Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another Paper


The assignment for this week was to interact primarily with the paper entitled The Production of Whiteness in Education: Asian International Students in a College Classroom., DiAngelo (2006). The paper sets out to describe the mechanisms in place that are used to create a construct the author labels “Whiteness.” According to DiAngelo, Whiteness is a “place” or what could be described as a state of being that white teachers in American classrooms create that gives the white students an advantage vis a vis classroom discussion. The assignment also included a directive to discuss any other reactions the student might have had to previously assigned readings, such as the “White Privilege” paper given in week one.

Initial Observations

The paper makes several assertions from the onset that are dubious. First of all, the writer states “based on the research literature’s description of Whiteness as an unbounded process that is always present in some form, this study assumed, rather than set out to demonstrate, that Whiteness was operating in the classroom.” (p.1987) In other words, in order for the reader to agree with the rest of the paper’s findings, he must agree with this presupposition. Unfortunately, this reader does not even necessarily agree that the existence of the construct labeled “Whiteness” is a surety, therefore, it became increasingly difficult to maintain objectivity.
The paper reflects the observations of the writer on ONE 3 HOUR CLASS MEETING. To be fair, she does state that she did not intend for this work to be inductive or generalizable, but rather “hypothesis generating.” (p.1987) However, the hypothesis generated at the end of the paper is unclear. It also supposes that the observations made in this classroom are indeed the normal way that college classrooms operate. In the end, the writer jumps to many conclusions regarding the participant’s mindset that are simply unattainable and nothing more than a theory. She says, without any caveat that a litany of things are going on in the classroom, and that her observations are proof of it.

Further Observations and Other Papers

It is apparently fair game in this environment to make claims that are based purely on subjective experience. I could sit back and watch the interactions of any 12 people and come up with whatever hypothesis I like. It does not however present itself as a self-evident universal truth about the way the world works.
So, in this vein, it occurs to me that looking under every rock and around every corner to find the big bad racist hand that is working the machinations of our society is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an endeavor that feeds on itself.
In my own case, for example—my father escaped from communism in 1958, was jailed twice for his first two attempts and languished in exile for 2 years before he was allowed asylum in the United States. He did not speak a word of English, lost his first 3 jobs because of it, and decided to assimilate into the culture by learning the language and trying to act as American as he could. In fact, the word “Slav” is the basis for the English word “slave” due to the fact that the Slavic people made up the majority of those enslaved by Europe and other regions of the world for several thousand years preceding the existence of the United States. Yet, I will from time to time be reminded of American slavery policy through the 1860’s, a time in this nation’s history that neither I nor my ancestors were present or responsible for. So who am I supposed to be angry at? How far back should one go to express grievances about what his or her ancestors went through? If your entire race is the basis for the word “Slavery,” I would think that might count.
From the maternal side, it’s even worse. My mother is (half) Native American.
All of this is to point out the following—I wonder who is actually propagating the racial politics of this country. Who knows why these Asian International Students didn’t speak up on that particular day in the classroom? Maybe they didn’t have anything to say that day.
One of my fellow students, who will remain unnamed, had this to say at about week two. She said that growing up in small home town America, she felt far more comfortable interacting with people of different races and cultural backgrounds than her own, then she does after 4 years of college and graduate classes designed to make her think she should be worried about the issue.
Most of these articles, including the “White Privilege” article look like nothing more than attempts to make those of us who’s only crime was being born here and who happen to have basically white ancestry should feel guilty. They do it under the guise of “we are just pointing this out so you will be sensitive to it.” But in the end, it serves to just make everybody uncomfortable around those who are different.


To the extent that these forces are at work, another fellow student made this comment, also at week two. “It seems like [the “white privilege” article] is trying to hold people accountable for a situation they did not create.” Exactly. I can be as sensitive as the next person to the fact that there may be covert racism exerting itself against just about every race under the sun. In my personal life, I go out of my way to make people who are different from me feel comfortable. But, if I enjoy any privileges because of my race, it sure has a funny way of manifesting itself. I am not rich, I do not have any employees, minority or otherwise. I live in a neighborhood in which I am the only white person and I am constantly stared at every time I get out of my car and walk to the door. When I am in a room where there is EVEN ONE person of color I am filled with an uneasy feeling about what I can and cannot say.
I think times have changed and the education establishment is laboring under presuppositions that are no longer valid. The racial/political landscape in this country has evolved and is too complicated to view through the lens of “Whiteness is an unbounded process that is always present in some form.” My boss is a woman. My 3 previous bosses have been 2 black women, and a Hispanic man. It never occurred to me to think about those facts until forced to by papers like these. It didn’t matter to me then, and still doesn’t.


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