Posts in: ES200
We wrapped up our class this Friday which was very confusing because usually blocks end on Wednesdays. The end of the block was thankfully pretty relaxed compared to how some blocks end, our final assignment was to come up with a constitution for the whiteness studies club on campus and on Friday we discussed as a class what our purposes, objectives and other ideas were for our club. Not everything is set in stone but the club’s name is going to be Critical Whiteness At Colorado College (CWACC, so we can be known as the CWACC-ers (crackers!)). I find this name very clever and keep an eye out on campus for us next semester!
This class has been so important for our school and I really do hope it continues to be taught because I know all the people in our class have benefitted from it and many others will too. And I hope for anyone who has been reading these blogs of mine you too have been inspired to learn more about whiteness and privilege. If you are interested in some readings I have included the books we have read throughout this course at the bottom of the blog.
So to sign off I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts. White is a race and there are consequences of being white but with whiteness comes privilege and although that should not cause guilt and make one hate his or her whiteness it is something they should be aware of. Tim Wise says that in order for there to be an underprivileged there must be an overprivileged but this word is not in the dictionary. So turn this guilt or feeling of privilege into something productive, recognize your whiteness or the whiteness around you and raise awareness that this does exist and that it is important for us to all see. When we are silent and never confront racism we are saying either that it does not exist (which is not true) or that we do not care (which I hope that is not true). So speak up when you need to, pick your battles but do not go on being silent. Thanks for reading!
If you’re interested here are the texts we read in this class:
Whiteness an Introduction by Steve Garner
Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
Between Barack and a Hard Place by Tim Wise
On both Friday last week and Monday of this week the Critical Whiteness Studies class had two guests help lead a discussion. On Friday Krystal Grint a Training Specialist for the El Paso County Department of Human Services came to discuss how to talk about racial issues with people who are resistant. This was helpful for us for many reasons. Throughout this class we have created a safe space for everyone to talk about their experience. With the exception of Heidi, myself and one other Asian American girl our class of fourteen we are all “white” which means many white kids are talking about being white. This conversation is one that we have decided is super important because many white Americans don’t think about the fact they are white or what exactly that means and entails. That is what we are trying to tear down in this class, the wall that separates many whites from their racial identity. Because of this we are, as a class, trying to start a white club on campus. The title of this club is still to be determined but will most likely not be called white club. This will create a space for the white students on campus to get together and talk about their racial identity, I know that this is something that many people will laugh at or call the KKK but obviously this is something we are taking seriously and are prepared for (this is clearly not a group prepetuating white supremacy either). This will be a space for anyone to talk about white heritage, whether they know their own heritage or not this will be the place to ask questions and deconstruct whiteness as a whole. More details are to come on this topic but Grint was there to help us learn how to deal with opposition in a useful way. With this club we want start a discussion and educate others, not to impose our believes on anyone or take anyone down, we honestly believe it is important for everyone to have a safe space to talk about what role race plays in their lives and that yes, white is a race as well.
Grint had us come up with strategies, tools and efforts to having a respectful conversation with anyone on any topic that we may not see eye to eye with. Some of the most important ones for me were:
Not acting purely on emotions
Asking them questions to understand their views
Really listening to the answers they give you
Suspending your own judgment
Communicating accurately what you are trying to say
With these ideas in mind we were able to have a pretty passionate discussion between the differences of showing respect and having respect to get your point across. If one of the students from this class were trying to have a conversation with a KKK member we would know not to shout in their face wildly about how stupid we think they are and try to voice our opinions on them because nothing would be accomplished, trying to fight fire with fire. However we don’t actually have to respect their beliefs and values we just have to be able to hear them out (no matter how much that may hurt) and then calmly tell our side to the story. Maybe in the end we would get nowhere with them still but we also might make them question their beliefs and with the facts that we can give allow them to then do what they will with that. And that is what our club will be trying to accomplish as well. Not everyone is going to appreciate this club and there may even be some opposition but we know what the point is and we all stand behind it so as long as we can skillfully and respectfully have these conversations with our opposition we will be our minds successful.
Grint also had us do an interesting exercise where we all have bowls that represented our circle of people. There were other bowls in front of us with all different color beads, white, black, yellow, red, brown, and then she asked us questions about people in our lives and based on the question we picked the color bead that represents that person. The first question was the color of the last person we dated other examples were the author of the last book we read, our best friend, our hairdresser, our neighbor to the left of us, etc. At the end we all looked at our bowls and were able to see on a very small-scale the group of people who we surround ourselves by, most likely unconsciously. It was a fun activity and one I suggest you look into (attached is the picture of my bowl and some other strategies we came up with).
On Monday Dr.Stephany Spaulding the Assistant Professor of Women’s and Ethnic Studies and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs came in to continue this conversation about our white club. She has a focus in white masculinity and was able to help us with further understanding our reasons behind the club. Throughout class we have talked about white privilege and how many people are affected by it but what we talked about that has rarely come up in my studies before is about how white privilege negatively affects whites. How could this be you ask? Well it is complicated but think about this, white trash, hill-billy’s, etc. These are all terms we call people who we do not see fit in our dominate white society, we teach our boys to grow up strong and smart and to go to the right schools, study the right things and then take over the family business. What about those people who don’t want to or can’t do those things? What then? The current perceptions of what it means to be white hurts everyone and hopefully this club will help us talk about what else whiteness means in a constructive way.
That is enough for now but there is more to come on our formation of this club and I really hope that you’ll at least check it out. Thanks again to Krystal Grint and Dr.Stephany Spaulding for taking the time to talk with us!
As I write this blog I am currently watching a CNBC special on the drug war in Mexico, surprisingly something I already watched in my block 8 class on the War on Drugs. I tell you this not only because I highly suggest that anyone who can, should take Santiago Guerra’s Drug War block but because these are the types of documentaries that I have found many CC students to find interesting and watch in their spare time. I think this is a testament to why Colorado College is able to offer courses like Whiteness Studies knowing that students will sign up.
So far this week have torn down our elementary school educations, taking down famous iconic US figures as we go. But this is not to say that we hate being Americans this just means we are finding out the full truths behind Lincoln’s thoughts on emancipation and things like redlining. Did you know Lincoln was a separatist? He did believe that African Americans should be freed but he also believed that there was a ‘wall of difference’ between whites and blacks and that they would never be able to peacefully co-exist in the United States. He was a man of his time and I believe that even with all of our race issues now he would be very happy to see the progress that has been made. In class we have been discussing the roots of our thoughts, if we believe that racism just came out of nowhere it seems like something that would be impossible for us to ever overcome. But if we can trace it back to its roots maybe we can find ways for it to be undone. One of my classmates said that this feeling is a good one because it not only gives hope but that it also shows how far we have come.
We have a black president. Does this mean that racism is over? Of course not but does this mean that race issues in the US have changed for the better? Well I guess that is based on your beliefs but for anyone who believes that one day we can all live peacefully together without hate, racial discrimination and or ill feelings towards anyone of a different race or ethnicity (and I am not even tackling gender, sexual orientation, etc.) then yes I do think that things are getting better. Education, for me, is what makes tolerance possible and with more people of all races, which includes the white race, thinking about these issues and tearing apart our past to find the origins of this madness we can really get somewhere. This may seem preachy for you but these conversations and what we are learning in class is what gets my blood pumping. I am a race and ethnic studies minor because I believe that this is important and that you can say racism is over all you want but all you have to do is read the right text or talk to a person of color to realize that this is not true but things are better and they can continue to get better if we are all willing to educate ourselves.
Last week we finished off “Whiteness: an Introduction” with the idea of ‘passing’. What does it mean for a person or group of people ’pass’ in a white society? This question made me ask more questions, how does one pass in the United States and country that prides itself on being the Land of the Free and a space where anyone, of any culture, and any religion can succeed? There was no answer but this can kind of go along with my last blog about our values and norms. That is of course a quick synopsis but something to question yourself with nonetheless.
The rest of last week and this week we are focusing on the “Critical White Studies” Anthology edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. ANTHOLOGY! I always dreaded the term in high school because it usually meant something long and boring, which not to say every word of this book keeps me enthralled but most of the passages are actually fairly interesting. The book opens with a satirical piece on what John R. Graham calls the “Great White Male”. Through this article, published in USA Today in 1993, Graham talks about how the “Great White Male” is being threatened by the minorities who are taking over! After talking through this in class we decided he was asking the question, what are you (the great white male) so afraid of? If you really are the best of the best why do you feel so threatened? Although this was written in 1993 it is funny how some of the same arguments are being made today. ‘They are taking our jobs!’ not only is this a quote and theme from a hilarious episode of South Park it is also a common complaint made by the dominate class about people of color. We talk as if those jobs were rightfully ours to begin with and they (people of color) are wrongfully taking them from us by (dare I say it ?!) being more qualified and harder working. This is where the idea of Affirmative Action comes into play. In class we have touch upon the topics of myths, such as the Welfare Queen or how Affirmative Action gives jobs and college spots to uneducated, undeserving people of color. Being this is not true what people who argue against Affirmative Action are saying is ‘I am afraid I can’t compete’. And don’t get me started on the reverse discrimination/racism talk, as if discrimination and racism can and should only happen to people of color. Well that is my rant on this subject. The anthology is packed with articles of different perspectives and stories and something that I have found to be very helpful for this course, you should definitely look into it if my outbursts above interest you at all.
Today (Monday) we watched a taped talk by Tim Wise. If you have not heard of Tim Wise…you probably should. Wise is a wonderful public speaker first off, a man who is capable of putting the (hugely white) audience at ease even during a talk on something as uncomfortable as white privilege. I am not sure the name of the talk but I encourage you to youtube him because he does say some very interesting and thought-provoking things on topics that you may never have thought of as racist.
I hope you can all get through my rants and rambles, I know this may not be the conventional block featuring blog but in a class like whiteness studies we discuss, so that is what I wanted to do with you here. There are opinions and comments that are thrown all over our classroom and I want some of those to be put into your minds as well, things to ponder in your free time if you will.
Heidi always starts the week off with a movie. This Monday we watched Making Whiteness Visible a film which starred many white whiteness activists sharing their personal narratives. After the movie we, as a class, discussed our thoughts on the film. Something mentioned was that it seems like all the activists in the film had that one incident that was an ah-ha moment, to us this seemed as though all of the people in the movie were dealing with their guilt of being a white American. Heidi talked about guilt on the first day of the class and told us that is was a useless thing to dwell on. It is not your fault for the family, race, socio-economic status, gender or sexual orientation you were born into so what is the use in feeling guilty. I think this was an important issue to be addressed because it put the class a little more at ease and created a safer space for us to discuss. Many of the people in the film though felt guilty and this made them very emotional which at times made us in the class comfortable, probably all for different reasons.
The discussion that followed this one was on what are some of the strategies that we use in the US to combat racism. The first one discussed was the ides of color-blindness where we walk about the streets and no longer see people’s skin color. This idea, although a nice thought, is not realistic because of many reasons some being the fact that we cannot turn everyone color-blind, people take pride in their skin color and many others. In the end I think most of the class, at least the ones who spoke up, agreed that classes like the one we are in now and education on race in general is what will make the biggest difference in our society. Race is an uncomfortable topic and if we can get over that hump of avoiding discomfort we can start to openly talk and educate ourselves and the next generations on the topic and make everyone more aware.
Tuesday we focused on our reading of Steve Garner’s “Whiteness: an Introduction”. After a short reading quiz in the morning the discussions started off with what are values and norms? Asking questions like, how do we come to a consensus on what our collective values and norms are as a society? Why do we perceive our current systems of values and norms perfect and make everyone who wants to fit in live within them? Some interesting questions for you to think about. Many times in this class we bring up questions and we do not come to conclusions, this is because sometimes there are no answers and just thinking about these things in a different way and questioning them is productive in itself. The conversation jumped from chapter to chapter the details of which will not make much sense without the text in your head but if you are interested in what I have said so far this introduction to the study of whiteness is be something you would probably enjoy to at least skim through.
CC offers many interesting classes and I understand that not everyone is as fascinated by race as I am but the Race and Ethnic Studies department, more than most departments I have taken classes in, really makes you question the values and norms we are all accustom to. This is true in the sociology department as well, why do we do the things we do socially? What makes us have racist thoughts even though we are not “bad people”? These are good thoughts to have, in my opinion, because they make you keep developing as a moral individual.
You might be asking, “what is whiteness”? This is a totally legitimate question and one that we as a class are trying to unravel throughout this block. Thursday was the first day of C block (which has really thrown off my week) it was filled with introductions of ourselves and the class, pretty typical for the first day of a block. Friday we started to dive a little deeper into our own stories. This is my second block with Heidi Lewis and she does a great job of trying to make everyone in the class comfortable talking about their experiences before we reach the more uncomfortable subjects. We wrote a one page autobiographical paper on why we were taking this course and on Friday we discussed it with the class. Most of the students in the class are white and it was interesting to hear their thoughts on the subject before the class really started.
The name of the course is Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, this is taken from an article of the same title by Peggy McIntosh (Link! http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html). Through this article McIntosh explores her privileges as a white woman in the United States. As a Race and Ethnic Studies minor I have encountered this article many times but after reading it this time Heidi had us jot down some of our thoughts, for the first time I started to wonder about my privilege. I have always known myself to be a lucky individual but privilege is a term that I am mostly associated with whiteness. I am half Japanese and half Norwegian and did not grow up thinking I was a minority (which is a term we will complicate throughout this class) but rather multicultural. Being Asian and growing up in Seattle, Washington and the west coast in general is not rare and it was not until I came to Colorado that I realized Seattle was unique in this way. But yesterday in class I separated the word privilege from whiteness and came up with a list of my own privileges.
After writing down our thoughts we talked about the ideas the article provoked and some of my peers touched on guilt, one student asking himself and the class if he was racist. Heidi wanted to know if we felt as though we needed to label ourselves, the consensus of the class was no, but that we needed to be aware of our thoughts and prejudices. In the end we were trying to distinguish between self label-ism and self reflection. I have a problem with the term racism because most people see racism interchangeable with hate. We all (in my experiences) have prejudices and preconceived notions about people different from us and that is okay as long as we are aware of it and do not act recklessly because of them. Being racist, to me, does not always mean pure hate or hate at all it is merely a reflection on our society. The last exercise of the day was something called the Privilege Walk Workshop (Which you can find on google), each of us wrote down tally marks depending on if the sentence related to our lives. This was a great way for us to recognize our own privileges and know that many people in the class are in similar positions as us despite race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
You could say we covered a lot in day one but that is how the block plan works, each day is a week, each week a month and each block is a semester.
Let me just start off this blog with this sentiment: Wow, the world looks different outside of Neuroscience! It’s easy to forget what being in a humanities course is like. Luckily, it’s also easy to remember.
Seeing as it is already third week and this is my first post, I have a lot to say about this class. I was supposed to be in Organic Chemistry this block, but after the first day of class I realized that I needed a break from the hard sciences. Searching through the course catalog, I found that Critical Queer Studies had an opening. Having previously taken two other Feminist and Gender Studies classes, I thought this would be old hat; CQS would just be another interesting class about sexuality.
Well, my professor, Ronak Kapadia, quickly discredited that oversimplified view. As it turns out, queer studies is more than just an umbrella term for all forms of sexuality that do not wish to be labeled. Queer studies focuses on deconstructing and analyzing societal norms and forms of oppression that range from racism to ableism to socioeconomic discrimination.
Queer theory is so far-reaching the mind boggles.
Two things from this week really struck me: Queer-Aesthetic documentaries and Sexilo, a graphic biography about a Cuban transsexual who identifies as female.
This week, we focused on the American AIDS epidemic in the late 80′s and early 90′s and how this was the birth of current queer theory. Outraged by the government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the crisis among such a large population of disenfranchised Americans, the people affected by AIDS came together to force American institutions to face the consequences of their neglect.
We watched two queer documentaries, Silverlake Life: the view from here and Tongues Untied, which attempted to answer the question of how to memorialize those lost to AIDS.