Views on the News: White Racism Class
On Jan. 10, Florida Gulf Coast University introduced a class titled "White Racism," with the goal to "interrogate the concept of race" by examining racist ideologies. However, according to a Jan. 10 CNN article, the class was met with so much opposition — including a series of threatening emails sent to the professor — that campus police officers were posted outside of the class. What do you think of this type of class, and how do you think the university should proceed?
Prof. Carina Ray (AAAS)
The unambiguously racist remarks by President Trump yesterday (1/11) which disparaged African countries, Haiti and El Salvador, and in turn demeaned Africans, Haitians and Salvadorians, offer clear proof of why Professor Ted Thornhill's course "White Racism" is urgently needed. Listening to pundits debate whether Trump's remarks were racist or just crude indicates the need for courses like Thornhill's that afford students the opportunity to unpack the concept of race and identify the myriad practices of racism, including the institutional racism, that pervade American life. The irony of those who have attacked Thornhill for offering this course is that their threats and condemnations have been delivered in unabashedly racist language. While their vitriol is intended to pressure Thornhill and Florida Gulf Coast University to cancel the course, what it has succeeded in doing is demonstrating why it must be taught. Carina Ray (AAAS) is an associate professor of African and Afro-American Studies.
Prof. Theodore Johnson (Heller)
Florida Gulf Coast University recently offered a class entitled “White Racism” aiming to examine racist ideology and how it manifests itself. National news outlets quickly reported on this class as it sparked protests on campus, and police officers were sent to the opening session as a precaution in the event of difficult reactions. Should Universities offer classes on “White Racism”? In a word, absolutely! The Oxford English Living Dictionary defines white racism as a “belief in the superiority of white people, leading to prejudicial treatment of people of other races.” While some may deny this definition, it is worth noting that Ibram X. Kendi of American University has recently written: “The heartbeat of racism is denial” (New York Times, Jan. 13, 2018). As students, scholars and peace-building practitioners, denial is not an appropriate option. The possibility of a post-racial world based on inclusivity, mutual respect, coexistence and intersectionality, will occur only as we learn to penetrate the social and structural barriers that keep us isolated in tribal enclaves that define anyone outside our bubble as “the other.” An inquiry into racism — of all stripes — is an essential first step.
Prof. Theodore Johnson (Heller) is an associate professor of the Practice at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
Prof. Abigail Cooper (HIST)
A class probing "White Racism" is core to a rigorous and responsible education. If you leave college without probing the history and structures of race and racism, what kind of education did you just get? The kind that gets you a "good job" but fails to challenge you to be an intellectual leader? If the title is provocative, then good. You have something urgent to discuss from day one. I teach “American Slavery.” The danger of conceiving of "American Slavery" as an elective on the margins, studying people distant from you safely cloistered in the past, is that students and University alike will avoid the uncomfortable. “American Slavery” is relevant right now. Embrace discomfort and educate yourself in the toughest stuff, and that is what makes society healthy and the individuals within it resilient. To me, the controversy is not in the title of the course but that the course is not required for every student.
Prof. Abigail Cooper (HIST) is a professor of History.
Shaquan McDowell ’18
The Department of Social Sciences of Florida Gulf Coast University, in which the course is offered, specifically lists its intention as connecting “students to important facets of the human experience.” No matter the personal sentiments of students, the existence of racism is indisputable and discussing how it has affected the lives of people of color is pertinent in understanding their experiences. To insist otherwise would be choosing to exist in intentional ignorance. Thus, the existence of a course regarding racism is beneficial for all students. The University should keep the course. It’s suggested that the focus on “white racism” specifically is inherently prejudiced against white students. This is not the case — the fact is the current incarnation of the institution known as “racism” was organized and developed to be advantageous for white people, oppressing minority communities. Failure to recognize such removes what lies at the core of racism, thus making it impossible to understand, and therefore harder to deconstruct. The course should be left as is by the University.
Shaquan McDowell ’18 is the Co-President and Co-Founder of The Purple Party.