Jewish World Review June 24, 2003 / 24 Sivan, 5763

Michael Graham

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Like white on Rice | "It's a great advance to start looking at whiteness as a group." — Professor Howard Winant on "whiteness studies."

Believe it or not, but at universities across America, there are liberal professors trying to talk me, Michael Graham, into becoming a racist — and they think you should be one, too.

Don't laugh. OK, go ahead and laugh, but some very earnest people are sincere in their belief that white Americans need to learn to love our inner honkeys.

Last week's Washington Post fronted a feature on "whiteness studies," a new movement on college campuses teaching white people to become more focused on race. Howard Winant, a white professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a strong proponent of whiteness studies told the Post: "Historically, it has been common to see whites as a people who don't have a race." He thinks this is a bad thing.

He's not alone. More than 20 major universities from UMass to UCLA offer whiteness studies, yet not one of these courses addresses golf, NASCAR or the social significance of cream of mushroom soup.

There's even a "Center For The Study of White America" in that Confederate enclave of New Jersey. Its director, Jeff Hitchcock, believes the road to racial harmony is through more racism and he wants his fellow Caucasians to "embrace their own culture while abandoning the privileges that come with it."

C'mon, white people — you know the privileges he's talking about: The reserved parking at Starbucks, the discounts on Wonder bread and mayonnaise, free long-distance on all calls to Utah. And all those free, short-sleeve, button-down shirts. Ah, the good life!

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According to the Associated Press, Jeff Hitchcock is "an avowed anti-racist -- a diversity consultant who has been married for more than 15 years to a black woman and argues strongly for the United States as a multiracial melting pot." His wife, professor Charley Flint, explains the goal of "Whiteness Studies" succinctly: "We want to racialize whites. How can you build a multiracial society if one of the groups is white and it doesn't identify itself as a race?" [emphasis added]

And these people are "anti-racists?" That's like giving away loaded pistols and calling yourself "pro-gun control."

If it seems bizarre that the same liberals who once fought the good fight against segregation are now pushing "whiteness studies" and racially segregated dorms at Ivy League schools, you've missed one of the major ideological shifts in recent times: the "Redneckification" of the American Left. The concept of "whiteness studies" is anathema to supporters of integration and a colorblind, merit-based society. But liberals have abandoned even the pretense of such beliefs. Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger, defending race-based college admissions, dismisses the very notion of colorblindness as "completely novel and unprecedented" and opposed to "what's good for society."

Oh, yes, those dangerously novel, unprecedented ideas like individual merit and achievement. President Bollinger would rather go back to the tried and true precedents of Jim Crow, only with a different set of racial winners and losers. Thankfully, the Supreme Court this week indicated we're not headed back in that direction.

There are some of us who are just crazy enough to think that America's worst moments have come when we treated people differently based on their skin color. I'll even go so far as to suggest that increasing racial obsession makes it harder to create a unified America, one based on shared values that transcend skin color.

But, hey — I'm no college professor. What do I know? Elite intellectuals at Columbia and Princeton tell me that we should treat people differently based on race, that skin color does determine behavior — who am I to argue? I just wish we had the technology to send President Bollinger and the "Whiteness Studies" crowd back to the Civil Rights era, so they could tell the Freedom Riders to go home. They could explain to Dr. King why southern whites agitating for "white identity" in "white citizens' committees" were right all along. Think of all the time and trouble it would have saved America.

Once, in my rural, southern high school, an indignant classmate, angered by some comment I made, asked me, "Aren't you proud to be white?" I was taken aback. Quite honestly, it had never occurred to me that I ought to be. Later, as a stand-up comedian, I got in an argument with black comedian about why every white person should be ashamed of his race. Once again, the thought hadn't crossed my mind.

Why would I be proud of my pigment? Why should I believe I have some significant bond with a stranger merely because we're both pale, vulnerable to skin cancer and really bad dancers?

Instead of creating ever more communities of color, as the "whiteness studies" crowd hopes to do, why can't we stick with a single community of ideas? I am a proud member of that community already. It's called America. Anyone who can grasp, agree with and defend the ideas of liberty, equality and justice that our nation was founded on (and continues to seek imperfectly many years later) can be an American.

And being an American is, for me, sufficient. At times, it almost seems a luxury.

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.


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© 2003, Michael Graham