White Supremacy in the Trump Era: A New Online Course with Loretta Ross

“I will be teaching white supremacy through the feminist lens of love,” Loretta Ross told Ms. (Speak Out)

Just 48 hours after veteran reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross opened registration for her new online course on white supremacy, 500 people had registered.

“There’s a real hunger for this knowledge,” says Ross’s former student Josie, who helped organize the class.

“I will be teaching white supremacy through the feminist lens of love,” Ross told Ms.

Drawing on black feminist theory, Ross says the course will focus on the connections between racism and misogyny.

(Haley McDevitt)

Ross developed her course on white supremacy four years ago, as a visiting professor at Hampshire College: “I wanted to analyze the storm clouds that I saw hovering around Trump’s candidacy in 2016.”

Ross now teaches at Smith College in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender

In late May, when protests about the murder of George Floyd broke out around the country, one of Ross’s Smith students (with her permission) posted a link to Ross’s white supremacy course syllabus on Facebook. The response was tremendous. The syllabus was shared far and wide across the internet, giving Ross the idea to teach an online course for the public. Josie, a community organizer, agreed to help.

“I really consider Loretta to be the most profound educator I’ve ever learned from,” Josie told Ms. “I find her lectures and her writings to be so accessible, and relatable, and engaging. I know her power as an educator.”

Josie created a Facebook page for the class and put out a call for organizing team members, who met with Ross to plan the class.

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Ross has a long history of fighting white supremacy. From 1990 to 1995, Ross was the national program research director at the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), which researched and monitored hate groups and bigoted violence. Ross says she gained a deeper understanding of white supremacy from the mentoring of Leonard Zeskind, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream

While working at CDR, Ross noticed many white supremacists she tracked were also anti-abortion activists. For example, former Klansman John Burt organized countless protests at abortion clinics in Pensacola, Fla., and called himself the “spiritual adviser” to anti-abortion extremists Michael Griffin and Paul Hill, who murdered abortion doctors David Gunn and John Britton in the early 1990s. Burt was later convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl at a home he and his wife ran for “troubled” girls. 

Ross urged her colleagues on the left to pay attention to the connections between racism and anti-abortion violence, but she encountered resistance from many men. 

“There’s still patriarchy in the anti-fascist movement,” says Ross. “They often didn’t see the importance of working against misogyny as they saw the importance of working against racism and anti-Semitism. That’s the particular blinders that some men bring to looking at women’s issues. Their attitude was, ‘We’re going to deal with the important stuff and we’ll get to you later.’”

But she found support for her views on the connections between white supremacy and misogyny in the work of Jean Hardisty, co-founder of Political Research Associates, which conducts opposition research on the right wing. In 2000, Hardisty published an important book called Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers, making these connections crystal clear. 

(Haley McDevitt)

Asked how she feels about teaching about white supremacy to white people, Ross says she enjoys the work.

“I love talking to white people about white supremacy,” said Ross. “One of the reasons I love it is that I’m not talking from a place of anger. It’s fairly rare to find Black people who have spent 20 years mastering their anger against white supremacy in order to effectively teach it to white people.

“So much diversity, inclusion and equity education is inadvertently offered through a lens of anger,” Ross continued. “That’s why some people leave diversity trainings, even if they’re taught by white people, feeling worse about themselves rather than better. It’s the tone and the motivation that can be different.”

The course begins on July 6 and will run for four weeks, with two-hour lectures on Monday nights and weekly small discussion groups led by trained facilitators. The course covers the origins and components of white supremacy; policing, state violence and militarism; academic fascism, legalized incrementalism, institutionalized white supremacy; and human rights movement building against white supremacy.

“We are giving people the tools, knowledge and motivation to dismantle the system of white supremacy,” says Josie. “Our goal is that participants will spread this education to other people and hopefully be more confident in the conversations we’re all trying to have.” 

Loretta Ross will be offering the course again in November. If you would like to be notified when the registration opens up, please fill out this form.


Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.