She said there has been a lot of attention toward white supremacy as a topic in general, but particularly as a masculine topic since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which she said leaves out how white women have historically contributed to racism and segregation.
“Coming from a place of intersectionality, we felt that discussing the historical role of white women in furthering the white supremacist movement was a blind spot in a lot of our conversations, and was leaving out a very necessary component for understanding the cultural moment that we're at now," Sikorski said.
Sikorski said the role of white women in maintaining white supremacy became a topic of heightened discussion on UNC’s campus after the forcible removal of Silent Sam.
She said recognizing white women’s role in the enshrinement of white supremacist politics is important in thinking about solutions to historical racism moving forward.
“It's interesting that the day after Silent Sam was removed by activists, the plinth that remains shows an image of a woman, and it shows women's role in the enshrinement of white supremacist politics,” Sikorski said, referring to the statue's pedestal. “It was the United Daughters of the Confederacy who were the ones that commissioned for the statue to be put up, so we felt it had contemporary relevance in really wanting to bring those facts to the forefront because we have to look to history in order to find solutions for the future."
Josh Massey, a sophomore American studies and English and comparative literature major, said he plans to attend the discussion because he thinks white supremacy has had a large role in historical and modern racism.
He said the fact that a staggering number of white women voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, despite his racism, homophobia, misogyny and scores of sexual assault claims pending against him, highlights how the concept of only white men participating in white supremacist activities is untrue in today’s context.
“I think this event will be beneficial because it has the power to expose the very pervasive role of white women in the otherwise predominantly masculinist sphere of white supremacist thought,” Massey said. “For too long we have conceived of the issue of white supremacy solely as a white male issue, and I am excited about this event because I hope that through it, we can work toward developing a more comprehensive and encompassing notion of what white supremacy is and how we can combat it.”
Patrick Horn, associate director at The Center for the Study of the American South, said McRae's book shows that ordinary white people were involved in resisting the Civil Rights Movement instead of only prominent white politicians from the South.
“In this case, white women who were in a variety of roles like teachers, nurses, bureaucrats and people who work at the DMV were just everyday Americans who had particular racial biases and pushed back against racial progress in different ways,” Horn said.
Horn said the book focuses on more than just highlighting how women acted as grassroots workers to ensure that segregation still existed.
He said the discussion will reveal that women are capable of enacting change in American politics and have powerful roles as political influencers that can be used for positive change today.
"It seems like a depressing subject, but she's also pointing out that women have political power," Horn said. "I hope people will be reminded that women have an amazing amount of political power, and that it can be exerted for good or ill, but when they collectively put their force together and join movements or exert pressure, they are capable of making tremendous change."