It seems the white man's burden has become increasingly burdensome in 2013. Especially for college students. The result: a small but growing contingent of "white student unions" sprouting on a handful of college campuses across the country with members eager to reignite their racial pride in an increasingly diverse world.
The latest such student group to take shape is located at Atlanta's own Georgia State University, which arguably has the most ethnically diverse student population in the state.
GSU's White Student Union is still in the early stages of development, organizer Patrick Sharp writes to CL in an email, stating that he "and a few partners" have been leading the charge until the upcoming fall semester when they "expect things to kick into gear" once an influx of students hits the campus. In the meantime, the organization has started a website. The first official post, dated July 14, features a silhouetted map of Europe with the title "It's Time" and reads:
Black Student Alliance? Check.
Latino Student Union? Check.
White Student Union?
Every Panther here at GSU comes from a unique heritage. The WSU intends to give white students a place to unite and celebrate their own.
According to Sharp, the idea behind GSU's WSU came from Towson University, the Maryland public institution where student Matthew Heimbach founded the school's WSU. In a 21-minute documentary (titled White Student Union), Vice highlights the tension Heimbach's group has brought to the campus since its creation in 2012.
White students make up 68 percent of Towson's student body while black students compose only 13 percent. In a scene from the doc that feels like a buildup to the violent climax of John Singleton's 1995 college flick Higher Learning, a black man on Towson's campus likens Heimbach's cause to the 1915 silent film often cited with rebirthing the Ku Klux Klan:
"You ever seen Birth of a Nation? he asks.
"I have seen Birth of a Nation," Heimbach admits.
"You trying to rebirth some bullshit," the man says.
On its website, GSU's WSU says it will provide "a place for like-minded White students to come together and not only celebrate their common European/Euro-American cultures, but to discuss issues that affect white people in the world today." What are those issues? Sharp writes via email:
"The biggest issue that affects white people is our denial of a sense of identity as a people; a sense of "white identity," to put it simply. White identity is the sense of understanding that as a white person, one is just as entitled to the right to organize and look out for the best interests of our people as a black or Asian person would be. Some of the issues that directly affect white people are government enforced racial discrimination in the form of affirmative action, and immigration policies that are completely irresponsible and harmful to all Americans, especially lower-class blacks and whites."
Although GSU's WSU has not been formally recognized by GSU's student activities department, it has already stirred up a reaction on campus. This week, the school newspaper The Signal features opposing opinion columns arguing for and against the WSU. (Although the columnist supposedly in opposition of the WSU expresses some biased and incendiary opinions about Trayvon Martin in the process).
The first ethnic student groups were born out of the civil rights and black student movements of the late 1960s. As black enrollment increased at predominantly white colleges and universities, minority students developed such unions to advocate for civil rights on campus and increased diversity in terms of faculty hirings and academic offerings. The first Black Student Union was founded at San Francisco State University in 1967. As international student populations increased, a rainbow coalition of student unions proliferated on campuses across America.
WSUs, on the other hand, are a reactionary movement born out of the festering sentiment that minorities have gained too much of an edge due to affirmative action, campus diversity, and the threat of immigration reform.
The answer, at least at Towson, has been to cling to guns and religion. For Towson's WSU, uplifting its European American heritage revolves around practicing Christian fundamentalism and policing the campus late at night in an effort to scope out "black predators" before they commit black-on-white crime. (This, despite the campus being deemed the safest in the state by local police, according to the Vice filmmakers.) It makes sense, however, that criminal justice would be promoted as a tenet of Western culture, considering how the prison-industrial complex has replaced slavery as America's legal system of free labor and mass black male incarceration.
It's partly what makes the suggested necessity of WSUs almost laughable.
Despite the tanning of America, as hip-hop marketer Steve Stoute calls it, Western culture is still one in which in which white privilege is the default setting. And it may only get more so with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent rulings that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act and dealt a blow to affirmative action. As Grantland columnist Wesley Morris recently wrote about the strange intersection between the Trayvon Martin case and the release of the film Fruitvale Station: "More than ever, we live in a time of racism without racists, just racist laws, racist policies, and racist ideas.
In many ways, GSU feels like an idealized version of what America could be one day. It boasts a population including students from every county in Georgia, every state in the nation, and more than 150 countries in the world. It also claims to be one of the 15 most diverse universities in the country with more than 1,600 international students.
Yet, its student body is still majority white with white students making up 43.6 percent of the total. Black students come in second at 34.8 percent, while Asians run a distant third at 12.2 percent. Other racial categories and nationalities include multiracial (3.5 percent), American Indian/Alaska native (.3 percent), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (.2 percent).
It's only when all the ethnic and racial minorities who attend GSU are lumped into the same non-white category that white students become the minority demographic on campus.
But that's a sign of the times. According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, non-whites will become the majority in the U.S. by 2043. Perhaps white Millennials are already feeling the pinch. As the Vice documentary notes: "Since January 2013, other WSUs have been formed on college campuses in Bloomington, Indiana, and Fort Worth, Texas."
Sharp claims that GSU's WSU membership isn't exclusive to whites since student organizations must be inclusive. "Regardless, if, for example, a black student came forth who was genuinely interested in the white perspective on things, or pro-white activism, then we'd have no problem welcoming him or her," he says.
Additional reporting by Thomas Wheatley
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