Colleges are now increasingly busy herding faculty members into racial equity training seminars where they are urged to examine and eliminate their white privilege, implicit bias, and role in maintaining institutional racism. It’s as though Mao’s Cultural Revolution has come to campuses everywhere.
One such effort recently erupted into bitter dissension at Duke Divinity School when Prof. Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, responded to an email sent to faculty urging them to attend a two-day Racial Equity Institute. Calling it a “waste” and objecting to the “exhortation,” Griffith predicted “with confidence” that it would be “intellectually flaccid,” filled with “bromides, cliches, and amen-corner rah-rahs.” If it gets beyond that, he added, “its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.”
Griffith was subsequently chastised by his dean for using email to “express racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry,” and threatened with disciplinary action. He then resigned. (The American Conservative reported on this controversy and reprinted relevant documents.)
Now comes a friend from the left coast who has forwarded to me a May 17 invitation to the faculty from The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness at San Jose State University to participate in an eight-week re-education exercise professional development program on “Whiteness and Race.”
This eight-week indoctrination “professional development series,” the invitation states, “offers the opportunity for SJSU white-identified faculty to build their racial literacy through participation in a seminar focused on whiteness, white racial identities, white racism, and anti-racist practice.” Whiteness, the program description helpfully explains, “refers to hegemonic racial power that privileges white groups while subordinating racialized ‘others.’” Still not clear about “whiteness”? Never fear, there’s more: “As an identity and performance, it is a position of racial privilege, a standpoint perspective, and a set of cultural practices that often remain unmarked. As an ideological and institutional structure, it is a complex web of discourses and processes that sustain racial domination.”
This program reflects the research of, and is “facilitated” by, SJSU Sociology Professor Susan Murray, whose professional preoccupation seems to be a social science version of racial navel-gazing. From her web page:
White culture, white racism, and white privilege are so deeply embedded in American history, in our social institutions, and in everyday thinking that I find myself in constant self-reflection about my own racial location. American cultural denial of privilege, of history, of institutional racism, and the constant barrage of white racism in the media (especially during this election season) create moments of intellectual self-doubt about my research agenda.
Based on the scholarship and other notions that inform this seminar promoting “racial literacy” (see, for example, Murray’s article, “Whitened rainbows: how white college students protect whiteness through diversity discourses”), I confess that I must be a racial illiterate. Although my racial illiteracy and the inevitably resulting racial insensitivity no doubt make my opinions and judgment suspect, I wonder if I am the only one who sees a problem with a state institution limiting an educational … er, well, … opportunity to “white faculty,” or rather to “white-identified faculty.”
And for that matter, who is authorized to do the identifying or to judge the authenticity of the identifying? For example, if a Rachel Dolezal in reverse — a woman (i.e., a person who identifies — or perhaps is identified by others? — as of the feminine gender) who has a dark skin but identifies as white — if such a person wanted to attend, would she be allowed? Or what about Justice Clarence Thomas, should he find himself at some point on the SJSU faculy, or better yet, Shelby Steele, who taught At San Jose State from 1974 to 1991?? Neither, of course “identifies” as white, but others have described both of them as “Oreos,” a person who is black on the outside but white inside.
And what about those people, of whom there are many (some perhaps even on the SJSU faculty), who appear to be white but for whatever reason don’t “identify” as white? I’m sure Prof. Murray thinks those are precisely the people most in need of re-education attending since she freely admits that she herself was late to the enlightenment party: “it was not until graduate school at UCSC that I really started thinking about my own racial privilege and racist proclivities.” Given the tainted American environment, then, it is not surprising that others are in need of what she has to facilitate.
Since white-appearing faculty who choose not to subject themselves to this “professional development series” are so obviously the ones who need it most, surely the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SJSU must have some means at its disposal of forcing them to do so. Not doing so would seem to be a dereliction of its diversity-inducing duty.