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The University of Manitoba, its student union and others spoke out Friday against racist slogans placed in various locations on its Fort Garry campus and faxed to its native studies department overnight on Halloween.
Dozens of letter-sized posters declaring "It’s okay to be white" were affixed to walls in multiple buildings.
It was part of a co-ordinated campaign that involved white-masked individuals posting the same messages around downtown Ottawa and in Halifax on Halloween night. The same notices have appeared on campuses elsewhere in the country and in the United States, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
U of M president David Barnard condemned the action, "part of what’s understood to be a co-ordinated international effort by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups," in a statement Friday.
"There is no tolerance for hate and discrimination."
Omar Kinnarath, organizer for Fascist Free Treaty One, an anti-fascist group in Manitoba, said the slogan seems harmless, but really isn’t.
"This is something these groups want to portray as benign, and they’re not going to be posting pictures of swastikas," he said. "But people who track the movement know the route. This is designed to make anti-racists look bad for freaking out about this, and that’s how they get a reaction."
Nobody has stepped forward to lay claim to the posters and Kinnarath said anti-fascist activists can only say they have "an idea who it might be."
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union singled out the native studies department for special support.
"We are committed to an environment that is safe for all Indigenous and racialized students, and recognize that these communities have been traditionally marginalized in these spaces and continue to be today," UMSU said in a statement.
Free Press columnist and University of Manitoba associate professor Niigaan Sinclair drew attention to the white supremacist posters with a Facebook post Thursday, describing them as a "scare tactic used to build supporters for white supremacist groups."
The posters appeared on the same day the U of M held a vigil in honour of the 11 victims in last Saturday’s mass shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, the worst anti-Semitic act in U.S. history.
"We share a sense of revulsion and a need to act because of what we see happening around us: the treatment of refugees, the tone of anger and hatred in political discourse, the installation of corrupt regimes, a distressing number of hate crimes (and) terrorist attacks.
"We must fight against ignorance with knowledge. Against intolerance and racism with inclusiveness and acceptance. Against complacency with our words and action."
A Wikipedia entry traces the posters to 2017 on an American website called 4chan, a social media propaganda-style billboard. It was set up to show that a "proof of concept" and a "harmless message" could cause a "massive media s---storm" that would lead white Americans to the far right.
The concept dates back centuries, University of North Carolina communications Prof. Christian Lundberg said Friday. A specialist in rhetoric, he was among the American experts who analyzed the phrase when it first surfaced.
Aristotle called such slogans enthymemes — when a speaker stops short of making a claim explicit, counting on the audience to fill it in, particularly when it allows someone to imply controversy.
"In the example ‘It’s okay to be white,’ something has happened to make it not OK to be white. There’s an implied argument about efforts to expand diversity because they are somehow privileging one group in such a way that is offensive or discriminatory to white people," Lundberg said.
"We typically take slogans at their face. In reality, the most important work slogans do is about the sets of assumptions audiences pile on top of them."
A year ago, the posters were removed from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, Brandon University and the University of Toronto.
New posters were plastered around campus again in Brandon last week. They read "Tired of anti-white propaganda? Stand up for yourself."
Updated on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 2:38 PM CDT: corrects spelling of Barnard
4:46 PM: Writethru
November 3, 2018 at 8:18 AM: Final
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