A newly published book written by three Wagner College professors marks the transition of the academic discipline known as Whiteness Studies from the exploratory and experimental realm of the avant garde to the everyday collegiate world of the introductory undergraduate classroom textbook.
That milestone textbook is “Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race,” published by Rowman & Littlefield and currently available from Amazon.com in paperback.
“Seeing White” was co-authored by Wagner College sociology professor Jean Halley and psychology professor Amy Eshleman and Stockton College economics professor Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya. (Before joining the Stockton economics faculty, Vijaya was a visiting professor at Wagner.)
“Seeing White” focuses on examining “whiteness” as the line of demarcation between a dominant group whose members enjoy a set of cultural, social and economic privileges — and everyone else, for whom access to those privileges is either denied or restricted.
The concept for the book arose from an interdisciplinary course for freshmen (in Wagner terminology, a First-Year L.C.) that Halley and Eshleman have taught for the last 8 years, currently titled “Making Privilege Visible: Seeing Power in Race, Class and Gender.”
When Halley and Eshleman began introducing the concept of whiteness as a race in their L.C., the common response from their mostly white students was, “What does that have to do with me? I don’t have a race — race is only for people of color!”
It was that response which inspired the book, “Seeing White.”
THE DEVELOPMENT OF WHITENESS STUDIES
One of the earliest — if not the earliest — explorations of the field of Whiteness Studies was the W.E.B. Du Bois essay, “The Souls of White Folks.” The first version of this essay was published in 1910, but it didn’t find its final form until the publication of the book, “Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil,” which was released in 1920.
It was not until the mid-1990s, however, that widespread scholarly cultivation of the field of Whiteness Studies really began.
One very, very rudimentary way of judging how rapidly the field of Whiteness Studies has grown over the past two decades, and where it stands today, is to do a numeric count of the number of references found by Google Scholar in a search for the term “Whiteness Studies” in books and articles published during successive 5-year periods:
- 1990 to 1994 — 3
- 1995 to 1999 — 133
- 2000 to 2004 — 807
- 2005 to 2009 — 1,710
And today? Well, for the first half of 2011, Google Scholar found 132 items in a search for the term “Whiteness Studies” — almost as many citations as it found for the entire second half of the 1990s.
This was the publishing environment into which “Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race” was launched this summer. While much scholarly energy has been invested in the field, “Seeing White” is the first introductory classroom textbook on the subject published by a major academic publishing house.
JEAN HALLEY is an associate professor of sociology at Wagner College. Her book, “Boundaries of Touch: Parenting and Adult-Child Intimacy” (2007) is a cultural study and social history of adult-child touch and parenting in white, middle-class United States. Halley has numerous other publications, including four articles involving the study of whiteness in the journal Qualitative Inquiry. She assisted Patricia Ticineto Clough in editing, and has an essay in, “The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social” (2007), and she is currently completing her next book, “The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets,” a mix of memoir and social history of cattle ranching and the U.S. beef industry (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2012). Halley holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a master’s degree in theology from Harvard University.
AMY ESHLEMAN, an associate professor of psychology at Wagner College, regularly teaches courses on race, class, gender and sexuality in which she shares her research on expressions of prejudice with students. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.
RAMYA VIJAYA is an associate professor of economics at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. At Stockton, besides courses in economics, she also teaches interdisciplinary courses on gender, inequality and diversity issues. Her research is in the area of labor markets, globalization and feminist political economy. She has published multiple articles on the impact of globalization on labor and on feminist perspectives in economics. Vijaya holds a Ph.D. in economics from American University.