Phi Beta Cons

“Whiteness” Studies

Sometimes issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education pile up and it takes a while to get through the articles that look enlightening, or at least amusing. In the latter vein (although unintentionally) is a piece entitled “Whiteness and its Complications” by David Roediger. (Subscriber site; here is the link.)
The piece is a poster child for impenetrable academic writing that’s meant to sound imposing, but leaves you scratching your head. For instance, here’s the penultimate paragraph:

The critical study of whiteness emerged, from slave and American Indian traditions forward, from the idea that whiteness is a problem to be investigated and confronted. The present moment encourages academic studies to tip toward investigation and away from confrontation: The production and reproduction of whiteness are considered with great sophistication as a historical problem, but with less urgency as a moral and political question.

I submit that the essential flaw in this new academic “field” is that it is premised on the nutty idea that we learn about human beings by grouping them. The trouble that American Indians had with some whites was violence and coercion, but many American Indians had also experienced the same thing at the hands of other Indians. And they found some whites to be perfectly peaceable traders whom they were happy to deal with. “Whiteness” has nothing to do with the way individuals behave. The problem to be investigated and confronted ought to be the willingness of some individuals to coerce others. Racial grouping has nothing to do with that.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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