Matt Rothschild
Op Ed

Nass’s Cheap Shot At UW Course

Legislator’s stance on "whiteness" course puts him in league with white nationalists.

By , Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 22nd, 2016 11:14 am
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Steve Nass

Steve Nass

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), longtime critic of the University of Wisconsin, has condemned a course offering this spring entitled “The Problem of Whiteness.”

The course is being taught by Professor Damon Sajnani, assistant professor in the department of African Cultural Studies.

According to the course description, it “aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy.” It adds: “Since white supremacy was created by white people, is it not white folks who have the greatest responsibility to eradicate it? Our class begins here. We will come together with our socially ascribed identities of Black, white, mixed and other and, with the problem properly in its place we will ask ourselves and our allies, what are we going to do with it?”

Sen. Nass wrote that the university “needs to explain to the hardworking families of this state why their money is being wasted to advance the politically correct agenda of liberal administrators and staff.”

The course has become a bloody shirt for the rightwing to wave around, from places like the mainstream conservative Daily Caller, which ridiculed not only the course but the professor’s “grotesquely long hair,” all the way over to the neo-Nazi InfoStormer.

On the upper left side of the InfoStormer website just under its logo are the words: “Destroying Jewish Tyranny.” On the upper right side is a sign, “Trump: Make America Great Again.”

“If they want to teach these types of classes, they should at least be fair about it and offer classes talking about the problems caused by Jews, Blacks, and other non-Whites,” InfoStormer wrote. “There’s far more subject material to cover on those fronts. But no, the only racial group who can be bashed without recourse are White Europeans.”

The study of “whiteness,” or of its construction, has been going on in academia now for a couple of decades.

Sajnani’s reading list includes W. E. B. DuBois’s classic, The Souls of Black Folk, as well as a book by Tim Wise, one of the founders of the field, entitled White Lies Matter: Race, Crime, and the Politics of Fear in America. It also includes the prize-winning book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

19 thoughts on “Op Ed: Nass’s Cheap Shot At UW Course”

  1. NealB says:

    Since white supremacy was created by white people, is it not white folks who have the greatest responsibility to eradicate it?

    , says the course description. If this is the proposition of the course, I’d agree it’s a loaded one, at best. But why is a professor that comes up with such a poor construction as this permitted to teach? The generalization alone makes the course seem to be one that promotes hypocrisy. Sounds more like a therapy session than a college course.

  2. Mohammed says:

    Wisconsin is the worst state in the country to be Black. It’s not a great to be brown either (and as Tunisian – I’m white on the census but not in perception). The white persecution and entitlement complex does NOTHING to change the facts on the ground for black and brown people.

    If WI continues to be a place that does not afford equal opportunities to minorities and is unwelcoming, it will continue to lumber along or near the bottom of job creators and company starters. POCs are going to look at Wisconsin, and say, “nah….”. Liberals and the highly educated are going to stay or arrive in a place where the state gov’t has become noticeably more conservative. It’s also fair to say rural areas of the state have outsized influence, which benefits absolutely no one, especially not largest, most urban and cosmopolitan areas. I’m so ashamed to be from this state sometimes…

  3. RAFE says:

    Well Mohammed, as I’m sure you probably heard numerous times in your life given your obvious whiny nature,….. don’t let the door hit you in the ass…..

  4. John says:

    RAFE is one of those Americans many of us are incredibly ashamed of. Wish we could deport him!

  5. MMag says:

    W.E.B DuBois wrote ‘The Souls of Black Folk.’ It is an EXCELLENT and classic piece of literature. That said, it would be most wonderful if the Professor could somehow incorporate the four-piece disc set ‘Hidden Colors’ into his coursework.

    In the meantime, the rich, unparalled history of our brothers and sisters of color, is information not to be missed.

    The ignorant CHOOSE ignorance and they always will. You, however, have the world – and the truth – at your fingertips.

  6. Margaret Ritchie, New York City says:

    I was at the UW from 1952 to 1956, when McCarthyism was rife, and the UW had one of only two chapters still existing of the student Communist group, the Labor Youth League, which invited the editor of The Daily Worker to speak, a meeting that was attended by a very large group of students and whose Q and A period outlasted the building’s open hours, so was continued on the steps of the School of Education, where the lecture had been held. The university president got a letter from the Wisconsin American Legion chapter questioning the use of campus facilities for such a meeting. President Fred sent that letter and his answer to The Daily Cardinal and was cheered by those of us who agreed with him.

  7. Emcd says:

    Would there be people who’d object to courses titled
    “The problem of blackness”
    “The problem of hispanics”
    “The problem of women”?
    I’m guessing yes. Could they have avoided this kerfuffle with a more academic and less marketing driven course name? I’m guessing yes.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    I am white. I don’t understand why white people are so threatened and offended by the course title. I don’t feel under attack because a university course will be discussing the problem of whiteness. It seems like a highly relevant topic in the era of Black Lives Matter and Oscars So White, not to mention a presidential election that featured the eventual winner being endorsed by white supremacist groups. Seriously people, the KKK endorsed our next president. Sounds like a timely and necessary course.

  9. Marie says:

    Emcd, RE: “Would there be people who’d object to courses titled…

    I’m guessing that such course topics have been explored in Women’s Studies, Multicultural Studies, Urban Studies, etc. The problems vary but academics have been studying these these issue for eons. I’ve read book chapters on the challenges Irish & Italians faced after immigrating to America.

    Nass’s objection seems to be that some in the “dominant” culture (whites, perhaps mostly men?), don’t like being the subjects of such scrutiny. That was also true when Second Wave Feminism examined issues of maleness in addition to femaleness.

  10. David Blaska says:

    By the evidence, Prof. Damon Sajnani is running a madrassa for radicals.

    Start with his Facebook avatar: the communist dictator Fidel Castro, jailer of dissidents. Sajnani also posted the iconic Norman Rockwell poster of a family at Thanksgiving, over-written with blood-dripped words like “Genocide” and “Torture.” The night a Black Lives Matter terrorist shot and killed five Dallas police officers, Sajnani tweeted a link to a song called “Officer Down” — “the song I am currently enjoying in my head.” The syllabus for the course vows that it’s purpose is “to help dismantle white supremacy,” as if that supremacy was a given, as if the course title itself didn’t given the game away.

  11. Vincent Hanna says:

    David, white supremacists are emboldened in a way they haven’t been in decades. They proudly and forcefully endorsed Trump. They say he speaks their language. White supremacy is an issue. What’s wrong with confronting it? Why does that scare you?

  12. Jack says:

    A snapshot of our past:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States#/media/File:Lynching_of_six_African-Americans_in_Lee_County,_GA,_20_Jan_1916.tiff

    A video of our present:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1173602/GRAPHIC-Charleston-cop-fatally-shoots-man-runs-away.html

    I’m having a really hard time feeling sorry for the sufferings that Steve Nass has had to endure as a result of his ‘white persecution’ complex. Perhaps we could all chip in for psychological counseling.

  13. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    it is really hard to comment on all the dumb things the UW keeps doing to irritate the people that must pay for the place. Diversity to them means everyone needs to be a lefty, in Wisconsin.
    I just ask them one question?? why is tuition 65 times what I paid in 1962/

  14. TD says:

    It’s not “The Problem of Whitness” that needs to be addressed. Its The “Citizens of “Whitewater” that are the problem in that they elected this guy.

  15. Vincent Hanna says:

    WCD the KKK endorsed the president-elect. White supremacists are planning on holding an armed rally to antagonize Jews in Montana. White supremacists have said Trump speaks their language and understands them. Don’t those things make it important to talk about whiteness?

  16. Kurt says:

    So once y’all are past the whole WCD and the KKK endorsed Trump, can we get back to the issue.

    Is this an intellectually rigorous course that lives up to the tradition of a flagship university, or is it not. It certainly appears by the poor course description and professor’s own record that it is not.

    Should he be fired? No, of course not. Should the course be cancelled? Probably not, though I’d like to see his superiors demand a little more nuance than what an angry 16 year old who just took his first sociology class could write.

    Race in America is a hugely important issue, one that needs to be discussed way more than it is. But doing so in this manner does way more damage to that cause than it promotes understanding. It fuels the right and their idiot extremists.

    Smart people (professors that deserve tenure) can do better.

  17. Vincent Hanna says:

    Kurt you pass judgment based on a course description and some tweets. Is that enough evidence to draw definitive conclusions about this course? No, it’s not. Race in America is hugely important, and a course examining whiteness right after this particular election has a lot of upside. It’s all in the execution. The end result and the worthiness of the course can’t be known at this point. The fact that white supremacists endorsed the president-elect does not deserve a snide dismissal. Smart people can do better.

  18. Kurt says:

    Yes, I pass judgment based on the evidence in hand which is more than some tweets (offered by you as if public declarations matter not… i.e. Trump). That is why we should all be careful of the evidence we put forth in our lives.

    The rise of idiot Trump KKK right wing a-holes does not excuse poor conception and execution by a tenured professor. As a rule, I prefer to not feed the enemy with hyperbole.

    And this isn’t occurring in a vacuum. Top universities like UW-Madison do have an image problem that they would be well served to keep in mind.

    It’s OK to acknowledge that UW may have misread the room on this one, and still support open and free dialog, while also shining additional light on hate.

  19. Vincent Hanna says:

    Kurt you have no idea if the execution is poor or not as the class has not been taught. What do you think about the course reading list? Could any of those titles generate good discussion? I would say so. It could very well turn out to be a highly productive and useful course. You can’t say otherwise unless you are claiming an ability to predict the future.

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