The idea from University of Wisconsin professor Damon Sajnani was fairly straightforward: Race is a big issue in America these days. So is the concept of white privilege. So why not offer a class to study it all?
The course, titled "The Problem with Whiteness," asks students to probe the nature of life with lighter pigmentation: “Have you ever wondered what it really means to be white? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably ‘no.’ But here is your chance!
“Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy.”
Sajnani plans to visit “how race is experienced by white people,” according to the class description. Students will also investigate how whitey can “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism.”
To most, it would seem a rather tame pursuit, well in keeping with a university's mission to illuminate the humanity. After all, white guys have ruled the world for centuries. Surely our ways, and the manner with which we've molded culture, are worthy of inquiry in the same way we study historical forces like the Greeks or Romans.
But state Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville) is having none of this heresy. He seems to believe in that old Southern notion of white infallibility. When he heard of the course, he cranked his outrage to Defcon 5, denouncing it as "garbage" for its prevailing theme that "white people are racist."
Weirdly enough, Murphy is chairman of the committee on colleges and universities, which is like making a witch doctor chief of cardiovascular surgery. He demanded the university either drop the class or face budget cuts.
“I support academic freedom and free speech,” Murphy said in a prepared statement to the Washington Post. “Free speech also means the public has the right to be critical of their public university. The university’s handling of controversies like this appears to the public as a lack of balance in intellectual openness and diversity of political thought on campus.”
But a conservative politician's standard of "intellectual openess" would make the university a very limited place. By that definition, there would be no business ethics classes, no women's studies program, and surely no science departments.
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