Row-Heyvld’s “Tattoo Talk” tackles white supremacy

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Row-Heyvld’s “Tattoo Talk” tackles white supremacy

Associate Professor of English Lindsey Row-Heyveld speaks o how white supremacists adopt medical imagery in her lecture on Oct.29.

Associate Professor of English Lindsey Row-Heyveld speaks o how white supremacists adopt medical imagery in her lecture on Oct.29.

Martin Donovan ('20) Chips

Associate Professor of English Lindsey Row-Heyveld speaks o how white supremacists adopt medical imagery in her lecture on Oct.29.

Martin Donovan ('20) Chips

Martin Donovan ('20) Chips

Associate Professor of English Lindsey Row-Heyveld speaks o how white supremacists adopt medical imagery in her lecture on Oct.29.

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Associate Professor of English Lindsey Row-Heyveld gave a lecture addressing the issue of white supremacy and its connotations for communities with close ties to Scandinavian traditions, such as Luther College and Decorah. Row-Heyveld’s lecture was titled “Tattoos, Medievalism, and White Supremacy” and was hosted in Olin 201 on Oct. 29.

In her lecture, Row-Heyveld discussed the way our cultural and ethnic identities often encompass the way people communicate individuality, specifically through tattoos. Many who identify with Scandinavian heritage express their ancestral pride by tattooing Norse symbols, particularly those from medieval times, to communicate a sense of solidarity in their wearers.

Row-Heyveld’s lecture is part of a series of “Tattoo Talks” sponsored by the Vesterheim in connection with its exhibition “Tattoo: Identity Through Ink” that opened in June and will close on April 26, 2020.

Vesterheim Exhibitions Manager Zach Row-Heyveld requested her expertise in the medieval period while putting the exhibition together, which inspired her to bring her research on the topic to a larger audience. While discussing her experiences of studying and teaching medieval literature, Lindsey Row-Heyveld said the Charlottesville rally during the summer of 2017 changed her perspective on her work.

“I kept looking at the pictures from the rally and [saw] all of the white supremacists cosplaying medieval knights and wearing medieval knight costumes,” Row-Heyveld said. “Looking at those pictures, I realized I was never going to be able to teach that course in the same way again. It really reshaped the whole class to think critically about white supremacists’ love for the medieval period.”

Row-Heyveld believes there is a persistent misunderstanding of medieval times, which can be characterized as medievalism. The misconception that medieval Europe was a “purely white,” “pre-racial,” male-centered period is one that many white supremacists employ to fit their ideologies. In reality, the medieval period spanned thousands of years and is impossible to fit into one standard narrative.

Row-Heyveld believes many people lack an understanding of the Medieval period because the internet, media, and history books continue to portray it as a violent and white-dominated period of time. Since the Medieval period and the symbols associated with it are widely misunderstood, white supremacists can take these ideas and rework them to fit their own narrative and hide in plain sight.

“They use those types of symbols because they know that it’s a kind of camouflage,” Row-Heyveld said.

Assistant Professor of Nordic Studies Maren Johnson believes that the misuse of particular Nordic symbols is something Luther and Decorah as a community must reckon with.

“Luther’s symbol, the Norse head, several of the ideas of Nordic-ness, and even Nordic Fest are complicated by the way that symbols have been misappropriated,” Johnson said. “It means that as students, as a college, as a community, we have a responsibility to be educated about the cultural origins and the meanings of these symbols beyond the misappropriated meanings.”

Row-Heyveld says she wanted to lecture on this topic for the same reasons Johnson discussed.

“It seemed like a really natural fit to take these ideas to the bigger community,” Row-Heyveld said. “It also seemed really important for me to take these ideas to a bigger community because Luther College, the Vesterheim museum, and Decorah generally make use of medievalism and our sort of individual and collective branding.”

It just seemed like a conversation we need to have and I wanted the chance to take it beyond the classroom.”

Row-Heyveld ended her lecture by urging community members to actively take a stand against the misappropriation of Nordic symbols and to reclaim them to represent diversity and acceptance.

Emily Anderson (‘20) says Row- Heyveld’s lecture made her perceive the symbols of Scandinavian culture she grew up with in a different light.

“Coming from someone who has a lot of Scandinavian heritage, a lot of the images she put up of different symbols I’ve been exposed to my whole life and am really familiar with,” Anderson said. “So, to see those symbols be de- familiarized and see them used in such a heinous way was really moving and definitely made me reconsider the way that I interpret Nordic symbolism.”

Mimi Armatas (‘19) was also excited to see how Row-Heyveld’s argument had developed since a discussion of the same topic in Row-Heyveld’s Chaucer and Medieval literature class last year.

“I was really excited to see what her take away from the beginnings of our conversation were from that class,” Armatas said. “Last year, she was raising the question of ‘What do we do? How do we respond to this as a community?’ I think in this lecture she had more of a clear answer. Right now, we need to make it clear that white supremacists are not welcome here and that goes against everything that we do.”

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