Profs say classroom 'civility' promotes 'white racial power'
Two University of Northern Iowa professors recently argued that practicing “civility” in college classrooms can “reproduce white racial power.”
C. Kyle Rudick and Kathryn B. Golsan assert in a recent academic article that civility, particularly “whiteness-informed civility,” allegedly “functions to assert control of space” and “create a good white identity.”
This civility can reinforce white privilege, Rudick and Goslan argue, because “civility within higher education is a racialized, rather than universal, norm,” according to the field of “critical whiteness studies.”
To study this phenomenon, Rudick and Goslan interviewed 10 white college students and asked them questions such as “What do you consider to be civil behaviour?” and “How do you think your racial identity may affect your understandings of civility when talking with students of color?”
Students who indicated that they “treat everyone the same way” were accused of trying to create a “good White identity,” according to Rudick and Goslan’s analysis.
“First, participants stated that they tried to avoid talking about race or racism with students of color to minimize the chance that they would say something ‘wrong’ and be labeled a racist,” the professors report. “Another way that participants described how they tried to be civil when interacting with students of color was to be overly nice or polite.”
White students who make an extra effort to be nice to students of color, Rudick and Goslan claim, are merely upholding “white privilege” and “white racial power.”
Even students who indicated that they treat “everyone the same” were accused of reinforcing white racial power by the professors, who contend that treating everyone the same in the spirit of colorblindness can actually be a “race-evasive” strategy.
In this vein, one interviewee, Ryan, stated, “I feel like I treat everyone the same…To me, if you're white or black..., then I'm going to treat you like you're a human being. I guess I don't see skin color whenever I see someone.”
Criticizing this colorblind strategy, Rudick and Goslan argued that it “functions to erase racial identity in the attempt to impose a race-evasive frame on race-talk.”
To fight this, Rudick and Goslan argue that college professors must intervene, saying, “it is incumbent upon instructors to ensure that their classrooms are spaces that challenge, rather than perpetuate, WIC [whiteness-informed civility].”
“One way that instructors can challenge the strategies of WIC is by ensuring that White students and students of color engage in sustained, sensitive, and substantive conversations about race and racism,” they suggest.
Rudick and Goslan also say that professors should “encourage White students to understand how using WIC to downplay issues of race or racism in higher education serves to elide their own social location and reinforce the hegemony of White institutional presence.”
Rudrick told Campus Reform by email that he wrote the article in the spirit of his “continued service to Cthulu,” but did not respond to follow up inquiries. Golsan did not respond at all.
Follow this author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen