Culture Notes

"Culture Notes" Continued...

Issue: "Louisiana's Buy-You-Election," May 17, 1997

Honky talk

On the heels of black studies, women's studies, and gay studies in the nation's universities, we now have &quotwhiteness studies." Scholars are focusing on what they see as the cultural traits of Caucasians (glossing over the distinctions between scores of diverse ethnic groups who happen to have light skin). Though Caucasian studies plays into the hands of white supremacists, most researchers are using this new academic discipline as a pretext for attacking what they see as the oppressive majority culture. The University of California at Berkeley recently hosted the first scholarly conference on the study of whiteness. &quotScholarly" papers dealt with the whiteness of gun shows, chain-saw art, and Spam. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Mab Segrest, an official of the National Council of Churches, and Noel Ignatiev, of Harvard, gave papers arguing that whites are responsible for most of the world's social problems. When Ms. Segrest pointed out that the Hawaiian word for white person had the meaning &quotwithout soul," a heckler stood up, accused her of &quotEurocide," and walked out. Significantly, the discipline of white studies is drawing criticism even from postmodernist academics. Stanley Fish of Duke University, a major theorist of cultural relativism, thinks this movement has gone too far. &quotIt's an offshoot of multiculturalism, and multiculturalism as a philosophy is incoherent," he observes of the movement that he helped to create. &quotIf whiteness scholars think they're going to do away with all norms, they'll never do it." One should never underestimate, however, the ability of contemporary academics to parody themselves.


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