Politics 310-33600-01, Fall 2007
Whiteness and Multiculturalism

MWF 2-2:50pm, 306 Friends Hall

Prof. Chip Gagnon
324 Muller Center
tel. 274-1103

Office hours: MWF 12-1 pm and by appointment

Last revised 8/22/2007

Daily reading assignments

(revised 9/28)

Links to sites on Whiteness and Antiracism

Course Description

What does it mean to be white? Who is white, and why? How has the definition and consequences of being considered white changed over time?

The category of "white" is one that is receiving increasing attention in the literature on race and power. For many people who identify as white, it is an ambiguous category, at once obvious yet invisible.

The unease with which white people relate to the concept is highlighted by what theologian Thandeka calls the Race Game. Just as whites tend to identify nonwhite people by race ("my black neighbor"), she challenges whites over the course of a week to use the adjective "white" as an identifier for all white people to whom they refer in conversation ("my white neighbor"). The results in her experience are disturbing; the few people who take her up rarely make it through the entire week because of hostility and anger on the part of other whites for whom this foregrounding of the noncategory category violates its invisibility. It is exactly within this invisibility that the power and privilege inherent in the category of white resides.

In the major developed countries, the US, Canada, Australia, and west European countries, whiteness is a core part of official national identity; given the ways in which those states export their conceptualizations, this is clearly also a global issue. The course will situate the theorizations in these specific settings, exploring such sites as Australia with its official multiculturalism, as well as nonwestern conceptualizations of white that have been displaced over the past couple of centuries. It will also provide historical context to the constructions of whiteness in various contexts.

Related to this exploration is the concept of multiculturalism. As societies that self- identify as white become increasingly non-white, liberals in these societies have tended to take on policies identified as promoting "multiculturalism," contrasting them to overtly racist white supremacist movements. The purported goal of such liberal policies is to promote tolerance and to bring nonwhites into the mainstream. Yet much critical work has been done that sees liberal multiculturalism as a way to maintain at least a fantasy of white supremacy, as the solution to the "problem" for whites of increasingly nonwhite populations, and thus as having much in common with the "bad" white power advocates. The course thus also explores the conceptualizations of multiculturalism, as well as the lived realities of people in plural communities and societies.

The course is meant to open up the way in which whites are conditioned to think (or not think) about their race, as well as the ways in which it conditions their relationship to nonwhites and to power and privilege. By linking the study of whiteness to policies of multiculturalism, the course also explores the reactions of white-identified societies to the growing mobility of populations, the growing encounters within their own societies with populations identified as nonwhite, the growing proportions of "nonwhites" in white-identified societies. The course will also explore alternative ways of thinking about identity, ways that are truly multicultural, that break down the violence of self/other categories and recognize the other within.

Course Materials

Required text (at IC Bookstore):

  • Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White supremacy in a multicultural society (Routledge, 2000)
  • Other required readings:

  • The other required readings are in a Course Reader, a packet of photocopies. Page numbers on the syllabus refer to the page numbers in the course reader. The course reader can be purchased for $18 (cash or check made out to Ithaca College) in the Dept. of Politics office at 309 Muller Center during the following hours: MWF 7:30 - 9:45am and 11am - 2:45pm; T-Th 8am - 4:30pm (except for one hour lunch). If you cannot make these hours, please see me.
  • Readings listed as "Required" are mandatory and serve as background for the class discussion. Readings listed as "Suggested" are not required, but provide further background and information on the topic under discussion.

    The readings are of varying complexities; some are quite difficult. If you have any questions on the readings, please ask in class, stop by my office, e-mail me, or ask someone else in the class.  I would suggest that you take notes on the readings as you do them, including questions about the reading or things that are unclear.  The amount of reading is generally small enough that you should have time to carefully read and take notes on the readings before each class.  Please see the section "Reading" below.


    What does "doing the readings" mean?

    It doesn't mean just sitting down and mechanically going through the articles; that's a sure way to make even an interesting article boring.

    Reading is an active and interactive process between the reader and the text. If you're really reading a text you are also reacting to it. I've included a wide range of texts in order to provoke a wide range of responses from readers.

    Reading should also be a reflective process. To really understand an article deeply it is usually necessary to read it and think about it, and then read it again, and think about it, and discuss it with others, write about it and read it yet again. I've found that even after many readings, when I read a text in order to explain it to someone else I get new perspectives on the author's arguments and assumptions, on the text's strengths and weaknesses.

    So when I say "do the readings," I mean "engage yourself with the ideas of the text." I understand that some of the texts are quite complex and that not all of them are entertaining. But struggle is part of the reading experience. If something's not clear, if it's confusing, talk about it with others outside of class, and/or bring it up in class.

    If it's a long or complex reading, don't try to do it all in one sitting; take breaks, come back to it, read it in small doses. As I mentioned above, taking notes on a text while you read it or re-read it is also a very good way to engage the text and to make sure you understand it.

    If you do not understand the readings after we discuss them in class, please see me immediately. Some of the readings are very challenging, and I expect you to speak with me if anything is not clear.

    NOTE: If you come to class consistently unprepared, I reserve the right to unilaterally drop you from the course

    Grading and Written Assignments

    You cannot pass the course unless you have handed in all written assignments.

    1. Thanks to Naeem Inayatullah for these characterizations.  

    Back to the top of document

    Go to Chip's page
    Go to Department of Politics Home Page
    Go to Ithaca College Home Page

    This page is maintained by
    Last revised 8/22/2007