Whiteness History Month

It’s readily accepted that white history is taught, year-round, to the exclusion of minority histories. But the literal history of whiteness — how and when and why what it means to be white was formulated — is always neglected. The construction of the white identity is a brilliant piece of social engineering. Its origins and heritage should be examined in order to add a critical layer of complexity to a national conversation sorely lacking in nuance. Daniel, M. (2014). The history white people need to learn. Salon.com.

The Project

We, a subcommittee of PCC’s Cascade Campus Diversity Council, are engaging in a bold adventure this coming academic year and need your support.

Statement of Purpose: The Need

In the 1920s Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1926) and associates established Negro History Week. Woodson was centrally concerned with the mis-education of the American Negro and sought to “challenge the master narrative of traditional history curriculum, promote multicultural education and diversity in school settings, and improve race relations” (King & Brown 2014:25). By the 1970s Black History Month and other heritage months were nationally and internationally recognized. Yet, the history of whiteness has largely been unexamined.

Whiteness is a socially and politically constructed behavior. It has a long history in European imperialism and epistemologies. Whiteness does not simply refer to skin color but an ideology based on beliefs, values, behaviors, habits and attitudes, which result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege based on skin color. Whiteness represents a position of power where the power holder defines social categories and reality—the master narrator. Whiteness originates racism. It is relational. “White” only exists in relation/opposition to other categories in the racial hierarchy produced by whiteness. Whiteness is a state of consciousness, often invisible, shaping how white people view themselves and others and thus perpetuating ignorance throughout communities. Cultural racism is founded in the belief that "whiteness" is the universal...and allows one to think and speak as if Whiteness described and defined the world. The meaning of whiteness is historical and has shifted over time. Daniel, M. (2014). The history white people need to learn. Salon.com.

Nearly ninety years after Woodson’s global inspiration, colleges across the country continue to struggle to improve diversity, inclusion, and racial equity. At Portland Community College, evidence from hiring data, student-led research, surveys, focus groups, college-wide emails, and other sources have illuminated the underlying reality of whiteness embedded in the overall college climate. Portland Community College’s strategic plan calls for "intentional action" to "create a nationally renowned culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Learning Areas and Essential Questions

Context:

  • What is whiteness and how is it socially constructed?
  • In what ways has whiteness been institutionalized, imposed and internalized?
  • In what ways does whiteness emerge from a legacy of imperialism, conquest, colonialism and the American enterprise?

Consequences:

  • What are the legal, cultural, economic, social, environmental, educational, and /or intrapersonal consequences of whiteness?
  • Who benefits from the consequences of whiteness? Who loses from whiteness? How?

Change:

  • What are alternatives to a culture of white supremacy?
  • What are approaches and strategies to dismantling whiteness?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of white people and people of color in dismantling whiteness?
  • What is the legacy of social justice? How can this legacy inform the work of racial equality?

Project Benefits

WHM is a strategy to:

  • Improve campus climate for students, faculty, staff, and administrators 
  • Bolster student retention and success 
  • Model a multidisciplinary approach that supports innovative teaching and learning college wide
  • Promote community partnerships
  • Examine and reflect on our academic skills, competence and personal beliefs and how these impact others
  • Apply racially conscious systems of analysis to examine and dismantle systems of inequality
  • Graduate students from PCC with local, national, and global sensibilities regarding the learning tasks of Critical Race Theory