by, Caroline McCarthy & Adrianne Hutto, Asst. Features Editor & Asst. Production Editor
The Lessons of White Nationalism, Racism and Government Speakers Panel welcomed over 230 members of the Manhattan College community for a conversation stemmed in faith following the attacks on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
This event, hosted by the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center, aimed to spark conversation among students and faculty regarding our civic, religious and ethical duty in the fight for racial justice.
The panel consisted of four short presentations and a question and answer period that featured previously submitted questions from the audience.
Mehnaz Afridi, Ph.D., is the director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at the college. Afridi has done similar work to the college’s interfaith education initiative in Los Angeles prior to being hired to run the center in 2011.
The center, founded in 1996, is meant to be a meeting place for students of all faiths to find a middle ground amidst social, political and religious discord.
“I think it’s so important that we have good conversations,” Afridi said. “Honestly, I think that branding someone as something– whether it’s Republican or Democrat, especially on a college campus, and not only a dialogue– is really sad because we are about education. So, I want HGI to be the spearheaded place that you can also meet with and challenge each other.”
Afridi explains how the center’s name changed in 2011 from the Holocaust Resource Center to it’s updated name creates a more complete resource for students.
“So now the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center focuses on the lessons of the Holocaust genocide, but also does a lot of interfaith education,” Afridi said.
This past Tuesday, the center continued this initiative by hosting a panel featuring prominent faculty members to address the religious, historical and political interpretations of the radical conservatives’ attack.
The event included four guest speakers: assistant professor of religious studies Courtney Bryant, Ph.D., college Chaplain Rev. Thomas Franks, professor of history Jeff Horn, Ph.D., and assistant professor of political science Jonathan Keller, Ph.D.
The panel opened with Franks, who hoped to utilize his background to give a Catholic perspective on the events of Jan. 6. Rev. Franks first showed an image of a Trump supporter and eventual insurrectionist praying before the riots.
“I raised this as my first image to be mindful of the ways in which the church and church life has supported implicitly and explicitly the realities of white nationalism,” Franks said.
In saying this, Rev. Franks called out the Catholic church as an entity in its handling of events such as these. He notes that churches and Catholic organizations have a tendency to offer their thoughts and prayers, rather than enact meaningful change. Franks ended his presentation by offering five points from Pope Francis that can resonate to people of all faiths.
These points included the importance of ending all forms of racism, finding instruments of peace, addressing racism in terms of immigration, recognizing the failures in our criminal justice system and embracing and accepting each other’s differences to combat white nationalism. Franks further highlights these points through a quote from Pope Francis:
“‘I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms. Wherever any minority is persecuted and marganized, because of its convictions or identity, the well being of society as a whole is in danger.’”
Following Franks was Bryant, who explained that though she is a Black Christian, ordained reverend and a scholar of theological ethics, she would not be explaining to the audience the myth of American exceptionalism and its roots in Anglo-Saxonism, but rather how Anglo-Saxonism and Christianity are synonymous in American history.
“These virtues were to be tenants upon which the pilgrims and Puritans, who considered themselves direct descendants of Anglo-Saxons, would establish a city on the glory of God,” Bryant said.
Overtime, those who are considered to have Anglo-Saxon blood become synonymous with those perceived as white or Caucasian. This, coupled with the belief that Anglo-Saxons are superior, is what Bryant believes has led America to the state it is in today.
“The riots were the climax of a story years in the making,” Bryant said. “Where poor White people who once believed their whiteness made them superior found themselves unable to achieve the American dream of financial stability and comfort, and needed someone or something to blame for not being able to take hold of the power to which they believed they were divinely entitled.”
Bryant was unapologetic in her examination of the profound oppression faced by people of color in the United States. She specifically targets her argument towards America’s government and its mistreatment and disrespect of minorities. Bryant uses this opportunity to indicate how the government has worked against Black people and communities throughout history, making clear distinctions between the treatment of white and Black people in America.
“Our leaders stoked these fires as America’s government looked out for corporations before people,” Bryant said. “They stoked these fires when they allowed a narrative of illegal immigrants coming from blank whole countries with the wrong kind of biological stock, coming to steal American jobs and rape women. They stoked these fires when they failed to give citizens health care and a decent wage and work opportunities beyond coal. And when they would not hold those who have exploited the little guy accountable, so that they would pay their fair share…when people have nothing to hold on to, they will grasp at straws.”
Bryant notes how white fragility has led to a fear of integration and equality. It has also led to a lust for power and control of resources.
“This story is incredibly important to revisit because without a clear understanding of how we have shaped this identity, we cannot imagine anything beyond it,” Bryant said. “But if we do the work of revisiting the difficult parts, if we do the work of taking inventory of where this lust exists within us, then we can figure out the spiritual posture and ethics necessary to manage ourselves.”
Keller took the stand next and identified the battle for the “soul of America,” while he begged the question: ‘who do we want to be as a nation? One riddled with antagony and dissent or a united front rooted together as a nation?’
“We want to live in this dystopian nightmare,” Keller said. “With unhinged armed militias marching through our state capitals, with impunity in Lansing, in Salem, Oregon, three percenters and oath keepers and so on.”
Keller urged the audience to consider the ramifications of the events had a member of government been killed by the terrorists at the Capitol building that day.
“We oscillate between focusing on the buffoonery and the silliness of the theatre of it, and how serious of a threat it was to the seat of our democracy,” Keller said.
Keller claims the events of Jan. 6 were far worse than previous historical rebellions because it was not an attack on a specific law or reform, but rather the government system as a whole. Keller urges America not to extend an open hand to the radicals, but rather a clenched fist demanding justice.
“There can be no reconciliation without justice,” Keller said. “I’m not sure the Constitution, in a moment like this, is a place where you can really look for redemption.”
Keller educated the audience on the impeachment trials and how they were not to terminate Trump’s presidency before Biden’s swearing in, but rather to prevent him from running for future office because of his irresponsible neglect and apparent betrayal of the constitution.
To conclude the presentation segment of the evening, Horn explained that the events of Jan. 6 reflect American History and trends taking place around the world.
“Based on lingering racist attitudes, as well as dissatisfaction with the evolution of our society and its economy, white nationalists have been committing a significant number of acts of what they termed resistance since the rise of the white power movement around 1970,” Horn said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 948 white nationalist groups are currently operating in the United States. These groups include organizations like the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oathkeepers, QAnon and Sons of Liberty, who openly practice White supremacy and racism.
Horn’s overall message was to not separate the events from Jan. 6 from the broader context of America’s history of white nationalists holding a place in government. These organizations run the country through terror and fear while blaming it’s ramifications on minorities.
“Disdain for democratic institutions, unwillingness to accept objective information, the desire by racists and nationalists to scapegoat people of color– Jews, Muslims, immigrants and other vulnerable populations– are international as well as U.S. issues,” Horn said.
The Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Center aspires to continue educating the the college community on important societal and political issues through conversation and events like this panel. A full list of their events for the upcoming semester can be found on their website, hgimanhattan. com.