Friday, December 23, 2016

Damon Sajnani and 'The Problem of Whiteness'

Damon Sajnani is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I'm sure he relishes all the national attention he's getting as a result of the course he will be teaching in the spring semester of 2017 - "The Problem of Whiteness."

Course details:

The Problem of Whiteness

African 405

Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm

Professor Damon Sajnani

     “There is no Negro problem in the United States,
     There’s only a white problem.”
          -Richard Wright
 “How does it feel to be a problem?”
           -Du Bois

Have you ever wondered what it really means to be white? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “no.” But here is your chance! In Frantz Fanon’s famous Black Skin, White Masks (1952), his chapter “Look, a Negro!” interrogated the meaning and experience of coming to know oneself as Black under the constant scrutiny of the white gaze. It is an experience concomitant with W.E.B. Du Bois’s observation that under systemic racism, even well-meaning whites are constantly asking, in one way or another, “what is it like to be a problem?” But, Like Richard Wright’s quote above, philosopher George Yancy’s book, Look, a White! (2010), turns the question around, and rightly returns “the problem of whiteness” to white people. After all, since white supremacy was created by white people, is it not white folks who have the greatest responsibility to eradicate it? Our class begins here. We will come together with our socially ascribed identities of Black, white, mixed and other and, with the problem properly in its place we will ask ourselves and our allies, what are we going to do with it?

Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy. Our class will break away from the standard US-centric frame, and consider how whiteness is constructed globally, with particular attention to paradigmatic cases like South Africa. Whereas disciplines such as Latino/a, African, and Asian American studies focus on race as experienced by non-whites, whiteness studies considers how race is experienced by white people. It explores how they consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism and how this not only devastates communities of color but also perpetuates the oppression of most white folks along the lines of class and gender. In this class, we will ask what an ethical white identity entails, what it means to be #woke, and consider the journal Race Traitor’s motto, “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”

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
Understandably, this course being offered at a taxpayer-funded university is controversial.

The course description presents the class as more of an indoctrination situation than a learning experience. White people "consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism" and devastate "communities of color."

Sajnani intends to teach what an "ethical white identity entails" and what it means to be "#woke." (How odd that he uses a hashtag with "woke"!)

He seems to be on a mission to make sure his students are woke, with an awareness that "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity."

Clearly, Sajnani has a problem with whiteness and, apparently, the university agrees that whiteness is a problem.

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

A Republican lawmaker called for UW-Madison to cancel a planned course on racism and fire its professor for posting tweets the legislator said condoned violence against police officers, warning Tuesday that the class could affect the university’s funding in the next state budget.

State Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said he believes the course in the university’s African Cultural Studies department called “The Problem of Whiteness” is inappropriate and a waste of money. Murphy joined Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, in saying that how the university handles the controversy over the spring 2017 course could have ramifications for its request for new state funding in the 2017-19 budget.

...School officials defended the course on Monday after Nass, a frequent critic of the university, derided it in an email to Republican legislators.

“The course title refers to the challenge of understanding white identity and non-white identity across the globe,” the university wrote in a statement Monday night. It is not mandatory, and “will benefit students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of race issues,” officials said.
I don't like the idea of legislators threatening funding whenever they disagree with a course. However, we do have standards of what constitutes appropriate content in education. "The Problem of Whiteness" doesn't seem to be appropriate. University officials did a poor job of defending the course, saying it's not mandatory to justify the class. Not a convincing argument at all.

I guarantee school officials would not be defending courses called "The Problem of Blackness" and "The Problem of Femaleness" and "The Problem of Gayness," nor should they.

"Whiteness"? That's a PROBLEM worthy of analysis.

Academic freedom must be defended, but Sajnani doesn't seem to be presenting a viewpoint in a balanced, intellectually honest manner to enrich the minds of his students. It appears he's on a crusade and pushing an anti-white agenda.

Then there's the matter of Sajnani's tweets after the assassinations of five law enforcement officers and the injuring of nine others in Dallas last summer.

Very disturbing.

Sajnani's Twitter page offers this description:

"Lyrical Legend"?

I would recommend that UW-Madison offers a course on "The Problem of Radical Activist Egomaniacal Professors."

That would be tax dollars well spent.

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