Department ofHistory



The racist mass zoom-bombing of the Penn State Black Caucus on January 27th is the most recent example of highly-coordinated white supremacist aggression against Black people and other individuals of color at our institution.

This attack on the Penn State community comes in the midst of a pandemic that is exacerbating racial inequities and in the wake of steadily intensifying racial provocation that has taken many forms—from the flying of Confederate flags to police killings of defenseless Black citizens to outrageous use of force against citizens at Black Lives Matter demonstrations to campaigns of intimidation against officeholders of color to attempts to discount the votes of the most predominantly Black cities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

As historians, we are all too familiar with centuries of racial violence whenever the primacy of white supremacy in American governance has been challenged: the reactionary response to Bacon’s Rebellion in colonial Virginia; the political racism of Jacksonian America; the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in response to the nation’s post-Civil War move toward interracial democracy; the wave of white riots and mass murders and the emergence of the second Klan in the 1910s and 1920s; the KKK’s third iteration as a response to the black freedom struggle that followed World War II; and the seditious insurrection at the nation’s capital only weeks ago.

Let there be no mistake that white supremacists are trying once again to hold onto power, both at the national level and also here at Penn State. They are attacking every aspect of civil society, trying to determine what they can get away with as they subvert liberal democracy and all its supporting practices. It is a milder version of the same behavior adopted by racial murderers nationwide, terrorists in Michigan, and insurrectionists in Washington.

We stand at a pivot point in the nation’s history. White supremacists are responding to a changing America by rejecting the essential norms of liberal democracy, from public assembly to voting rights. They have made their purpose clear: if a political minority of racists cannot maintain power, they will abandon the American experiment and turn to intimidation and violence. We cannot let them; the struggle continues here in University Park, and it is our responsibility to join it.

Our University community must stand united whenever practitioners of acts of racial intimidation seek to test our resolve in this way. We must embrace and support our fellow Penn Staters who have been targeted. We must demand immediate investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators, lest they imagine that this kind of criminality can go unpunished. And we must unequivocally support the Black Caucus and its call to action. <>