Unbearable Whiteness of Being

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment


Those who ponder where the class struggle begins in the country with the most movement between classes, up and down, need wonder no more: All they have to do is look at the content of composition courses. “Writing Race: Language, Identity, Power was an ambitious course (which is a kind way of saying I tried to do too much),” Tyler T. Schmidt, the professor who teaches the class, claims in Radical Teacher, “a socialist, feminist, and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching.”

“He grades any reasonable creative writing piece with an A,” one of Schmidt’s students wrote on ratemyprofessors.com. “So he’s a pretty easy grader.”

Schmidt is an assistant professor of English and co-coordinator of the Curriculum program at Lehman College, which is part of the City University of New York. He took as his inspiration for the class another education innovator, one who eschews the upper case.

“It would be interesting for all those white folks who are giving their take on blackness to let them know what’s going on with whiteness,” bell hooks has stated.

Schmidt agreed. “I would argue there is equal value in white teachers reflecting on ‘what’s going on with whiteness,” he argued.

His students, budding pedagogues, obliged. “Midway through the course, students composed critical race narratives, an assignment designed to make connections between class readings on race and language and students’ self-selected experiences with race, language, and education,” Schmidt explains.

“The first day I stepped into my school for an interview I was terrified—I felt as if I was naked walking through the halls because I was afraid all the attention would be drawn to me because I was white,” one student wrote. “I had never before felt so uncomfortable in my skin because of my race.”

“I have never before thought about my race so deeply because I had never been a minority racially. It took a few days but then I started to feel like I just blended into the walls as just another teacher.” In the New York City public school system, that may not be such a great feeling to have either.

Schmidt decided to take the class into cyberspace. “The discussion board in Writing Race offered a place for students to rehearse their thinking and to challenge classmates’ views often hesitantly on a range of topics including bilingualism, code-switching, alternative academic discourses, and the daily and often messy articulations of race and sexuality in the public school classroom.” Luckily, Schmidt does not tell us how messy those sexual articulations get.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org