Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Why White Students Need to Learn about Their Own Race

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Why White Students Need to Learn about Their Own Race

Article excerpt

One day as I was checking out books from my college library, a female student of color working at the library, scanning my books, asked me about one in particular. The book was White Guys by Fred Pfeil, and her question was "Isn't everything already about White guys?" Her question was simple yet profound, and the answer was obvious, yet complicated. The palpable answer is "yes, everything already is about White guys." Because everything already is about White guys we don't feel that we have to question, study, challenge or examine anything related to White guys or White people in general. This began my exploration of what White students at a predominantly White institution think about being White. I am not suggesting a way to recenter the ever-present White person. Rather, these conversations are a way to make visible issues that have opportunely remained invisible for too long.

When I ask White students the simple question, "what does your race mean to you," two responses stick out to me. Those responses involve the words "normal" and "American." Racial identity for White students, especially at a predominantly White institution, is generally not explored or even discussed. The absence of a radal identity is representative of an effect of racism. "Only recently have theorists begun to speculate about the harmful consequences of racism on the perpetuators of racism, which include the absence of positive White racial identity" according to Black and White Racial Identity: Theory, Research, and Practice by Janet E. Helms.

At a predominantly White institution, White college students may be able to largely exist without ever critically examining their race and the implications associated with their race. Without an understanding of their race, White students are less likely to be aware of the privileges associated with Whiteness as well. The ability to be oblivious to one's race is a luxury that White people have.

A positive White racial identity and awareness of White privilege are necessary to dismantle racism on predominantly White college campuses. Likewise, a positive White identity can be based on the extent of racism. Privilege has enabled White students to be oblivious to their race and universities have allowed them to continue to exist as such. With a lack of understanding of racial identity development for White students, is the lack of education for White students on White racial identity and education generally related to race. …

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