Justice

The Unexpected Reason People Are Praising 'Whiteness History Month' At This College

January 21st 2016

By:
Taylor Bell

Portland Community College is declaring April "Whiteness History Month" but not for the reason you might think.

Unlike other heritage months, Whiteness History Month is not a celebration of any one heritage. Instead it's an educational project that seeks to challenge race and racism through exploring the social construction of whiteness, according to the school's website.

So far, the reactions are mixed.

The concept of "whiteness" is a complex one. But the college defines it as "a state of consciousness, often invisible, shaping how white people view themselves. It also refers to "an ideology based on beliefs, values, behaviors, habits, and attitudes that result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege based on skin color."

By critically examining whiteness the campus hopes to inspire practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism. However, since the announcement, the college's upcoming events have been criticized. The school tells the Oregonian that "the whole thing has been taken out of context, posted first on conservative blogs and then picked up by social media."

Whiteness History Month was created by a subcommittee of PCC’s Cascade Campus Diversity Council. The subcommittee hopes to organize events that can address these questions:

  • In what ways has whiteness been institutionalized, imposed and internalized?
  • What are alternatives to a culture of white supremacy?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of white people and people of color in dismantling whiteness?

Related: This Is Exactly What White Privilege Looks Like at Its Worst

According to the Oregonian, the project was discussed in December after organizers were inspired by Black Lives Matter movements on and off their campus.

While some praised the project...

Others condemned it. The school faced major backlash after many people viewed the project as perpetuating 'whiteness-shaming,' the Oregonian reports.

In response, PCC spokeswoman Kate Chester told the Washington Post that the project was not designed to condemn anyone, but rather "look at whiteness as a social construct."

“It’s complex, and people can latch onto ‘white’ instead of ‘whiteness,’ and it can become personalized and polarized,” Chester told The Post. “So it’s complex. It’s controversial. It’s a sensitive issue.”

The college's interim president Sylvia Kelley echoed Chester's sentiment in a statement.

“We view this project as part of a larger national conversation around race and social justice on America’s college campuses. As Oregon’s largest post-secondary educational institution, it is our responsibility to help continue this courageous conversation. We understand that this will be challenging and uncomfortable work, yet we have made a commitment in our strategic plan to take intentional action to advance diversity, equity and inclusion--for all we serve.”

PCC serves about 90,000 students.