Ted Thornhill is not an academic either.
His classes this semester at a university near Miami have been watched by armed police. Media from all over the world line up to interview him.
Thornhill offers what may be one of the most controversial courses in the United States, a country whose ancestral racial tensions have deepened in the Trump era.
At the center of the controversy surrounding this sociologist is the name he chose to give to his course. “White racism”. And his central thesis is even more explosive.
“The racism of blacks, Latinos or Asians does not exist,” he tells BBC Mundo. “Only whites can be racists.”
The Florida Gulf Coast University is a public university in the city of Fort Myers, a quiet community on the Gulf of Mexico of wealthy retirees from the North American who came to enjoy the tropical placidity of Florida.
At the center of the discussion
But placidity is not the first thing that comes to mind when visiting this campus these days.Some 50 people, mostly Latinos and blacks, are taking the Thornhill course. But there is no doubt that all 14,000 students on campus have heard about them, and everyone has their opinions, although many keep them. They do not want to be involved in the controversy.
The conservative American chain Fox, a great support base of President Donald Trump and his movement, recently dedicated a program to Thornhill, and not properly to congratulate him.
They present him as the perfect example of what they perceive as discrimination against whites in the US, the same perception that made many votes for the tycoon.
But Thornhill says his controversy is not directly related to Trump. “Racism exists in the United States long before Trump and will continue to exist long after his departure,” he insists.
And the Latinos and blacks?
At first glance, it seems too easy to refute the argument that Thornhill presents.
I know many Latinos who are very racist, I say. “Why would not a course on the racism of Latinos be offered then?” I ask.
The racial differences subsist in the United States
A difference in the average annual salary of a white family and a black family in the United States.
60.7% Percentage of white Americans who graduate from university in the United States.
40.3% Percentage of black Americans who graduate in the United States.
Thornhill assures that there is a subtle but important point of difference.
“Anyone can have racial prejudice, they can have hatred in their soul, but racism is different from racial prejudice, only whites can be racist because only they have built for centuries an institutional building that allows them to enjoy advantages in society. “, he tells.
Che Hill, one of his students, is perfectly in agreement: “Only whites have the power it takes to be racist.”
There are a handful of white students in the class. I ask them what their relatives think they are in this course.
“My parents were a bit worried at the beginning, ” says Amy White, who confesses that her boyfriend was not too pleased with the beginning that she was in a course that pointed to people of her race as the only exponents of racism.
“But it has changed as I have explained the content of the course.”
There is a waiting list to enter the Thornhill course. The majority of its students are black or Latino, but both they and the few Anglo-Saxons in their class recommend it. In the course, they combine a series of discussions on theoretical, sociological writings on the subject of racism, with discussions about incidents of everyday life where these phenomena are evident. The university authorities have also given their support to Thornhill despite the media dust it has raised.
Of course, on campus, not everyone agrees. It surprises in an American university campus, normally a hotbed of open opinions of all kinds, that many of the students consulted by BBC Mundo avoid the questions about this course as if they were the plague. They do not want to be involved in the dispute.
Others are measured in their answers.Alex Pilkington, a member of a group of Republican students, says that “the origin of the controversy with this course is quite in his name.” By labeling white racism, he says, he seems to be looking for a kind of reaction from the white community at the university. Thornhill insists that it is not a deliberate provocation but an academic and objective analysis of reality.
It is inevitable that this course will generate mixed emotions. The undeniable evidence of racial prejudice found in cultures across humanity, regardless of race, is going to be enough reason for many to dismiss Thornhill’s argument at the outset.
But it also seems evident that in the way they reject the argument, many white commentators reveal the racism that Thornhill denounces.
After his class, the teacher takes me to his office, where he daily performs a ritual that to others may seem demoralizing: he opens his e-mail to inevitably find the messages crammed with insults that are written by strangers.
“You’re like Obama, because of you, racial problems are breaking out, a problem that we had already solved in this country,” one says, adding that he wishes a violent death to him and his family.The voicemails that you leave are not much nicer. At the same time they accuse him of being a racist, they throw him the worst racial insults.
They accuse him of stirring up the hornet’s nest of racism, but they do not fail to always accuse him of being black.
Thornhill says he takes it as a gaje of the trade: “At this point in my career I am not willing to accommodate the racism of whites and grant the moral and academic authority that I know I have in this discussion. “
Kindly in person, immensely popular among his students, and unbearable to his many critics, Thornhill does not expect the controversy surrounding his class to end soon. He hopes to dictate the course again next year.
It does not reveal if the other semester will also have armed guards watching his class, protecting him and his students from the extreme feelings that this class has stirred up.