What does it mean to be ‘white?’ The range of synonyms has evolved constantly over the last five centuries. While ideas like rationality, objectivity, masculinity, and mastery remain at the foundations of the construct, institutions of higher education have been pioneers in the refinement of white identity. Areas of study like History, English Literature, and European Philosophy remain the standards of modern intellect. No writer can be taken seriously without engaging these canons. At the start of the twentieth century, social sciences formed the next phase of this heritage with new methods of inquiry like Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology. Only in the last sixty years have the core sciences like Biology, Chemistry, and Physics surpassed their predecessors as arbiters of fact and truth. Now, trades and professions like Engineering, Business, and Computer Science aspire to lead the knowledge markets in the twenty-first century. Yet, all of these fields rely on the tropes of nineteenth century whiteness to ascertain quality, shape new methods, and discern emerging leadership.
These appeals to authority from the various disciplines still pursue a sense of unquestioned obedience as they train young minds for future employment. It is the unshakeable core of religious doctrine that has morphed into the orthodoxy of reasoning in global society. In the Christian Bible, the Quran, and the Torah, obedience is the key to salvation. Too many educators maintain hierarchies that reflect this cultural relic. Moses led the Exodus; David built Israel; Herod stalked Jesus at birth; Jesus suffered betrayal and crucifixion to redeem humanity. All of these stories yield narratives of white, masculine, leadership as the standards that continue to define excellence in education and nearly every sector of the private, global economy. Jiba Molei Anderson presents a corrective in his classic work for elementary and middle school families – “The Holy Bible: Dignity and Divinity”.
Race as a religious symbol was so pervasive that it remained the core of the emerging nation-states three centuries ago. Between 1670 and 1860, the systems of agricultural slavery that powered the development of the western hemisphere relied on the most rigorous forms of racial identification ever conceived. These systems have yet to be dismantled. State and interpersonal violence reached an all-time high in the festivals of violence that exploded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even a passing knowledge of these events is so disturbing that many advocate forgetting these events to preserve any hope for a united, peaceful humanity. This era was the period of industrialization and secular professionalization in world education, shaping the rise of social and physical sciences. These fields have yet to confront the legacies of injustice buried in their most fundamental assumptions and practices. Only the widespread migration (and constant determination) of indigenous, African, Asian, and Latin American people dismantled the most obvious manifestations of scientific inequality. Works like “The Path to Freedom” open the door to understand how fragile and precious the present moment of relative openness and acceptance is.
Injustice did not simply cease in 1965 with the passage of legislation to prevent discrimination. The Massive Resistance Movement not only undermined the existing legislation over the next forty-five years; they built a global military-industrial complex that entrenched white, masculine authority more deeply than the slave plantations and Catholic churches could have ever imagined possible. Four principles – colorblindness, suburbanization, consumerism, and globalization – justified and protected the longstanding isolation of women and people of color within a rhetorical meritocracy that denied any aspect of fair competition. The rising technocracy no longer labeled reasoning and science as white, but its institutional character endured. In “Suburban Erasure,” this transformation (and the ways to combat it) becomes clear.
If colleges and universities can begin to undo the reinforcement of traditional authority, they will start with an unprecedented commitment to their Environmental Studies programs and the refinement of sustainability across all sectors. Through this lens, a substantial engagement with Africana and ethnic studies will expose the pervasive biases that persist. Breaking through the artificial boundaries of scientific inquiry to develop fields like neurogenomic epidemiology – the study of the brain’s connection to genetic identity in different populations – will mark the strategies to understand humanity in more holistic ways. Then, the established lessons of gender and women’s studies scholars can finally take hold and reverse the legacies of white, masculine leadership for all people, everywhere.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth and is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on Facebook, Twitter (@worldprofessor1/@icmgrowth), LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).