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Great Awokening, 7

Williams Political Science Professor Darel Paul writes about “Listening at the Great Awokening.” This is a brilliant article, worth reading in full. Relevant controversies at Williams include The Taco Six, Self-CARE Now, UL/Derbyshire, Green/Love Black Joy, and White Male Vigilantes. Alas, I don’t fully trust our busy readership to find the time to do so! So, we will spend two weeks going through the entire article. Day 7.

Racist violence on campus is said to go deeper still. Anti-racist activists claim its foundation is the very curriculum and pedagogy of the university: “the question of what counts as ‘good literature’ or ‘good art’ is not easily separable from feelings of exclusion from a majority culture of privilege and ‘value’” (Williams);

Check out that link! It goes to the Faculty-Staff Initiative Final Report of 2009 (pdf). These claims are not just made by some radical student fringe. They are core beliefs of many (most? almost all?) Williams faculty and administrators.

And maybe they are right! Certainly, if teachers have been telling non-white students (for their entire lives!) that Aristotle, Shakespeare and Dante are “white” and can’t really speak to the experiences and hopes of non-white people, it would hardly be surprising if those students came to Williams with “feelings of exclusion” toward Western classics. That does not strike me as a good thing.

How long until those names are sand-blasted off the front of Stetson/Sawyer?

Maybe we can keep Homer (brownish?) and Cervantes (Hispanic?) . . .

Side note: Had a conversation with some faculty about the Katie Kent ’88 and Dorothy Wang dust-up. Their comment was that if Katie had not been the one accused of racism, she would have been leading the charge against whomever was accused. Fair?

More from Paul below, and you really ought to read the whole thing!

white privilege is manifested in “white canons of fine art, literature, theory, and scientific thinking” (Evergreen); “research and academia have often emphasized and valued quantitative data, statistical information, and documentation through the written word. Our goals through our research are to push back on this systematic oppression through valuing our personal experiences, oral and creative histories, and the celebration of collaboration and community” (Brown University). From this perspective, all knowledge and all ways of knowing are racialized. Rather than speak of skepticism or empiricism or pragmatism, anti-racists would have us instead speak of white (or Eurocentric) epistemology, black (or Afrocentric) epistemology, Asian epistemology, etc. If different races have different ways of knowing, then in order to adequately learn, students require instructors of the same race. This is stated explicitly at Sarah Lawrence College where activists recently demanded that

Students of color should not be forced to resort to racist white professors in order to have access to their own history. It is crucial that the College offer courses taught about people of color by people of color [emphasis in the original] so that students may engage in and produce meaningful work that represents them authentically … The aforementioned classes must be taught by professors who are a part of the culture they are teaching about.

While such demands are most often seen in the humanities and social sciences, the sciences, too, are increasingly coming under fire for propagating racist violence through their pedagogy and epistemology. These arguments are brought together under the umbrella concept of decolonization, a broad project that first gathered steam in South Africa in 2015 and now spans the English-speaking world. Some of its advocates simply want to highlight the accomplishments of non-white scholars or revise teaching methods in order to reach different kinds of students. Others want a radical racialization of the institutional structure, curriculum and values of the university.

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8 Comments To "Great Awokening, 7"

#1 Comment By ’11 On June 11, 2019 @ 9:27 am

I don’t think Aristotle is white

#2 Comment By Teacher On June 11, 2019 @ 10:39 am

Certainly, if teachers have been telling non-white students (for their entire lives!) that Aristotle, Shakespeare and Dante are “white” and can’t really speak to the experiences and hopes of non-white people, it would hardly be surprising if those students came to Williams with “feelings of exclusion” toward Western classics.

Non-white students are fully capable of reaching these conclusions on their own–and, in fact, do. I’ve taught literature to non-white students in school districts with no ‘woke’ teachers for years, and it’s always struck me how poorly so much in the traditional ‘cannon’ resonates with these students.

And to ward off any critiques about my role in this non-resonance, I want to note that I personally have a fairly strong preference for the traditional western cannon and have stuck with it and tried new angles for it far beyond what would otherwise be justified based on student engagement. On the other hand, there are numerous authors and philosophers who write from different perspectives who generally resonate better with my students.

“the question of what counts as ‘good literature’ or ‘good art’ is not easily separable from feelings of exclusion from a majority culture of privilege and ‘value’”

I’m not sure I fully understand this statement, but it is obviously true that the question of “good literature” or “good art” is defined largely by the majority culture based on and is not a purely objective exercise. Cultural preferences shape these definitions in ways that favor some artists and authors over others. Unpacking this is a worthy and important exercise, especially for a teacher who does not teach exclusively to members of that dominant “good”-defining culture.

#3 Comment By John Drew On June 11, 2019 @ 12:26 pm

One of my clients has been teaching Shakespeare to inner city students for decades. The suggestion that whites cannot entertain and educate non-whites on the works of Shakespeare is just silly. This is just another excuse for blocking whites (mainly white men) from teaching jobs and setting aside those jobs for less qualified and effective non-whites.

#4 Comment By Teacher On June 11, 2019 @ 12:46 pm

The suggestion that whites cannot entertain and educate non-whites on the works of Shakespeare is just silly.

This was not my suggestion. To the contrary, I’ve always found that Shakespeare specifically tends to work well. My statement was explicitly about the cannon more broadly. Are there individual works and authors that kill? 110% yes. Does the western cannon as a whole resonate as strongly with non-white audiences as it does with white audiences? 110% no.

#5 Comment By John Drew On June 11, 2019 @ 2:43 pm

As a business school professor, I’ve successfully taught Africans from Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

I’ve gotten rave reviews when I’ve taught classrooms full of students from China, Egypt and the Philippines.

The suggestion that I cannot profitably teach and education non-white students is a canard taught by those who have a selfish financial interest in undermining the skills and experience of white professors.

I would say, in someways, the reverse is true regarding the preferences of minority students. In my experience, most minority students prefer white professors who are extraordinary at teaching and research to the non-white affirmative action hires who haven’t worked as hard or are not as conscientious.

#6 Comment By Teacher On June 11, 2019 @ 3:17 pm

The suggestion that I cannot profitably teach and education non-white students is a canard taught by those who have a selfish financial interest in undermining the skills and experience of white professors.

Note: this is not a suggestion I made. You seem to be having a bit of a conversation with yourself here.

#7 Comment By anon On June 11, 2019 @ 5:09 pm

“Does the western cannon as a whole resonate as strongly with non-white audiences as it does with white audiences? 110% no.”

Well, that depends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpnionTqGmQ

Slaves
Hebrews born to serve
To the pharaoh
Heed
To his every word
Live in fear
Faith
Of the unknown one
The deliverer
Wait
Something must be done
Four hundred years
So let it be written
So let it be done
I’m sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first-born pharaoh son
I’m creeping death
Now
Let my people go
Land of Goshen
Go
I will be with thee
Bush of fire
Blood
Running red and strong
Down the Nile
Plague
Darkness three days long
Hail to fire
So let it be written
So let it be done
I’m sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first-born pharaoh son
I’m creeping death
Die by my hand
I creep across the land
Killing first-born man
Die by my hand
I creep across the land
Killing first born man
I
Rule the midnight air
The destroyer
Born
I shall soon be there
Deadly mass
I
Creep the steps and floor
Final darkness
Blood
Lambs blood painted door
I shall pass
So let it be written
So let it be done
I’m sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first-born pharaoh son
I’m creeping death

#8 Comment By anon On June 11, 2019 @ 5:14 pm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tOKYFR4Rzg

And here is ACDC live in front of a latin audience…

Proof that great art is for all….