Arizona State Univeristy: More Troubles in White Students Learning About Whiteness

Yet again we have an example of the disaster that can develop when colleges attempt to teach white people about being white. Back in 2013 a professor at a Minnesota community college faced sanctions for her “actions in [targeting] select students based on their race and gender,” that occurred when she taught a class about structural racism.

Now, according to this piece over at Talking Points Memo:

Officials at Arizona State University probably weren’t expecting the full Stormfront treatment when its English department advertised a spring semester class exploring the “problem of whiteness.”

But that’s exactly what the university got. The floodgates opened in late January after an ASU journalism student complained on Fox News that the class singled out white people as “the root cause of social injustices for this country.” Neo-Nazi types and white supremacists then reportedly threatened the white professor who was teaching the course, Lee Bebout. They publicly shared his personal contact information and flooded message boards with menacing rants against him.

It’s not really clear what the objective problem with this English course, the full of title which is “Studies in Amer Lit/Culture: U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness,” is supposed to be. It is, however, always hard to talk to white people, especially “neo-Nazi types and white supremacists” how race works.

The course, the full syllabus of which is irritatingly not available online, apparently covers “major critical schools of recent decades-postcolonialist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, feminist, new historicist.” Texts include The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Critical Race Theory, Everyday Language of White Racism, Playing in the Dark, and The Alchemy of Race and Rights.

A portion of the course syllabus appears to be accessible here, however. The (unverified) description explains the class like this:

Course Description: A disclaimer, a warning, an invitation. This class is a challenge both intellectually and (sometimes) emotionally. …The texts that we read ask us to consider thorny questions circulating around how power—in the forms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality—functions to open and foreclose meaning in the world in which we live.

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Undoubtedly, the US Civil Rights movements saw many significant gains. However, in the 1980s scholars questioned why racial inequality persisted even after formal, explicit discriminatory practices were ended. The result of this query is the field of CRT, which originated at the intersection of legal studies, literary analysis, and critical theory. Today, CRT is a vibrant current of thought in the humanities and social sciences as these fields work to identify and undo inequality. What is “the problem of whiteness?” The answer to this may be legion. A field connected to CRT, Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) is concerned with dismantling white supremacy in part by understanding how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced. This course is setup to introduce participants to concepts and intellectual threads from both fields. This is not the average literature class. This is a theory class where we will hone our skills in applying concepts from CRT and CWS to literary and cultural texts….

So it’s basically standard books about race in America. And that issue, how “in the 1980s scholars questioned why racial inequality persisted even after formal, explicit discriminatory practices were ended” might be a very interesting for conservative white people, right?

No one criticizing the course appears to be enrolled, but as one ASU student complained:

“I think it shows the significant double standard of higher education institutions,” [said] James Malone, a junior economics major…”They would never allow a class talking about the problem of ‘blackness.’ And if they did, there would be an uproar about it. But you can certainly harass people for their apparent whiteness.”

Actually the “problem of blackness” is a fairly common discussion point in racial studies.

No students taking the course have criticized the professor about “harassment” so far.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer