When a pair of black separatists murdered five police officers in Dallas and three others in Baton Rouge in July 2016, they were aiming, by their own proclamation, to carry out righteous retribution against an American society which they deplored because of its deep-seated “white skin privilege,” a concept first popularized by Bill Ayers and his fellow Weatherman radicals who, in the early '70s, aimed to foment a violent race war against a supposedly Klan-like “Amerikkka.” Although their terrorist tactics and aspirations made the Weathermen a fringe group, their views on race proved, over time, to have legs. The notion of white skin privilege became an article of faith among progressives, accounting for everything that was racially wrong in America, beginning with its constitutional framework.
Even those liberals who initially resisted the concept of white skin privilege as a slander against a noble country that had just gone through an unprecedented civil-rights revolution, eventually embraced it to explain why racial disparities persisted even as overt racists vanished from public life and institutional barriers were toppled. Civil-rights professionals, meanwhile, were faced with yet another problem: how to remain relevant and prominent in an era when white racism was being dismantled and delegitimized in a manner never before seen in human history.
The common solution to these dilemmas was to depict the nebulous concept of “white skin privilege” as a thread woven so deeply into the fabric of American culture, that it could never be fully extracted; to claim that whites, no matter how earnest or well-intentioned, would never be able to truly shed the racism that infected their hearts. In other words, to claim that real racial healing could never occur, even in a thousand years, because whites, by definition and DNA, would remain racists, even if unwittingly, until the end of time.
Out of this mindset grew the academic field of Whiteness Studies—a.k.a. Critical Whiteness Studies—which first made its way onto college campuses in the early 1990s. And from its inception, this discipline bore no resemblance whatsoever to other group-identity-based curricula like Black Studies, Chicano Studies, and Women's Studies. Whereas those fields steadfastly celebrated their respective groups and emphasized their status as innocent victims of societal oppression, Whiteness Studies depicted whites uniformly as malevolent oppressors of people with darker complexions. They were not Italians, or Brits, or Poles, or Germans—they were just depraved white miscreants, best known for their many crimes against humanity. As Jeff Hitchcock, the co-founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of White American Culture, said in 1998 at the Third National Conference on Whiteness: “There is plenty to blame whiteness for. There is no crime that whiteness has not committed against people of color. There is no crime that we have not committed even against ourselves.... We must blame whiteness for the continuing patterns today that deny the rights of those outside of whiteness and which damage and pervert the humanity of those of us within it.”
This continues to be the core belief of Whiteness Studies today. In the fall of 2015, for instance, University of Colorado associate professor Amy Wilkins candidly explained that her Whiteness Studies class was in essence “an advanced course on racial inequality.”
The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education describes Whiteness Studies as “a growing body of scholarship whose aim is to reveal the invisible structures that produce and reproduce white supremacy and privilege.” Central to this definition is the notion that the average white person is largely unaware of his own racism, and that he must be helped to overcome the “ignorance of one's ignorance” which prevents him from even recognizing “racism as a system of privilege” that benefits him at the expense of others.
The writings of feminist Peggy McIntosh are renowned in the field of Whiteness Studies, where professors and course readings often make reference to her famous metaphor of white skin privilege as an “invisible knapsack of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.”
Whiteness Studies professor Lee Bebout of Arizona State University, for his part, says that “white supremacy makes it so that white people can’t see the world they have created.”
Not long ago, the University of Wisconsin–Superior sponsored an “Unfair Campaign” whose slogan—“It’s hard to see racism when you’re White”—was promoted aggressively via billboards, online videos, and posters. One poster showed a group of white students with the words “Is white skin really a fair skin?” written on their faces.
University of Wisconsin English professor Dr. Gregory Jay maintains that “Whiteness Studies is an attempt to think critically about how white skin preference has operated systematically, structurally, and sometimes unconsciously as a dominant force in American—and indeed in global—society and culture.” Moreover, he contends that telling white people that they're racists whether or not they realize it, will ultimately foster interracial harmony: “I believe that Whiteness Studies must be part of the general effort to eradicate prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, and racism.”
Similarly, Portland Community College claims that its annual “White History Month” initiative condemning the many evils of “whiteness” will help to “change our campus climate” for the better.
At Scripps College in Claremont, California, all incoming students receive a “survival guide” designed to alert the newcomers to the racism lurking quietly in white people's hearts. One entry in this manual, titled “Dear White Students,” declares that “we as white students, must identify the ways that we are engaging in the perpetuation of white supremacy and work to unlearn our racism”; that racism is often manifested in “subtle ways through language” and “the perpetuation of white supremacist values like perfectionism [and] individualism”; that “reverse racism does not exist because there are no institutions that were founded with the intention of discriminating against white people on the basis of their skin”; that the “anger” of nonwhites “is a legitimate response to oppression, as is … a general distaste or hatred of white people”; that “we [whites] do not get to dictate how people of color respond to racism, nor do we get to delegitimize reactions that make us uncomfortable”; and that “our comfort is not more important than the safety of our peers of color.”
The common themes that run through all of the aforementioned programs and courses are Universal White Guilt on the one hand, and Universal Black Innocence on the other—flip sides of the same racialist coin. More than that, they are the twin centerpieces of the tribal mentality which aims to pit various groups of people against one another by dividing them neatly into oppressors and oppressed, victimizers and victims, evil and good.
Adapted from: "The Ugly Racism of "Whiteness Studies" Programs," by John Perazzo (August 1, 2016).