The principal of a New York prep school for students in grades 6-12 sent white parents an infographic asking them to rate their “whiteness.” The graphic includes a “meter” that ranks their level of whiteness from worst to best, with “white supremacist” being the worst and “white abolitionist” being the most desirable category.
Principal Mark Federman of Eastside Community High School in Manhattan obtained this survey as part of a curriculum written by Barnor Hesse, an associate professor of African American studies at Northwestern University in Illinois. Hesse, who teaches courses such as “Genealogy of Racism as a Concept” and “Unsettling Whiteness,” states, “There is a regime of whiteness, and there are action-oriented white identities.” He adds, “It’s about time we build an ethnography of whiteness.” While he claims that it is white people that “have been the ones writing about and governing others,” Hesse has a list of 12 publications, including books, that he has authored on his faculty bio website.
Christopher Rufo of the Discovery Institute, and critic of critical-race theory, posted the “Whiteness” meter on Twitter. In an interview with the New York Post, Rufo stated, “This is the new language of public education,” adding that “New York City taxpayers should be outraged that their money is being used to promote the concept of ‘abolishing’ a specific race. In history, these kind[s] of ideas always ends in disaster. Federman is using dangerous language—and filling his students with guilt and hatred.”
According to Professor Hesse, all people identifying as white fall into one of these categories of whiteness:
- White Supremacist: Clearly marked white society that preserves, names, and values white superiority
- White Voyeurism: Wouldn’t challenge a white supremacist; desires non-whiteness because it is interesting, pleasurable; seeks to control the consumption and appropriation of non-whiteness; fascination with culture (ex: consuming Black culture without the burden of Blackness)
- White Privilege: May critique supremacy, but a deep investment in questions of fairness/equality under the normalization of whiteness and the white rule; sworn goal of ‘diversity’
- White Benefit: Sympathetic to a set of issues, but only privately; won’t speak/act in solidarity publicly because benefitting through whiteness publicly (some POC are in this category as well)
- White Confessional: Some exposure of whiteness takes place, but as a way of being accountable to POC after: seek validation from POC
- White Critical: Take on board critiques of whiteness and invest in exposing/marking the white regime; refuses to be complicit with the regime; whiteness speaking back to whiteness
- White Traitor: Actively refuses complicity; names what’s going on; intention is to subvert white authority and tell the truth at whatever cost; need them to dismantle institutions
- White Abolitionist: Changing institutions, dismantling whiteness, and not allowing whiteness to reassert itself
Here are some takeaways from Mr. Hesse’s whiteness hierarchy: Hesse claims that POC (People of Color) can also exhibit white supremacy and “benefit” from it. Hesse also fails to capitalize the words “white” and “whiteness” within his text unless it is used as a title. However, he does choose to capitalize “black” and “blackness.” It would be interesting to study the motivation behind this.
At a time when children are struggling at home, unable to attend in-person instruction in many school districts across the country, is this type of subject matter salient? When the most disadvantaged among us are being affected by oppressive lockdowns, as the achievement gap widens, should this be the focus of instruction? As our children struggle with the devastating mental health effects of perpetual school closures and child suicide skyrockets, should our educational institutions be striving to damage our children’s self-esteem with this type of “curriculum?”
Principals should not strive to quell their own possible white guilt by projecting it onto their students. School-age children are tragically turning to suicide at an alarming rate, particularly white boys, as they struggle with the isolation caused by school closures and canceled extra-curricular activities. We could be exacerbating the problem by injecting this type of “wokeness” into our schools.