action against the rise of hate speech and violence against ethnic minorities?