A professor at Calvin College in Michigan wrote a column accusing his students and fellow faculty members of being white supremacists for failing to accept the notion of “white privilege.” The professor also says Calvin College itself and the entire state of Michigan only exist because of said white privilege.
In late November, Calvin College endured a small scandal when swastikas and the words “white power” were found written on several cars using snow. Two students confessed to the deed, but their names, motivations and punishments haven’t been revealed, leaving open the possibility the stunt was a hoax or a poorly conceived prank rather than an act of hate.
But according to Joseph Kuilema, a professor in social work, the swastika incident is only one tiny part of the much greater problem of white privilege.
“What occurred was not an isolated incident, a freak occurrence in an otherwise loving and inclusive community,” Kuilema says in a column last Friday in Calvin’s school paper. “While few members of this community openly espouse white supremacy, many members of our community continue to deny white privilege. It must be clearly stated that those who deny white privilege functionally believe in white supremacy, whether they have the courage to write it on a car or not.”
Kuilema goes on to say both Calvin College and the entire state of Michigan are products of white privilege and white supremacy.
“White supremacy created slavery and Jim Crow, but when it was combined with its Calvinist cousin Manifest Destiny … it also created Michigan,” he says. “The land on which Calvin College sits was stolen from what our own Declaration of Independence termed ‘the merciless Indian savages’ by the Treaty of Chicago in 1821 … Calvin College would not exist without racism.”
Kuilema also expresses distress over a recent statement from college president Michael K. Le Roy, who stated all people are racist in some way. But Kuilema says that’s not the case, as only white people can be racist in America.
“I, Joseph Kuilema, am certainly a racist,” he writes. “As a white male, I benefit tremendously from institutions and systems that have been built by and for people like me. This is how the social sciences define racism, not as merely the product of prejudice, explicit or implicit bias, but a system of power based on the invention of the ‘white race’ by people in power.”
Despite Kuilema’s claim, his definition of racism is hardly the consensus definition, and instead is the subject of much debate even within academia. Legitimate or not, though, Kuilema forges ahead to cap his argument that much of Calvin College continues to espouse white supremacy.
“If, as a white person, you refuse to acknowledge [white] privilege, you are asserting that the game of life in America is inherently meritocratic, that it is a fair game, that those who try hardest win,” he says, before claiming this is obviously false due to phenomena such as white families having higher average wealth and and blacks having a higher incarceration rate.
“As a white person, you can choose to believe the game is fair,” he continues. “You can choose to believe that you have no privilege. You can see what happened on November 22 as the splinter in the eye of two misguided students. But if you do so, you ignore the plank. If the game is fair you are assuming that white people are simply better at it … You are assuming white supremacy.”
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