Today’s Inside Higher Ed includes an article about Robert S. Griffin, a tenured professor who has taught education classes at the University of Vermont for nearly 40 years and written extensively and sympathetically about white nationalism and white supremacy. Griffin’s own (non-University) website includes a links page to a number of white nationalist and white supremacist organizations and websites, including David Duke’s website and Stormfront: White Pride Worldwide (both of whom I discuss at length in Cyber Racism). The image included here is of Griffin appearing on a 2006 cover of American Renaissance (image used without permission, from here). The Southern Poverty Law Center includes Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance as one of the four leading proponents of “academic racism.” Here’s what the SPLC has to say:
Jared Taylor, the man who heads the New Century Foundation and edits its American Renaissance magazine, presents himself as a cosmopolitan, open-minded thinker not afraid to take on the taboos of his time without stooping to racial epithets and the like. But, in fact, he is a man who promotes the “clear conception of the United States as a nation ruled by and for whites,” …
This is the pose that Griffin has adopted as well, that of the “cosmopolitan, open-minded thinker not afraid to take on taboos.”
In his 2006 article called, “A Knock on the Door: Writing for AR – Coming out of the closet is not always easy,” that accompanies the cover image above, Griffin reflects on the fallout from his initial experience of writing for American Renaissance and the mainstream press that followed it. By likening this writing to ‘coming out of the closet,’ Griffin acknowledges the illicit nature of his collaboration with the magazine but this only fuels his certitude about his views.
Griffin mainly uses the article to quote himself being quoted. The crux of his argument boils down to calling him a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist or a hatemonger is mere “namecalling and mudslinging.” Furthermore, Griffin claims that he is simply engaging in “ethnic pride,” and attempts to call him to task for this are part of a “double standard” in which “pride and self-determination” are good for minority folks, “but the very same things in white people are bad.” He then quotes his own attempt at humor in an interview:
“The late comedian Lenny Bruce told a joke about a guy who, when caught in the act of cheating by his wife, says to her, ‘Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?’ I’d like to think that in matters of race more and more white people are getting past the Orwellian newspeak that has been coming at them for decades and starting to look hard at reality for themselves. That is what I’m doing.”
And then, Griffin ends on a self-congratulatory note:
“I was beginning to stand up for myself — and my race. Not bad.”
The Inside Higher Ed article interviews Heidi Beirich, director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center, who says:
“no mystery” in her mind that Griffin is a neo-Nazi. “It’s an amazing thing to see a tenured professor at a serious university writing a fawning biography of a neo-Nazi nut — just shocking,” she said.
Beirich urged The University of Vermont to investigate the professor’s classroom activities and condemn his work. Yet, the university as an institution and at least one colleague of Griffin’s are standing by him and defending his views as bringing “a perspective to multicultural issues that is different from what dominates the field.”
The problem here, in my view, with people who are appalled by Griffin’s views — and they are appalling — is that they the standard white liberal response is insufficient to to the task because it only concedes Griffin’s premise. Calling him a “neo-Nazi” allows Griffin to continue to claim the high ground in this debate and assert that he is “interested in ideas” while others are merely engaged in name-calling. Similarly, attempts to discredit his assertions of ethnic pride within the context of multiculturalism-absent-an-analysis-of-power is equally fraught. In a multi-vocal world where “all voices” are valued equally, there is no basis for critiquing white pride.
The key that’s missing in this debate is an analysis of power and white privilege, and these have everything to do with knowledge. Epistemologies of race, that is, how we know what we say we know about race and racism, are rooted in profoundly different experiences for whites and people of color living in a social context of racial inequality. Within such a context, some people experience the constant drumbeat of racism as part of their everyday life, while others enjoy the privilege of ignoring race and racism on a daily basis. The danger in views like those of Griffin’s is in the pernicious way that his claims to “knowledge” challenge important values that are politically hard won, values such as racial equality.