Responding to Spencer


What is the appropriate response when racists and neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer appear on campus?  One approach is, well, simply ignore them, or at the least don’t take them too seriously.  Bob Moser in the New Republic praises one questioner at Spencer’s Florida appearance last week for using mockery quite effectively, demanding to know: “Given how ugly all of you guys are, why do you think white people are supreme?”  Moser concludes:

In the social media age, where reality takes a backseat to propaganda, the chances of organizing a campus “quarantine” against Spencer are nil. The best we can hope for is that students and administrators take heed of the uproar-over-nothing in Gainesville—and take a cue from the woman who posed the “you’re all so ugly” question. There is a valid argument that the kind of pernicious evil Spencer represents needs to be confronted and “answered” in some way when he comes to town.  But the proper approach is not to inflate his importance; it’s to treat him as the mere pimple he is.

Now, I previously took Moser to task a bit for inflating Spencer’s alleged “win” in Florida, but he does have a point.  So, let me publicize two other creative responses to Spencer’s Gainesville appearance:

First, there was the response of music professor Laura Ellis, who, as Spencer was preparing to take the stage for his remarks, climbed up the school bell tower’s eleven flights of stairs to play a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the African-American national anthem, on the school’s carillon. Civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson originally wrote the poem of that title in 1900; his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later set it to music. The NAACP declared in 1919 that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” would be its official song.  Here’s a version by the great Ray Charles and the Raelettes:

“I think it was an appropriate time to play this song, to show our support for those who need it the most,” Ellis told CNN.

The bells chimed throughout the school as over 2,500 protesters gathered on campus.

“I think the UF students really unified against hate and presented an image of love that overwhelmed any negativity.  I think it was super important and fitting to play that song today, and it left me feeling comforted and unified,” said Elizabeth Parker, one of Ellis’s students.

And then there was the response of Alligator Brewing, a tiny brewery in Gainesville, which registered its protest by promising that any students who got tickets to Spencer’s appearance could exchange them for a free draft beer at Alligator.  The brewery, in return, promised to dispose of the tickets so they can’t be used.  “We unfortunately can’t stop him from bringing his hate to Gainesville,” the brewery posted on Facebook and Instagram. “But we can empty the room so his disgusting message goes unheard.”

Here’s Alligator’s Instagram post:

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