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Student Protestors Scream at Woman for Trying to Say ‘Racist’ Pledge of Allegiance

“The Pledge of Allegiance has a history steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.”

Students at Santa Barbara Community College last week shouted and stomped to try to stop a woman from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a meeting of the school board, which had recently deemed the loyalty oath “steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.”  

In the incident, captured by a live-stream last Thursday, Celeste Barber, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees, tearfully said the pledge while holding an American flag above her head.

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Barber, who previously served as an adjunct instructor at the college, performed the patriotic act at the end of a speech in which she implored board president Robert Miller to rescind his decision to end the recitation of the pledge at the start of public meetings. In addition to noting that the board represents a public college, she said the pledge was personal to her.

She recalled the pride and comfort she took in the American flag while living with her husband in Soviet East Berlin in 1988, and that her father had received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for fighting the Germans on behalf of the United States in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. 

The dozens of student protestors on hand appeared unmoved. Holding signs with slogans like, “Students Against Injustice,” “Gracefully Aware,” and “Board of Boo Boo the Fools,” they repeatedly interrupted Barber by stomping and shouting that the Pledge of Allegiance is “racist” and that the United States was “founded on slavery” and does not treat “everyone equally.”

When Barber pulled out the flag at the end of her speech, some triggered students began shouting uproariously and demanding that she be silenced.

WATCH: The Full Speech of her honoring her father and husband

After Barber managed to finish, two other women stood and spoke in favor of reinstating the pledge on behalf of relatives who had fought in US wars. One of them became emotional as she recounted learning that her son, a former Santa Barbara Community College student, had died in 2012 from injuries sustained fighting in Iraq. She then addressed the matter at hand.

“My sons and so many other defended your right to assemble and speak freely,” she told the board. “I would ask that you reverse this decision in honor of my son Jeffrey, our military veterans, and all of our active duty soldiers, many of whom are currently not being paid due to the government shutdown.”

However, in a subsequent email exchange with Barber, Miller said he was sticking to his decision, which was made after the Pledge of Allegiance was last recited by the board at a Dec. 13 meeting.

“I decided to discontinue use of the Pledge of Allegiance for reasons related to its history and symbolism,” Miller said, according to copies of the emails obtained by Campus Reform. “I have discovered that the Pledge of Allegiance has a history steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.”

Miller said he was also motivated to act by what he characterized as the pledge’s inappropriate invocation of God, even though the line in question was added by democratically elected US representatives.

“I also object to the phrase ‘one nation under God.’ The First Amendment not only protects freedom of speech and religion [but] it also expressly prohibits laws that establish a religion. The US Supreme Court has expressly extended those rights to those who express no belief in God. Thus, I disagree with the 1955 act of Congress to add this phrase to the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Miller did not immediately respond to Pluralist’s interview request.

The protestors were not at the meeting to speak against the Pledge of Allegiance. That issue will be open to comment at the next board meeting on Feb. 14, according to Miller, who was elected board president in February 2018.

Rather, the students had showed up for a silent protest ― punctuated by occasional comments by them and supportive activists and faculty members ― to demand that Vice President of Business Services Lyndsay Maas be fired. Maas was set to return from two months of unpaid leave as punishment for saying the n-word during a Nov. 14 discussion about the harmful use of the term on campus.

The activism at Santa Barbara Community College reflects a larger phenomenon on college campuses in the United States and parts of Europe. Commentators and experts have warned that students have been allowed to overrun norms of free speech and thought in the name of an ascendant social justice agenda, which sees nearly omnipresent signs of white supremacy.

Some progressives have waved away such concerns as overblown. Vox’s Ezra Klein, for one, has argued that social media is likely helping to create the false perception of a crisis on campus out of scattered examples of youthful excess. Anyway, he has said, there is value to educating students to advocate for social change.

However, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has documented the phenomenon in detail. He has blamed a combination of overprotective parenting and monolithically liberal and permissive elite colleges for enabling the entrenchment of a “call out” culture that rewards those who claim infractions against supposedly marginalized identities, and almost reflexively punishes alleged offenders.

This kind of identity politics has increasingly been evident in the broader culture beyond campus, including at top workplaces and in the media. In a number of recent cases, even high schoolers have been branded as white supremacists for seemingly mundane acts, like attending an anti-abortion rally or citing conservative thinkers in a debate.

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