We previously discussed the controversy over the writings of Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams and his position that “whiteness is terrorism.” in a recent opinion editorial. I previously supported Williams when many called for his removal because I believed — and still believe — that his writings are protected by both free speech and academic freedom. Williams has now penned a new opinion piece that lashes about at any one who identifies as white. My concern is not whether Williams’ speech is protected. It should be. Rather my concern that another professor saying that same about black people would not receive the same protection and the lack of any bright line rule protecting all free speech.
In the prior controversy in April 2019, Williams declared that “all self-identified white people (no exceptions) are invested in and collude with systematic white racism/white supremacy” and other racially charged comments. He declared “it is past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be ‘white’ will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system. #LetThemFuckingDie.” He was denounced for suggesting that the victims of the massacre at a congressional baseball game should have been allowed to just die and he called white people “inhuman a**holes.”
In his new opinion piece entitled “I tweeted ‘whiteness is terrorism’ and was condemned for it. Here’s why I’m right,” Williams writes that white is not a race but a socially constructed category designed to oppress minorities. He also denounced the concept of individualism in this context:
But white supremacy is not merely confined to openly bigoted whites but also people who see themselves as individuals, rather than a member of a socially constructed racial group and system. Individualism denies the very existence of systemic white racism by reducing it to individual hate and discrimination. People immersed in individualism claim innocence or refuse to consider how the cultural environment of white supremacy we inhabit shapes our racial identities and world views and further informs how we perceive and interact with others within a hierarchical racial order. To overcome this obstacle, it is imperative that people who imagine themselves as white, grasp how their socialization into whiteness guarantees their participation in everyday systemic white racism.
. . .
Whiteness by its very definition and operation as a key element of white supremacy kills; it is mental and physical terrorism. To end the white terrorism that is directed at racially oppressed people here and in other nations, it is essential that self-identified whites and their whiteness collaborators among the racially oppressed confront their white problem head-on, unencumbered by racial comfort. Such comfortableness enables folks immersed in whiteness to disregard their complicity in systemic white racism, forestalling the destruction of white supremacy.
I actually found the opinion piece to be thought-provoking even though I disagreed with it. My concern is that, if you flip the racial references from black to white, there would be little question that an academic would be fired at Trinity. My primary interest, as always, is with free speech. Universities and colleges continue to maintain an ill-defined and seemingly ad hoc approach to what speech is protected. This creates uncertainty for many academics if they will be disciplined for writing in the same provocative way as Professor Williams.