Has 'whiteness studies' run its course at colleges?
Today, there are dozens of colleges and universities that have courses on the interdisciplinary subject of whiteness studies.
January 30th, 2012
06:02 PM ET

Has 'whiteness studies' run its course at colleges?

By Alex P. Kellogg, Special to CNN

Among university departments that study African-American history, Latin American or Chicano cultures and all varieties of ethnicities and nationalities, there's a relatively obscure field of academic inquiry: whiteness studies.

While there are no standalone departments dedicated to the field, interdisciplinary courses on the subject quietly gained traction on college and university campuses nationwide in the 1990s. Today, there are dozens of colleges and universities, including American University in Washington, D.C., and University of Texas at Arlington, that have a smattering of courses on the interdisciplinary subject of whiteness studies.

The field argues that white privilege still exists, thanks largely to structural and institutional racism, and that the playing field isn't level, and whites benefit from it. Using examples such as how white Americans tend not to be pulled over by the police as often as blacks and Latinos, or how lenders targeted blacks and Latinos for more expensive, subprime loans during the recent U.S. housing crisis, educators teach how people of different races and ethnicities often live very different lives.

Most of the instructors specialize in sociology, philosophy, political science and history, most of them are liberal or progressive, and most of them are, in fact, white. Books frequently used as textbooks in these courses include "How the Irish Became White" by Noel Ignatiev, an American history professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and "The History of White People" by Nell Irvin Painter, a professor emeritus of American history at Princeton; but the field has its roots in the writings of black intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois and author James Baldwin.

In the past, detractors have said the field itself demonizes people who identify as white.

But today, academics who teach the classes say they face a fresh hurdle, one that has its roots on the left instead of the right: the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president.


Posted by
Filed under: Education • Race • Who we are
Opinion: Why Viola Davis gets it right
Viola Davis, right, shown with Octavia Spencer, was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in "The Help."
January 30th, 2012
03:34 PM ET

Opinion: Why Viola Davis gets it right

Editor's note: jimi izrael is a journalist, adjunct professor at Cuyahoga Community College, and author of "The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can't Find Good Black Men" (St. Martin's Press). He co-moderates "The Barbershop" for National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin.

By jimi izrael, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Viola Davis got a nod for best actress from the Academy this year for her role as Aibileen Clark in "The Help," and she must win, despite the controversy about the movie and the role she plays in it. If you believe what you read on blogs, black women long to be represented on screens large and small as rounded, complex characters, rather than wise, downtrodden burden-bearers and hot-blooded angry sex machines. Some say they want more black people telling black stories, which would be reasonable, if it were true.

I have been black a long time, and I can tell you that black folks are a persnickety lot. To get consensus, things have to be done The Right Way - but there's no consensus on what that looks like. However, we seem to know what it is not. Lee Daniels' "Monster's Ball" and "Precious" contained the wrong message (white people saving black people) and "For Colored Girls" was tainted by Tyler Perry, a gifted director and storyteller given to more commercial fare, whom some saw as the wrong messenger.

The Popes of Blackness rarely agree on anything. One thing is certain - Davis takes on a difficult role and breathes life into a hero who is inspiring, enraging, familiar and extraordinary.

Read jimi izrael's full column

January 30th, 2012
03:01 PM ET

Opinion: Mayor's 'taco' comment the least of East Haven Latinos' troubles

Editor's note: Christopher Lapinig and Katie Chamblee are law students in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit against the East Heaven Police Department.

By Christopher Lapinig and Katie Chamblee, Special to CNN

(CNN) - On Tuesday, following the indictment of four East Haven police officers for violating the civil rights of Latinos, Mayor Joseph Maturo responded to a question about what he planned to do for the Latino community by saying he might have tacos for dinner. He deserved the vehement backlash that followed.

But the mayor’s insensitivity to the seriousness of the problem is only the tip of the iceberg. His comments epitomize a town leadership that has refused to recognize Latinos as full members of the community who are entitled to the full protection of the law.

Police Chief Leonard Gallo’s retirement announcement today is the first step toward dismantling the toxic culture that has sanctioned police misconduct for years. Town police have failed to fulfill their constitutional obligation to protect the rights of all members of the East Haven community. Indeed, they have relegated Latinos to the back of the bus.


City council hopeful: 'My English is good enough'
Alejandrina Cabrera answers questions about her ability to speak English in Yuma County Court.
January 30th, 2012
02:11 PM ET

City council hopeful: 'My English is good enough'

When a judge ruled that Alejandrina Cabrera’s name couldn’t be on the ballot for City Council in San Luis, Arizona, because she couldn’t speak English well enough, it was not only a blow to her, but to her fellow citizens, Cabrera told CNN.

“When he took my right to be on the ballot he took away the right of the people who want to vote for me,” Cabrera said in an interview conducted in Spanish with CNN en Español.

A battle over Cabrera's run for office began when Juan Carlos Escamilla, the mayor of San Luis, said he was concerned that Cabrera might not have the proper grasp of the language for the job. Escamilla filed a lawsuit in December that asked a court to determine whether Cabrera's skills qualified her under state law to run for the council seat.

The fight began as a purely political one, with opponents seeking to block her from running for office after she tried to recall Escamilla from office twice, according to The New York Times. But it has turned into a firestorm in a town where many constituents have the same grasp of English as Cabrera. Those questions, and the political fight they stirred, led to a court hearing to determine whether Cabrera spoke English well enough to be able to run for office. The ruling was that she did not.

Read the full post on CNN's This Just In blog

January 30th, 2012
01:17 PM ET

College class on hip-hop comes with a warning

A course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will cover hip-hop music and was created to have kids think critically about the genre. A disclaimer on the syllabus will be similar to those on CD labels - there will be explicit material including racism, homophobia and misogyny. But, professors said, it's important for students to examine how hip-hop and the culture around it evolve.

Earlier: Hip-hop that helps kids stay out of trouble

Posted by
Filed under: Education • How we live • Pop culture
January 30th, 2012
11:38 AM ET

Engage: East Haven police chief resigns amid scandal

Engage with news and opinions from around the web about under-reported stories from undercovered communities.

Len Gallo, East Haven police chief under federal investigation for civil rights abuses, resigns - The Hartford Courant 

Ava DuVernay, first black woman to win best director at Sundance Film Festival - The Huffington Post

Shifting Cuban vote in Miami-Dade County, Florida, but most still vote Republican - The Los Angeles Times

Opinion: 'Working class' should include black blue-collar workers - The Washington Post 

Profile: Veena Sud, executive producer, AMC's 'The Killing' - Written By magazine

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, comedians with new Comedy Central show, bring back 'black nerds' - National Public Radio

Posted by
Filed under: Engage
Same-sex marriage debate flares in New Jersey
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie said marriage "is too serious to be treated like a political football."
January 30th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Same-sex marriage debate flares in New Jersey

By David Ariosto, CNN

(CNN) - A political battle is shaping up in the Garden State about whether to give gay and lesbian couples the right to wed - a move that, if approved, would make New Jersey the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

How the issue plays out was the subject of a series of political thrusts and parries this week between a Democratic-controlled state legislature and a Republican governor, who supports New Jersey's civil unions but opposes same-sex marriage.

Gov. Chris Christie, a conservative favorite once thought of as a potential presidential contender, called Tuesday for a state-wide referendum to settle the issue.

"This issue that our state's exploring, whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions, should not be decided by 121 people in the statehouse in Trenton," the governor said during a town hall meeting. "The institution of marriage is too serious to be treated like a political football."

Read the full story

Filed under: How we live • Politics • Relationships • Sexual orientation