CUNY: ‘Whiteness continues to be a crucial problem in our English department’

CUNY: ‘Whiteness continues to be a crucial problem in our English department’
Left to right: Bianca Williams, Tami Navarro, Asilia Franklin-Phipps (Images: CUNY Graduate Center, Barnard Center for Research on Women, CUNY Graduate Center)

The above observation, made with as much emotion as one might display when phoning an exterminator about a household pest problem, is the first sentence in a description of a scholarly forum to take place on March 22 at the City University of New York’s  Graduate Center. Titled “Refusing Institutional Whiteness: Possibilities, Alternatives, and Beyond,” the forum will draw “together a group of scholars and thinkers in a range of disciplines in order to help us imagine, discuss, and produce new ways of resisting whiteness and envisioning alternatives in institution settings — whether that be through refusal, protest, dissent, or new types of social, artistic, and methodological existence.”

The panelists — Bianca Williams, Tami Navarro, and Asilia Franklin-Phipps — are all women of color. So is the moderator, Chy Sprauve, who is a fourth-year doctoral student in English and Composition Rhetoric and an adjunct instructor at Medgar Evers College.

Chy Sprauve (Image: CUNY Graduate Center)

At a time when racial inequality is as much as in the news as it was before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one might hope for a little more delicacy in dealing with the feelings of another race, even if it is comprised of people who are viewed as being “privileged.” The text above — and the upcoming discussion it heralds — speak of the entire white race as an abstraction, not as individuals with feelings and needs and desires.

I am not suggesting that there should be a white person, much less a man, on the panel. But blacks should know better than anyone the emotional hurt that is inflicted when a person is judged purely on the basis of his skin color.

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles is a freelance writer and regular contributor to "Liberty Unyielding."