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A Symposium on Whiteness [This symposium was held at Carnegie Mellon University during the 1995 "Institutefor Culture and Society," theMarxist Literary Group's annual summer meeting. It was moderated by Mike Hill, and participants included Theodore W. Allen, Tim Brennan, Mary M. Galluci, Camilla Griggers, Fred Pfeil, and Jerry Phillips.] Mike HiII: By way ofintroduction, I'd like to recall three comments made here at the Institute over the last few days. The first was something Nikhil Singh said about how troubled he was that a whole bunch of whiteness papers "sneaked" onto a panel focused supposedly on the Black Panthers. Perhaps he said whiteness "creeped" onto the panel—butI'm going to use the word "sneaked" instead, because I think whiteness is "sneaky" indeed. A second especially interesting comment was made byAngela Perez during her talk thismorning. She mentioned that part of being tagged a "brown" intellectual by her American colleagues was her apparent accent. She said that "speaking funny" always gave her away, but the only context in which her accent was identifiable was in the apparently accent-less world of white America. The phrase made me think about how "funny"—and not necessarily in the positive sense ofthat term—itfeelsin fact tobe talking about and working on whiteness. The third was when Michael Sprinker asked: "are there any postmodernists in the room?" Anyway, to kick things off, let me elaborate a bit if I might on these three comments. With regard to the "sneakiness" of whiteness, I think Nikhil is absolutely right to be guarded about the apparent white renaissance manifest within critical race studies over the last five years. The spate of books, essays, and journal issues holding forth on whiteness of late is astounding. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Lingua Franca have both carried article-length proclamations of the arrival of whiteness to ethnography, and there are sure to be lots of papers at the MLA on whiteness in the future. I guess one could say that this work, in all good intention, follows numerous appeals by black feminists to interrogate whiteness. Better do that, perhaps, than to go on letting white guys speak for the universality of Zora Neale Hurston's experience. But one could say, on the other hand, that whiteness comes almost too easily now. Indeed, the recent whitening of critical race studies (not to mention Nikhil's panel) and the sheer ubiquity of white-on-white critique carries with it the potential for at least a little irony. The explicit goal of this work, of course, is to move whiteness from the center. Fair enough. But something peculiar happens to the margins in the process: it seems they disappear, or more precisely proliferate, so that whiteness , too, bears difference. Now, whether what Noel Ignatiev and the Race Traitor collective or Ted [Allen] call "a new abolitionism" eventu- 116the minnesota review ates in a more equitable world—as we hope it will—or the academic rediscovery of whiteness transmogrifies into a benevolent take-overof color remains to be seen. The word "sneaky" seems almost too kind if what we end up doing in this heady age of multiculturalism is simply managing to get a bit of the Other. But I wonder if—and I'm going to suggest a morecomplicatedpossibility forwhiteness—the "sneakiness" implicit in its return is totally avoidable. I'm not sure it is. Related to this is something that has to do with Angela's remark about "speaking funny." How else—and despite our most sober intentions —can we speak about whiteness? To the extent that we're looking forways todisarticulate the very thingthatis,alas, being named, speaking about whiteness on very stable political grounds seems as tricky as whiteness is "sneaky." I mean, one can start off with the gravest, most politically sober and racially progressive intentions and, like it or not, "funny" things happen. Talking about whiteness is occurring with effects folks doing the critique don't get to control. We're writing the history of whiteness all right—but, as they say, under conditions ruthlessly other than of our own choosing. The extra-intentional effects of a new whiteness studies brings me round to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 115-131
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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