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University offers class on ‘The Problem of Whiteness’

A class to be taught next semester at the University of Wisconsin Madison called “The Problem of Whiteness” aims to “understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy,” the course description states.

“Whites rarely or never questioned what it is to be white,” Assistant Professor Damon Sajnani, who will teach the course, told The College Fix in a telephone interview last week. “So you go through life taking it for granted without ever questioning or critically interrogating it.”

For Sajnani, one way to solve this is to offer “The Problem of Whiteness,” an analysis of what it means to be white and how to deal with it as a “problem.”

“The idea of talking about the problem of whiteness is to turn the question back to where it belongs,” he said.

One of the main goals in the class will be to understand race and identity and how it impacts lives on a daily basis, he said. One of the talking points is juxtaposing white privilege and white power, and how the two can be intertwined and similar to each other, the scholar said.

“The problem of racism is the problem of whites being racist towards blacks,” he said.

The class will also theorize what white students can do with their “whiteness” and how to mobilize their identities as a mode for social justice as opposed to racial injustices, he added.

When asked what he might say to those who oppose the course topic, Sanjani said they have no logical idea of what race actually is and how it is a political machine as well as a social construct.

“Since white supremacy was created by white people, is it not white folks who have the greatest responsibility to eradicate it?” he asks in the course description.

Sajnani told The Fix the premise of the course is to understand that race is neither biological nor cultural, but rather a social and political construct. He purports that blacks, throughout their life, constantly question what it is to be black, however “blacks did not invent racism or racial oppression.”

Naming the problem of whiteness is a play on what used to be known as the “Negro Problem” in the 20th Century, he points out.

Students will write two papers in the course. The first will be a reflection of themselves and their racial identities and how that plays into their roles in modern society. The second will be a critical engagement with the required readings.

According to the online class description, readings will include:

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1920. “The Souls of White Folks” in Dark Water
George Yancy, 2010. Look, a White!
Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015. Between the World and Me
Damon Sajnani, 2015. “Rachel/Racial Theory: Reverse Passing in the Curious Case of Rachel Dolezal”
Tim Wise, 2016. White Lies Matter: Race, Crime, and the Politics of Fear in America

In Sajnani’s “Rachel/Racial Theory” piece, he argues “race is an ideological structure created for the purpose of global European domination. It is designed to be fixed and permanent; to reify the contingent relations of colonial subjugation into immutable identities.”

Sajnani is a self described far-left professor who said he views both Democrats and Republicans as right-wing entities.

MORE: University’s ‘Whiteness Forum’ takes ‘critical look at whiteness’

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About the Author
Thomas Columbus -- University of Southern California