What Academic Activist Tobin Shearer Is Missing

by William Skink

When Tobin Shearer, a UM history professor on a crusade to dismantle white supremacy, was put on a watch list last year he didn’t back down. Instead he used the publicity to raise his profile and further his agenda.

I agree that white privilege is a thing, and a white guy like me has benefited from that privilege. I also understand why it’s difficult to identify how one benefits from white privilege because it often entails things that don’t happen, like I can walk around a store without the retail clerk thinking I’m going to steal something.

Where I diverge from Professor Shearer is his priorities and tactics. The latter from Shearer seems to increasingly be that of a provocateur, as evidenced by the title of his recent lecture: How to Be a White Guy: A Last Lecture on Punching Nazis, Baking Pies and Not Being a Douche Bag.

I didn’t attend the lecture, but I have been following the emergence of this activist academic on the Missoula resistance scene. Though Shearer has experienced threats before for his views, this watch list, he says, is different. Because Trump:

I visited the site, noticed who else was on the list and immediately realized that this watchlisting was going to be different. A thin-skinned demagogue was poised to enter the White House. He had done more than any presidential candidate in the last 40 years to legitimize and embolden white supremacy groups. A watchlist designed to “expose and document … professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls” was going to have a much more chilling effect. According to Pam Vogel of Media Matters, Kirk has parlayed his post-list notoriety into a meeting with the Trump transition team. Suffice it to say that a meeting between the incoming administration and the chief author of a shoddy watchlist does not bode well. It could be very dangerous for those included on the list.

Here is another quote:

The problem is that we are poised on the brink of a breakdown of this country’s social safety net. We are about to have some of the most powerful positions in this country filled by people with direct connections to white supremacy groups. The incarceration of black men for nonviolent crimes has come to replicate the scale and scope of slavery. Civil discourse has been worn thin to the point of transparency.

The problem lies in the legislative and policy decisions that will be made in disregard of the poor and oppressed. The problem is found in the systems of white power and privilege that have been emboldened and strengthened anew. Historian Nell Irvin Painter observes that at this point in history, “white men in charge will not simply happen to be white; they will be governing as white, as taking America back, back to before multiculturalism.” An ideologically oriented watchlist is just one small cog in the larger engine that is threatening to overpower our constitutional democracy. Whether this is the last gasp of institutionally sanctioned white male privilege or a long-term resurgence of the same will hinge on which actions we collectively take in the next number of years.

What I think Shearer is missing with his focus on racism and white supremacy is the bigger issue of class and how the dynamic of rapidly increasing income inequality has directly contributed to the rise of Trump and all the ugliness that followed his election. It’s that dynamic, more than institutional racism,, that has already overpowered our constitutional democracy. Oligarchy is here and race is just one of many wedges used by our Plutocrats to maintain their strategy of divide and conquer.

The type of class issue Shearer is currently dealing with has nothing to do with one’s economic status, it has to do with an actual class Shearer is teaching. Apparently some unknown person or persons made a nearly exact replica of the flyer promoting the class, but with a few changes, like replacing “white supremacy” with “black nationalism”. The time and attention to detail is what makes this latest incident disturbing, according to Shearer:

University of Montana professor Tobin Miller Shearer, director of the African-American studies program, said he noticed something was wrong right away Thursday morning as he passed the bulletin board in the Liberal Arts building on campus.

The day before, Shearer had posted a flyer outlining a new class he is offering in the spring: “White Supremacy History/Defeat.”

But on Thursday morning, another sign — designed to look just like Shearer’s poster — had been put up atop his, this one detailing a fictitious course “Black Nationalism History/Defeat.”

Whoever made the new flyer had copied Shearer’s layout, including the font and location of a photo, and changing the bullet points of the course objectives from ones like Shearer’s “Implement and evaluate a project to dismantle white supremacy in the U.S.” to the same line directed at “black nationalism.”

The false sign said the class also would include group projects “aimed at dismantling race-baiting hypocrisy.”

“It’s very disturbing because of the amount of time that was put into making it look real,” Shearer said.

Later in the article Shearer says he reported this to the police. Considering much of the recent racial tension has come from the lethal use of force by law enforcement against unarmed black men, how ironic is it that a privileged white academic would use that privilege to document what he perceives as a threat with the authorities so they can…do what exactly? Find the perp who made this facsimile flyer? What would the charges be?

I don’t doubt getting put on a watch list heightens one’s sense of potential threat. When a bunch of alternative media sites were put on a list those of us who have resisted the resistance’s xenophobic hate campaign against Russia took notice:

THE WASHINGTON POST on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron

What about this list? Is this attempt to censor legitimate media platforms disturbing to an academic activist intent on dismantling white supremacy?

Professor Shearer is well-intentioned in his crusade, but I see his efforts leading to more division and resentment. Being provocative to get attention may raise Shearer’s profile, but I don’t see it leading anywhere constructive.

White supremacy may be a legitimate target in the eyes of Professor Shearer, but to stop this country from instigating WWIII there is a more insidious phenomenon at work poisoning the entire political spectrum in this country: American Exceptionalism.


About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to What Academic Activist Tobin Shearer Is Missing

  1. steve kelly says:

    The class title invites division, which is, of course, sanctioned by the U. of M. Titles (nouns), by definition, generally create false divisions among natural-born men (both, or all, sexes included) existing in our current, fake legal/socio/cultural environment. Identity politics, like identity course selection, is adversarial to the concept of natural-born equality.

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