Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, November 2005
Virginia Lea and Judy Helfand, Identifying Race and Transforming Whiteness in the Classroom, Peter Lang Publishing, 2004, 290 pp.
Most Americans believe there is nothing worse than being “racist,” but think they are in the clear if they are not doing anything to hurt non-whites. There is, however, a school of “antiracists” that preaches a much harsher doctrine: Unless whites are constantly fighting “racism” (and “sexism” and “classism” and perhaps capitalism, too) they are perpetuating “racism” and “white supremacy.” According to this doctrine, the mere fact of being white means participation in an infinite number of “privileges,” which are derived from an infinite number of acts of oppression, past and present.
This stuff is not easy to understand. The devotees themselves admit it is slippery, and concede that even the best among them are constantly backsliding into racism, classism and sexism. As they like to put it, becoming a truly antiracist white is “a lifelong journey” that requires continuous psychological “work.” It is so tricky no one ever gets it entirely right.
This book is a collection of submissions by 12 authors — all but two of them women — edited by two other women. They are all “antiracist activists” and teachers of some sort. For the most part, they are trying to rid college students of “racism,” but some are toiling over elementary school children.
It’s not always easy to figure out what is going on these ladies’ minds, but the basic ideas appear to be as follows: Whites don’t think much about race and believe race isn’t an important part of their lives, but they are wrong. Their entire lives are immersed in race; they just don’t know it. “White supremacy” is so deeply rooted in their minds they don’t recognize it (all non-whites see it clearly, however). “Racism” is so deeply rooted in American society that endless unfair benefits flow to whites like a great river, but they don’t realize that either.
The life’s work of the contributors to this book is to make whites understand this — that is what is meant by “identifying race” in the title of the book. Once whites have experienced the satoriof seeing how white, privileged, and oppressive they are, they can begin the endless slog of “unlearning” racism. That is what is meant by “transforming whiteness.”
What are the privileges whites enjoy and how are non-whites oppressed? Oddly, this book never even attempts to answer these questions. Since most whites are blind to this gigantic web of privilege and oppression, we might expect instruction on this point but we get none.
As we will see, the cult glories in emotion, and spurns logic or evidence, so its basic teachings are pure assertion. Pedro Noguera, a Hispanic professor at New York University explains in the foreword, without elaboration, that we live in “a world where racial hierarchies are entrenched and unquestioned, where racial justice remains elusive, and where racism and bigotry are pervasive. . . .” Non-whites, another contributor explains, grow up “in an environment in which one faces the violence of racism on a daily basis.”
The editors, Judy Helfand and Virginia Lea, assure us that “at all levels — social, economic, political, and cultural — they [educational institutions] sustain racism and white supremacy,” but offer no evidence or examples. Likewise, we are repeatedly warned about “the linkage between white supremacist beliefs and values with global capitalism,” but the “linkage” is unexplained.
Very occasionally, the editors give examples of “racism.” Miss Helfand, who teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College in California, says she “discovered anti-Semitism” in the third grade, and “knew it was possible that some day I could be dragged away by the American equivalent of Nazis.” However, these anecdotes are not offered as evidence for “entrenched” racism, but as glimpses of the antiracist “journeys” the contributors have taken.
These women have a lot in common besides the basics of the doctrine. First, they love to write about themselves. Practically every chapter is full of scenes from the “journey.” They also like to wail over their failings. Laurie Lippin, who teaches at the college level (we don’t know where, because she’s missing from the list of contributors) unbosoms her “feelings of unattractiveness and inferiority,” and confesses that she had her nose shortened when she was a college student. She admits she is inadequate as an antiracist because she cannot get “racism” out of her unconscious.
Leny Strobel, a Filipino woman, says, “Even as a consciously decolonized person, there is still a part of me that is afraid to displease and offend white folks.” She once wrote in her diary, “All my life I’ve lived feeling inferior to white people,” and concludes that “we are all wounded soldiers in the same war in need of healing and reconciliation.” Sherry Marx, who teaches at Utah State University, confesses that she still falls into bad old racist habits, and “I am ashamed and embarrassed when people of color and whites more astute than myself point them out.” Kelly Maxwell, who teaches at the University of Michigan, tells her students she is an inadequate antiracist: “I am explicit with them that I am going to make mistakes and when I do, I am committed to working through them.”
Presumably it is because whites can never completely conquer their whiteness, that they must always be learning from their students, especially students “of color.” Eileen O’Brien, who teaches at William and Mary and who has a non-white “partner” and hybrid daughter, says “it is also important to remember that the teacher has as much to learn and unlearn as the students — perhaps more.” P.J. Hallem who teaches sixth grade, says classes should be “characterized by cooperation and mutuality in the roles of teacher and learner,” and that “in this method, all teach and all learn [even in the sixth grade].”
This theory of “co-learning,” as it is called, is related to the doctrine that there is no objective truth anyway, and that feeling is more important than knowledge. We are all gropers groping in the dark. Prof. Lippin explains that “the truth” is a “white culture way of looking at things.” Prof. O’Brien is fighting “the racist, sexist, classist norm of keeping emotions out of the classroom.” She says “white cultural norms value intellect over emotion,” and white cultural norms are, of course, very bad. The editors explain we must combat the idea of “knowledge that may be known through reason.” They add: “[B]ecause these knowledge forms are seen as ‘truths,’ their proponents believe they may legitimately colonize the classroom. This imposition may be seen as the practice of whiteness.”
None of the authors explains how disdain for “the truth” can be reconciled with fanatical certainty about “entrenched racism.” Presumably, these ladies learn about racism through their emotions rather than their intellects.
Recruiting for the Cult
It becomes clear from reading these selections that full-throttle anti-racism is essentially a religion. This does not keep it from being taught in college courses. Sherry Marx writes about recruiting for the cult at Utah State University. One of her students was a 20-year-old white girl named Elizabeth, who was tutoring non-white children. Prof. Marx describes the moment when Elizabeth “glimpsed the hulking, colossal entity that is white racism and she began to take some personal responsibility for it.” The girl started sobbing because “even though she did not want to be racist, at this moment she realized she might be.”
Professor Marx says tears are common because “coming to terms with racism necessarily provokes feelings of ‘trauma,’ ‘unsettlement,’ and ‘bafflement.’” It “provokes ‘feelings of guilt, depression, helplessness and anxiety’ that exacerbate the negativity associated with white identity.” At one point Elizabeth wanted to stop thinking about white privilege because it was so awful, but in the end, “she strengthened her resolve to press on in her journey of racial development.” She even decided not to marry her fiancé until he “changed his actively racist views about people of color” (no word if he ever did). Prof. Marx writes that plenty of other girls “were shocked and disappointed with themselves” to learn they were really racist, and “vowed to change.”
Grace Mathieson is a white woman who teaches fifth grade “from an antiracist perspective.” She says she uses “black feminist perspectives” “to transform Eurocentric curriculum and pedagogical practices.” She notes that it is wrong for whites to think that being white is “normal:” “What we fail to understand . . . is just how oppressive this is for those who fall outside the parameters of whiteness.” Every classroom lesson is an opportunity for “doing antiracism work,” that will recruit her charges to the struggle against racism.
Kelly Maxwell is a lesbian “on a path toward an antiracist life.” “My awakening will never be complete,” she confesses, but in the meantime, she asks herself every day: “Am I truly living my life in an antiracist way?” She is constantly on guard not to “reinforce viewpoints that are intolerant and insensitive.” If she fails it is because “my whiteness got in the way.” Her job is to make white students face the awful burden of whiteness, and “once the blinders come off, it is a difficult journey. It can be very painful.” She should know; she flagellates herself every day. “Sometimes I want to take a day off [from “antiracist work”]. I am busy and other issues are pressing. Yet, my friends and colleagues of color do not have the luxury of taking the day off from the impact of white privilege on their lives.”
In her courses, she likes to let the students jabber and emote, because order and reason would be racist, classist, etc. She says it helps non-whites to “hear from me and probably more significantly, from their white student colleagues, the commitment to unlearn racism.” Contrite whites are good for them: “I observe students of color who gain a measure of hope that there really are white folk trying to live an antiracist existence (certainly without perfection). . . .” She explains to white students that they themselves are not to blame for inventing racism but that they are constantly benefiting from it and must struggle against it. She reports that after her course, whites often resolve to object if their friends tell racist jokes, but, alas, “fundamental lifestyle change has not entered their minds.” That takes years but she has only a semester.
Gary Lemons, one of two men in the book, is a black who teaches Womanist Thought (radical black feminism) at Eugene Lang College, an expensive private school in New York state. He gets his mostly white and mostly female students to talk “about how painful the process of understanding racial privilege as a white woman can be.” He was happy when a student told him the course “encouraged me to continue down my own personal path of struggle.” Prof. Lemons assures us that for white women, a stiff dose of black feminism can be a “transformative personal, social, political, and spiritual project.” However, he wishes white students were lively like blacks. He says his classes bear out the view of “whiteness as inherently cold, lifeless, uninspired — soulless.” Whites are even more inhibited if there are non-whites in the class.
P.J. Hallem, a white woman, also likes lively blacks. She teaches a sixth grade mix of whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics, and decided to let the children lead the class. This meant blacks did most of the talking. The others, especially the Asians, didn’t like that, and thought she should take charge and teach. She didn’t care. “For my part,” she says, “I was delighted that African American students were so involved. As a white teacher, I was amazed at how much energy was tapped when students engaged in a discourse style that was comfortable to them.” The blacks explained that “they were used to just saying out loud what popped into their heads because that is what they did at home and at church. The African American students in our class called this ‘shouting out,’ and they wanted to use it more in school.” For some reason, the Asians didn’t care for this.
As part of her antiracist curriculum, Miss Hallem stopped correcting black English, and even got whites and Asians to learn ghetto slang. She says she did this even though some black parents asked her to make sure their children learned proper English. Teaching the other children to talk like blacks “was a new perspective that was especially empowering for African American students.” She likes black ghetto slang because it “is so exciting and, well, ‘hip.’” Still, she must constantly examine herself and “become more aware of [and avoid] the hegemonic practices of white teachers.”
Eileen O’Brien, the one with the mixed-race daughter, agrees that “Standard English is, even for many of us born in the United States, a language of conquest and domination.” She says we all have to study “our own oral histories, herstories, and ourstories.” In her college class called “Gender, Race, and Class,” she deliberately eggs on the non-whites against the whites, because if a teacher can stir up anger, the “rewards are tremendous.” She says whites — girls in particular — don’t like being attacked. “In their perception, a black student has stepped out of bounds of appropriate classroom conduct by intimidating white students.” However, this is good medicine for whites because “it is a privilege of whiteness to not have to take another racial group’s perspective into account.”
She notes that when the yelling starts, there are always some students who think the class is “a disaster.” But she presses on: “[I]t is always a point of growth for me to remember that once this discomfort occurs, it means I am doing my job because we are finally getting deeply to the heart of the issues.” Sometimes things go wrong. One of her white students wrote: “I think the hardest thing about this class is to know that I am hated by people because of the color of my skin.” The same girl added, “I am now horribly cynical about the African-American race” but was reportedly angry at herself for thinking this. In any case, the yelling itself is a blow for freedom: “Facing the racist, sexist, classist norm of keeping emotions out of the classroom is all the more relevant for those of us teaching in classrooms where topics like racism, sexism, and classism are the focus of the course content.”
Some teachers defy the white man simply by going non-Western. Rosemary Christensen, who teaches American Indian studies at the University of Wisconsin, teaches as the Indians did: “elder knowledge passed through oral tradition.” She has one group of students learn something, and then teach it to other students as if it were an “oral tradition.” If some students are not good at speaking they can teach by acting in skits. Prof. Christensen gives group grades.
Carlos Aceves, the other man in the collection, went looking for “the root cause of Chicano failure in public schools.” He found it, too: “[W]hile the people live an indigenous identity, those who hold political and economic power attempt to impose a European image.” But the indigenous identity needed boosting. Just as blacks are supposed to learn better if they marinate in African history, Chicano grade school students should explore their pre-Columbian roots. Mr. Aceves teaches them the Nahuatl Language and the Aztec calendar. The children sit in a “Tlahtokan or Speaking Circle,” and may speak only when the “talking stick” comes around the circle. Mr. Aceves makes sure “they understand how Quetzalcoatl discovered corn by becoming an ant, founded the Toltec Civilization, became the Morning Star, and lives in us today as a symbol of our rational thinking.” This is part of his plan to make up for “the ‘white man’s’ inability to accept mystery.” Mr. Aceves presents no data on whether this narrows the achievement gap.
Pauline Bullen is a black woman who teaches at a high school in Toronto, Canada, but in this book she does nothing but mouth clichés. “[R]acism and inequality are ‘entrenched realities’ within Toronto’s educational system,” and non-whites “need to learn the ways of the oppressor in order to live among them and survive in the capitalist, race stratified society.”
Let us conclude with Laurie Lippin. She tells us she is a Jewish lesbian who is “involved in a lifelong journey of self-actualization, of expanding my own consciousness. . . .” Although “the university is one of the last white, male, imperialistic aristocracies,” she teaches in one. She says it is a revolutionary act to say “I’m white:” To do so is “to name the invisible color, the water we swim in, is an act of bold exposure. . . . [W]hen you speak about yourself as a white, middle-class person, a dominant category whose influence is the underlying fabric of our North American reality, you invoke a questioning of the unquestioned.”
She appears to have spent her entire life “unlearning racism.” At one point in her “journey” she spent three years in a White Women’s Group, “using each other instead of people of color to challenge our white supremacist thinking.” It didn’t work: “The scars of doing personal work on racist conditioning included our painful recognition that while we professed equality and egalitarian values we still spewed the messages we had been taught that sat waiting in our unconscious.”
Despite her failings, Professor Lippin runs “understanding whiteness” seminars. “In the early years I probably erred on the part of supporting the students of color,” she writes, “but managed to keep my white students positively engaged without their getting stuck in the feeling that a racist society was their fault.” She “offers the students an opportunity to read poems and short personal stories by radical women of color.”
The non-whites gang up on the whites but that’s fine: “[W]hen white students complain that they feel ‘targeted’ in the classroom, a student of color might respond, pointing out that it was but a small taste of how it has felt to them to be targeted every day of their lives.” Whites need to learn that “participating in understanding whiteness and unraveling racism is a journey — an arduous, difficult journey with many obstacles, especially for white people.” One must never lose sight of the goal: “confronting the pain of white privilege and white oppression, and bringing white students to a new and responsible awareness.” “As teachers,” she concludes, “we have an opportunity to be at the forefront of a new world.”
Prof. Lippin’s job, in other words, is to make white people miserable — miserable for the rest of their lives. Their sole consolation is that they have “a new and responsible awareness.” Prof. Lippin is as silent as the rest of her fellow cultists about what exactly whites are supposed to do, once they have this “new and responsible awareness.” Presumably they are supposed to avoid using bad words and to decline invitations to lynching parties, but everyone does that. Should they give money to non-whites? Buy only from minority-owned companies? Pick up the garbage in black neighborhoods? Resign their jobs and insist that they be replaced by Mexicans? Be sure to marry non-whites?
These women say they are pushing “fundamental lifestyle change.” Kelly Maxwell doesn’t dare take even one day off from the job of “unlearning racism.” But what in heaven’s name is she actually doing? Like all these women, she is mute on this point. From even the most sympathetic reading, all one can gather from this book is that they spend endless “painful” hours searching their souls, agonizing over “racism” that won’t go away, and moaning about their inadequacies to other white women. This is a cult for white people who are obsessed with being white. It doesn’t do a lick of good for their precious “people of color.” Even by their own twisted standards it is hard to see it as anything but a self-absorbed, dead-end cult for losers.
The cult seems to attract only women. One author complains about men who just can’t understand “white privilege,” and who think they deserve what they have because they worked for it. A cult based on pure emotion, that offers only a lifetime of agonizing introspection will attract only the unbalanced.
The Logic of ‘Whiteness’
If these ladies did not despise logic they would see that there is an obvious way out of the racial imbroglio. They concede that most whites are not actively oppressing non-whites, and that many whites even want to help. Still, non-whites must constantly battle “entrenched racism,” while even the most advanced and virtuous whites (the contributors to this book) perpetuate “white supremacy” in spite of themselves.
Surely, the only humane solution is to set all non-whites free from their agony by sending them home, away from the incorrigible white man. In fact, it’s a wonder they stick around at all. At the very least, the contributors to this book should be down at the border, warning illegals away from a country that can offer them only “entrenched racism.”
As for whites, college courses on “understanding whiteness” are pointless. Whites cannot mix with other races without oppressing them, so must be treated like alcoholics and forced to make a clean break with the cause of their disorder. Like alcoholics, they can never be cured, but if they are forced to spend their entire lives without ever seeing or even thinking about non-whites, the damage they do will be minimized. A clean break with non-whites will deprive them of the benefits of multiculturalism, but it is the only way to strip them of the white privileges to which they are addicted. It is surely the punishment they deserve.