Sometime between Halloween night and Dia de los Muertos, a number of University of Minnesota students and staff stumbled upon a cryptic message.
It came in the form of an 8-by-11 poster crudely taped to various locations around campus, made and displayed with either haphazard haste or minimal effort. It said, in large, sans-serif letters, “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE.” An anonymous staff member sent this photo of a poster found that night.
The sentence would mean pretty much nothing if it existed in a vacuum. But it’s 2019, and it doesn’t.
For the last two years, these posters, like a lot of alt-right slogans and materials, have been cropping up on college campuses across the country—always with the same caption, always around Halloween night. Last year, St. Paul’s University of St. Thomas was one of the schools that got hit. According to the Star Tribune, students found the poster taped to a city-owned electrical box on the corner of Cretin and Summit Avenues.
This whole thing came out of a troll campaign born on 4chan in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The point was to choose “an ostensibly innocuous and inoffensive slogan” and wait for “liberals” to react negatively, condemn them, or take them down, thus proving some kind of point about leftists hating white people.
“Once again we will bait the left into revealing their hatred and racism towards white people for the voting public to see,” on 2018 post read. “We will rip the left’s mask off.”
Whatever the original trollers’ intentions, white supremacist groups quickly adopted the posters, sometimes adding links to their websites or combining the phrase with other slogans or mascots. At Cabrillo College in California, fliers were stuck to a statue of Martin Luther King Jr.; at Duke University, they were posted near pumpkins carved with swastikas.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, the league points out. White supremacists have used the rallying cry long before it became an internet meme. The white power music group Aggressive Force and the United Klans of America both reportedly dropped it in the early 2000s.
The University of Minnesota wasn’t alone this year. In addition to cropping up in California and Connecticut, the posters were found all over East Tennessee State University’s campus—including on top of a memorial for the school’s first black students.
President Brian Noland had them all taken down. In a statement to the media, he called the stunt “an attempt to sow seeds of division” and vowed to continue working to “support an inclusive and affirming campus.”
Meanwhile, U of M PR director Jake Ricker says they’re “aware” of the posters, and they’re being taken down, too. But that’s because they weren’t posted in “approved locations” or given the school’s okay. So far, there are no plans to make an announcement to students, and he “couldn’t tell you” whether this is the first time the posters have been seen in the area.