Whiteness History Month: Better PCC than CNN
By Kevin Moore
The backlash and controversy we have seen since PCC announced plans to host Whiteness History Month are no surprise to anyone engaged in public debates over racism and race issues. No one finds these topics easy. Everyone finds something to get angry about.
Yet what better place than PCC to look into these issues? As an academic institution devoted to intellectual freedom and scholarly inquiry, PCC is well suited to host a discussion about a matter as fundamental to the identity and politics of our nation (and many other parts of the world) as what actually constitutes “whiteness.” In philosophy we are taught to examine our preconceived ideas about the world and see if they make sense. In science we test theories and see if they work in reality. In all of our disciplines we apply critical thinking to a wide range of problems in order understand them and (with any luck) solve them. Why should “whiteness” be any different?
These discussions get personal, so allow me: I was born a white person. Or should I say “white” person? What does that mean? Skin color only? Or does being “white” in our culture bring with it other attributes? Advantages? Rights? Privileges? In the last 500 years of history on this continent it is clear that “whiteness” was a good deal for anyone who could make a claim to it.
Yet that it was a pretty raw deal for anyone who couldn’t.
That alone should raise an eyebrow. Why did that happen? What does that mean for people, “white” and “of color”, living today? How does this affect our sense of selves, our democracy, our livelihoods, our futures?
Moreover, is “whiteness” a meaningful category? Where did those meanings come from? Why? These can be unsettling questions folks who have inherited membership into this “club” (so to speak). After all, millions of “white” people have faced serious challenges (poverty, abuse, sexism, etc.) that it seems strange that there might be some arbitrary advantage to “whiteness.” Yet for millions of people designated “black” or “brown” or “other colors” those advantages are strikingly clear; indeed, the rights and privileges taken for granted by one class are denied in ways both subtle and dramatic to those who experience a much harsher reality.
That said, no one is required to feel guilt or shame. Indeed, those feelings can mislead or fog our attempts to see clearly. They can transform into bitterness and resentment. It’s more helpful to engage these problems openly and honestly: don’t fear to speak up, yet don’t fear to listen either. As a librarian, I note there are a few books to read on the subject, too. As a citizen, I have more faith in PCC than in the comments section of our local news site or the shouting heads on cable news networks. We are better off giving our problems “the old college try” than by letting demagogues dominate the conversation.