White masculinity is a problem for America's colleges, professors say


An African-American woman set to join Boston University as a professor this summer is under fire from conservative groups and even the school for tweeting that “white masculinity is THE problem for america’s [sic] colleges.”

In a series of now-private tweets spanning several months this winter and spring, Saida Grundy expressed frustration with the state of race relations, tweeting, among other things, “for the record, NO race outside of europeans (sic) had a system that made slavery a *personhood* instead of temporary condition.”

On Tuesday, Grundy said in a statement, “I regret that my personal passion about issues surrounding these events led me to speak about them indelicately. I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve.”

Boston University President Robert Brown wrote in a letter, “We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity. I believe Dr. Grundy’s remarks fit this characterization.”

But other academics, including Lee Bebout, a professor at Arizona State University, say Grundy has a point. Asking that the way young men are socialized be examined is “a really fair question,” he told Fusion during a phone interview.

Bebout knows something about what Grundy is going through.

He just finished teaching a course called, “U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness.” When news of the class first hit the media in January, Bebout, a white man, was hit with a volley of verbal attacks, many of them from white supremacist groups.

The groups, he said, make it easy for members to complain, providing phone numbers for the university president’s office and drafting up letters that can be easily copied and emailed. Too often, he said, entire minority groups are assigned a particular, negative pathology, while young white males who veer from a socially acceptable norm are portrayed as individuals acting alone.

“Avoiding these questions, these social issues, is a problem in and of itself,” he added.

Nolan Cabrera, a University of Arizona assistant professor whose dissertation at the University of Los Angeles was entitled, “Invisible Racism: Male Hegemonic Whiteness in Higher Education,” agrees.

“There’s no question that it is [a problem],” Cabrera told Fusion regarding the white masculinity referenced in Grundy’s tweet.

“She’s just being honest about the way these systems of marginalization and privilege exist on college campuses,” he added.

Bebout, who said his course “went wonderfully” and that he plans on teaching it again, wonders how many of the “alumni” complaints Boston University says it has received about Grundy are actually from alumni and not from these groups.

“It is not uncommon for folks invested in white supremacy to conflate prejudice and racism,” he said, noting that the latter includes both structural inequality and systemic forms of oppression. “In doing so, speakers are able to claim that people of color can be just as racist as white people if not more so…I worry that BU’s response plays into this rhetorical strategy.”

Boston University spokesman Colin Riley declined to go into details on the record, saying that the letter speaks for itself.

Cabrera agrees that many of the attacks are “a concerted effort by conservative activists, who have a pre-determined narrative that on liberal university campuses, white males are the persecuted class on campus.”

They look for examples, he added, and Grundy happens to be their current scapegoat.

“Fundamentally, we’re talking about structural issues,” he said. “People are not willing to give up their privileged positions.”

So what can be done to create a future in which a minority professor will not be ostracized for intimating that white men on college campuses operate within a framework that affords them a disproportionate amount of power?

There’s no easy answer.

Right now, Cabrera said, schools are very reactive when a diversity issue arises.

“It’s the same hackneyed response every single time,” he said.

Grundy said in her statement that she looked forward to open dialogues about race. “These issues are uncomfortable for all of us,” she said. “And yet the events we now witness with regularity in our nation tell us that we can no longer circumvent the problems of difference with strategies of silence.”

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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