14 April, 2006

This Week in Loxism: Occidental College Hosts ‘Whiteness’ Week

Posted by alex in academia, loxism, Whiteness Studies at 10:51 pm | Permanent Link

Hating Whitey, Campus-Style

By Jason Antebi
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 13, 2006

Occidental College wants you to hate white people – in the name of tolerance and unity. The quirky private Southern California liberal arts college organized “Exploration of Whiteness Week,� which includes a number of events focusing on Whiteness, an underdeveloped discipline that seeks to end what it calls “white privileges� and to demonize whites as the sole cause of minorities’ plight. These events are funded by student money at a college composed primarily of Caucasians.

Unlike events devoted to minority cultures, “Exploration of Whiteness Week� is an excuse to bash whites and promote minority racism and leftist notions of “social justice.� There were no lectures on Norse literature, Gaelic football in Ireland, or the impact of white rapper Eminem in a genre of music dominated by blacks. On college campuses, praising Western Civilization qualifies one as a “white supremacist.� Instead, at Occidental’s Whiteness events, students hear from white speakers who are critical of white society. The message to white students is that the only laudable action whites can commit is to denounce their own inherent (genetic?) evil and accept the Left’s agenda – ethnic, sexual, social, and economic.

The university’s offered Tim Wise as its prototypical self-hating white man. Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son – a book that espouses the myth that internalized and “institutional racism� rob minorities of their rights and grant whites a privileged place in society. Occidental deemed Wise a “critical white ally in the fight for social justice,� suggesting that normally whites are opponents of social justice. A supporter of Affirmative Action and critic of whites acquiring wealth, Wise has no problem raking in a reported $4,000, plus expenses, for his every speech as he tours the nation’s college campuses.

Occidental’s second example of typical whiteness was – a former neo-Nazi. According to the advertisement for the event, this former neo-Nazi, Timothy Zaal, discussed “transformation from hate to tolerance, challenges current white supremacist rhetoric, and presents an inspiring testimony on the benefits of pluralism and diversity.� Who better to discuss whiteness than a former hatemonger who now devotes his life to promoting left-wing causes? If a former neo-Nazi representing “Whiteness� isn’t offensive enough, a student who attended the speech reports organizers of this event donned t-shirts that said “I am a victim of Whiteness.� Seeing that these students have access to and can afford a private school with tuition costs in excess of $40,000, they appear less to be victims of whiteness than propaganda and left-wing manipulation.

Jumping on the white supremacist theme, Occidental presented two film viewings, followed by facilitated discussions. The first film was American History X, about a former neo-Nazi that changes paths from hate to tolerance. The second film, White Man’s Burden, puts blacks in positions of power and whites in poor ghettos. To drive the connection between rejecting racism and accepting university-approved left-wing activism home (as though the connection were subtle), the film was screened in Occidental College’s exclusive “Multicultural Hall,� the home of a select group of students with shared values to promote diversity and “social justice.�

The week of events concluded with a final dose of white peer pressure. In a not-so-inclusive panel discussion, a group of all-white students answered the burning question: “How can we, as a multicultural society, connect across our racial difference in a unified effort for social change?� Perhaps they could begin by not pigeonholing an entire race as being a resistant to the glories of “social justice� – perhaps not even define “social justice� (which is always presented as a socialist workers paradise).

Occidental does not want its students to debate issues as critical as this. Instead, they inundated the student body with descriptions of white people as the problem. All this, despite the college’s claim, “A diverse community is one that fosters an environment of sharing and learning among individuals based on their different identities, not on the groups they belong to.� Indeed, no speaker was there to debate Wise or the former neo-Nazi. No programs were conducted discussing the criticisms of the Whiteness studies movement – and there are many critics, including academics.

Liberal arts colleges like Occidental frequently preach the need for tolerance of different cultures – to welcome, as the college’s mission statement claims, “the presence of all forms of diversity.� As noble as that sounds, the warm and cozy feeling of acceptance cannot exist when Occidental and others do not accept non-leftist opinions and beliefs on campus.

Link.


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  7. 16 Responses to “This Week in Loxism: Occidental College Hosts ‘Whiteness’ Week”

    1. alex Says:

      Here’s the type of creature involved with whiteness studies..

      http://metros.xanga.com/temitoepay

      More here from some indian-communing dude

      http://tadhargrave.blogspot.com/2005/12/lost-people-by-thom-hartmann-author_07.html

      Comm 390-A It’s Not Them, It’s Us: White Privilege
      Susanne Gubanc

      Prerequisites: None
      Cost: Approx. $125.00 to attend three-day White Privilege Conference at Central College taking place the last weekend of April 2006 (three days).
      Time/Location: 8:30-11:15 daily – McNeill 4
      Enrollment: 30

      This course investigates the cultural construction of race through the exploration of whiteness. How has whiteness been defined in relation to color and race? What is white identity? How is whiteness understood from a non-white perspective? What does it mean to be an “ethnic� white? How have definitions of whiteness changed over time? We will examine whiteness in relation to race, ethnicity, class, gender and nation, paying special attention to how whiteness is negotiated in media and popular culture.

      http://www.simpson.edu/courses/may.html

    2. alex Says:

      Who Invented White People?
      A Talk on the Occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 1998
      by Gregory Jay
      Professor of English, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

      “What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as ‘American’?” — Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

      This week we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day. What should our celebration focus on, and how can we best continue the work that he began? For most of us, Dr. King represents the modern Civil Rights Movement. That Movement was a struggle against the legal and social practices of racial discrimination–against everything from separate drinking fountains, white and colored public bathrooms, and segregated schools and lunch counters to the more subtle, everyday prejudices of ignorance and injustice that are common in America. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 is among Dr. King’s greatest legacies, transforming the face of America more decisively than almost any other legislation since the Civil War. Dr. King gave his life for the fight against injustice, and as we survey the changes in the thirty years since then we must say that his was a great and glorious victory.

      Yet the promised land still eludes us. Once the crude legal structures of discrimination were torn down, Americans faced the fact that changing the laws did not change the feelings and beliefs of individuals, black or white. Beyond the abstract words of law and legislation, real people continued to carry with them the history of racism, whether as victims of its horrors or as beneficiaries of its privileges. To this day, racial discrimination remains pervasive in America. The old-boy networks at major corporations ensure the continuation of white male dominance. Banks regularly discriminate against minorities in business and housing loans. Homeowners and apartment owners refuse to sell or rent across color lines, partly because of the threats and violence that still occur when they do. Parents express discomfort or outright rage when children love or marry across the lines of race. Government subsidizes white suburban life with everything from freeway construction and business tax exemptions to mortgage write-offs while starving urban neighborhoods and cutting welfare programs. Ivy league schools give preference to the children of alumni and wealthy donors for admission, which, given the fact that the alumni and donors are overwhelmingly white, means that white applicants have an artificially easy time getting into the best colleges, and thus into the best jobs. It is hard to have many alumni of color, after all, when in the past colleges refused to enroll people of African or Asian or Hispanic descent, and placed strict quotas on Jews as well. Most of us could pluck similar examples out of the newspaper every day. This is not the legacy that Dr. King envisioned when he stood on the mountain top and saw his dream.

      What keeps racism alive in America? I don’t pretend to be the one to know the answer to this question. It’s a question, however, that every one of us needs to ask. We need to ask it not only of ourselves, looking into our hearts, but to ask it of each other–to ask our friends, our family, our coworkers, and our church members. But in talking about race, what, exactly, should we talk about? I want to propose today that we talk about whiteness. Too often in America, we talk about race as if it were only something that people of color have, or only something we need to talk about when we talk about African Americans or Asian Americans or American Indians or Latino Americans. One thing that has changed radically since the death of Dr. King is that most white people do not want to call themselves white people, or see themselves in racial terms. From the days of the founding fathers until the Civil Rights movement, “white” was a common term in the law as well as society. Federal, state, and local officials regularly passed laws containing the word “white,” defining everything from slavery and citizenship to where people could sit on a bus. Today, the movement against racism has had the unexpected effect of letting whiteness off the hook. Over and over we hear people say that “race shouldn’t matter,” that we should, or even do, have a “color blind society.” What has happened, I think, is that we have instead created a blindness to whiteness, or been blinded by whiteness itself. As the title of Cornel West’s best selling book insists, Race Matters, and to that I would add that whiteness still matters the most.

      The trouble, then, with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, with Black History Month, and such token expressions of concern is that they once more ghettoize the question of race. Worse, they tend to make race a black matter, something that we only discuss when we talk about African Americans, as if they were the only ones with a race. By distracting our glance, such tokenism once more blinds us to the race that is all around us, to what Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, called “the whiteness of the whale.” The great white whale of racism is a white invention. It was white people who invented the idea of race in the first place, and it is white people who have become obsessed and consumed by it until, like Captain Ahab, they have become entangled so deeply in pursuing its nature that they self-destruct in the process. As the Nobel prize winning black author Toni Morrison has argued, in her wonderful book titled Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Melville and the other great writers of the American tradition tell the story of whiteness over and over. White identity defines itself against the backdrop of an African or colored presence: Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby Dick, Huck and Jim in Huckleberry Finn , right on up through Bill Cosby and what’s-his-name on I Spy or any number of black-white buddy films in Hollywood. Ironically, white Americans can only define themselves by comparison to that which they are not, and so whiteness depends on blackness for its very definition.

      Where did white people come from, anyway? Who invented whiteness? Scholars of race generally agree that the modern meaning of whiteness emerges in the centuries of European colonialism and imperialism that followed the Renaissance. Now granted, human begins have always clustered themselves in groups — families, clans, tribes, ethnic populations, nation states, etc. — and these groups have regularly been the source of discrimination and violence. At times it seems that an “us versus them” mentality starts on every playground and extends into every neighborhood, society, and government. Since human beings appear to require a sense of identity, and since identity is constructed by defining whom and what you are different from, it may be that the politics of difference will never be erased from human affairs.

      That said, why did something called “racial” difference become so important in people’s sense of their identity? Before the age of exploration, group differences were largely based on language, religion, and geography. The word “race” referred rather loosely to a population group that shared a language, customs, social behaviors, and other cultural characteristics — as in the French race or the Russian race or the Spanish race (differences we might now call “ethnic” rather than “racial”). As European adventurers, traders, and colonists accelerated their activities in Africa and Asia and the Americas, there emerged the need to create a single large distinction for differentiating between the colonizers and the colonized, or the slave traders and the enslaved. At first, religious distinctions maintained their preeminence, as the Africans and American Indians were dubbed pagans, heathens, barbarians, or savages — that is, as creatures without the benefits of Christian civilization or, perhaps, even as creatures without souls. Efforts to Christianize the Indians and the Africans, however, were never separate from efforts to steal their lands or exploit their labor. To justify such practices, Europeans needed a difference greater than religion, for religious justification melted away once the Indian or African converted.

      Now the European had always reacted a bit hysterically to the differences of skin color and facial structure between themselves and the populations encountered in Africa, Asia, and the Americas (see, for example, Shakespeare’s dramatization of racial conflict in Othello and The Tempest). Beginning in the 1500s, Europeans began to develop what became known as “scientific racism,” the attempt to construct a biological rathern than cultural definition of race. Biological races were said to predict and determine the cultural traits of peoples, so that cultural differences could be “explained” on a “scientific” basis. Scientific racism divided the world’s populations into a few large species or groups. By the nineteenth century, race scientists settled on the term “Caucasians,” first used as a synonym for Europeans in 1807, probably because the term’s association with the Near East and Greece suited white people’s desire to see themselves as having originated in the Golden Age of Classical Civilization. Caucasian usually appeared in a list of “major” race groups including also Mongolian (people of Asian descent), Ethiopian (people of African descent), and American Indian.

      The fantasy of a “white race” with historical origins in Classical Civilization white-washed the complexion of Greece and Rome (whose people were a mixture of Mediterranean, Semitic, and African populations each bringing unique cultural traditions to the table). Postulating a direct biological descent from this Classical fantasy to the present helped justify contemporary racist practices. White plantation owners in the American South, for example, built their plantations according to Neo-Classical architecture (as did the architects of our nation’s capitol), so that the slave master’s mansion would recall the Parthenon of Ancient Greece, suggesting a racial continuity between the Classical forefathers and the slave owners. In the construction of whiteness, it was regularly said that slavery and democracy were not a contradiction, since the ancient Greeks had themselves been slave owners and regularly persecuted races considered “barbarians.” What was good enough for the original whites, it was thought, was good enough for the people of Virginia and South Carolina and Mississippi (an argument that was not widely contested by white Americans in the North).

      Whiteness, then, emerged as what we now call a “pan-ethnic” category, as a way of merging a variety of European ethnic populations into a single “race,” especially so as to distinguish them from people with whom they had very particular legal and political relations — Africans, Asians, American Indians — that were not equal to their relations with one another as whites. But what of America as the great “melting pot”? When we read our history, we come to see that the “melting pot” never included certain darker ingredients, and never produced a substance that was anything but white. Take, for example, that first and most famous essay on the question “What is an American?” In 1781, an immigrant Frenchman turned New York farmer named Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur published his book Letters from an American Farmer. Here are some lines from its most quoted pages:
      …whence came all these people? They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen. What, then, is the American, this new man? He is neither an European nor the descendant of an European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. . . . The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of populations which has ever appeared.
      No longer a European, the American represents a new race made from the stock of various European nations. No mention is made of Africans or Indians, perhaps because this new American race does indeed receive new prejudices from the new mode of life it has embraced. Crevecoeur candidly describes the process by which the American race originated as a white race; or rather, the way in which the descendants of Europeans constructed a myth of themselves as a white race with special claim on the answer to the question “What is an American?” An American was a white man. Just as importantly, America was that place where the downtrodden classes of Europe could throw off the oppression of aristocrats and attain not only fraternal equality among themselves, but superiority over those who were not of the new white race. When the Constitution of the United States was written, it thus specifically enshrined slavery into law and denied citizenship to enslaved Africans. When the Naturalization Act of 1789 was made law, it stipulated that only “whites” were eligible for naturalization as citizens (a clause persistently contested by people of Chinese and Japanese ancestry for the next 150 years).

      In a fascinating, provocative book called How the Irish Became White, Noel Ignatiev describes this process of Europeans becoming white in the case of the Irish immigrants of the ninetheenth century. Ireland was a colony devastated by English imperialism, and by a racial stereotyping of the Irish as backward, primitive, savage, and barbarian (in no small measure because of their Catholicism). When the Irish set foot in America, they were still subject to much of the racial prejudice and discrimination they had suffered at home at the hands of the British. Irish immigrants to America occupied a position only just above that of the blacks, alongside whom they often labored on the docks or railroads. For the Irish, becoming white would offer many advantages, not least of which would be the elimination of their major competitors for jobs. The Irish began to organize the exclusion of Northern free blacks from shipyard or factory employment, and continued this discrimination in later generations when the Irish dominated the police and firemen’s unions in most cities. The Irish formed a key ingredient in the pro-slavery coalition that sat at the core of the Democratic Party in America before the Civil War, and which was brought to full power by the Indian killer and Southern patriot Andrew Jackson. White working class men, many of them Irish, opposed the abolition of slavery because of the threat they believed free blacks would pose to their economic prosperity, just as they opposed the extension of slavery into the new territories because of the threat slavery would pose to the creation of high wage jobs in the West. The hostility between the Irish and the blacks that lives on until today has its roots in this early history of how the Irish became white, and of how various Irish-dominated institutions in urban America — especially police and fire departments and labor unions — prospered through racial discrimination.

      Whiteness, of course, is a delusion — as the insane Captain Ahab of Moby Dick demonstrates. Scientists today agree that there is no such thing as “race,” at least when analyzed in terms of genetics or behavioral variation. Every human population is a mongrel population, full of people descended from various places and with widely differing physical qualities. Racial purity is the most absurd delusion, since intermarriage and miscegenation have been far more the norm than the exception throughout human ethnic history. “Race,” then, is what academics like to call a “socially constructed” reality. Race is a reality in the sense that people experience it as real and base much of their behavior on it. Race, however, is only real because certain social institutions and practices make it real. Race is real in the same way that a building or a religion or a political ideology is real, as each is the result of human effort, not a prescription from nature or God. Thus the concept of race can have little or no foundation, yet it can still be the force that makes or breaks someone’s life, or the life of a people or a nation.

      For white people, race functions as a large ensemble of practices and rules that give white people all sorts of small and large advantages in life. Whiteness is the source of many privileges, which is one reason people have trouble giving it up. It is important to stress that to criticize whiteness is not necessarily to engage in a massive orchestration of guilt. Guilt is often a distracting and mistaken emotion, especially when it comes to race. White people are fond of pointing out that as individuals they have never practiced discrimination, or that their ancestors never owned slaves. White people tend to cast the question of race in terms of guilt in part because of the American ideology of individualism, by which I mean our tendency to want to believe that individuals determine their own destinies and responsibilities. In this sense it is un-American to insist that white Americans benefit every day from their whiteness, whether or not they intend to do so. But that is the reality. Guilt, then, has nothing to do with whiteness in this sense of benefitting from structural racism and built-in privileges. I may not intend anything racial when I apply for a loan, or walk into a store, or hail a cab, or ask for a job — but in every circumstance my whiteness will play a role in the outcome, however “liberal” or “anti-racist” I imagine myself to be. White men have enormous economic advantages because of the disadvantages faced by women and minorities, no matter what any individual white men may intend. If discrimination means that fewer qualified applicants compete with you for the job, you benefit. You do not have to be a racist to benefit from being white. You just have to look the part.

      The privileges of whiteness are the not-so-secret dirty truth about race relations in America. Three decades after Dr. King, we should be able to see that our blindness to whiteness has crippled us in our walk toward equality and justice and freedom. As the national conversation on race continues, let us resolve to make whiteness an issue, and not just on this holiday or during Black History Month. When we talk about race in America, we should be talking about the invention of whiteness, and about what David Roediger calls the “abolition of whiteness.” From this perspective, the end of racism will not come when America grants equal rights to minorities. Racism will end only with the abolition of whiteness, when the white whale that has been the source of so many delusions is finally left to disappear beneath the sea of time forever.

      [To learn more about the issues addressed in this talk, see the Deconstructing Whitneness Bibliography on this site]

      return to Whiteness Studies homepage

      http://www.uwm.edu/~gjay/Whiteness/Whitenesstalk.html

    3. alex Says:

      Unmasking the Beast:
      Learning and Teaching About Whiteness
      Collectively written by Students and Faculty in The Women’s Studies Course The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women

      I had to take it. My friend, Annie, and I are in her room mulling over the course guide. She is going to Spain, unable to take it herself, she looks at me and says over and over–you have to take it. I found Arlene Avakian’s email address and wrote her trying to find some reason to make me want to take this class, thinking maybe she’d give me some direction. I received back, promptly, a list of four course texts and “I-hope-to-see-you-there.”

      I dropped the class. I added it again 15 minutes before walking into the classroom. The title kind of scared me, “The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women.” But what scared me more was the bossy lady with the thick accent who walked through the door and demanded from us “why are you here?” My mouth dried. It had no words and that feeling had dominated me for the last two months. Since the first class, the first question, “why are you here?” I don’t know. I have no answers. But the dryness of the mouth has also stirred me to thought, depression, rage, tears, fright (of self and others), laughter and this unmeasurable feeling of an empty mouth with everything in it. A lot to say and no language to speak it…”Why are you here?” I don’t know.

      I hate this class: walking thought this door is like entering a graveyard. These two months have shaped my schooling, my friendships, my enemies (now in greater number), my language, my view of the world and my way of being in the world. For the first time in my life, I frighten myself. “Why are you here?” Something inside me cannot afford not to be.

      ***

      I’ve been thinking about the term “White trash” today and how it plays into what we’ve been talking about. I’ve always disliked the term “White trash” because I`ve believed it to be racist on the grounds that it qualifies “trash” with “white” which, given the invisibility of whiteness in general, indirectly states that just plain “Trash.” is black…”White trash” seems significant to me in that it is one of the only times in popular discourse when whiteness names itself, when it makes itself visible and steps out from behind the veil of the Unmarked. So then we must ask: What is it about “White trash” that is so extreme that Whiteness dares vulnerability to attack through disclosure? Or more particularly, what is it about “trash”ness in white people that is so offensive it requires linguistic qualification/sequestration from “regular” or “normal” Whiteness? “White trash” is a statement about class, it’s a class distinction, namely a lower class distinction. “White trash” is the marked category so what is the unmarked? Not-White not-trash? No. White trash is pejorative, it’s a statement of transgression within Whiteness so we must hold White constant and reverse “trash” so we get, obviously White “not-trash” or White middle class. This has led me to believe that Whiteness is bound up in class distinctions (not “trash”). Whiteness is middle class. So does this mean that “White trash” are not White? Or is it that “White trash” is reluctantly accepted by (middle class) Whiteness on the grounds that it will be punished for its lower class status by being reminded how not-middle class it is, so in a way, how not-white it is, how it fails to meet the aspiration of Whiteness?”

      ***

      I feel sometimes like I am going to explode. I get extremely mad and frustrated with myself. I feel like I am constantly at a tug of war with race issues. Fuck it. This class is driving me nuts. It should have been put in the syllabus.

      ***

      I have to wonder if there are shades of social whiteness…that no matter the color of the skin some will be whiter than others. That the degree of one’s whiteness is related to the degree of real power, freedom and human rights one has.

      ***

      I hate this feeling of paralysis I get (initially) when the course of my life asks me to grow and change. Stubbornness comes very easy to me and being patient with myself is the hardest of all.

      `Twas a miserable class. I got really sick of talking and listening today. What the fuck kind of right do these (we) academics on our high horse of knowledge have to do with what is “right” and “wrong” about how people act. What’s the point of learning this if in the end you can’t do anything but blow wind and define terms and banter around the same fucking tired discourse as the rest of your classmates?

      I hate the entire universe on principal today. Because we are whitened and ignorant and racist and can’t get over it. Because our culture is out of control and so are we.

      I may just hate myself today for not being able to get over it and imagining that 14 year old in Shreveport, LA who was brought up in some seriously frightening culture void of white anti-racist role models…Recently I was in LA. An old schoolmate called me a “nigger lover.” I think I was talking to him about hip hop.

      What can we ever really know and how can we possibly formulate the best response.

      …my father was asking if we can really condemn the people involved in the slave system since they were a product of their times, etc. I asked him how he could be so amoral and I discovered throughout the course of the conversation that his ability to not judge the slave holders is linked to his whiteness. I have a hard time believing that if white people were enslaved, if that was his history, he would be able to say that we can’t hold the slave holders responsible for their actions. I discovered that Whiteness is always trying to erase history because of the contradictions that Whiteness is directly linked to: contradictions between slavery and democracy, bondage and liberty, equality and exploitation.

      ***

      25 September, 1996
      her skin is: white
      her eyes are: blue
      her tongue is: frozen???

      I sit here so comfortably with an assignment to capture reaction on paper. I spin slightly in my chair and stare in to an expensive computer screen, my white hands resting lightly on the table in front of me. A few generations ago some ancestors of mine stood at the gateway to the United States and they were white enough to be welcomed. [that increasing awkwardness, that shock from the reality of history, that horror of realization when I see that white equals human being]

      I remember daddy said that there would be no racial problems if we didn’t all make such a big deal about it. Everyone should just love each other and pretend that we’re the same and we wouldn’t need affirmative action and there wouldn’t be drive-by-shootings in the central district. [maybe we should sing hum ba yah too while we’re at it] I come to grips with the reality of racial oppression and I think about these white hands. I try to move past my embarrassment and pinpoint my racist assumptions. I try to pull together the million half formed opinions in my head and create a coherent sentence, coherent ideas to confront the racism whose history is in my blood, pulsing through my veins, being sustained by my frozen tongue, by these idle hands, I want to be here and be real and listen so hard and understand where I can exist in a productive way as a white woman.

      ***

      When I think back to pre-registration, I remember all the reasons I came up with for not wanting/having to take this class. Then, I realized I didn’t have a choice. To not take the class, whether I was ready to or not, would simply add to the problems which I had been trying for so long to fight against.

      In the Fall of 1996, Arlene Avakian, faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst taught The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women. (See syllabi for Fall 1996 and 1997 in Appendix 1). Because the course was a powerful experience for both the faculty member and many of the students, the faculty member considered writing about it to urge others to teach such courses, but thought that student experiences in the course and perspectives on it were crucial to conveying the impact of the course. Student views had to be central to the discussion rather than merely included. The result is that this article is written collaboratively by some of the students in that course and the faculty member.

      After a general description of the course including the goals, organization and some of the issues it raised, we will discuss what happened in the classroom around this material and our evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of the course.

      DESCRIPTION OF THE COURSE

      The goals of the course as stated in the syllabus were:

      1. to look at the historical, economic and political forces responsible for the construction and maintenance of whiteness;

      2. to explore the mechanisms that insure that whiteness is experienced as the norm and not a race

      3. to consider the relationship between the constructions of whiteness and the constructions of gender;

      4. to help students place themselves on the multiple axes of race, gender, class and ethnicity and to help the white students gain an understanding of the role they play in maintaining the privileges they have; and

      5. to explore effective action to challenge white supremacy.

      The course was organized into three interrelated components:

      1. Above all other considerations, the course was primarily an academic enterprise. Understanding whiteness requires hard intellectual work. The course materials were chosen to accomplish that goal, and students were required to write a research paper.

      2. In addition to the three credit course, all students enrolled in the course were required to participate in a one-credit, pass/fail discussion group where they had the space to talk about the ways in which the class was affecting them both intellectually and emotionally. The groups of ten students each were facilitated by students who were not in the class, but who had some familiarity with the material. White people who are charged with talking about whiteness usually drift quite quickly away from themselves to the much easier area of racism and people of color; the work of the student facilitators was to keep the focus on whiteness rather than to raise topics for discussion and keep the discussion going. Students were responsible for bringing their issues to the group. Weekly journals were required. One copy was given to the facilitator and an anonymous one was for the faculty member.

      3. Students were required to work in groups to take some anti-racist action on or off campus. This component was included for a number of reasons. It would build in a mechanism to avoid the common problems of whites becoming immobilized by guilt or passive in the face of the enormity of white supremacy, or feeling sorry for themselves for being white and having to “carry the burden of privilege.” Confronting white supremacy would be a powerful reality check for white students about these “burdens.” These groups also would help to develop support networks among anti-racist students.

      Designed for students who had some familiarity with the historical, economic and political bases of racism, the three credit course first looked at various aspects of the development of whiteness. Using Theodore Allen’s critique of the sociogenic and phylogenic definitions of race and Barbara Fields’ argument that race is a social construction and therefore must be continually constructed, and must be explained historically rather than being used as a historical explanation, we were alerted to the tendency to essentialize race even as we insist that it has no biological basis. Keeping this analysis in mind, we then looked at the various legal definitions of races and their historical evolution.

      The next section of the course focused on Allen’s thesis that racial oppression ought to be defined by a set of relationships rather than by skin color. He argues that the Indigenous Irish were racially oppressed by the English and that Irish Catholics in the Six Counties in the North of Ireland continue to be racially oppressed. Despite his persuasive argument, many of us whites had difficulty with a conceptualization of “race” that extended beyond the boundaries of skin color, or to think of acts of racism occurring in any framework other than a Black or people of color/white dichotomy. As one student said, “it was a complete mind-fuck.” The idea was contrary to all the socializing forces that had shaped our views of race. Along with an examination of the development of whiteness in Ireland, we also considered the accumulation of capital by European states who participated in the slave trade and the effect of newly developing capitalism on gender roles.

      Focussing next on the 19th and 20th centuries we looked at science and literature. Audrey Smedley’s chapter on the rise of science explores the development of biological determinism, specifically of the idea of races as separate species. Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark provoked much discussion. Analyzing exclusively writers who are considered to be within the cannon of American literature, Morrison argues that white novelists created what she terms Africanist characters; stereotyped Black characters who bear no resemblance to African or African American people. These characters function to build the white characters and by extension conceptions of whiteness. Although ignored by literary critics, Africanist characters, then, belong at the center of literary analysis. Never named, whiteness is delineated by being the opposite of blackness, and Morrison maintains, is developed in a gendered framework.

      Focusing on Christianity as it was practiced in the Southern United States in the first half of the 20th century, we grappled with Lillian Smith’s argument in Killers of the Dream that the split between the stated tenets of Christianity and the practice of segregation created in individual whites and in white culture a kind of schizophrenia. African Americans, on the other hand, spared both this split and sexually repressive Christianity, were seen by Smith as emotionally healthier than whites. In this partially autobiographical work, Smith pays particular attention to the roles of white and Black women in this system. Our discussion of women’s participation in systems of white supremacy was deepened by the works of Claudia Koonz and Katherine Blee whose work focuses on Nazi women and women in the Ku Klux Klan respectively.

      Moving into the contemporary period we looked at the invisibility of whiteness in public policy, the development of the concept of white “innocence” and the mechanisms though which European immigrants, specifically the Irish and Jews, became white. Two sessions were devoted specifically to resistance to white supremacy; the first a talk by a white woman from the South who participated in the Civil Rights Movement and had tried to organize other whites and the second a general discussion among students about their efforts, both in the action groups and other activism, to confront white supremacy The final classes were devoted to group presentations from the action groups.

      We saw two videos, both of which proved to be enormously effective in stimulating discussion. The Color of Fear, a documentary of a discussion among a multiracial group of men about racism, including an obviously racist white man (David), was shown in the first class. The students were asked to keep in mind two issues while they watched the intense personal interactions in the video: 1. the ways in which they saw aspects of themselves in David, and 2. whether this discussion among men would have been different had it been among women. The second video was Blood in the Face, a documentary about militant white supremacists. Students were again asked to find similarities between the ideas espoused by these Christian white supremacists and their own assumptions, discussions about race among their peers, and contemporary rhetoric about race in the media and in government.

      Twenty one students were enrolled in the class. Of these all but one were white; fifteen were women and six were men; seven were Women’s Studies majors, five were STPEC majors (Social Thought and Political Economy, an interdisciplinary program that attracts progressive and activist students), two were BDIC majors (an individually designed major), four from Anthropology, one from Sociology and one was an exchange student.

      ISSUES RAISED

      The course raised as many questions as it answered. We discussed the ways that race was defined legally and socially, but it was not always clear to us what race is. Nor were we always sure who is “of color” and who is white? Are there shades of whiteness, and how are they determined? Is racial oppression always tied to skin color? When was whiteness developed? Did it predate the slave trade or was it central to the development of capitalism? What role does science play in keeping whites white? Is it white supremacy what makes America unique? What mechanisms continue to keep whiteness invisible, and how do we and other “anti-racist” whites grease those gears? What role does white “innocence” play in our lives? Does the tendency of some anti-racist whites to be super critical of efforts by other whites function to keep them politically correct and beyond criticism? What does it mean to be a race traitor? How can we become one? Can we stop being white? What are the connections between whiteness and class? Is using white as a definer of more than color and privilege valid? Is it there a white culture? How do we define white as an identity when it is definitively changed by gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality and “insider/outsider” status?

      And what about gender? What are the connections between the construction of whiteness and the construction of gender and how do we live out those constructions as women and men? Does the idea that white women are less prone to racism because they do not have power in patriarchal institution hold up under the scrutiny of how white women have actually behaved? Or is that formulation merely a way for white women to use their victimization to ignore their complicity in white supremacy and to deny the privileges they derive from their white skin? Has the oppression of women made white women, particularly feminists, resistant to a critical interrogation of their whiteness, or can white women use their own gender oppression as a way into a deeper understanding of white privilege? What is the specific experience or role for white women in white supremacy? We struggled with how to approach the specific experiences of white women and their role in relation to the white patriarchal power structure. While we concluded that white women, like white men, benefit from white supremacy and perpetuate the cycle of racism, we were not clear on how to incorporate white women into the larger theoretical frameworks.

      Did the course answer these questions? While everyone in the course might have a different answer to that question, most of us agree that merely being engaged in an ongoing discussion about whiteness with both the authors we were reading and each other helped to push us to deeper levels of understanding whiteness and the role it plays in our lives, those of us who are “white” and those of us who are “of color.”

      CLASSROOM DYNAMICS

      Because the class was discussion based, and because the topic raises such personal and volatile issues, the dynamics between class members are important to analyze. The topics discussed created many conflicts for individuals since there were differences among class members in how free or comfortable they felt voicing their opinions. Students came from different backgrounds with regards to knowledge of race and whiteness. Some students in the class had had many classes and professors who had addressed the topics, but most students were exploring the issue of whiteness for the first time.

      As a result of this variety of experience in the class, some students felt intimidated by their perception of the extensive knowledge and experience of other students. Some felt a level of competition among the students as to whose comments would show them to be the most enlightened on the topic. Both the perception of others’ greater familiarity with the topic and the competitiveness kept some students from speaking. There was a fear of being labeled racist by other members of the class.

      I felt myself silencing my own voice, or rather, censoring my own words to the point of silence…I can admit to myself now that I was overwhelmingly fearful of being labeled RACIST for any of my stories or thoughts that I might utter…I could not even admit this fear to myself…[let alone] in front of other white people. (midsemester journal entry)

      Other students commented on being overwhelmed by the awareness of their whiteness.

      So, then–why do I remain quiet in class? I sit, searching for experience to relate, new thought which I would like others to examine. I begin to formulate them–but they get confused. I become immensely aware of my whiteness. I get scared–I feel glaring eyes–I feel like I have to watch my words–my temperature rises. I am committed to deconstructing my whiteness and stop it from being a source of privilege. I’m convinced that this must be an active process. But I’ve become the quiet man.

      For others, being quiet during the discussions was not a negative experience, although it may have been perceived as such by other students. Listening to the discussions gave them the opportunity to process other’s contributions. As one student said, “It was difficult to reconcile the fact that, by nature, I am a quiet person in classes with the danger of white people’s silence around racism.” She felt that other students assumed her silence meant that she was reluctant to deal with the material or was afraid to speak, therefore felt pressure to speak in class, though it is not her usual style of being in the classroom.

      And for others, the magnitude of what they were learning was daunting. Many students felt that they needed more time to digest the material.

      Class has been frustrating thus far. There is a feeling, I sense, that many people (and this very much includes myself) are holding back. I’ve gotten this impression from other white students. I feel like I am trying to accomplish so much, that being the total unlearning of my whiteness and the privileges attached with one semester.

      In our discussions after the semester was over many students said they continued to be involved in that process of assimilating and incorporating the material.

      For other students there was sometimes a disjuncture between their personal experiences and the texts and/or the classroom discussion. Topics in the reading did not always apply to their experiences of class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and the ways they intersected with each other.

      I don’t feel safe in this supposedly “safe” space because all we talk about is white privilege in the abstract, and we never talk about all the different privilege levels within the class. Continually in the class I realized how often the middle class white experience was generalized as the experience of being white.

      I don’t think many people other than Jews think about the effects of anti- Semitism. I think about it because I grew up with it and it scares the living shit out of me. I get frustrated with Jewish men and women who compare their oppression to people of color’s oppression because it is so very different. The thing that I struggle with is …where does my being a Jew have [a place] in my feelings of identity. I am white and I receive white privilege. I do not really look like the stereotypical Jew and I can hide my Jewish identity really easily. I mean that is a given and that is why I get upset with other Jews who compare their oppression to racism. The problem is that while I receive white privilege, when people find out I am Jewish, sometimes it is another story…When people in our class talk about being white and American, I keep wanting to say, but I have not, that we are all not the same. I, as a Jew, am not treated the same way that many white Christians are. I have seen it in full force since birth.

      A few months after I came out as Queer to my family, my father, brother and sister and I were sitting around in the kitchen discussing interracial relationships…[the father made it clear to the heterosexual children that he did not want them to be involved with Black partners]. My brother and sister’s heterosexuality was being policed by my father because there is the expectation that they will form families and have children. The ramifications of interracial relationship for them involve, at their core, fear of race mixing, and ultimately, fear of a black planet. For me because I am Queer and the expectation is that I will not procreate and probably not have a family I was, in a strange way, outside of that policing. I think my father believed that whatever it is I’m going to do in regards to my sexuality it is so beyond his comprehension that he can’t regulate it racially. This has led me to consider the relationship between heterosexism and white supremacy.

      Most of the topics were dealt with on a very intellectual level, and many students did not want to or could not separate the academic idea of whiteness from the emotional connection to their lives.

      There is this weird duality to how I am dealing with the class right now. As the classes get more academic, the more emotional I find that I am getting around issues of race. I am more aware of advertising, in class racism, the way books are written, advertisements, everything has become racialized. I can’t go ANYWHERE without there being an issue of race. My friends are sick to death of hearing me talk about it and I find it hard to not be constantly pissed off wherever I go. I can’t go to the movies, can’t have a conversation with anyone, of color or white, without some kind of race debate coming up. I feel as if I have put on a pair of 3-d glasses and no one else knows what the hell I’m seeing. I’m excited for the conference and the discussion groups can be helpful in relieving some of the stress that I build up, but not much. I just feel like I have a lot going on with very emotional issues and frustrations and no place to put them. And maybe it is just important for me to hold onto that frustration for awhile.

      I think we should talk about rage. It is my perception that many of the students, myself included, are enraged about many aspects of our lives and the life that surrounds us in Amherst, in Massachusetts, in “America,” in the West…What does this anger mean? Do we, as whites committed to “uprooting racism” understand how rage is a force intrinsically bound to social control, oppression, liberation and freedom: Are we prepared to mesh rage with academic teachings, intellectualism with unadulterated anger…I believe that Rage is part of the struggle…The Rage that I fear is that which we direct at each other, in class. I feel it, in myself and around me. I fear that we walk on eggshells, and can make no progress because we must not offend, we must use the proper language, we must not slip and inadvertently identify with the oppressor.

      ***

      Since I enrolled in this class, everything in my life has become race. I can’t stop talking about it or thinking about it. My white friends (who aren’t in this class) don’t know what to do with me. I’m white. This isn’t supposed to happen to me.

      ***

      The fear many students said they felt in the classroom raised the issue of the classroom as a “safe space.” The faculty member’s position is unequivocal: I would not allow students to attack each other, but I do not feel a “safe” space is necessarily conducive to learning about such unsafe topics. I have felt pressure from both students and even sometimes other faculty to make the classroom “safe,” and considers this insistence on “safety” to often be a function of white students invoking their privilege. White people are implicated in white supremacy and an exploration of that topic is not, in fact, “safe.” I am further disturbed that faculty members who teach courses that do not deal with racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism are under no expectations to make their classroom safe, though they may be experienced to be very unsafe for women, gays and lesbians, and people of color. Who ever heard of asking a math professor to make his/her classroom safe?

      Many students asked who the space would be safe for? They felt that white people are often in spaces where they feel safe, and that in order to deconstruct whiteness we have to look at the ways that safe space is created and maintained by privilege. Who is validated? Whose voice was heard? How did issues of race, class, gender, sexuality or religion privilege particular students at particular times?

      I felt relatively comfortable in class discussion. As a white male, although in a predominantly white female discussion, it was typical that I dominate, control, and want a structured discussion which facilitated a “safe space” that made me feel comfortable.

      On the other hand, for some students, the lack of safety pushed them to challenge their whiteness and the expectations of safety that accompanied it. When we examine whiteness, when we conceptualize it as a constructed race, we deconstruct it and one consequence of that process is that the very safety of being white, and the feelings associated with that position of dominance are challenged. Some students felt that the challenge to those expectations of safety were crucial to their whiteness being revealed to them. A challenge to safety is a challenge to whiteness.

      I did not always feel safe in class. Sometimes when I spoke I was shaking and scared shitless, but I said what I had to say anyway. I pushed myself to say it because I had to. I had no choice.

      I thought that last week’s discussion was the most beneficial out of all of them for me. I felt really put on the spot, and actually that is how I learn best. I really know that `woman’ had been a very blanketing statement for me and has served to perpetuate racism in my own language and I use the word `women’ often when I should be stating `white women.’ It is hard to unlearn when that is used in most of my training as a women’s studies major.

      Despite the feelings of intimidation and fear of censure, the classroom discussions were a central part of the learning experience. The highly charged atmosphere did engage most students in the issues under discussion even if they did not speak in class. Students brought the issues into other classes and into discussions with peers.

      POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE COURSE

      For most students the class was exploring new territory. As one student put it, “the class was a fire under my ass.” Before this class, for some students, a discussion of race was a “hit and run” topic, one that was easy to avoid–to have a discussion, play innocent, and run. Having a class with a focus on whiteness forced some students to think about race in ways they never had previously. It provided a language for race outside of the realms of “the other” focussing on whiteness, theorizing its elusiveness. For some, the class put words to an uneasiness about discussions of racism’s effect on people of color that they had experienced but never been able to articulate.

      Being involved in discussions of whiteness along with doing anti-racist work is often very isolating for whites, particularly from other whites. Activist students who were drawn to the class in the hopes of finding people like themselves were able to create networks of support both for their feelings and their organizing work.

      Over the past few years I have become more and more interested in doing anti-racist work, but rarely had somewhere to do it or someone to do it with. The isolation I experienced [at the private women’s college she attended before she came to the University] was seriously demobilizing personally, and I was hoping to connect with a community where I could develop my thoughts about my roles as a white person in exploring race and in fighting racism, and then where I could act upon it with other people…The class provided aspects of all of these processes. I explored material I never would have come across otherwise…in a place where the stated goal was critically examining whiteness in order to challenge racism. I also became connected to a community that was incredibly important to me…I had new things to think about, new projects to work on, and people to fight with. The emotional, intellectual and political effects of the class will be with me for awhile.

      The class provided an opportunity for some that most other classes did not: a link between the classroom and “real life.” Because the subject matter affected everyone in the class in significant ways, both materially and psychologically, students’ world views were transformed. Seeing white privilege as an everyday experience provided a bridge to new realizations about race. Students had to deal not only with what was in themselves, but with how they conceptualized the world. Previous held ideas about racism being exclusively about people of color were replaced by the realization that we are all implicated in white supremacy and that white privilege is built on the foundations of what has been and continues to be taken from people of color. As this understanding deepened, class members shared assumptions and began to develop a language to unmask whiteness. For those students who had been studying issues of race and whiteness for years, the class provided a space to be around people who shared their views, rather than being considered to be an extremist, at best, or insane, at worst. It was a relief to be understood and to be able to have explore the issues in depth rather than establishing the validity of focussing on whiteness.

      Basically, I think I needed to take this course because of the welling up of emotions, of betrayals by the system, of being lied to for so long and for accepting it, that it needed an outlet or at least a conduit of language of ways of talking about it. The class offered a connection, it said I wasn’t alone. Of course all of this was completely beneath the surface of my consciousness at the time.

      Many students felt a sharp dichotomy between the understandings they shared with other students and the faculty member and what they experienced when they tried to discuss these issues with those who were not in the class.

      Lately, I have also felt very frustrated with white men and women who do not understand their place as oppressors. I am mostly frustrated at myself because I am so tired of trying to explain to white people, but at the same time, I think that it is of the utmost privilege to walk away from “those” white people instead of facing the challenge and educating them as much as they are willing to receive it. I think in a way, this class has made me have an unrealistic perspective on other white people’s place in not only understanding their racism, but their whiteness. It has become a challenge for me to try to reconcile that I can’t talk about whiteness in the same language as we do in this class. And it is very frustrating to get so far in talking about whiteness for these short periods of time, and then to have to adjust my language for the rest of the time.

      For many students, bringing the class material to others in families and communities proved to be difficult, painful and complex. Others found it enormously rewarding.

      I think I am ready for public activism now because I’m confident in myself and my identity now to bear criticism for taking an active stance against racism and the myth of whiteness. Before I did not feel supported enough or firm enough in my convictions since I did not have a group of other people I felt in sync with. One of the most intimidating aspects of this sort of resistance is how it changes me and my relationships with people close to me. Will my friends, family, teachers, boss, girlfriend etc, still support me? Will they understand my commitment and conviction if they think I am attacking them. I think if I express to those who I’m close to and don’t want to push away, that I love them and implicate myself within the process of reproducing racism in the past, then it might bridge the gap of defensiveness.

      ***

      As this class winds down, I feel as if a revelation has taken place and now I’m learning how to implement it in my life. I have all of these altered perceptions (which are changing by the minute) and now I am busy trying to find the language to talk about them…Everything that I have learned has told me not to talk about race — either someone had no answer for me or it wasn’t “polite” to talk about it. Now, it seems, to talk about race, more or less, racism is not only taboo, but a quick way to get a silent, angry room…The hardest part is bringing this into my life in a way where people hear me– mainly my family and close friends. I have many people in my life who don’t want to hear about race. They are perfectly satisfied with the fact that they lie in a white utopia where they don’t have to think about race.

      Perhaps because of the feeling that the class provided the only place to have the discussion we were having, some students did not want the class to disband at the end of the semester. In the last class a few students said, “We can’t stop meeting.” Despite the faculty member’s reminder that this was a class and that the semester was over, they continued to insist that the class continue, until the faculty member agreed to meet with the class once a week the next semester. Thirteen of the twenty one students enrolled in a one credit pass/fail discussion group.

      PROBLEMS WITH THE COURSE

      In addition to the many positive aspects and outcomes of this course, there were problems. A focus on whiteness raises enormous questions. The very term “whiteness” itself is problematic. Gender, sexual orientation, class and religion or ethnicity all affect the way privilege is both constructed and experienced. Whiteness can not be isolated since it is connected to every other part of our being and is affected by every situation we encounter. The work of trying to theorize whiteness in the context of other social formations is made more difficult because very little analysis exists which actually integrates race with class, gender and sexual orientation. Throughout the class we struggled with the issue of focussing on whiteness while simultaneously acknowledging that it is not a universal experience. Essentializing whiteness is not anymore justifiable than essentializing anything else.

      Yet, keeping the focus on whiteness is important. The integration of other issues has the potential to take the focus off of whiteness, something that whites do all too easily. Thinking and talking about whiteness is difficult, precisely because it has not been theorized and remains unmarked.

      And it feels natural to fall back into the safer discussion of racism, turning the focus onto people of color so that whites can escape the spotlight of our own implication in white supremacy. Or when whites do focus on white supremacy, we continue to find ways to displace ourselves from it by identifying only the most blatant racists as white supremacists. The face of white supremacy usually appears as the Ku Klux Klan or other militant white supremacists groups freeing us, at least in our own white consciousness, of our responsibility and accountability.

      Coinciding with the academic material, the tremendous emotional impact of the course was often not contained within the class.

      I am tired and disappointed when I talk about my experiences as a white woman in the class and/or discussion and I don’t see one face that shows me recognition in what I am saying except Arlene. I feel like I am a freak again among white people and these are white people who are supposed to know more about white privilege…I am tired of going around in circles because no one wants to deal with the pain, fear, anger, frustration of what it means to be a white person, a white women, a white man.

      Whiteness does not remain an abstract discussion. For white students, most of the questions we discussed raised issues of our own white identities and how they might be linked to other aspects of our socially constructed selves. Whiteness is a way of being and living that is integral to our constructed identities.

      When we were talking in class and in discussion about the positive aspects of whiteness, I was racking my brain to think of any and I couldn’t. Then someone said that it’s positive that it is socially constructed because if it hasn’t always existed then it doesn’t always have to exist. I find that comment particularly poignant. All the things I think of about being white are negative. It’s not that I think white people cannot achieve anything positive, but until we do contribute to anti-racism on a broad scale, I don’t think we should be looking for reasons to toot our own horn…to look for goodness in whiteness in general seems premature. As a “race,” we don’t deserve praise.

      I have had a lot to absorb, and that is good, but I am really looking to make some progress. I am feeling really stagnant; like I’m locked in a room with the most uncomfortable feelings. I don’t want to be in the room anymore. I don’t know how to deal with my whiteness without hating myself and I can’t bear to hate myself anymore. I feel worse everyday about my relation to race.

      I’ve never had bad things happen to me because of my race, only my gender and even that is easy to forget. Until I fall though the cracks again and something happens. It’s the epitome of white privilege and safety–the lure of safety and if it isn’t happening to me, it’s not happening to anyone…I feel like I have no option in this place [a White place like Amherst] except to hate myself, as well as try to change things. It seems so futile when we can’t even reach out to the other we/I am trying to work with.

      What is the process white people must go through to “come to terms” with their whiteness and their complicity in white supremacy? Must it include a way to become comfortable in their whiteness before they can enter into serious anti- racist work or must we face the pain of our white identity? As one student asked, “does dismantling whiteness mean dismantling myself, and is that a bad thing?” Can one stop being white? Despite anti-racist work, and our racial or ethnic background, whites do not lose our whiteness and we can never forget that we are perceived as white. A difficulty for some students was the distinct discrepancy between how one perceives him/herself and how one is perceived by others in terms of racial identity. Regardless of the anti- racist work we undertake, and despite our individual racial and/or ethnic make up, if we are perceived as white by others, we can not lose our whiteness. And we questioned how much of this work can be addressed in the classroom?

      We were also aware of the danger of a group of mostly white people discussing white privilege and being self-congratulatory as a result. It is not enough to discuss whiteness and be happy with that. We found it difficult to find the balance between honoring the work we are doing on whiteness while realizing that we are not saints, nor giving up any of our privilege, because we are engaged in this work. Some students felt that the study of whiteness was rite with contradictions. It is important for white people to focus on whiteness to advance anti-racist consciousness and activism, but that very focus is fraught with the danger of making ourselves the center of the universe as we have been socialized to do.

      DISCUSSION GROUPS

      All students were required to enroll in a one-credit discussion group which consisted of approximately ten students and a facilitator who met once a week for an hour. Depending on the general mood of the group the hour would sometimes feel like a few seconds or a few days. The discussion section was important because it provided a set time, place and group for peers to meet outside of class to discuss whiteness and the course material on a more personal level than was possible in the context of the class.

      Students brought the topics to the discussion. Someone might ask if they could talk about what they wrote in their weekly journal entry, or someone raised an issue that had occurred that week such as a response someone received from a family member or friend to learning that a son, daughter or friend was taking a course called the Social Construction of Whiteness and Women. Discussions might also center on the class material, sometimes developing the ideas further than they had been in class or discussing the “obstacle” that had hindered the discussion.

      Often there was no discussion. The room was silent, particularly in the beginning of the semester when we were learning where each of us were coming from.

      When the group first began, I noticed that I was often very uncomfortable. I felt myself silencing my own voice, or rather, censoring my words to the point of silence, because I never quite felt at ease enough to speak a lot of what was on my mind. I can admit to myself not that I was overwhelming fearful of being labeled a RACIST for any stories or thought that I might utter.

      ***

      I think that maybe we need to have an idea of what we all want this space to be. Right now I don’t feel like it is a place for me to talk, share or be honest. It seems more like a shame/anger circle to me. And I feel it within me to, rather than supporting the people in the group and learning from them, I often find myself getting frustrated with others.

      ***

      I came into the discussion craving at least one other person who would listen to me with open ears and perhaps corroborate my experiences. Outside from other people I knew who had personally studied whiteness, I felt like I was on my own–even mentioning the word whiteness made me feel uncomfortable.

      Despite these feelings of discomfort the discussion sections did provide the opportunity to integrate the emotional and the intellectual. Discussing whiteness among peers forced us into reflexive exploration and to be more accountable to our social identities. By the end of the semester, some students did have their experiences as whites corroborated by others. I feel like I’ve learned so much from my group, and so much about myself through the support of my group. It has, at times, challenged me directly about my own assumptions and community. It has also supported me when I could not have expressed myself otherwise, somewhere else. And, it has complemented class discussion and issues, sufficiently. I feel that some of us will constitute a group similar to this once the class has ended. The structure and support it provides is necessary for me to have the insight, community and strength to work for social justice against racism, both externally and internally…

      ACTION GROUPS

      The third component of our class was an action group addressing racism, whiteness and white privilege either on campus or in the surrounding communities. Students chose the areas they wanted to address and divided into three groups. One group worked on educating the campus community through a postering campaign, another did invisible theater on campus, on a bus and at the large mall in the next town, and the last group addressed admission policies, retention rates and financial aid for students of color at the University.

      Students considered the action groups to be useful learning experience. Students learned organizing skills, as well as more about themselves as whites as they plastered the campus with anti-racist posters, did invisible theater taking roles as racists or anti-racists in public places to address issues of race and gathered information on admissions and made a coalition with an ALANA group (acronym for students of color) working on the same issues.

      The groups were not, however, without conflict around both strategies to accomplish their goals and the division of labor within the group. The admissions group in particular was overwhelmed with the amount of work it would take to even gather the information they needed to lay the groundwork for action. Most students felt that being involved in the action group was well worth the cost since it allowed them to put all their studying into action, making the theoretical very real.

      The takeover of the Goodell building in March of 1997 by a multi-racial group of approximately 250 students the semester after the course was over is included here because a majority of the students in the class were part of the takeover and most of the rest were involved in support work. The takeover focussed on admissions, retention and financial aid for students of color, child care, scholarships for first generation college students, and other policies at the University that adversely affect working class and poor students. Some students felt they would not have been involved in the takeover if they had not been in the class. Both a deeper understanding of the issues and personal connections to ALANA students through work on the admissions action project enabled some students to become deeply involved in the takeover. Students also felt that what they had learned in the class helped them to work more effectively as part of an action who leadership was comprised primarily of ALANA students. Other students expressed frustration that their tendency to be self-conscious about race and to over intellectualize their interactions with people of color were exacerbated by a semester focussed on whiteness.

      CONCLUSION

      I am confused about this whole class–for me one of the main outcomes..has been forming bonds with other white kids and feeling really comfortable with everyone. I suppose that it is good to have support from other people doing the same inner work, but how comfortable should we be? …I’m just concerned with all my white activities–focussing on whiteness; this whiteness class, my discussion group for this class, the theater group-activist project, my white women’s support groups on whiteness. It’s good and all, but so much of my time is spent with all white people! Is this the right way to go about it? Not to mention all the other white parts of my life…It’s all up to me to change this–I’m just feeling awkward with my life–my comfortable life as a white person.

      ***

      It boggles my mind to think about all the things I, as a White woman, can do due to my white privilege. I will probably die still not knowing the million other things my white privilege gives me…I guess my job for the rest of my life is to keep finding ways my White privilege benefits me and to try to resist as much as possible. I know I will always have White privilege, but I am going to try damn hard to fight it every step of the way no matter what!!!!!

      ***

      The challenge for me will not only be the confrontation of my whiteness, but to deal and name the feelings of a reality becoming fluid. No motion in any one direction, not a straight ahead streaming to understanding. This fluidness is the marking of the transition from solid sense of identity and location to a melting sense of identity. As a white (light skinned, privileged, male) my skin is representative of more than I was ready to accept.

      ***

      Maybe I need to read more, maybe I need a little more courage or maybe I should just spit it out…I get defensive, condescending; sometimes, I think that I only needed the first month of this class; just enough to raise my consciousness so that I would be more aware of what it means to be white in the United States and the privileges attached. Ultimately, I suggest to myself, the path I take in becoming an effective anti-racist will be one I define for myself. But after many of my classmates recounted their experiences at the conference, I realize that so much more is possible here and that I am completely missing the justification for a collective struggle against our own white privilege. In a sense this is just another course, one where I can calmly leave in December to slowly make my own conclusions. Part of me, however, wants it to be so much more; I want every meeting to leave me totally engaged and exhausted and even a little upset. I want to feel part of a process; part of a struggle. Yet, at the same time, I want to get on my bike and disappear for a year to “think things through.” It is easy to rely on time to solve my problems; that I think, is part of my privilege. In this situation, therefore, I need to take another approach; one which I have not had a model or precedent for…I’m scared that I will leave this class hating everyone in it and hating myself.

      ***

      This is some `tuff shit to work through, and the trouble is that we are going to still be white when all this is done. It was easier to discuss racism in high school because that was something that I did not locate myself in. I could walk away at the end and not have to feel the effects of the racism that I was conceiving of. Now, I know that when I leave this class I am followed by the historical significance of my skin and how it hangs onto my male social identity.

      ***

      I find that this is one of the hardest traps not to fall into — the superiority of white racial exceptionalism. I felt complimented by his statement [a Black leader in her high school told her that he did not think of her as white] most of the time I don’t want to be associated with dominant white racial views. Regardless of how much I dissociate myself from these views though, I benefit from the privilege they accord. No matter how many friends of color don’t think of me as white, no matter how much I want to disassociate myself from whiteness, when I walk down the street, or apply for a job, or encounter the police, it is as a white person. I find it really difficult to keep these compliments from letting me off the racial hook. This is especially dangerous and disturbing when I find it becoming an unconscious goal in the anti-racist work that I do.

      ***

      The thought of losing this class is a scary and sad prospect…something will be missing in my life without this class next semester. And I don’t even want to think of January break when I lose my friends who are keenly aware of their white privilege for a whole month. I know I will still have people to talk to next semester about these issues, it won’t be the same. While this was a class and a difficult class at that, on many level, I also found it a comfort to have a designated place where I could go twice a week and discuss these issues with people who understood where I was coming from. Is this an issue of white privilege: Do I have this space because of my white privilege?

      The course ended, grades were given, but some of us went on into the next semester processing what we had experienced in the class and finally, putting some of our thoughts into this article. The faculty member is teaching the class with some changes based on her discussions with the students. She plans to make the course a regular offering in her department. Most of the students and the faculty member felt that the course was both difficult and rewarding, raising many issues that could not be answered, but beginning and/or continuing the work of looking at whiteness in institutions and in ourselves.

      Marlene Applebaum, Student
      Arlene Avakian, Faculty
      Christina Cincotti, Student
      Kelly Facto, Student
      Brenda Fitzpatrick, Student
      Sarah Gold, Student
      David Hanbury, Student
      Keisha Kenny, Student
      Kathryn McGarvey, Student
      Nicole Lisa, Student
      Nicole Morse, Student
      Judith Schneider, Student
      Andrew Susen, Student
      Katie Thoennes, Student

      All of the quotations are from student journals, evaluations or other pieces written and given to the faculty member.

      Many of the students had had courses that addressed whiteness with Dr. Helan Page of the Anthropology Department. Their sophistication on issues of whiteness added greatly to the course.

      http://www.umass.edu/wost/articles/whiteness.htm

    4. Megasaurus Says:

      Do German Shepherds dream of electric Chihuahuas?

    5. Iranian for Aryans Says:

      Tim Wise is actually a Jew, I believe.

    6. A. Says:

      I find this more vomit inducing than the graphic against jewish interracial porn. At the least the whites in that knew they were getting fucked over and could console themselves with a pay-check afterwards. Here these young and precious minds are getting fucked over good and proper and paying for the privilage of being screwed.

    7. A. Says:

      Tim Wise is a filthy jew.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Wise

    8. Nortonryder Says:

      Now, Megasarus, no more obscure Philip K Dick References.

    9. Harry Tuttle Says:

      I can’t believe how sick the people are who wrote those letters. Any other subject, you’d have a clear case of disassociative schizophrenia. Truly messed up for life, this bunch.

    10. Harry Tuttle Says:

      Alex was spot on about the jews always fussing about “identity.” As biological schizophrenics they will forever search for it and never find it.

      What is scary is how many of these white kids apparently were infected with the exact same kinds of mental illness, constantly talking about “identity” in the third person as though it were an ore mined on a far-off planet. Without the genetic basis, they nevertheless were transmitted the yoo’s inherent insanity.

    11. Mark Says:

      I can’t believe how people swallow all this “whiteness” non-sense. It’s like they want to be led, they want to be told what to think and how to perceive the world. They are lemmings who find their meaning in life by allowing others to dominate them and hate themselves. What kind of existence is that?

      As I was growing up, I didn’t always have the opinions I have today. I was somewhat liberal, but I always had racial instincts, the spirit of defiance, and detested hypocrisy. As I became older and exposed to more information, I came to know more about race, history, and my own sense of racialism. I discovered that what I was missing was merely the exposure to so much information that was never talked about in school and the media. That’s what I think a lot of these whites are missing, their information is controlled, and all they are internalizing is anti-white propaganda. That’s why websites like VNN are so important, it gives people information and a different point of view. That’s why Jews and their collaborators work so hard to control the information the public recieves and the education our children get.

      I exchanged some emails with Tim Wise before. He claimed he is 1/4 Jewish or something like that. I asked him if he’s so anti-white and whites have so much privilege, why did he marry a white woman. That he should have married the blackest African woman he could find. *laugh*

      So I wonder if he teaches his wife how she’s a product of white privilege, and if he’s going to badger his children day after day about how they’re white and privileged?

      I can only think people like him are partially insane. Do they really think a mongrelized, non-white future for this country is going to be a better one?

    12. Lokuum Says:

      Here’s Tim Wise in an interesting exchange.

      http://www.jewishtribalreview.org/wise.htm

    13. alex Says:

      The only part of whiteness that needs to be abolished is the gullibility. Yards of maundering, hand-wringing, soul-searching, not a single thought spared for who the fuck are these clowns telling me to hate myself and my people?

    14. Carpenter Says:

      To this day, racial discrimination remains pervasive in America. The old-boy networks at major corporations ensure the continuation of white male dominance. Banks regularly discriminate against minorities in business and housing loans. Homeowners and apartment owners refuse to sell or rent across color lines, partly because of the threats and violence that still occur when they do.

      Funny that they can keep up the pretense, these “anti-capitalist” freaks. Large corporations are as anti-racist as can be, right up there with schools, academia and media. Speak about race and you get fired. They know they are under constant surveillance by the media, which get information from traitors within the corporations, and they know there are non-Whites in every department eager to sue for Incorrect language, which would also alert the media. The corporations are scared stiff. “That’s one problem we don’t need,” they reason.

      Also, how do you get those important government contracts in an age of the ever-expanding state? And how do you make the government listen to you when it is time to discuss trade and tariffs, taxes and regulations? You have to agree to the government’s number-one priority, anti-Whiteness.

      Homeowners and apartment owners refuse to sell or rent across color lines, partly because of the threats and violence that still occur when they do.

      Yeah, the evil Klan is right around the corner, ready to keep the “social constructs” intact.

    15. skeptic Says:

      This is the “college” that the filthy race-traitor Michael Shermer (aka – Kichael Shammer) “teaches” at – or at least he used to.

    16. alex Says:

      To this day, racial discrimination remains pervasive in America. The old-boy networks at major corporations ensure the continuation of white male dominance. Banks regularly discriminate against minorities in business and housing loans. Homeowners and apartment owners refuse to sell or rent across color lines, partly because of the threats and violence that still occur when they do.

      Yes, this is a particularly rich bit. Fact is, banks not only make loans to illegals, they advertise for them! The Ad Council and Dept. of Justice run ads against housing discrimination around the clock. Big corporations force whites to do double duty to pick up slack for homos and coloreds who sue at the drop of a hat, knowing the court system has been jewed in their favor.