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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Alumnus discusses racism in America

An audience sat in almost total silence throughout the a presentation about the threat of white nationalism in America held on Wednesday, Oct. 7 in the Fairhaven auditorium.

Vice President of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights Devin Burghart gave a speech telling the audience how racism is just as American as apple pie.

Once a student at Western, Burghart has gone on to a career focused on in infiltrating and exposing bigotry groups.

The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights operates out of Seattle and strives for the goal of economic and social justice, according to the IREHR website.

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Freshman Kelsea Kilbride said she attended the speech as a part of her class. She said she was interested in how America is combating racial intolerance.

“It’ll be cool to hear about people out in the community, bringing people together,” Kilbride said.

White nationalism is the most recent handle for the legacy of American racism that colonists brought to the new world, Burghart said.

A white consciousness being developed through the frame of maintaining privilege and asserting whites as the dominant race is not new, Burghart said, but it has been getting “scant attention” in recent years.

A look at hate crimes during the Obama years kicked off the speech. One of the examples given was of a man who, on Inauguration Day in 2009, killed two immigrants from Cape Verde and meant to “kill as many Jews as possible,” at a local synagogue in Massachusetts, Burghart said.

Burghart’s chronology led up to Charleston, South Carolina, and the tragic shooting that took place last June.

“This is a list of a few of the long and growing list of atrocities committed by American white nationalists during the Obama presidency in a so-called ‘post-racial America,’ ” Burghart said.

“Numerous studies have proven that it is not ‘Islamic extremists,’ but home-grown Americans who murder the most Americans,” Burghart said.

The only break in silence came when Burghart asked the audience to identify a quote by former Louisiana House Representative David Duke.

Duke was also a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and nearly governor of Louisiana, Burghart said.

“Donald Trump is a pretty popular guess,” Burghart said.

This information came during Burghart’s explanation of white nationalist history in America. After this, Burghart brought the issues even closer to home.

A popular idea since the 1980s for white nationalists is the concept of the Northwest Territorial Imperative. In April of 2015 a group held “’Diversity’ = White Genocide” banners in Western’s Red Square. The group that flew their white and red signs in Red Square hoped to encourage white people to move to the American Northwest and create an Aryan homeland, Burghart said.

To end the presentation, Burghart presented a challenge.

He asked people to keep an eye on the radical vanguards and also those who try to secure political office.

“[Racist groups] require us to be ever vigilant,” Burghart said.

Burghart has been back to Bellingham many times. In 1994, Burghart helped with the creation of the Whatcom Human Rights Council, said Shirley Osterhaus, the Fairhaven faculty who introduced Burghart.

Freshman Dayjha McMillan said she expected the speech to be more problematic.

“I really wanted him to talk more about Black Lives Matter and police violence, but that wasn’t really the talk,” McMillan said. Being a member of Black Student Union, she also said she had done a lot of the research presented on her own.

“If we engage, we can push white nationalism into the dustbin of history,” Burghart said.

The speeches are sponsored by Fairhaven College and the Center for Law, Diversity and Justice. Next week’s speaker is Gwen Point, who will speak about intergenerational experiences in aboriginal education, Osterhaus said.

David Burghart gives a talk about White Nationalism in America on Wednesday, Oct. 7 in the Fairhaven Auditorium.// Photo by Caleb Galbreath
David Burghart gives a talk about White Nationalism in America on Wednesday, Oct. 7 in the Fairhaven Auditorium.// Photo by Caleb Galbreath
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