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Branigin writes: "According to the historically black sorority, members of the UVA chapter of Zeta Phi Beta painted the mural on Beta Bridge, a city-owned University landmark, to honor their Founder's Day on Jan. 16. By the next morning, the mural was vandalized."

A Zeta Phi Beta Founder's Day mural on the campus of University of Virginia is defaced with the white supremacist slogan, 'It's Ok To Be White.' (photo: Zeta Beta Sorority)
A Zeta Phi Beta Founder's Day mural on the campus of University of Virginia is defaced with the white supremacist slogan, 'It's Ok To Be White.' (photo: Zeta Beta Sorority)

'It's Okay to Be White': Charlottesville Police Won't Investigate Zeta Phi Beta Mural Defaced by White Supremacists

By Anne Branigin, The Root

26 January 19


harlottesville Police say they will not be investigating an incident in which a popular white supremacist slogan, “It’s Okay to Be White” was tagged over a Zeta Phi Beta mural at the University of Virginia. According to the historically black sorority, members of the UVA chapter of Zeta Phi Beta painted the mural on Beta Bridge, a city-owned University landmark, to honor their Founder’s Day on Jan. 16. By the next morning, the mural was vandalized.

UVA’s student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, reports the bridge, which is frequently painted on by students, was defaced at about 1 a.m. on Thursday morning. The paper also reported that Charlottesville police are choosing not to investigate the graffiti.

Markiana Smith, president of UVA’s undergraduate chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, says she and her sorority sisters were “stunned” when they heard about the hateful message.

“It’s a strange place to be when you feel the place that you’ve called home the last few years wanted to stifle you, didn’t want you to speak. Didn’t want you to take up space,” Smith, a fourth-year African American studies major, told The Root.

She was particularly struck by the fact that the vandals didn’t just paint over the mural—noting that murals on the Beta Bridge are frequently painted over. Whoever vandalized the bridge wanted to keep the Black Greek Letter Organization’s (BGLO) name up there, with the white supremacist slogan superimposed on top, she said.

The phrase, “It’s Okay to Be White,” first appeared on the online discussion board 4chan, and has since become popular among a number of alt-right and white supremacist groups in the U.S. and abroad. The phrase has popped up at other college campuses, including the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. In Australia, police are investigating an incident where three men unveiled an “It’s Okay to Be White” banner at a cricket match on Thursday.

UVA’s Dean of Students Allen Groves sent an email to the campus community on Friday condemning the graffiti, calling the incident “racially motivated.”

Groves also emphasized his support for Zeta Phi Beta. “We are very glad Zeta Phi Beta is part of the UVA Greek community and this institution is better for their presence here,” he wrote.

As the Daily Cavalier points out, it’s far from the first time a racist incident has happened on the bridge, let alone the UVA campus, which received international attention in 2017 as the site of the deadly Unite the Right rally.

Zeta Phi Beta International President, Valerie Hollingsworth Baker, says she doesn’t understand why Charlottesville police aren’t investigating the racist vandalism, considering UVA’s history and the spike in hate crimes across the country. The Root has reached out to the Charlottesville Police Department about the incident at the Beta Bridge and will update this story if they respond.

“You become worried because you don’t know where this is going, how far this is going to ramp up, and what are going to be the next steps,” she told The Root.

Baker added that she wants to see UVA do more than offer an apology.

“An apology is a first step. But what happens afterwards to say that this will not happen again?” Baker asked. She said she plans on visiting the campus soon so she can talk to BGLO members and UVA administration about the incident, and what they can do to ensure the safety of the campus’ black students.

Both Baker and Smith confirmed that the UVA had reached out to their organizations directly, but Smith points out that, while it was her sorority that was targeted, the hateful message was directed to all black students.

“It hit us all,” she said.

Conversations among UVA’s black students lately have centered on finding spaces where they don’t feel as though they’re “transgressing on somebody else’s space” she says.

And while Smith says she still feels physically safe on campus, she also has a deep sense of sadness knowing that the person or people behind the racist graffiti “could have been anybody” she goes to school with.

“When I wake up and go to class, I wonder if the person that’s sitting next to me, or the person behind me in line at the dining hall, is somebody who would have done that to the mural, to our Founder’s Day mural,” she said. “That’s a little bit disheartening.”

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-3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-27 09:34
I don't know what people expect. There has been a lot of name calling against ignorant while people who don't understand white privilege and actually of think that non-white people are privileged. These whites have been called fascists, racists, KKK, white supremacists, and many more ugly names. Of course there is some truth in all these names. But the normal response to name calling is a counter attack of the same kind. So we get "Its OKay to be White."

I saw once an great interview of Richard Spencer (the white supremacist organizer of the Charlottesville Unite the Right) by an African American reporter. They got on to the subject of race pride. The reporter asked Spencer if he was a "white nationalist." Spencer said yes, he was. But added that there are many Black nationalists, too. He asked the African American reporter if he were always aware of his race and proud of it. The reporter said he was. The two ended up with very parallel concept of race and how it applied to them as persons. Then they said they respected the other person's commitment to his own race.

Slogans, ugly name calling, and race baiting always cause controversy until you probe a little deeper.

I went to UVa, so I know the culture of white privilege there. It is about as bad as it can get. I myself took part is defacing this bridge with anti-white privilege slogans and other such thing. As far as race goes, UVa is a hell hole, as bad as it gets. But it is possible to understand it.
0 # randrjwr 2019-01-27 21:30
I have a lot of trouble with the concept of pride when it is applied to conditions and circumstances over which no person has any control, such as race or sexual orientation. These are biologically determined traits. To feel "white pride", "black pride", "gay pride", "straight pride",....., makes as much sense to me as being proud of being right-handed or left-handed. Things to be proud of have to do with beliefs and behavior. I would like to believe that I can be proud of the person, the human being, that I am, as evidenced by my actions, and occasionally I even make the grade, in my own eyes, at least.

I am certainly GRATEFUL that I was born white, recognizing the immense advantages I have had over the years, but I am in no way PROUD to be white, considering the disadvantages, instituted by white people and supported by a large fraction of white people, those who were not born white have had to combat solely because they were not born white. These same considerations apply to being straight versus non-straight, and not proud of being straight either, though I am, for the same reasons, grateful.

And, RR, I don't understand at all the 4 negatives You have been awarded at the time I write this. Do you?
+4 # Texas Aggie 2019-01-27 11:27
To expect the Charlottesville cops to do anything to counter racism is to expect the impossible. During the supremacist march a couple years back, they plainly were defending and sympathizing with the racists. There has been no significant attempt since then to change their profile like massive pink slips.

One suggestion for the sorority is to paint a picture of some of the supremacists making them look disgusting and silly.
+2 # RLF 2019-01-27 12:12
To the graffiti someone should add.."but not stupid"

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