Thursday, December 22, 2016

Legislators Try to Censor University Educators in Whiteness Dispute

Republican legislators in Wisconsin object to a UW Madison elective course on "The Problem of Whiteness." Apparently there weren't any problems when federal law restricted citizenship to "white" people, when water fountains, train cars, public transportation, schools, housing, and virtually everything else in the country carried the label "white" or "colored." Studying this problem's history and continued legacy is vital to achieving accurate knowledge about American history and society and acquiring the tools we need for improving our democracy and the lives of our fellow citizens.

I submitted the following letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper:

"I regularly include the debate over "whiteness" in my critical race theory units at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Thus I am alarmed by threats made recently by government officials who want to silence such debates. "White" was first used in a federal law in 1789 to restrict who could become a naturalized U.S. citizen. In the following two centuries, the word was used to restrict access to virtually every right and privilege in the U.S., from bubblers to buses, voting, marriage, schools, housing, and jobs. This has indeed been a problem. Its legacy continues to influence inequality in the U.S. and create tensions among our citizens. Many "white" people have been leaders in the fight against racism. Examining the problem created by the invention of "whiteness" as a system of legal and social privilege is not an attack on people who think they are white. It is simply one important task in the larger effort to root out the fallacy that human beings belong to "races" and that this should determine their life chances and treatment. Ignorance of this problem and its history benefits no one in the long run."

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