Allison Gross: Why I support “Whiteness History Month”

By Bridge Staff|March 20, 2016News, Opinions, Special Coverage: "Whiteness" History Month|

What strikes me most about recent articles and posts that rally against Whiteness History Month is the tone of the language being used. These people sound so angry. When I share these angry responses with friends, family, students and colleagues who share my anti-racist values, the same question arises again and again: “What are they so afraid of?”

Anger is a “secondary” emotion. It usually appears in lieu of some other more authentic emotion. Anyone who has ever parsed an argument that they had with a loved one—be it spouse, sibling, parent, or child—knows this. I wasn’t really mad that my husband/mom/daughter didn’t do _______. I was hurt because it suggested they didn’t really think/care about _________. This is just everyday psychology. We tell our kids to take deep breaths; we go for a run or clean the kitchen or write to bring ourselves to a calmer state. Then we hash things out. Attempting to resolve disagreements or conflict in this heightened state of emotional arousal often goes nowhere.

Whiteness History Month seeks to open a space where people can have real dialogue—where we can move past superficial emotions like anger and get into meaningful conversations with each other. Too many of the responses to this program have not bothered to understand where the organizers are coming from or what the goals of the program are. They are responding to what they perceive Whiteness History Month to be rather than what it actually is. In jumping to such conclusions, the perpetrators of such false accusations participate in and encourage a kind of public conversation that is inconsistent with the spirit of authentic intellectual and academic inquiry.

But the scholarship on racism is clear: it exists. Seriously. (Which is why arguments that essentially oppose anti-racist efforts from people working at an institution of higher learning are so remarkably disappointing and, frankly, embarrassing). And racism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Why? Because it’s been constructed by a number of often invisible acts that if you’re a white person, you likely never have had to experience (making it all the easier to dismiss accounts to the contrary). This is simply logic. It only requires the kind of critical thinking that college aims to teach students every day.

Don’t get me wrong—emotions matter. But it’s important to understand the way in which they often come from a place of self-preservation: to really interrogate one’s emotions means to confront one’s upbringing, experiences, and values. There’s a tendency to get defensive (this is human nature). But another thing that makes us human is our ability to work with our emotions, to think about them, and to modify our behavior when we realize there are inconsistencies between the kind of world we want to live in and the one in which we currently find ourselves.

Whiteness History Month might not prove to be a success. We won’t know until it happens, which is why lambasting it now serves no real purpose. The program comes from a good, smart place; the organizers are approaching it from a well-informed position. And they don’t sound angry to me. For these reasons, I support it.

Allison Gross is a Faculty Member at PCC.

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