Over the last year, courses offered at Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin – Madison on “The Problem of Whiteness” have caused quite a stir, making national news and becoming a talking point in an election year that increasing brought racial tensions in the USA to the forefront of political discourse. In the case of the latter, the course, before students had even sat down for the first class, caused such a controversy that GOP lawmakers in the state threatened to defund the public university if the UW did not remove the course and even fire the professor. As an entry point into our own course, we might ask what is so offensive or unnerving to Wisconsin politicians about a course that interrogates the “problem of whiteness”? Is it simply that these lawmakers view a course on whiteness as inherently partisan? What does it mean refer to a course that describes its purpose as “understand[ing] how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy” as partisan? Is the struggle for racial justice a liberal issue? Or is the suggestion that white supremacy (which reared its ugly head during this past election year with hate groups re-emerging in popular discourse) still exists in this country so controversial that is requires defense before we can proceed? The argument, according to the course’s most vocal critic Representative David Murphy, seems to be that he views the class as founded on “the premise that white people are racist.” While this assessment seems like a stretch given the course description (the class certainly acknowledges that racism is far more complicated and diffuse than millions of white people actively harboring racial hatred in their hearts), it forces us to ask: why are a state that is over 87% white and a public university that is over 75% white so utterly concerned about a course asking the matter-of-fact question, “Have you ever wondered what it really means to be white?” If “whiteness” is not about white supremacy, then why are we so concerned to find out what it is about?

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