Whiteness History Month begins at Portland Community College

Portland Community College kicked off “Whiteness History Month” Friday with the first of over 100 planned events, starting with discussions about inappropriate approaches to tolerance.

According to Oregon Live, PCC officials are publicizing this month’s events in an effort to overcome the controversy that has dogged the program, even releasing a video answering the eight most frequently asked questions about Whiteness History Month.

[RELATED: Portland Community College to devote an entire month to ‘whiteness’-shaming]

Progressives Today obtained video footage of one of the opening-day lectures, as well as a media interview in which Dean of Student Instruction Craig Kolins struggles to provide specifics regarding either the goals of the project or the inspiration behind it.

Kolins began by asserting that the concept of whiteness is “not based on race; it’s a social/organizational construct,” elaborating that “it’s a social construct that really talks about privilege and … how it affects all people in society based on cultural norms of the U.S., and so I think it’s delving into issues about how we relate to one another.”

When pressed for an example of whiteness in real life, he responds, “I think that as a person with privilege, as a white male, I experience the world very differently than people of color, and so it’s my awareness of that, how I interact with the world, how people interact with me, so I guess that’s an example of how whiteness affects everyone.”

Calling Whiteness History Month “a way for us to interact together and to understand our uniquenesses [sic], and understand how those uniquenesses [sic] can bring us together to value education,” Kolins submits that “this is an opportunity to dialogue about some of the tensions that are created because of the societal pressure of whiteness.”

“What are specific situations that you want to address?” the reporter asks.

“I think that there are racist situations that happen in classrooms, and it’s to try to overcome those and create a safe environment for all students,” Kolins replies.

“Like what?”

“Tensions in the classroom … over race.”

“How would that manifest itself?”

“Through dialogues and discussion in the classroom.”

The reporter tries several more times to draw out a concrete example of how whiteness breeds bias, but Kolins continues to answer with generalities.

“There are complaints that are filed at all college and university campuses across the country,” he says in reply to the final attempt. “Racial discrimination, gender bias, some things that relate to harassment … when you look at society there are a lot of differences in how we treat each other, and this is an attempt to have a better understanding of how we can treat each other better.”

Kolins noted that the opening session would be devoted to “unconscious bias,” and in addition to guided discussions would feature a self-testing instrument developed at Harvard University designed to reveal a person’s conscious and unconscious biases.

KATU reports that roughly 30 people attended one such event at PCC’s Southeast Portland campus, though most were faculty members, with only two or three students thrown into the mix.

Clips obtained by Progressives Today show excerpts from that event, including one in which the participants discuss how those who aspire toward “color-blindness” are actually perpetuating the problem of racial bias.

“So, we, particularly in the U.S. … part of whiteness and part of the systems of oppression is to say that what is best is to not see difference … that’s like the Nirvana place,” says Rut Martinez-Alicea, an employee in PCC’s Multicultural Center who led the conversation. “Well, when we don’t see difference, first of all we’re missing out [on] a lot of information, [and] we’re also denying the consequence of difference.

“So when we engage in comments or behaviors that are informed by this value of color-blindness, we’re engaging in bias,” she concludes, explaining that “none of us are impermeable” to the influence of the times we live in, and “that’s part of how awful and unjust this all is … because oppression and subordination are imposed on us.”

PCC Community Relations Director Kate Chester that she is aware that some coverage of the project has been and will continue to be negative, but noted that this is just part of the dialogue the school is hoping to create, and that the school has several videos available on its website offering a more-positive perspective.

“When you host an event like this, which is an educational project that grew out of a grassroots initiative, you are naturally going to have different kinds of reactions, and those are the kinds of discussions that we want to have,” she asserted. “And when you open it up to the general public, you get all kinds of different people showing up, and that was part of the goal, to have a dialogue with the larger community.”

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