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Would you take a ‘White Racism’ class?

A controversial new course. Source: Pexels

Would you like to learn about and challenge the “racist ideologies, laws, policies, and practices” that have allowed white supremacy? Or find out how to build a fully meritocratic “anti-racist society” where your skin colour does not determine how far you can go in life?

Because the Florida Gulf Coast University is offering one such class, controversial as it may be.

The new course has been stoking controversy since local media reported last November that it will be offered for the spring semester. On its first day yesterday, two policemen were sent to the vicinity of the building as a precaution – the assistant professor teaching it had said he had received 46 pages of emails and voicemails, where some even called him the n-word, about the class, according to Washington Post.

University spokeswoman Susan Evans said officials “prepared for possible distractions”.

Ted Thornhill, the professor who designed the course and came up with the title, said he had received messages such as “What about black racism?” “You’re the problem in this country,” and “If this was a racist country, you wouldn’t have a job”.

“Out of an abundance of caution, I, along with the administration, thought it was most prudent to request the presence of law enforcement on the first day,” Thornhill told The Washington Post. “Nobody can predict what will happen.”

Evans and Thornhill said that the class yesterday went on smoothly.

The new course will “examine the racist ideologies, laws, policies, and practices” that have allowed “white racial domination over those racialised as non-white”, according to the course description. Students will also discuss how to “challenge white racism and white supremacy” with the aim of “promoting an anti-racist society where whiteness is not tied to greater life chances”.

The course is not “anti-white”, but “anti-white racism”, Thornhill clarified in a statement released previously.

“Clearly, not all white people are racists; some are even anti-racist. However, all people racialised as white derive, in some measure, material and psychological benefits by virtue of being racialised as white,” he wrote.

While there is racism by minority communities, such as the blacks and Hispanics, Thornhill explained that the study of racism in sociology comes from a “structural perspective”.

“It’s about who has the power and the privilege, and it’s about the history of this country.”

“This country is founded in a particular way, based on genocide, colonization and enslavement, and you can’t escape that or pretend that time has rendered those historical facts inconsequential. Because it has not.”

While the title of the course is new, the course itself isn’t. Thornhill said he has been teaching the same material for years, just under a different course name.

This semester’s title is meant to be provocative, Thornhill admits.

“The nature of higher education and a university education is one of challenging people to think about the beliefs they have and to engage with critical and provocative material in an effort to grow and cultivate your intellect,” he said.

Not everyone agrees, though.

Alex Pilkington, 22, treasurer for the group College Republicans on campus,  told the News-Press he would have preferred a title like “Systematic Racism”. The title “White Racism” makes him feel that the professor had made it “intentional” to make white people look at the class “a certain way”.

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