WHITENESS STUDIES?

Yeeha. UMass apparently offers such a course, according to this WaPo piece:

Naomi Cairns was among the leaders in the privilege walk, and she wasn’t happy about it.

The exercise, which recently involved Cairns and her classmates in a course at the University of Massachusetts, had two simple rules: When the moderator read a statement that applied to you, you stepped forward; if it didn’t, you stepped back. After the moderator asked if you were certain you could get a bank loan whenever you wanted, Cairns thought, “Oh my God, here we go again,” and took yet another step forward.

“You looked behind you and became really uncomfortable,” said Cairns, a 24-year-old junior who stood at the front of the classroom with other white students. Asian and black students she admired were near the back. “We all started together,” she said, “and now were so separated.”

The privilege walk was part of a course in whiteness studies, a controversial and relatively new academic field that seeks to change how white people think about race. The field is based on a left-leaning interpretation of history by scholars who say the concept of race was created by a rich white European and American elite, and has been used to deny property, power and status to nonwhite groups for two centuries.

Advocates of whiteness studies — most of whom are white liberals who hope to dismantle notions of race — believe that white Americans are so accustomed to being part of a privileged majority they do not see themselves as part of a race.

“Historically, it has been common to see whites as a people who don’t have a race, to see racial identity as something others have,” said Howard Winant, a white professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a strong proponent of whiteness studies. “It’s a great advance to start looking at whiteness as a group.”

Gee. I thought that’s what the Ku Klux Klan, Nazi Party, and Jim Crow were all about. I guess they were just ahead of their time.

Whiteness studies can be traced to the writings of black intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois and James Baldwin, but the field did not coalesce until liberal white scholars embraced it about eight years ago, according to some who helped shape it.

Now, despite widespread criticism and what some opponents view as major flaws in the curriculum, at least 30 institutions — from Princeton University to the University of California at Los Angeles — teach courses in whiteness studies.

The courses are emerging at a pivotal time. Scientists have determined that there is scant genetic distinction between races, and the 2000 Census allowed residents to define themselves by multiple racial categories for the first time. Dozens of books, such as “The Invention of the White Race,” “How the Irish Became White” and “Memoir of a Race Traitor,” are standard reading for people who study whiteness. Recently, the Public Broadcasting System aired a documentary titled “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”

Excellent timing! We wouldn’t want to start having one of those irritating color blind societies.

(Hat tip: Unfogged)

Update: Ted Hinchman makes some interesting points defending the course. He also notes, in the comments section, that he thinks the reporter is a “hack” and is distorting what’s actually happening in the course.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rodney Dill says:

    Could be called:

    The Incredible Whiteness of being

  2. Dude says:

    Or.. The Unbearable Whiteness of Being?

  3. John Lemon says:

    Want to get really scared? Read this next to Lee Bollinger’s op-ed in the WSJ yesterday. (Not linked since it is a pay site.) Bollinger is the president of U. of Michigan and seems to imply that we can never get over racial division. I will try to blog on this later this evening. (I’m supposed to be cleaning the den now, having just finished a paper.)

  4. Rodney Dill says:

    Or.. The Unbearable Whiteness of Being?

    Oops, I thought something wasn’t right, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

    As I once saw Linus say in Peanuts

    “You’re never quite as dumb as when you are trying to be smart.”