I have a midterm today, and I should be studying.
The midterm is for a class on the history of violence in the United States. On the first day, my professor said she studied the white power movement, and I instinctively flinched.
I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that a professor at Booth invited Steve Bannon to speak on campus. When I found out, I flinched in the same way as I did in class.
I’m not sure if I have an anxiety disorder or if I’ve just always been nervous about whether my interests will be accepted. That’s part of why I fell in love with UChicago almost two years ago, because I wanted to go to a school where it would be acceptable to be into stereotypically nerdy things, and where everyone else would be into those things too.
My dreidel necklace is sitting on top of my desk at the moment, and I wonder if I’ll wear it tomorrow, or if I’ll be too lazy or forget or be overcome with anxiety. Will people think I’m making a statement? Am I an obnoxious social justice warrior? Does submitting an opinion piece to The Maroon already make me an obnoxious social justice warrior? Can anyone even see that this is supposed to be a dreidel? When will Steve Bannon speak, so I know when to stop wearing it in case his followers show up on campus?
In that history of violence class, we obviously talked about slavery and westward expansion, but also about the constitutive power of violence—its ability to differentiate between in-groups and out-groups. All men are created equal if they are white and own land. All men are created equal if they are white. Free speech and freedom of expression are for rich white men and not for me.
I’m not sure if I have an anxiety disorder, but I know that the tension in the pit of my stomach, my twitchy hands, my rapid heartbeat, are symptoms of a panic attack. A panic attack like the one I had when I was at Auschwitz in 2014, so overwhelmed by the thoughts of my people, my family being horrifically tortured to death, that my brain started to think I was in danger. I had to rest my arms on a windowsill, watching the cars go by on the road below, to remind myself that I was not in 1944. That I was safe. That I was fine. That there weren’t any Nazis anymore.
Steve Bannon, during his time as executive chairman at Breitbart, “worked to develop and advance an agenda that embraced tactics, values, and assistance from neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.” He described the far-right media outlet as “the platform for the alt-right,” a notoriously racist and anti-Semitic contingent of neo-Nazis. Breitbart articles have downplayed the significance of the Holocaust, derided a voice of opposition as a “renegade Jew," and regularly allude to anti-Semitic dog whistles like “globalist” or “corporatist” when denigrating Jewish voices. To treat people like this as merely members of the opposition party instead of the existential threats to democracy that they are is liberalism deluding itself.
Steve Bannon might (unconvincingly) downplay his ties to Nazism, but his followers want me to die. They want to shoot me, set me on fire, choke me to death with Zyklon B, pour acid in my eyes and pretend it’s a science experiment. To grant a person like Bannon the honor of speaking at one of the greatest universities in the world is a disgrace to the concept of universities, the concept of speaking, and the concept of freedom of expression. I have never once felt unsafe walking around Hyde Park at night, but I, right now, in my nice new dorm, have stained the edges of my sleeves with fearful sweat as I write this.
I took a class on the history of censorship last quarter and feel confident that what I advocate here is not censorship. Censorship is an attempt by the powerful to remain powerful. I cannot hurt Steve Bannon by writing an opinion piece for a student newspaper. He could easily retaliate by inciting a riot at the level of Charlottesville to personally target me, my family, and my friends.
The University of Chicago cannot maintain the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously claiming to stand for diversity and then inviting a neo-Nazi to speak. The administration of this school cannot continue to put me and other marginalized students in harm’s way and still pretend to care about us. Fascism cannot be given a platform to speak when fascism’s first order of business is the elimination of free speech, the elimination of freedom of expression, and the elimination of me.
I love this school with all of my heart. Everything I say here I say out of a desire to make this institution the best it can be. I recognize the necessity of engaging in dialogue, but I refuse to engage with someone who believes that me and my people and my cultural heritage should be silenced forever.
Now, this is an institution of learning, and I should get back to studying.
Hannah Dorsey is a second-year in the college majoring in history.