I’m pretty fortunate, in that I’ve got two great careers.
I write for this great news organization each week, continuing the mostly political columns about Alabama I wrote for a more than a quarter of a century for The Birmingham News, back when The News was a newspaper. I also write the monthly back-page column for Birmingham’s premier city magazine, B-Metro Magazine. Those columns are generally personal essays, focusing on an individual or event or big news story that dominates a particular month.
Both are journalism, but one is more informed opinion, while the other is more literary journalism. I love journalism – it’s been my first career choice since before I was graduated from high school in 1974. Well before Donald Trump. Well before we heard daily the fake phrase “fake news.” Well before, according to Trump, we were “the enemy of the people.”
Of course, Trump is in all sorts of legal trouble now; besides being a terrible president, he’s also apparently as corrupt as an American politician can be. Indeed, one of my associates recently noted that it was ironic that Trump, our fake president, is likely to fall partly because of testimony from the owner of the true fake news, the National Enquirer.
I have loved and appreciated writing since I was in grammar school. I knew that few careers offered a person the opportunity to write all the time better than journalism. I’ve always taken my journalism seriously, and when I make a mistake — and I’ve made mistakes — it eats me up. And I gladly correct those mistakes as quickly as I can.
I haven’t made many. My journalism has been solid – fact based, not fake based. My journalism was part of a team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Editorial Writing, the first Pulitzer Prize ever won by The Birmingham News. I am also the only journalist ever at The News (or in Alabama, for that matter) who is part of two other journalism series that are Pulitzer Prize finalists.
That is not to boast; just to set up some background for why I have that second career.
I’ve been a serious student of writing for decades, eventually leading to a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative nonfiction from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Now, besides my journalism, I also teach at UAB. In the English Department, not journalism. I teach writing. I also regularly teach American literature and have taught other courses in the English department from time to time, but mostly I teach writing. I’m in my 19th year as a writing teacher at UAB.
One of the characteristics about teaching at UAB that I love so much is the university’s diversity. The student body is nearly 22,000 now, but it’s one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. More diverse than the University of Alabama or Auburn University.
UAB’s diversity isn’t just in having men and women, blacks and whites. The international student population is significant, bringing in students from many other nations. We have students who are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Hindu, Wicca – pretty much everything across the board. And there are atheists and humanists. UAB has a robust LGBTQ community, and I’m proud to be a volunteer for Safe Zone, an organization that helps ensure UAB is a safe place for the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities.
There are all sorts of student organizations at UAB, too, as in any college or university. Just a few weeks ago, I was asked by a student if I’d be willing to be faculty adviser for a UAB ice skating club. I responded that I don’t skate or know much about it. The student, who is a woman and who is Jewish, said it didn’t really matter, they just needed a faculty adviser so the club could be sanctioned. I’ve been reading up on ice skating.
All of that to say that not only is UAB diverse, but it’s inclusive. But there must be limits, even to inclusivity. We wouldn’t want, for example, to have a Nazi club that existed to deny the Holocaust. We wouldn’t want a college chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Likewise, UAB, nor any university, shouldn’t sanction a student chapter of the organization that calls itself “Identity Evropa.” The group’s motto, “European Roots, American Greatness,” pretty much says it all.
Wikipedia, which I won’t allow my students to use as a cited source, says the group is “an American neo-Nazi and white supremacist organization established in March 2016.”
In other words, it’s the Nazis and the KKK, under a different name. It’s a group Trump adviser Stephen Miller would likely be comfortable with – Trump, himself, too — and anything Trump and Miller are comfortable with makes me very uncomfortable. It should make you uncomfortable, too.
“Identity Evropa’s” purpose is “to spread support for white nationalism,” Wikipedia says. That means “white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites,” writes the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.
“Identity Evropa” posters have started showing up on UAB’s campus – and many other college campuses as well. Mark Potok with the SPLC, is quoted as saying: “Identity Evropa is merely the latest iteration of the white-supremacist movement … they’re merely a gussied-up version of the Klan. The group is dangerous, though, in that it’s making a concerted effort to reach out to university students under the guise of a thoughtful political movement.”
So diversity is a really good thing. But white supremacist groups are anything but diverse. Their very nature excludes anybody but really, really, stupid white people.
Now I know slow thinkers are going to argue that college campuses have many different organizations — organizations for Christians and Muslims and Asians and African-Americans, and Jewish students, and many, many others. But those organizations aren’t saying their race or religious or life identity is better than anyone else’s. And never, to my knowledge, have these groups declined to acknowledge the value of any other.
By their very nature, white supremacist groups like “Identity Evropa” excludes people, looks down on those they exclude as lesser humans than they, claims one particular race is superior over another. Like Hitler and the Nazis. Like the KKK, and its campaigns against blacks, Jews, Catholics, and even whites who disagreed with their terrorism.
Shiny, pretty wrapping paper only hides a Christmas present until it’s ripped to shreds on Christmas morning. “Identity Evropa’s” seemingly attractive gift wrapping to some misguided people only hides an unwanted present underneath. A white elephant, if you will. Its ideology and purpose is ugly, hurtful, dangerous, and wrong. This neo-Nazi/KKK conglomeration has been unwrapped, and reveals itself as no gift worth having for anyone who has a functioning conscience or a loving soul.
I seriously doubt they’ll find a faculty adviser at UAB.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].