Our VoiceCulture

Minnesota Town Faces Race

Catharine Debelle • Jul 31, 2012

“It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.” That’s the tag line for the Un-Fair Campaign, which is bringing attention and controversy to the town of Duluth, Minnesota. Developed by the YWCA in partnership with numerous local organizations, including the Mayor’s office and the NAACP, the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about white privilege in the Duluth community.

The campaign developed a series of posters displaying faces with statements like “Is white skin really ‘fair’ skin?” written on them. It also released a PSA video, which gained over 150,000 views on Youtube. However, in response to criticism, one of the partners, the University of Minnesota Duluth, issued a press release dissociating itself from aspects of the campaign. The press release noted, “While we fully support the foundations and principles of the Un-Fair Campaign, we feel the PSA is divisive and we do not agree with the creative strategy.”

While the Un-Fair Campaign is unconventional, it’s creators believe it will achieve results in the almost all-white community of Duluth. Joan Varney, who is an assistant professor of education and President of the Board at Duluth’s YWCA–the organization that started the campaign–said the ads were not meant to offend, but to question.

“[We started this campaign] because of racial inequality, starting from the beginning of this country, which continues to this day,” Varney said. “Some work has been done against racism but one of the missing pieces is the privilege white people in this country have in a way that is systematically conferred.”

The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) is no stranger to controversy. In September 2011 an altercation occurred when a white nationalist student group, Youth for Western Civilization, distributed materials outside the campus’s multicultural center.

The incident involved Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) member Phil Cleary and a UDM student Blair Jordon Moses. Cleary was handing out pocket Constitutions and YWC materials.

Moses felt that YWC posed a threat to the multicultural center since part of YWC’s stated mission is to vehemently oppose radical multiculturalism on campus.

Speaking of the multicultural Center, Moses stated, “(It is) the only place in a community like this where we can honestly feel safe. For someone to come in and speak out against that place, to say that it shouldn’t exist and they are against multiculturalism and diversity, it is considered, to us, hateful speech.”

During the altercation faculty member Susana Paleyo-Woodward, the Director of the Office of Cultural Diversity at UMD approached. She took some of the literature and asked Cleary, “Is this a white supremacist group?” Phil answered “Absolutely not.” To which the woman replied, “It looks like one.”

And she was right. YWC through its various chapters has a history of promoting hate. Since its inception, YWC has formed over a dozen chapters on different university campuses across the country.  In October 2010, the Vanderbilt chapter hosted Richard Spencer, the director of the white nationalist National Policy Instituteand editor of Alternative Right website. The group’s leadership has been busy cohorting with numerous hate groups and white supremacist organizations, particularly the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), the modern incarnation of the White Citizens Council.

In October 2010, national YWC president and founder Kevin DeAnna spoke at a workshop sponsored by the white nationalist publication The Social Contract Press (TSCP).  White nationalist John Tanton runs the Social Contract Press, which reprinted The Camp of the Saints, a racist book which tells the tale of immigrants from the east who come to France and destroy western civilization.

Former Towson chapter YWC leader Matthew Heimbach was recently part of a podcast produced by the Southern Nationalist Network (SNN), which is closely associated with the white supremacist League of the South (LOS), of which he is also a member. Heimbach still claiming not to be a racist also attended the CofCC annual conference. He bragged about the event on SNN in a hilarious recording posted here.

It seems the University of Minnesota Duluth should be utilizing a bold approach like the Un-Fair Campaign; not distancing itself. Especially if a group like Youth for Western Civilization feels at home there.

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