Thursday, May 21, 2009

Post-Civil-Rights Whiteness and Diversity: When Are We Going to Stop Talking about Race?

Joyce Irene Middleton, chair of the CCCC Committee on Diversity, has written this week's post on whiteness and diversity. In it, she links ideas and arguments that the committee will use to develop its position statement on diversity. During the next two weeks, members of the CCCC Committee on Diversity will respond to Joyce's post by adding their own comments, and we all invite our readers to join in the conversation. We also encourage folks to use the blog series in their graduate classes come fall semester and ask their grad students to respond. Our new regular schedule for invited Guest Bloggers in our "CCCC Conversation on Diversity blogging series will on 6/4/2009.

Blog Entry

The emergence of whiteness studies helps to shed new solutions in ways to think about diversity in the twenty-first century. Initially, some readers may ask the question: “what does whiteness have to do with diversity?” The answer is, quite emphatically, everything, especially if the intersectionality of identities is important (and too often it is not). The current and lingering oppositional thinking about race (not ethnicity), as either “white” or “non-white” has actually helped to sustain early US markers of identity and difference. This kind of racializing is rooted in fossilized markers of difference: whiteness, ethnicity, post-colonial identity, race, and gender. We continue to do this, even though late twentieth-century scholars both in the humanities and sciences agree—especially with the availability of DNA evidence—that the concept of race, including the white race, is a mythology—a powerful construction of ideology and human identity that perpetuates an illusion of human difference.

Importantly, any concept of diversity that is linked to race and whiteness furthers the illusion of racial purity. This committee wants to assert a new discourse on diversity that abandons the false illusion of racial human difference (without abandoning the powerful history of racism). We hope that this new discourse on diversity will support a paradigm shift in our scholarship, teaching, and service. Effectively, we will move from talking about whiteness and non-whiteness as a personal reality (the illusion) to focus solely on the persistence of historical and institutional whiteness and racism (the reality).

In 2005, Valerie Babb, writing in Jackie Jones Royster's and Ann Marie Simpkins’ edition of Calling Cards Theory and Practice in the Study Of Race, Gender, and Culture, an award-winning anthology on constructions of race, gender, and culture, raises a question about why “whiteness continues to exert its unstated privilege” (28) in the United States in the twenty-first century, especially in the academy? The persistent invisibility of this social (and global) racial construct continues to influence the values of our academic writing, teaching relationships, and professional memberships. For example, here are the rough numbers that reflect the current CCCC membership profile:

  • Asian, including Asian Indian or Pacific Islander 76
  • Black/African American 146
  • Prefer not to answer 130
  • White--Non-Latino/Hispanic/Spanish 3,010
  • American Indian or Alaska Native 18
  • Two or more races 32
  • Latino/Hispanic/Spanish 78
For most CCCC members in this profile, these numbers pale in comparison with the increasingly non-white student body in U.S. colleges and universities. Over the recent decades, many rhetoric, composition, and writing scholars have devoted their work to revising traditional histories of rhetoric and composition. Effectively, they have given us, not only re-gendered and re-raced readings of those histories, but they have also given us close examinations of the intersections of race, whiteness, gender, listening, silence, and other pedagogical topics (See, for example, Morrison, Booth, Allen, hooks, Giroux, Glenn, Trainor, Ratcliffe, Welch, Royster, Kennedy, Donawerth, Babb. Villaneuva, and Middleton).

These scholars, and others, are examining and questioning the specific, interconnected, relationships between whiteness, race, ethnicity, and gender with our current practices of teaching and writing in the university. One question that arises from this kind of research is: How can we recognize the influences of whiteness not only in our personal language use, classrooms, and departmental business, which are important, but also in how discourses of white privilege and racism use us? In talking about race, I always talk about whiteness and race (and racism) together. Importantly then, what kinds of antiracist work – scholarly, pedagogical, and institutional – will we make visible in our practices in order to disrupt the persistence of white privilege?

CCCC Annual Convention

2009 Convention logo

March 11-14, 2009
San Francisco, CA