The full title of the course, being offered by the English department, is “U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness.”
AZCentral offers a partial syllabus, which includes “Playing in the Dark” by Toni Morrison and “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado. Critical race theory, in case you’ve forgotten, is an “academic discipline” that proceeds from the assumptions that white supremacy is rampant, both on a conscious and unconscious level, in American society and that the only remedy is “racial emancipation,” which is open to interpretation and often taken to imply violence. The father of CRT is Derrick Bell, Barack Obama’s mentor and cherished friend at Harvard Law School. Another Obama confidant, Jeremiah Wright, who candidate Obama claimed to be his spiritual adviser over two decades, based his sermons on CRT.
But let’s not give short shrift to the other half of the course’s title: the “problem” of whiteness. Here’s what the university said in a statement about the course:
This course uses literature and rhetoric to look at how stories shape people’s understandings and experiences of race. It encourages students to examine how people talk about – or avoid talking about – race in the contemporary United States. This is an interdisciplinary course, so students will draw on history, literature, speeches and cultural changes – from scholarly texts to humor. The class is designed to empower students to confront the difficult and often thorny issues that surround us today and reach thoughtful conclusions rather than display gut reactions. A university is an academic environment where we discuss and debate a wide array of viewpoints.
The timing of this offering — and especially the claim that this course will “examine how people avoid talking about race” — is priceless. Scarcely a day goes by when racism and the white people who bear exclusive guilt for this sin are not elements of a prominent news story and/or editorial.
AZCentral notes that not everyone at ASU is on board with the need for such a course. Lauren Clark, an ASU student not in the class, is quoted as saying:
Clearly we have a lot of work to go as a society in terms of racial tensions, but having a class that suggests an entire race is the problem is inappropriate, wrong and quite frankly, counterproductive.
Lee Bebout, an assistant professor who teaches the class and “identifies as white,” told reporters that he has received “vitriolic hate mail” since the story of the course offering broke. There are two ways of interpreting this. One is that many Americans share the view of Lauren Clark that a course of this type can only reinforce the victimist mentality of minorities and lead to future interracial clashes. The other is that the hate response is evidence of the pervasiveness of the “problem of whiteness” and, if anything, lends credence to the need for this course.
I wonder how Bebout sees it.
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