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Friday, June 20, 2003
Harm posts a WaPo story about "white studies" courses at UMASS-Amherst.

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

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

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

Fucking white people. See, I would be cheering. "Woohoo! Doin' great out here! Think I'll get me a good job and some great health care and then run the government!"

White studies is an annoying academic discipline--or, more accurately maybe, an embarrassing one. So is American Studies, for that matter, which I was thinking of doing as an independent (second) major in college until I did some research and discovered that they didn't seem to like America...well, at all. Which, honestly, strikes me as weird. If you read the blog, you know I'm not exactly your typical wave-the-flag-and-read-the-Bible patriot, but I am a patriot, and I do quite honestly love America--I wouldn't be this interested in politics and government if I didn't. So no American Studies for me. Apparently it used to be a pretty productive fusion of literary and cultural studies (putting books in their political context in a fairly moderate way, etc.) but now...well, I hesitate to use the phrase "taken over by the whackos," but it does spring to mind. (There was a great article online about this, but I have regrettably misplaced it, and Google ain't helping.)

As for white studies itself, it's problematic. I do actually believe that it would be nice if white people were more aware of the privilege they have as a group and the way this colors social and political interactions, but I want that to happen so maybe we can use what power we have to work towards greater equality and other various bleeding-heart goals. This shit just seems designed to get white people to give up their power, which is a nice idea, I suppose, except that it's a self-selecting program, and since, quite frankly, most people with power will be hesitant to give it up, it ain't gonna work too well.

This is to say nothing about the problems caused by making people feel guilty for being born a certain way--paternalism, misplaced pity, oversensitivity...well, let's just go the videotape:

Chen said Avakian's course made her more aware of how the sense of belonging corresponds to skin color. "I would never not choose to be someone's friend because they are white, but I think it's important to have friends of color," she said...

Clason-Hook said that the class was the only one he knew of that explicitly spoke of whiteness, and that it helped him realize that "other classes, like economics, politics and history, are about whiteness. They are written by and are about white people." ["White. White white white! White." -ed]

He said later that confronting whiteness, day to day, is challenging. "I am racist. It's not on the surface, but it's in me. Day to day I hear racist comments, and people don't even know what they're saying."...

Cairns, who had sailed through the privilege walk, said whiteness studies helped her understand race a little better. "My social group has always been white," she said. "I've noticed that, and I've started to look beyond my group."

Yoinks. Not to, uh, speak for someone else, but if I was black and a white kid wanted to be my friend right after taking a white studies class, I'd either punch him in the face or play a great prank on him, like making him eat a bunch of watermelons and fried chicken to prove he understood blackness.

Sorry, that was very racist of me.

Good lord, am I agreeing with David Horowitz?