Shining Light in the Face of Hate

Today 1.15 billion Hindus, including over 2 million Hindus in the United States will celebrate Deepavali — our most auspicious holiday. Taken from Sanskrit, Deepavali translates to “row of lights” and is known as “The Festival of Lights” in English.

A universal holiday also honored by Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists, Deepavali celebrates the triumph of good over evil during which we light diyas, small clay lamps to illuminate our homes and our hearts. With light, we seek to eliminate our inner ignorance and achieve peace within ourselves and in our world.

In cruel twist of white supremacy, today is also the same day Richard Spencer seeks to recreate the hate he stoked in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the name of “free speech” he and his white supremacist ilk are being permitted to invade yet another college campus — this time it’s the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville.

Spencer may claim he is visiting UF to engage in dialogue, but in reality, he is on the recruitment circuit. His tactics are the same tactics used by the white supremacists and Nazis who came before him. Within hours of Spencer’s gathering, his froggy 14 88 followers, will splice every altercation, every moment of discord, to recruit more young angry white men into Spencer’s twisted white supremacist movement.

The trickery of white supremacy allows Spencer and people like him to get away with claiming free speech, when he is really recruiting new members for his domestic terrorist group. Were an equivalent well-dressed ISIS extremist, whose group is responsible for the murder of a young white woman, seek to return to a college campus to speak, their request would be rejected.

When it comes to terrorism, white supremacy cuts both ways. In America, it makes it easier for a majority white electorate to recognize hate and terrorism when the perpetrators are brown, and it also blinds them to the domestic terrorist threat posed by well-spoken white men like Richard Spencer. Americans recognize ISIS as a terrorist group because the media has made clear that ISIS espouses a hateful ideology that inspires violence.

But the media has not done its job when it comes to white supremacists. Most Americans remain blissfully unaware that one of our biggest threats at home comes from Spencer and other white supremacists like him. Instead of alerting the public to this fact, the media, an institution also influenced by the systemic oppression of white supremacy, continues to give Spencer and other white supremacists unfettered access to their platforms.

Spencer — a man who has joyfully heiled during a rendition of “America the Beautiful,” who spreads his dangerous hatred with fine words like his hateful predecessors — deserves universal condemnation — not a pin-up-esque spotlight from uncritical voices at Mother Jones and Newsweek.

The failure of the media to alert the public and report critically about the dangers of white supremacists, will allow for white supremacists to continue recruiting and converting young white men on college campuses to white supremacist extremism.

It is not an accident that white supremacists are gathering on college campuses. Of all the places in America, and despite the constant complaints of right-wing conservatives about liberal bias, our colleges are beautifully open places that allow for the exchange of ideas. White supremacists are exploiting this openness, to engage in violent hate speech and recruitment. Similarly, white supremacists have also exploited the openness of the Internet.

White supremacists will continue to exploit these venues as long as Americans are made to believe that any speech is acceptable, when there are clear limits to the first amendment. Speech that questions the humanity of others because of their religion or skin color is not free, it is hateful. Hate speech is not free speech. And hate speech, stifles the free speech and inalienable rights of others.

To those that argue, that white supremacists’ have a “right” to speech, what about the inalienable rights of the college students who pay tuition to learn without their safety being threatened? What about the rights of Florida’s taxpayers who are footing a bill of over half a million dollars so Richard Spencer can tell college kids that Jewish people are not human and people of color are not human?

These are not just words. This is not just speech. This is hate.

The ideology Spencer and his white supremacists subscribe to and spread, is the same ideology that led to the greatest of human atrocities — genocide. White supremacists’ words are not benign; they are dangerous. As Hannah Arendt warns us in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,”

“It must be possible to face and understand the outrageous fact that so small a phenomenon as the Jewish question and antisemitism could become the catalytic agent for first, the Nazi movement, then a world war, and finally the establishment of death factories.”

We would not allow for an ISIS terrorist to come to college campuses and recruit young, impressionable college students, so why would we allow white supremacist terrorists to do so?

It should not be allowed. It should not be tolerated. And despite our knowledge of history, we have allowed white supremacists increasing freedom to spread their hate.

In our nation’s capital, just two weeks after the election of Donald J. Trump, Spencer gathered his opaquely-named National Policy Institute and spouted Nazi propaganda to a chorus of “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” This event was so disturbing that the keepers of humanity’s darkest history raised an alarm, “The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words,” said the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in a statement.

It began with words.

White supremacists are not superior to anyone. They are simply humans who have turned their hatred of themselves into a grotesque, violent hatred of others.

White supremacists may try to cover the world in their hate, but their hatred cannot steal the light that makes us human — the light that connects us to a greater truth and to each other. White supremacists can bring their tiki lamps, they can heil their leaders, they can yell blood and soil, but they can never extinguish the light in our hearts. That light is immortal.

So today, as so many in the world celebrate Deepavali with light, shine your own light as brightly as you can. Shine light by flooding your inner self with joy and love. Shine light in kind acts to one another. Shine light by telling the truth about white supremacists to your loved ones. Shine light by supporting those who are confronting hate in Gainesville.

Shine.

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No Nazis at UF is a coalition of young activists who have organized the peaceful protests against Richard Spencer. You can donate to their legal fund here.

To sustain the long-term fight against white supremacists in Gainesville, donate to local organizations that support marginalized communities:

Dream Defenders

Civic Media Center

National Women’s Liberation

Pride Community Center of North Central Florida

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