Jeffrey Omari, a visiting assistant professor at Gonzaga University School of Law, wrote in the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal that near the end of the past academic year he witnessed a student come to class wearing a “Make America Great Again” or “MAGA” hat. The hat, which is bright red with bold white lettering, is a distinctive symbol of the Trump presidential campaign and of Donald Trump more generally. Omari refers to the slogan as “an undeniable symbol of white supremacy and hatred toward certain nonwhite groups.”
Laying eyes on the student’s hat (and confessing that he “knew this student’s political leanings from our various class discussions”), Omari writes: “…I was unsure whether the student was directing a hateful message toward me or if he merely lacked decorum and was oblivious to how his hat might be interpreted by his black law professor. I presumed it was the former.”
“As the student sat there directly in front of me, his shiny red MAGA hat was like a siren spewing derogatory racial obscenities at me for the duration of the one hour and fifteen-minute class,” he continues:
As my blood boiled inwardly, outwardly I remained calm. In an effort to assuage the perceived tension, I jokingly told the student, “I like your hat,” when he raised his hand to participate in class discussion. Without missing a beat, the student mockingly grinned from ear to ear and said, “Thank you.”
Scholars have argued that whites and people of color perceive racial discrimination through fundamentally different psychological frameworks. Moreover, people of color and whites are likely to differ substantially in how they perceive and define such discrimination. These studies show that many whites assume people are colorblind and expect evidence of racial discrimination to be explicit; many blacks perceive racial bias to be widespread and implicit.
With this scholarship in mind, I understood why no one else in this particular class—in which whites outnumbered students of color 20 to three (with me, the instructor, being the lone African American)—seemed as vexed as I was. Indeed, in a class with such racial uniformity, it appeared frivolous to rely on students to speak up on my behalf, as one of my associates suggested. An informal survey of my colleagues revealed that no other law faculty had experienced any students wearing such propaganda in their classes, which furthered my contention that this student was indeed trying to intimidate and/or racially antagonize me.
Omari does not ultimately say if, or how, he resolved the situation in his class, though he notes that “faculty of color remain committed to professionalism, which also means peaceably coexisting with MAGA in the classroom.”