Questioning Authority: Lawrence on Making "Dirty Dozen"

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - 12:00

Whiteness: The Other Side of Racism, a course taught by associate professor of psychology and education Sandy Lawrence, is one of the Young America’s Foundation’s “Dirty Dozen,” a selection of “the most bizarre and troubling instances of leftist activism supplanting traditional scholarship.” Other courses on YAF’s list are Occidental College’s The Phallus (first), Amherst College’s Taking Marx Seriously (third), and Swarthmore’s Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism (twelfth). We recently asked Lawrence about her course, which she has taught for four years.

QA: What do you want your students to get out of the course?

SL: I want students to be knowledgeable about the social, political, and economic aspects of the current racial landscape and to understand the history of how it got that way. I want students to be aware that while racism disadvantages people of color, it provides benefits to whites. By examining the other side of racism--whiteness--we can see the advantages in education, heath care, and employment that white people continually accrue. I want students to see that racism still exists (even though it seems less overt to some) and that dismantling racism will take the work of all of us working in coalition with one another. I also want students to see that they have agency, that they can do something about racism and the power of whiteness; they do not have to sit by and watch it happening, while lamenting that it is terrible. We all can take action, no matter how small, to interrupt the workings of racism. We have a long history of racism in our society, but we also have a long history of everyday people like you and me of all racial and ethnic affiliations working for racial justice. I want students to know about these people so that they will have models to follow if, and when, they decide to take action.

QA: What texts and materials do you use?

SL: I use one anthology of essays titled White Privilege: Readings on the Other Side of Racism by Paula Rothenberg, as well as essays and journal articles from a variety of disciplines (sociology, law, history, and psychology, among others) on e-reserves. Students also read current news media articles, both print and online, and they view films and videos.

QA: Were you surprised to be chosen for the “Dirty Dozen” list?

SL: I was quite surprised. Actually I had never heard of the list or the YAF organization until a colleague sent me the Web site. Now, of course, I know more about this conservative group. I have to say that my course is certainly in good company with other faculty offerings from Swarthmore, Amherst, and UPenn. Most of my friends and colleagues have congratulated me for making the list as it underscores the important work that we do to bring out in the open some of the “dirty secrets” about inequality that our society tends to conceal.

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