Drexel University Should Uphold George Ciccariello-Maher’s Academic Freedom

On Christmas Eve, George Ciccariello-Maher, Associate Professor at Drexel University, sent out a tweet which read as follows:

All I want for Christmas is White Genocide

There were no scare quotes around ‘White Genocide’ but the upper-case spelling was an indication that something less straightforward than calling for the genocide of white people was on the cards. (After all, Ciccariello-Maher could have just tweeted “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.’ Think I’m reading too carefully? What can I do–it’s an old habit of mine.) A little investigation–i.e., googling ‘white genocide’–produces the following link as the first hit:

White genocide is a white nationalist conspiracy theory that mass immigration, integration, miscegenation, low fertility rates and abortion are being promoted in predominantly white countries to deliberately turn them minority-white and hence cause white people to become extinct through forced assimilation.The phrase “Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white”, coined by high-profile white nationalist Robert Whitaker, is commonly associated with the topic of white genocide. It has been spotted on billboards near Birmingham, Alabama and in Harrison, Arkansas. [citations removed]

Was Ciccariello-Maher calling for ‘mass immigration, integration, miscegenation, low fertility rates and abortion‘ in particular communities as part of a strategy to render ‘white people…extinct’? I doubt it. (Though I don’t suppose he’d be unhappy with rights for immigrants,  the protection of abortion rights for women, etc.) Given the definition provided above, and given Ciccariello-Maher’s previous tweeting record, which includes many online spats with neo-Nazis, anti-semites, and an assorted army of trolls and deplorables, it is fair to surmise–indeed, it is an inference to the best explanation–that Ciccariello-Maher was cocking a snook at this army of trolls, throwing their term mockingly back in their face; he was, how you say, being satirical.

By way of related example, consider a Facebook status that I put up a a week or so ago:

Our campus safety officer sent us some ‘Holiday Safety Tips’ – you know, the usual, watch your purse and package etc. But no warnings about wearing earplugs for Christmas caroling, or avoiding wassailers like the plague. You may, if you like, consider this the opening salvo or broadside of the War on Christmas. By air, by land, by sea, and sometimes, by social network.

On one reading of my Facebook status, I seem to be declaring–by way of my suggestion that Chrismas carolers and wassailers require safety tips to be sent to those in their vicinity–a ‘War on Christmas’. Inquiring into the provenance of that phrase–which I have capitalized above–shows that it is a favorite of FOX News. I appear to be having a little gentle fun at those who would bemoan the secularization of the holiday season.

I provide this bordering-on-pedantic analyses of Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet, because the investigation I carry out above is in point of fact an elementary one; anyone with a modicum of intelligence would arrive at the same conclusion I did: Ciccariello-Maher was being satirical. But not Ciccariello-Maher’s employers, Drexel University, who in response to a predictable chorus of bleating complaints from a Breitbart-led army of trolls–who also sent many death threats to Ciccariello-Maher–issued a statement of reprimand and concern; disciplinary action might yet be taken against Ciccariello-Maher.

This is a familiar situation: an academic makes an extra-mural political statement; complaints from the butt-hurt issue; university employers, their commitment to academic freedom always shaky, overreact. (The American Association of University Professors operative standards of academic freedom protect precisely the kind of political speech that is at play here.) Moreover, Drexel, by condemning the content of Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet, seems to be taking on the position that it is ‘against’ ‘white genocide’–that is, it is against ‘mass immigration, integration, miscegenation, low fertility rates and abortion…being promoted in predominantly white countries to deliberately turn them minority-white and hence cause white people to become extinct through forced assimilation.’ I doubt Drexel has any such position–so why is it making such a claim?

The larger trend, on display here, is worrying too: as a new administration takes office, and installs Breitbart types in its administration, its faithful crack down on political speech they deem offensive. Drexel University should hold the line and protect the academic freedom of its employees, and not cave in as shamefully as they have here.

Note: The following is Ciccariello-Maher’s statement:

On Christmas Eve, I sent a satirical tweet about an imaginary concept, “white genocide.” For those who haven’t bothered to do their research, “white genocide” is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies (and most recently, against a tweet by State Farm Insurance). It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.

What I am not glad about is that this satirical tweet became fodder for online white supremacists to systematically harass me and my employer, Drexel University. Beginning with Breitbart. com—formerly the domain of Special Counselor to the President-Elect, Steve Bannon—and running through the depths of Reddit discussion boards, a coordinated smear campaign was orchestrated to send mass tweets and emails to myself, my employer, and my colleagues. I have received hundreds of death threats.

Drexel University issued a statement on the matter, apparently without understanding either the content or the context of the tweets. While Drexel has been nothing but supportive in the past, this statement is worrying. While upholding my right to free expression, the statement refers to my (satirical) tweets as “utterly reprehensible.” What is most unfortunate is that this statement amounts to caving to the truly reprehensible movements and organizations that I was critiquing. On the university level, moreover, this statement—despite a tepid defense of free speech—sends a chilling message and sets a frightening precedent. It exposes untenured and temporary faculty not only to internal disciplinary scrutiny, but equally importantly, it encourages harassment as an effective means to impact university policies.

As my students will attest, my classroom is a free-for-all of ideas, in which anyone is welcome to their opinions, but expected to defend those opinions with argument. I teach regularly on the history of genocidal practices like colonialism and slavery—genocides carried out by the very same kind of violent racists who are smearing me today.

That violent racism will now have a voice in the White House is truly frightening—I am not the first and I won’t be the last to be harassed and threatened by Bannon, Trump, and co.

White supremacy is on the rise, and we must fight it by any means. In that fight, universities will need to choose whether they are on the side of free expression and academic debate, or on the side of the racist mob.

 

3 comments on “Drexel University Should Uphold George Ciccariello-Maher’s Academic Freedom

  1. Jack says:

    Words have consequences. He shoots out a tweet to provoke, now he deals with the torrent of shit that follows. Perhaps some white people feel unsafe and harrased by the tweet.

    • Clare palmatier says:

      They can keep gin on if they want but they’ll have to be prepared for the consequences. Donations to the school will plummet. To make up for that loss, they will probably have to both raise tuition. (Already $47000 +) AND freeze salary increases. The best professors will transfer to schools prepared to pay them well. This will leave the administration to explain why students should pay more to attend a school which is decreasing in quality each time a good teacher leaves.

  2. jack levavi says:

    Just wondering, would you be defending this professor if he tweeted about Brown Genocide, or Hindu genocide, or any other genocide besides white genocide? Even if it was obviously satirical?
    What would Drexel do? I say they would have terminated him with prejudice. Samir, are you just using this case to show displeasure with your new president? Wait, maybe the disgruntled Democrats can change the electoral system with 20 or so days to go, so they can erase this nightmare that has befallen them.

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