Posted on March 20, 2006

Critical Whiteness Interest Group

University of Urbana-Champaign, Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society

The Critical Whiteness Study Group (CWSG) brings a middle-sized group of scholars and townspeople together once a month for seminars usually featuring discussion of unpublished writing by faculty members or graduate students, but sometimes centering on readings of published works, or on films and other works of art. Participants include those specializing in architecture, urban planning,ethnic studies, psychology, counseling psychology, law, U.S. history, art, communications research, English, cultural studies, cinema studies, European history, education, library science and theology. The intellectual project under which the group convenes is the attempt to challenge cultural and academic habits that make white racial identity and privilege seem natural, unremarkable, timeless, and unproblematic. Indeed the work of the seminar brings together those making a problem out of how white identity and privilege arise and of how they are reproduced historically, economically, culturally, socially and psychologically.

Almost since opening its doors two years ago, the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society (CDMS) has hosted the monthly meeting of the Critical Study of Whiteness Group. That multiracial group of professors, students and community members has exemplified interdisciplinary scholarship, bringing together small numbers of artists, psychologists, educators, historians, legal scholars, librarians, literary critics, students of media and film, ethnic studies specialists, Americanists, and architects to generously and vigorously critique works in progress. If the critical study of whiteness rests on the intellectual appreciation of the fact that white identity is not a natural condition but a problem whose origins, reproduction and ramifications require explanation, the meetings of the group advertise how broadly this applies. Whiteness presents itself from month to month as a problem to be explained in the realms of aesthetics and (lack of) imagination, as one presenting itself in history, in the built environment, in politics, in courts, in classrooms, in attempts to organize and in what James Baldwin brilliantly termed the realm of “moral choice.”

It is therefore most appropriate that the CDMS here inaugurates its occasional papers series with this impressive interdisciplinary bibliography of works in the critical study of whiteness. Initiated as a collective project of several group members, but ultimately reaching out to call on the expertise of colleagues and friends further away, the bibliography embodies the best qualities of the critical study of whiteness. That is, it stands very much as a work-in-progress, with titles here collected from many disciplines and inter-disciplines, in and beyond the United States, but with gaps as well. While critical reflection on whiteness is a longstanding practice, with origins dating to contact stories by native Americans and to slave folklore, academic work in the area is proliferating greatly, within and across fields. For these reasons we are also putting this bibliography on the web, where we invite contributions to its expansion and updating.