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The hard questions raised in what you pose here involve some painful confrontations with what it is we have accomplished in universities and even with what it is possible to accomplish. Your observation that the small vogue in critical whiteness studies both delights and comes at a cost comports with my sense of things.
Twenty-five years ago, the great legal scholar john powell and I consulted at a well-off private college where we tried to create a more diverse student body, faculty and curriculum. The president of the school asked what his goal ought to be. Having just helped his son pick a college, john unhesitatingly answered, “Make your student body look like your student recruitment brochures.” Back then, the chilling routinization around discourses on diversity, equity and inclusion talk — the university where I teach recently added “belonging” to the list with great fanfare even as it fired its most treasured multicultural affairs staff — had not quite hardened into place. But the essential problems were already present for powell to pinpoint: the tendency to promise much and deliver little and the calculation that diversity is something to be marketed, mainly to prospective white students. Your remarks on the “new interest in whiteness [being] consistent with the consumptive logics of whiteness” capture such dynamics in their contemporary form perfectly. In a moment when we reflect on Nancy Pelosi’s memorialization of George Floyd — “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice” — the placing of diversity in the service of a white nation, its evasions and its appetites for happy endings ought not surprise us.
Complicating matters, as you say, is the tendency to see emotional balance and personal development as the reason for anti-racist education training. We can’t of course ignore the fact of racist aggressions, micro and macro, on campuses. However, it must be said that the confines of a listening session are much more congenial terrain for administrators, including diversity administrators, than planning to enroll far more students of color, retaining faculty of color, recruiting diverse campus workers to secure jobs that won’t be contracted out, or defunding university police, talk of systemic racism notwithstanding.
From my vantage point, that of teaching the last four decades in Midwestern state universities, the larger decline of public education and academic freedom are now big parts of our inability to deliver on the promise of what you call “genuine criticality” towards dismantling whiteness. Anything grand like addressing issues of access or diversification of faculty is off the table from the start; anything controversial is seen as incompatible with winning legislators to the possibility of cutting higher education support a bit more slowly. With tiring regularity, right-wing media rediscovers the existence of critical whiteness studies and claims incredulous outrage that it is actually critical of whiteness. They seldom fail to put administrators on the defensive.
We Can Choose To End Hate By No Longer Teaching It Poster
The practice in the university in ruins is to not make efforts to retain any faculty, including faculty of color. The impressive studies of the University of California system by education scholar Chris Newfield have observed that the moment when the system became a bit more democratized racially, support receded. Moreover, the humanities and critical social science sites in which radically anti-racist interdisciplinary work has established itself are specifically threatened by internal university reallocations. These trends, inimical to critical ethnic studies and critical whiteness studies, emerge alongside statements by administrators lavishly supporting racial justice off campus. Claims of moral authority based on very meager social justice accomplishments proliferate.