This week, my campus was targeted by a national white supremacist organization as part of a larger national campaign. We found our hallways, library, kiosks adorned with variations on this theme:
|The poster in our hall. I've blurred the org. name because F those jerks.|
So today, I had to go into two of my classes and address this. There was no internal debate. No should I/should I not -- none whatsoever. Not even for a second. First of all, the issue was a misuse of the very past I was there to discuss, and so it was required that I talk about this, and take a strong stand about the abuses of history. Second, if someone wants to complain that I'm using class time to say mean things about nazis, I'm cool with that. Anyway, I mentioned that these morons were basing their idea of the future being "ours" and belonging to "us" on a bogus claim of the past belonging to "us."
I may or may not have deployed the phrase "ass-ignorant." Reports vary. I am certain that I was shaking at various points.
A representative of our administration made a point about being a public university and thus respecting free speech. Which is true. What is also true is that outright lies are not co-equal with reasonable arguments. Just like it's not "airing both sides" to arrange a debate between a German historian and a Holocaust denier.
It's not so often that medieval history is on the front lines of the fight against nationalism. We tend to get characterized as "esoteric" or even "irrelevant" to the way we live our lives today. But not knowing allows these falsehoods to take hold. And we don't do ourselves, our students, or our society any good by trying to be apolitical in the face of something both historically wrong and morally repugnant.
We have a role to play. Time to step up, be loud, be unafraid and unapologetic. Time for historians to make sure they get right with history.