College life in Philly

Everything you need to know about the Drexel professor and his ‘white genocide’ tweet controversy

The prof says it was satire; Breitbart calls it a ‘shocking lesson’ on who’s teaching at American universities.

Drexel tweets
Twiiter via @ciccmaher/Wikimedia Commons

Update, Friday 9:30 a.m. 

A Drexel professor’s tweet just won’t go away.

George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted about “white genocide” Saturday night in what he considers satire and since then he said he’s received hundreds of death threats. In the meantime, Drexel has condemned his tweet, and the conservative news site Breitbart, which first picked up on the tweets, is continuing to dig in against him.  

The professor and officials from the university are scheduled to meet, but neither he nor the university has said if the meeting has happened or whether he might face any punishment. For now, here’s what you need to know about Ciccariello-Maher, his tweets and the situation with Drexel.

What exactly did he say?

Ciccariello-Maher has a Twitter account with nearly 11,000 followers. Late Saturday night he tweeted this, which has since been deleted:

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 10.07.34 PM

Breitbart picked up on the tweet, unleashing a stream of angry readers on Ciccariello-Maher. Sunday morning, he drew their ire further by tweeting about the Haitian Revolution:

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 10.41.51 PM

By Monday, “white genocide” had become a trending topic on Twitter, and the story was being picked up or analyzed by Teen Vogue, Jezebel and numerous other websites. Breitbart wasn’t backing down either. Monday night, it featured a new story about Ciccariello-Maher, saying in it,The shocking thing about Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide” is that based on his ideology and his choice of influences, Professor Ciccariello-Maher appears to mean it. It’s a shocking lesson about what is being taught at America’s universities today and who is teaching.”

And he wasn’t being serious?

Ciccariello-Maher said over email it was satire. As mentioned above, he considers the concept of ‘white genocide’ to have been invented by white supremacists. And white supremacist groups are the groups that have commonly used the phrase. The White Genocide Project, for instance, claims mass immigration and assimilation could count as genocide.

Would he have done anything differently?

Ciccariello-Maher didn’t respond to this question directly, but his emailed statement suggests he doesn’t have any second thoughts: “[‘White genocide’] is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.”

What does Drexel say about the whole thing?

The university was at first not happy with Ciccariello-Maher. This is the full statement Drexel released on Christmas Day:

“Drexel became aware today of Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s inflammatory tweet, which was posted on his personal Twitter account on Dec. 24, 2016. While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University.

The University is taking this situation very seriously. We contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail.”

Ciccariello-Maher responded by saying Drexel had been supportive in the past, but he was worried about the statement. “What is most unfortunate is that this statement amounts to caving to the truly reprehensible movements and organizations that I was critiquing,” he said. “On the university level, moreover, this statement—despite a tepid defense of free speech—sends a chilling message and sets a frightening precedent. It exposes untenured and temporary faculty not only to internal disciplinary scrutiny, but equally importantly, it encourages harassment as an effective means to impact university policies.”

Later in the week, Drexel released a new statement saying Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet tested its dedication to the “principles of academic freedom and freedom of discussion.” The university basically said it supported the professor’s freedom of discussion but questioned whether Twitter was the ideal place for satire, given the message was taken literally by many people.

“His words, taken at face value and shared in the constricted Twitter format, do not represent the values of inclusion and understanding espoused by Drexel University,” the statement read. “As we engage with one another in conversation, it is important to remember that these principles –academic freedom, freedom of speech and the need for inclusivity and respect – are not mutually exclusive.

“Very often electronic forms of communication (Twitter, in particular) are limited in their ability to communicate satire, irony and context, especially when referencing a horror like genocide. While Professor Ciccariello-Maher has defended his comments as satire, the wide range of reactions to his tweets suggests that his intentions were not adequately conveyed. These responses underscore the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.”

Was Drexel getting a lot of attention over this?

Yep. For one thing, Ciccariello-Maher said his colleagues and the university in general were hearing from the readers of sites like Breitbart just like he has. For another, people have been directing tweets to Drexel, asking the university to fire Ciccariello-Maher.

And he’s getting death threats?

That’s what Ciccariello-Maher said. And you needn’t look too deep on Twitter to find users saying terrible things to him.

Who is Ciccariello-Maher, exactly?

He’s a professor in Drexel’s politics department and the global studies and modern languages department, and has been at the university since 2010. He’s the author of two books, We Created Chavez and Decolonizing Dialectics.

Is anybody supporting him?

Lots of people. Ciccariello-Maher is getting support from fellow Drexel professors, Drexel students, professors at other universities and left-leaning organizations and websites.

On Monday, a petition was started with plans for it to be delivered to Drexel. By late Monday night, nearly 5,000 people had signed it.

Has this kind of thing happened anywhere else?

Sort of. Inside Higher Ed described this Drexel incident as another example of professors posting things online that make sense to people within their academic circles but not to a wider audience.

Want some more? Explore other College life in Philly stories.

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