A headline from The Michigan Daily reads “Conservative commentator Steven Crowder critiques erasure of conservative voices on campus.” As a photographer for The Daily, my editor assigned me to cover a live taping of his show, Louder with Crowder, on Oct. 25 at the Power Center. Crowder had the nerve to claim “no one is othered on college campuses more than conservatives.” Unbeknownst to me, what was to ensue was, as a person of color, one of the most terrifying events of my life.
I walked into Power Center to be rudely greeted by a University of Michigan police officer, who begrudgingly let me talk to the event organizer who directed me to the press area. Walking into the main auditorium felt like walking from the dungeons into the Coliseum as a gladiator. The auditorium was with over 1,381 people in attendance, almost all clad in the Trumpian uniform of red MAGA hats and white rage. Crowder was late. His fans were getting anxious and unruly. Chants of “We want Crowder!” broke out through the audience, gaining power and zeal with each passing minute.
Finally, the “Arthur”-voice-actor-turned-white-nationalist peeked out from behind the curtain, to be met with a roar and a raucous chant of “U.S.A.!” Crowder did a victory lap on stage, dressed as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wearing a red MAGA beer hat, spilling one of the cans of Miller Light onto the floor when the hat tumbled off his head. Getting settled, some of the very first words out of his mouth constituted a threat, instructing the audience to hold up their phones to show “the media” that they have their own account. The crowd obliged, shining their phone flashlights onto me and the other photographers present while hissing a menacing jeer.
I stayed as long as was necessary to take enough photos; on account of reporters getting harassed and assaulted at 45’s rallies, and especially cognizant of my perilous position as one of the few Brown people in the room, I left out of fear for my own safety. Even if I didn’t feel endangered, I still would have left – I tested my patience by withstanding roughly 20 minutes of blatant homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and racism before I felt like my stomach was going to vomit up all of the hate that my eyes and ears had ingested.
Shortly after coming on, he described to the audience in great detail about how beautiful and lovely his assistant was: comments that were patronizing and clearly made her uncomfortable. He continued on a 15-minute tirade mocking transgender people and gender identity, egged on by the audience’s raucous laughter. Not satisfied with only spewing vitriol against women and the LGBTQ community, Crowder aimed to prove he was also well-versed in racism and xenophobia, interspersing his show with a running joke mocking a Honduran immigrant being interviewed by CNN.
Crowder never explicitly attacked any of my identities as a person of color, which may leave some white folks wondering why the experience was so terrifying. Being surrounded by a large, unruly crowd composed almost entirely of white people would give any person of color pause, even if they hadn’t congregated for a colloquium of hate. Crowder and other members of the so-called “alt-right” (read: white supremacists) have not hesitated to espouse loathsome ideology against people who look like me before. Given the history of white violence against racial minorities in this country, and its recent encouragement by the fascist demagogue in the White House, I had every reason to be on my guard. This was a situation during which the threat of violence was ever present. To exacerbate the threat, the police, representing the authority of the state, were sent to protect this odious pundit from facing any pushback against his opinions. I have personally experienced enough misconduct at the hands of the police to know they were more likely to cause me harm than give me help in the event that something did occur. According to political scientist Iris Young, one of the five faces of oppression is not only violence itself, but also the constant threat of violence because of one’s membership in a social group.
Whenever I hear some white boy crybabying about how conservatives and whites are the ones who are actually discriminated against, I always want to laugh, but too many white people across the country share the same ignorant, uninformed opinion for me to dismiss it this easily. The opinions espoused by extreme conservatives like Crowder are directly contributing to the propagation of systems of white supremacy. As a person who is directly threatened by this, I have every right to push back. This is not discrimination, this is self-defense. Conservatives on college campuses are not exploited, are not marginalized, are not powerless or threatened by violence: the hallmarks of discrimination. The Daily article gave them the privilege of presenting his open mocking of gender identity as “debating whether gender is a social or biological identity” and generally commented more on how conservative students feel than about how these beliefs oppress others. The presence of the police at the event shows how dedicated the state is to protecting them, not only against violence but also against facing any contrary opinions at the event. Actual discrimination is more than just having someone disagree with you. If white conservatives (or any white people, for that matter) had to face any degree of the constant trauma people of color face on a daily basis from the institutions of white supremacy, I’m not convinced they would survive.
White fragility is a huge roadblock in the fight against racism. Many white liberal students here would probably be surprised by how many people attended Crowder’s event, seeing the University as a liberal and diverse place. Students of color know this is a lie, and have experienced all of the day-to-day traumas stemming from interactions with white people, which is why Crowder’s popularity is unsurprising to me. I doubt very many of the people in that auditorium would identify as racists. Most would probably react very defensively to the accusation, and this is counterproductive to the goal of getting someone to actually critically evaluate themselves. Crowder and others like him railing against “identity politics” fail to realize that whiteness is also an identity, and it has been the dominant political force over the entire history of our country. They profess feeling marginalized on college campuses for their political beliefs, but when your beliefs include spreading hostility against actually marginalized groups, like women, people of color and the LGBTQ community, then you can expect repudiation. A tolerant society must be intolerant of intolerance.