Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro - The Conversation - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro

August 29, 2013, 2:23 pm

By David J. Leonard

Adele, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Teena Marie. White musicians and fans are embracing the cultural performance—jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, hip-hop—that African-Americans have given life to over the last century.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “White Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”

Be it the thumping bass of artists like Mac Miller and Mike Posner, or the blaring noise of Asher Roth, Sam Adams, or Hoodie Allen, the white rappers who are gaining a foothold in the college scene need to be seen as part of a longstanding tradition of white theft of black artistry. The popularity of those artists, alongside that of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore—who can be heard interrogating white privilege, marriage, and materialism in their music—cannot be understood outside their whiteness.

The frat-rap craze saw its origins in 2009, with the release of Asher Roth’s “I Love College.” This subgenre not only markets itself to white college students but also marries the aesthetics and sensibilities of hip-hop with the experiences and narratives of white, male college students. Rather than building on oppositional traditions of hip-hop, which the former frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck D, once identified as “CNN for black people,” frat rap rhymes about all things white and middle class: desires that begin and end with parties, drinking, girls, and fun.

The moniker of frat rap is powerful because it reflects a desired level of ownership. White-fraternity claims to the music and culture displace a long association of rap with blackness, urbanity, and the inner city. Instead, the music exists within the context of the university.

Continue reading at  Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Scholars versus Academics

 

I posted this as a status update and then decided to expand and post

Last week, we were discussing how increasingly we are producing “academics rather than scholars” – Lisa Guerrero. That the demand to publish, to be competitive on the job market, makes reading breadth and depth, to be truly interdisciplinary and broad focused, increasingly difficult. The neoliberal university is a space for the production academics (and commodities) rather than scholars or intellectuals.  Often times, it seems like jobs, promotions, and recognition comes from our ability to produce rather than unpack; it comes from our ability to create rather than being creative.  I know I have been guilty of this, feeling the need to write and write.  Part of it came from the community that results from writing; part of the pressure came from how writing has come to be a space of voice, to engage in conversations, and to hopefully be a space of activism (necessary given geographic isolation).  It also is certainly the result of persistent feeling of needing to prove myself – yes, imposter syndrome.  But the demands and expectations of the profession, which seems to run counter to the demands and expectation of being a scholar and an intellectual.

I also think this is consequences of growing class sizes and even the demand that graduate students teach their own classes (and sometimes during every semester of their program) rather than be TAs or GAs. And clearly, at universities with shrinking faculties, there is growing demand for service, for mentoring students even among graduate students.  This is felt particularly acutely by scholars of color; female scholars of color see tremendous demands along these lines (thanks Venus Evans-Winters for this reminder).  Further along, the demands of mentoring, writing reviews, meetings, and writing letters of recommendation increase, and all of this takes away from one’s ability to continue to grow as a scholar.

Even when I was a graduate student, I felt the demands to teach and write hurt my ability to read beyond dissertation (other than 1 year where I just read 120 books). For me, I had years where I was working 2 or 3 outside jobs — tutoring, lecturing at another university, GA for prof at another university, working at King papers – on top of TA and course work.

Even now, the demands to publish and publish more, to produce timely scholarship, to attend conferences, to engage in public writing, etc. seems to work in opposition to continuing to develop scholarly skills and curiosities. I know this is something Imani Perry has also emphasized; how reading, thinking, and expanding the conversation takes (core elements of intellectual production) time. I been thinking about this all week and this is why my reading game is in overdrive. I also thought about this after running into Cedric Robinson, one of my mentors at Santa Barbara. Among the many things I learned from Cedric, Doug Daniels, Claudine Michel, Gerard Pidgin, Kofi Hadjor, Otis Madison and others was the importance and love of reading. 10 books in a quarter class was commonplace. This has been a week of important reminders; it has been a week where my love of reading has been rekindled.  It has been a reminder of how reading is so essential for scholarly and intellectual development; how reading cannot be simply about next lecture, next article or book, or the search for the perfect quote, but rather intellectual curiosity, scholarly development, and continuing to rebuild the scaffolding and foundation for my everything I do.  Yes, reading is fundamental; reading is listening and growing.  And more than anything, reading is the process to not only get ingredients but to expand the imagination of what is possible

Blame the Institution, Not Just the Fathers

Blame the Institution, Not Just the Fathers

Illustration by Harry Campbell for The Chronicle

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Blame the Institution, Not Just the Fathers

Originally Published, Chronicle of Higher Education

Many recent studies analyzing the challenges facing academic mothers seem to blame their stalled careers on the failure of academic fathers to be equal partners.

I’ve seen that easy explanation offered again and again in studies and articles: Men are slacking off at parenting, leaving women overburdened by family obligations and struggling to meet their career demands in academe.

In some families, the incompetent or lax father, or one still attached to 1950s gender roles, may indeed be part of the problem.

But when the issue of struggling academic mothers is reduced primarily to failures by men, that not only lets the university off the hook but also erases the ways in which institutions fail to support nontraditional families or childless couples caring for elderly family members. It ignores the cultural and structural context that affects us all.

The media coverage of these studies focuses on the failure of male academics to transcend traditional gender roles. The premise is that despite the successes of their partners and despite their purported liberal or progressive dispositions, male academics fall back into line with patriarchy. At one level, that is not surprising. Male academics—like male lawyers, doctors, construction workers, civil servants, or men in any number of occupations—are socialized into a society that renders the home as the responsibility of women.

Higher education is no different. It, too, perpetuates the system of patriarchy that positions men as breadwinners and women as “homemakers.” Men are expected to put the job first. Female academics are pushed to care for family and then punished careerwise when they do. In a new book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, Mary Ann Mason and a team of researchers concluded that “the most important finding is that family formation negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, academic careers. For men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer.”

But male academics who are equal parents also feel the consequences. They suffer within an environment that sees parenting as a private issue, a women’s issue, and not a workplace issue. Men feel the tensions of a university culture that tells them over and over again, “Focus on your work; she’s got you.”

“Universities do not seem to care if staff and faculty are parents unless legally obligated to do so,” said my colleague Richard King, a professor of critical culture, gender, and race studies at Washington State University. “Do the work. Have kids on your own time. Any conflict is your responsibility to manage so long as you prioritize us over them.”

His observation is confirmed by a study of doctoral students at the University of California, conducted by Mason and her team there. It found that more than 50 percent of men and 70 percent of women saw research universities as “not friendly to family life.”

It’s not just the lack of child-care options and useful family-friendly policies, it’s the regular reminders that kids are not a university problem, they’re a mother problem.

“When I was a junior faculty member 15 years ago, I got into it once with an older colleague over the timing of a faculty meeting (in the evening),” Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies at Duke University, said in an e-mail. “When I told him the meeting cut into family time, he intimated that my wife should take care of the child.”

Things have improved somewhat since then, he said. But he wondered how a faculty member’s gender and tenure status, as well as the type of university, determine the level of improvement. Universities are neither encouraging nor creating the conditions for male academics to be equal parents.

A 2012 study of married tenure-track fathers with young children found that only three out of 109 fathers reported completing half the child-care work. An article about the study in Businessweek was headlined: “Even in Academia, Dads Don’t Do Diapers.”

In response to such findings, Neal described his parenting life as one of multiple shifts and obligations: “I did a lot of diapers. I did a lot of early-morning feedings. Do the vast majority of the cooking. Still do carpool regularly. When I’m sitting in carpool lines, I see lots of fathers. … I’m sure such studies miss the complex ways that men parent—often out of the limelight and with diminishing resources.”

The ability to rearrange work schedules and work odd hours also helps fathers assume greater responsibility over child care. Being an academic is both a privilege and burden in that regard. “Being an academic and a parent really means that you serve two gods—neither can be arranged around a traditional 9-to-5, five-day, 40-hour week,” said Neal. “I find that I am most successful at both when I’m willing to be flexible and improvise around my time and energies.”

King, the Washington State professor, said one of the best perks of academic life “is a flexible schedule. It has allowed me to be present regularly, with much greater frequency than peers in other professions. This fostered better co-parenting and a stronger bond with kids.”

So some fathers are pulling their weight, and more of them need to. With shifts in campus policies toward a greater emphasis on balancing work and life issues, and with more efforts to change the culture of university life, one can hope that we might see change across the board.

Hope for alternative approaches is already evident. In response to the headline, “Even in Academia, Dads Don’t Do Diapers,” Oliver Wang, an associate professor of sociology at California State University at Long Beach, pushed back at the conclusions of those parenting studies. The fathers in his academic network have had ample exposure to feminist thought and theory, he said, noting: “I don’t see that finding as reflective of the academic fathers I know.”

Randall Craig, a professor of English at the State University of New York at Albany, agreed: “Insofar as it concerns parenting, this study bears no resemblance whatsoever to my own experience.”

Yet in many departments, the lingering expectations about male and female roles when it comes to children continue to affect both the women and the men.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I had a faculty meeting, and my child-care arrangements had fallen through. No problem, I thought. I headed to the campus with my infant daughter, Rea—diapers, bottle, and bag of toys in hand. All was well in my mind, but for my department chair, not so much. On that day, as with others, I was reminded that my responsibilities as a parent and as a professor were anything but complementary.

The department chair told me that I was not allowed to bring her to the office, and told my colleagues not to hold Rea, because doing so was a “liability.” In another instance, I was encouraged to reduce my appointment to part time if I couldn’t meet my responsibilities as a professor. On that particular day, I had had the audacity to note my child-care responsibilities in response to a demand that I attend a meeting the following day. Again the message was clear: Focus on my job, and leave the parenting to someone else.

As a father, in seeking to defy the heteronormative script that told me to leave the bulk of parenting to my wife, I was reminded over and over again to stay in my proper role. For my female colleagues with kids, for those without children, or for those caring for other family members, the lessons come at different moments, but each in the end makes clear how universities are failing to promote a work environment that nurtures the appropriate mix of work and life, that mentors people alongside professionals.

What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine: The White Nature of Meritocracy

A recent post from Insiderhighered.com, entitled “Meritocracy or Bias?,” prompted widespread debate on social media regarding race, affirmative action, and definitions of meritocracy.

The study here does not reveal a fluid or shifting understanding of meritocracy.  Yes, in one context white respondents were “asked to assign the importance they thought various criteria should have in the admissions system.”  Not surprisingly, this group cited test scores and grades as the centerpiece of any admissions’ decisions.   Given racial stereotypes and the broader discourse regarding affirmative action, is it surprising that merit was defined through standards PRESUMED to be advantageous to white applicants?  Is it surprising that hard work and “earning” admission to a college of university erases both history and contemporary inequality in such a manner that whiteness is central to dominant definitions of merit and deservedness?

In the other context, white respondents “received a different prompt, one that noted that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates proportionally in the UC system as they do in the population of the state.” When told about potential Asian applicants, the definition of merit shifted the focus away from test scores and GPA.  Instead of those traditional metrics, white respondents now saw leadership and other intangible qualities as important.

The findings are revealing on so many levels.  The mere mention of Asian American applicants seemingly scarred the white respondents.  One can deduce that “Asian American” conjured up a narrative of academically successful applicants whose test scores and grades would lead them to rise to the top (unless merit was defined in other ways).  It should also be noted how Asian Americans is seen through the narrative of model minority discourse.

The author of the study, Frank Samson, describes the findings as such:

Sociologists have found that whites refer to ‘qualifications’ and a meritocratic distribution of opportunities and rewards, and the purported failure of blacks to live up to this meritocratic standard, to bolster the belief that racial inequality in the United States has some legitimacy. However, the results here suggest that the importance of meritocratic criteria for whites varies depending upon certain circumstances. To wit, white Californians do not hold a principled commitment to a fixed standard of merit.

At face value, there appears to be a dynamic shift in what constitutes merit, what constitutes the desired standards colleges and universities should use for admission decisions.  Yet, in both contexts, the desirability of and centrality of whiteness remains clear.  Whiteness is what is meritorious and everything else is secondary.  The rules and the standards must reflect and reaffirm the spots reserved for white students.  “Why is this journalist and the researcher portraying whites’ takes on meritocracy as fluid when the evidence presented actually suggests they are as rigid as can be,” notes Dr. Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, associate professor of Culture, Gender, and Race at Washington State University. “Whites believe in meritocracy as long as it keeps them and their children on top. Nothing fluid about that, as fluidity suggests some kind of shift in mentality and/or behavior.”

Indeed, there is no change to their definition or understanding of meritocracy.  It is not a shift in what are the desired qualities or qualifications perspective students should possess but an effort to preserve white entitlement. If rules need to be changed to preserve white admissions then that takes place. It seems that there is continuity in terms of definition of merit and that begins and ends with whiteness.  In other words, this isn’t a “flip flop” as argued, but the manifestation of racism, white privilege, and the racial standards that are engrained within American culture.  It is about focused effort to maintain a system that preserves and protects white entitlement; it is about protecting spots presumed to be for “whites.”  The predetermined rightful place of whites within higher education remains constant.  The paths to achieve this reality changes but the centrality of white supremacy is steady.

The efforts to protect white privilege, to enshrine white spots in higher education, and to otherwise center whiteness as the basis of merit is nothing new.  The examples are endless throughout history from voting rights to rights of citizenship (due process; innocent until proven guilty whites; guilty until proven innocent for people of color).  And the rules and laws simply shift according to the needs and desires of whiteness.  In 1915, a team of Filipino clerks defeated their white American bosses in volleyball.  Refusing to acknowledge the merit of their victory, the white bosses denounce their play as “unsportsmanlike” and “deceptive,” they simply changed the rules to protect white merit.  No longer able to bump the ball 52 times before sending it over the net (which they reportedly did during this match), Filipino teams were allowed no more than 3 bumps (their white counterparts, unlimited).  Just as with this study, the definition or understanding of merit didn’t change, the rules to protect white merit and privilege adjusted as necessary.

In 2003, MIT’s Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, found that applicants with “white sounding names” were 50 percent more likely to receive a callback from a potential employer.  Although the resumes were identical between black and white applicants, those with “black sounding names” found calls infrequent.  Put another way whiteness or the perception of whiteness was worth 8 years of work experience.  To those employers, white was right.  To the respondents in these studies, white is also right.  What is right, deserving, and meritorious about whiteness may change contextually; yet the desire to preserve “white only” admission slots is clear. Fluidity, no; entrenched racism and the protection of white privilege, without a doubt.

The study offers a clear message, with its consequences evident in the ongoing assault on affirmative action: What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine. And that is the white definition of meritocracy.

On the Real: Virtual Exploitation and College Sports Games

Video games have been part of my research for many years; they have been part of my life for much longer.  Yet, the games that I always find hard to purchase or even play are those involving collegiate sports.  The games themselves are the product and perpetuation of the exploitation of student-athletes.  They are not unique in this regard but they symbolize so much that is wrong with college athletics.

The popularity of sports video games rests with the replication of “the real.”  Since those OG (Original Games) like Intellivision or Tecmo Bowl, the sports video game industry has been a race toward creating a virtual reality indistinguishable from the real reality.  This has proven to be an issue or a source of tension for N.C.A.A.  sports games, as it has justified its lack of compensation to current and former student-athletes by claiming the unrealistic nature of the games themselves.  According to Steve Eder and Greg Bishoff,

The issue of how close the games could mirror real life continued, as it became easier for game players to download rosters from the Internet that included the actual names of players. The N.C.A.A. did not sanction those rosters, and neither did E.A. But in April 2005, Myles Brand, then the president of the N.C.A.A., wrote to one of his executives that the organization should persuade university officials to “provide names and likenesses” for games, which would lead to a higher rights fee.

Not everyone within N.C.A.A. leadership appears to share these prevailing opinions.  This, also from The New York Times, makes that clear”

This whole area of name and likeness and the N.C.A.A. is a disaster leading to a catastrophe as far as I can tell,” the Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, who served on the N.C.A.A.’s board of directors, wrote soon after the O’Bannon lawsuit was filed. “I’m still trying to figure out by what authority the N.C.A.A. licenses these rights to the game makers and others.

The decision from EA and the N.C.A.A. to sell realism while denying rightful compensation is just more hypocrisy; the N.C.A.A. should probably renamed N.H.A.A: the National Hypocritical Athletic Association.  In the context of immense profits for schools and poverty experienced by student-athletes, it is hard to even think about buying such a game.  In fact, the glorification of college athletics, and the erasure of the pain, the injuries, the hours of practice and class time, the financial difficulties, and of REALITY in fact contribute to an environment of exploitation.

Every time, I see a commercial for N.C.A.A. Football 14, or see its cover in the store, I find myself thinking about in  “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport,” Ramogi Huma and Ellen J. Staurowsky:

  1. College athletes on full scholarship do not receive a “free ride”. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the average annual scholarship shortfall (out of pocket expenses) for Football Bowl Series (FBS) “full” scholarship athletes was $3,222.
  2. The compensation FBS athletes who are on “full scholarship” receive for living expenses (room and board, other expenses) situates the vast majority at or below the poverty level.
  3. The percentage of FBS schools whose “full” athletic scholarships leave their players in poverty is 85% for those athletes who live on campus; 86% for athletes who live off campus.
  4. The average FBS “full” scholarship athlete earns less than the federal poverty line by $1874 on campus and $1794 off campus.
  5. If allowed access to the fair market like the pros, the average FBS football and basketball player would be worth approximately $121,048 and $265,027 respectively (not counting individual commercial endorsement deals).
  6. Football players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $345k-$514k on 2009-10. The top spot was held by University of Texas football players. While 100% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty line and with an average scholarship shortfall of $2841 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $3.5 million each in 2010 excluding bonuses.
  7. Basketball players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $620k-$1 million in 2009-10. The top spot was held by Duke basketball players. While 80% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty and with an average scholarship shortfall of $3098 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $2.5 million in 2010 excluding bonuses.
  8. The poorest football and basketball players (generated combined FB and BB revenues of $30 million or more in 2009-10, yet live in the poorest bottom 1/3 of all of the players in the study live between $3,000-$5,000 below the poverty line in the report for further details.

The financial predicament facing student-athletes (and those who have left school, graduated or used their eligibility) stands in stark contrast to the gold-lined pockets of college coaches, the platinum realities of colleges and universities, or their diamond studded realities of the sports media.  The millions and billions that fall into their hands, while student-athletes struggle to make ends meet, in part through the profits and allure of video games, is sustained through myth of amateurism.  ‘

This fuels the exploitative relationship and the lack of compensation.  Student athletes are required to spend their wages at the “company store.” Akin to sharecroppers who not only worked the land for virtually no compensation, but what little compensation received had to be spent at the company store (usually owned by the land owner).  From food to tools, sharecroppers were forced to use their wages at these stores, often leading to debt and additional subservience.  Collegiate athletics is similar in that student-athletes MUST use their wage to pay for tuition, books, and room and board within the campus community.  According to McCormick and McCormick, “By this last arrangement, then, these athletes, unlike any other working people, are not free to spend their limited wages where they choose, but must spend them on college tuition, books, and other institutionally related expenses, regardless of their real needs or those of their families.”  Much of their wages cannot even be used to buy these video games. Hypocrisy

The N.C.A.A.’s decision to part ways with E.A. has little to do with the well-being of student-athletes; it is about protecting itself from lawsuits and insulating itself from demands for just compensation.  At a moral and educational level, nothing has changed. This decision, which is in line with past reforms, hasn’t transformed my thoughts about either the N.C.A.A. or the virtual fantasies known as sports video games.

Rather than fork over 50 dollars for a game, can you imagine if people started supporting student-athletes or an organization like the National College Players Association.  Now, that is a reality I can get with.

So you want to have a race conversation; how about investing in Ethnic Studies

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot written about race; following the Fisher decision, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and more recently the acquittal of George Zimmerman, there have ample discussions online and within the media.   More than likely, there have been even more debates in public/private spaces; social media has had ample debates.

Not surprisingly, calls for more dialogues and encouraging words to continue the “race conversation” have been commonly articulated.  Although not a panacea, given issues of power, systemic racism, segregation and privilege, these calls are striking reminder of the importance of the work that is being done by teachers and community organizers; professors and others working at the grassroots committed to education, learning, and dialogue, all of whom spend hours each week strategizing approaches to foster critical engagement and thought about these essential questions of the day. President Obama weighed in last week, noting:

There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?

What is striking here is that schools, whether K-12 or colleges and universities, are not listed alongside of families and churches.  The call for dialogues within these segregated spaces, and the erasure of the research, scholarship and work already been done, represents a missed opportunity from President Obama and in the potential for dialogue.

The celebration of dialogues and the call for conversations is striking that amid efforts to close schools, to divest in education, to eliminate any emphasis on critical thinking through testing culture, and the overall assault on Ethnic Studies, African American Studies, Queer Studies, Women’s Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies and Native American Studies. Those demonized as “race baiters,” who are working in the name of justice and equality, are already doing this work.

There are ample people focused on creating the constructive space to foster these conversations; there are ample places dedicated to developing the tools to effectively dialogue toward transgression and transformation  The support for them is another story.   If “a more perfect union” is actually a goal, maybe schools and politicians, community leaders and communities themselves should start by supporting the very people working to foster dialogue and create change.  And this would need to include Critical Whiteness Studies, a necessity made clear by Dr. Stephany Spaulding,

Without Critical Whiteness Studies, we will continue living in a society that blindly privileges particular ways of organizing institutional practices and structures, not realizing that these ways are rooted in the histories and cultural beliefs of specific people.  It will leave me binging on chocolate, writing blogs and wishing I could tolerate the taste of alcohol every time some student vehemently argues, “But it really was the way he was dressed that caused him to look suspicious

If there is really a desire to actually have a conversation about racism, about gun violence, poverty, rape culture, inequality, and the criminal justice at the national level, at the state or local level, it would be nice to see investment in these spaces.  The failure to not only support, but in effect undermined and attack those committed to this work demonstrates the true agenda – investment reveals priorities — and ain’t that dialogue and it certainly isn’t change. The lack of support tells me everything I need to know about a desire to truly have a conversation about race.  I hope I am wrong.  This moment demonstrates yet again the important work that so many people are doing and why it is crucial to support this work; but I am not holding my breath.

I haven’t been optimistic for a while, which led me to write this piece last year. The last week (month, six months, year) has demonstrated why White America needs Black Studies.  The level of denial, the efforts to silence, and the need for “context” reveals the necessity for greater education as it relates to race in America society.  As important as speeches, television pieces, and columns are in complicating the discourse, education systems need to change.   American education has to do more to give voice to the experiences of communities of color, to push back at stereotypes and implicit bias, and to otherwise provides the tools and skills necessary to not only have conversations but change institutions toward that more perfect union.  Change is not simply the result of time; change requires work.

Recent months have seen a wave of campus racism at America’s colleges and universities, including Fordham University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, Northwestern University, and the Ohio State University.  While racism is as commonplace at America’s “liberal” training grounds as binge drinking, I found myself wondering about occupying America’s universities.  I found myself wondering how Black studies and ethnic studies have the potential to change America’s racial path.   How Black studies and understanding the ongoing history of racism is essential to a quest for a “more perfect union.”

Imagine if every student took at least one Black studies course per year during college alongside of Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies and Native American Studies.  What if students, what if white students, starting in kindergarten and through graduate school, American’s future leaders, teachers, and voters learned a 4th R – racism – alongside ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic?  Surely institutional racism would remain an obstacle, but Whites who inhabit those institutions, from the classroom to the Capital, would likely be changed.

Learning about minstrelsy and the history of racist imagery would surely impact the decision from White students to don blackface for the sake of fun, parties and Halloween.  Learning about the history of slavery and lynchings would hopefully encourage thought from entire communities the next time a noose appeared on campus, the next time someone scrawled lynch on a chalkboard or dorm room door.  There would be no more excuses and claims of ignorance about these histories.

Can we imagine a world where White students didn’t commonly use the “N-word” behind closed doors because they understood the history of racial violence?  Would the hurling of racist jokes and epithets lessened as all students began to think about the consequences and daily harm?  Would the exposure to alternative perspectives, to unseen history, and to conversations with students of color, change those students? I would hope so.

Through knowledge, critical thinking and dialogue, colleges can transform themselves–and their students.  According to Howard J. Ehrlich, director of The Prejudice Institute, between 850,000 and one million students (roughly 25 percent of students of color and five percent of White students) experience racially and ethnically-based violence (name calling, verbal aggression, harassing phone calls and “other forms of psychological intimidation”) each year.  What if each of the students who hurled the slurs at Cornell or graffitied “Long live Zimmerman” at the Ohio State University taken a Black studies course surely there worldview would have been different.  Surely, those White students who sat idly by, who watched and said nothing, would have challenge their peers had they any real knowledge of race and racism.

Yet, the need for a world of Black Studies as multi-year required isn’t simply to teach White students about prejudice, but the erased experiences and voices of Black people.  Knowledge about Black culture, history, and identity would come not from Basketball Wives or The Help but in James Baldwin and Tayari Jones, Daughters of the Dust and Killer of Sheep.  We would no longer hear about Martin Luther King’s dream of colorblindness, but instead his dream of justice, reparations, and equality of outcome. The civil rights movement would be a history told not through King and one great speech, but people like Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, heroes and sheroes who refused to accept American Apartheid.  This is my dream, a dream where White students learn alongside of students of color about the history of racism, about privilege, and inequality; about the contributions and humanity of communities of color; about histories of resistance from “Aint I a woman?” to “Let freedom ring.”

While a freshman at the University of Oregon, I took my first African American history class.  This class and so many others changed my life.  Beyond learning about African American history, beyond reading the likes of DuBois, Frederick Douglas and Carter G. Woodson, beyond hearing for the first time names like Turner, Garvey, Delany, and Hamer, I learned to think for myself, asking why wasn’t I learning this history and what does it mean that the history, literature, and culture I learned during my formative years was a story of whites.

A couple years later, while at University of California, Santa Barbara, I enrolled in a Chicana feminism class. Being the only White male in the class, I felt apprehensive and unsure as to my place in the class.  With the encouragement of the professor, I remained in the class.  During a small group discussion about race and privilege, I shared my anxiety within the class, explaining how I felt like an “outsider.”  A classmate quickly responded, noting “Now you know how we feel in every class.”  But in fact, I did not and couldn’t know since I felt uncomfortable, as an outsider, and as representative of “my community” twice a week for 75 minutes.  When class was over, I returned to the sea of Whiteness, privileged in my invisibility and empowered by a world that normalized Whiteness.  I can only wonder how the world might look if more students had this type of experience. It is a world I think is worth fighting for.

White People Are Not Victims

White People Are Not Victims

Originally posted at Washington Spectator

 

Narratives of white victimhood are the rage these days.

From Abigail Fisher v. the University of Texas to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, from Paula Deen’s claim of being a victim of the “PC police” to a material witness’s use of the phrase “creepy-ass cracker” in the criminal trial of George Zimmerman—there has been ample effort to imagine white people as the real victims in contemporary America.

David Sirota says, “hysterical white people are all over the media screaming to whomever is listening that white people are under attack.”

Tim Wise notes this is in keeping with history. “The cult of white victimhood has long had its charter members,” he says. “Nowadays the cult has the attention of the media and a white public already anxious about changing demographics, the presence of a black president and economic insecurity.”

I call it WDD—”White Delusional Disorder.”

People suffering from WDD experience intense and wild distortions of and deviations from empirical reality. They believe white people are not benefiting from a racially stratified society. They are, instead, its true victims.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case weighing the affirmative-action policies of the University of Texas. The court punted by sending the case back to a lower court. But in doing so, it left unaddressed claims of Abigail Fisher’s victimization.

The plaintiff claimed: “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skins. I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me. What kind of example does it set for others?”

Yet court documents show that Fisher’s high school grades and SAT scores would not have qualified her for admittance to Texas’s flagship institution in Austin. Even so, she is a victim , she says. Meanwhile, the school admitted five students of color with lower scores as well as 42 white applicants whose scores were equal to or lower than Fisher’s.

Not surprisingly Fisher and her supporters have shown no concern for the 168 students of color who did not receive admission, though their scores were equal to or higher than hers. Nor have they expressed outrage at the number of students denied admittance though they presumably enrolled in costly SAT prep courses. Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s conservative bloc failed to account for white privilege.

This was equally evident in the Supreme Court’s gutting of Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. During oral arguments last spring, Justice Antonin Scalia memorably described the VRA as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Thus the Voting Rights Act victimizes white America. Despite claims of racial progress, and despite fantasies that the VRA is punishment for the sins of white grandfathers (it isn’t), the VRA was about protecting every person’s right to vote.

But this is the logic that governs the cult of white victimhood.

Only in America can inequality, voter suppression, and societal condemnation of racial slurs become a moment to lament white victimhood.