The Case for White Studies

There is a lovely little ten minute movie about the desegregation of The Varsity, a burger and hot dog place in Athens, Ga.

There are three bits that stuck out to me: 1) It was led by black kids because the adults were entangled in the economy of white supremacy: they couldn’t speak up politically for fear of losing their jobs. 2) Archibald Killian, the city’s first black cop, was not allow to arrest white people. We had black cops arresting black people, and white cops arresting black people, while white terrorists were marching the streets with white police escorts. 3) This picture makes the case for a White Studies Department.

In this picture, you have black kids standing up for their right to buy a hot dog. And the city’s local domestic terrorists marching to keep them from exercising this right.

It’s easy to pathologize Klan members, but the Klan was just a White organization made up of ethnically white people, produced by ethnically White churches, Sunday schools, neighborhood associations, chambers of commerce, politicians, and media outlets. They are the products of the American White cultural infrastructure.

This is 1964. The Klan was a regular civic group with internal politics, elections, a poor relief program, etc. Thinking of the Klan as a monolith of cartoon racists is particularly unhelpful for appreciating how the past affects the present. The children, nephews and nieces of these Klansmen — the ones who haven’t moved to Oconee County — are your property owners, developers, chambers of commerce members, Rotary and Kiwanis Club members, cops, teachers, elder statesmen or board members of just about every white church with the word “First” in it.

And if you pathologize white racists in general, and Klan members in particular, you miss how they were produced, and more importantly, you’ll miss how they are reproduced in current iterations. You miss how the school choice and private school movements emerge out of white racism, how inflated housing prices emerge out of white racism, and in general, how the political economy of white racism is an ENORMOUS economy that takes a robust political infrastructure, and instead of drawing attention to that, the lack of White Studies departments has folks unguardedly allowing chambers of commerce to run political education programs, e.g.,

This picture was taken in 1964. Do you really think the political influence of white racism is irrelevant because of a few court rulings?

I’d love to see a mini-documentary about the White backlash to this movement, complete with former Klansmen and their political sympathizers and elected officials, and have THAT shown in schools.