Highlights from the National White Privilege Conference in Madison
April 2, 2014
by Haley Sinklair and Nick Novak
[Madison, Wisc...] The city of Madison hosted the 15th annual national White Privilege Conference last week at the Monona Terrace to discuss issues of white supremacy, social justice, education and the Tea Party. The MacIver Institute highlighted one of the breakout sessions on Tuesday about white privilege in the classroom.
We are continuing our coverage of the conference with more details about other sessions that were held. Our second account comes from the breakout session titled: Against the Tea Party.
The session was facilitated by Leonard Zeskind, a human rights activist who writes on the topics of racism, anti-Semitism and the white supremacist movement. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP and serves as the current president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, which regularly reports on the Tea Party. He is also the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream and serves as a fellow for The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Zeskind began the session with a series of questions to gauge what the group was interested in and what the main focus of the discussion should be. Among questions about attendees' views on the Tea Party, he took an opportunity to thank people for participating in the 2011 protests over Wisconsin's collective bargaining reforms known as Act 10.
"How many of you engaged in the fight on trade union rights in 2011?" he asked the group. About a third of the room had participated. "Give yourselves a hand."
Zeskind said the goals of the session included discussing the structure and strategies of the Tea Party, how to defeat it, and the relationship of the Tea Party to racism. He drew multiple comparisons between the Tea Party and White Nationalists and highlighted a study that shows Tea Party members are racist.
"There's been a recent academic study, and I say academic because people here are, most of you are academic something-or-the-others, and there has been a longitudinal study that finds the longer you are in the Tea Party, the more racist you become," he told the group.
Soon after, an attendee asked, "In your judgment would you say the Tea Party is a 'hate group'?" Zeskind said that he doesn't use the term, but argued the group is racist.
"I don't ever use the term 'hate group.' I don't use it, it is unscientific, imprecise and subject to all sorts of bullshit as far as I'm concerned," Zeskind said. "You know, I used to use it when I was in that universe of working for somebody else, and so-forth. I think you call it for what it is. Is it racist? Yes."
During the 90-minute session, Zeskind also discussed what he believes is at the core of the Tea Party. He talked about the term, dispossession, which he said is the notion that the status of white men has fallen.
"Now it just so happens that white men still have all the privileges that they have ever had. They are still richer than all bejesus, and they got the best health care, and so-forth and so-forth," he said during the session. "But these people think that black people are running the United States of America. These people, these Tea Partiers think that black people are oppressing them as white people. These Tea Partiers think that they are a dispossessed majority."
He said members of the Tea Party describe themselves as "Obama's slaves," and are fighting to keep their white privilege.
"That's the funny thing about white privilege. These folks want it, but they don't think they have it anymore, since the white monopoly on the presidency was broke, it's not their country," Zeskind told the group. "They want their country back, to quote them."
About 70 people attended the session and it eventually moved away from the Tea Party and focused on white people in general, and education, specifically. Zeskind argued that parents who enroll their children in private schools "put their kids in little white academies," and they enroll them in private education because they are racist.
Zeskind also discussed his role as a peer-based organizer. He said the best way to organize is through building relationships.
"I worked in heavy industry. You bet I organized on the job. I went to the shithouse with the guys...ate lunch with them, skipped work with them. Occasionally we got drunk on the job," he said. "You had relationships, you were friends, you could talk about anything with the people that you knew."
He argued it is important to organize against the Tea Party to defeat them.
"I think standing up and saying, whatever organization or wherever you're active at, having that organization stand up and say the Tea Party is a racist problem and we want to get rid of it. If you'll stand up and say it like that, people will listen to you."
Zeskind encouraged everyone to check out more information on white supremacists and Tea Party members at the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) website. IREHR aims "to continue examining racist, anti-Semitic, and far right social movements, analyzing their intersection with civil society and social policy, and to educate the public and assist in the protection and extension of human rights through organization and informed mobilization," according to their website.
The conference was paid for in part with taxpayer dollars. Media Trackers broke the story that the City of Madison was paying $1,500 to sponsor the conference and had one staff member help coordinate the event. According to the Wisconsin Reporter, the conference received at least $38,000 from hotel room tax revenue, University of Wisconsin schools, and the City of Madison.
Continue to check MacIverInstitute.com for updates as we highlight more information from the White Privilege Conference.
Sinklair is a MacIver Institute Contributor.
Novak is the MacIver Institute Director of Communications.