Monday, January 30, 2006

Beyond FRESHMAN YEAR: Whiteness Class at the University of Colorado

Many universities in the U.S. now offer classes on “whiteness,” courses which turn the racial lense on white students and assess the role of white privilege in the history of American race relations. A quick Google search reveals that schools like Tufts, the American University, Amherst College, Georgetown, and Brown all host classes with names like “Whiteness and Racial Difference.”

Last week, the Denver Post ran a story by staff writer Jennifer Brown entitled “Whiteness class at CU prompts colorful debate.” Racial tensions have been high on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder, so it’s not surprising to see that a racially-based course in the CU curriculum might get some attention.

Rather than applaud universities and their professors for offering white students the opportunity to discuss racial issues, critics claim that such courses on “whiteness” not only promote “white guilt,” but blame social ills of all sorts on the pervasive problem of white privilege. Advocates, however, encourage American colleges to help promote open dialogue on racial issues by continuing to make such courses part of a widely accepted—and expected—mainstream curriculum. As CU professor Duncan Rhinehart stated in the Post article, “As long as whiteness is invisible, it’s contributing to inequality and injustice.” And as long as we keep lines of communication open, hope remains that equality and justice will prevail…even at CU.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Beyond FORTITUDE: Gerda Weissmann Klein highlights Gerda Weissmann Klein, who will speak at the United Nations during this Friday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies. Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Klein, a Holocaust survivor, is the subject of the Oscar-winning 1995 documentary One Survivor Remembers. At age 15, Klein began a six-year ordeal that included three years in Nazi slave-labor camps and a 350-mile death march. She lost her entire family to the Holocaust, except one uncle who lived in Turkey.

Now at age 81, Klein travels tirelessly across the country to teach teens about the dangers of hate and extremism, celebrate the power of all that is good and humane, and encourage young people to take action against contemporary forms of intolerance. offers a free teaching kit for grades 8-12 based on Klein’s empowering life story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


David Adler’s A Picture Book of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (part of a Scholastic series of biographies for children) presents young readers not only with detailed facts of King’s life, but with a sense of King as a real person. The front-cover portrayal of a young smiling boy on his bicycle is just one highlight among the 24 watercolors by illustrator Robert Casilla that grace this book’s pages. Children identify with the stories told of that boy, whose name they learn is Martin. Martin is shown outside his home and singing in a choir with his brother and sister, playing football with friends, crying with his mother after he’s learned two friends will no longer play with him because of his race. Young readers want the boy in the book to overcome the prejudice he encounters and understand he strives to do this through studying, going to college, and ultimately preaching to millions of people the importance of peaceful protests.

The riots that persisted, the unfair treatment of people of color that continued, and King’s assassination also are portrayed, but it’s the dream that young Martin grew up to share with the world that remains in the minds of readers fortunate enough to encounter this book. A list of dates on the last page provides a helpful outline for school-age children tackling one of their first writing projects on this renowned historical figure whose humble beginnings contributed so much to his life’s work.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Beyond FACTS: New Demographic Workshops on Parenting Mixed-Race Children

Carmen Van Kerckhova and Jen Chau are no strangers to issues faced by people of mixed-race heritage. They not only share that heritage; as co-founders and co-directors of the New Demographic diversity training company, they offer lively workshops for organizations seeking to educate personnel regarding diversity issues, and guidance to individuals of mixed-race heritage struggling to cope with varied forms of prejudice.

Parents of mixed-race children are invited to benefit from insights offered by the New Demographic team in a series of upcoming, “highly interactive” workshops. If you’re in New York City, you’re in luck, and if you live well outside the New York metro area (as I do), you’re also in luck: An audio CD of the entire series of workshops can be pre-ordered for the same price of attendance, $99. With the money I’m saving in airfare from Denver, I consider this a bargain. I’m intrigued by the New Demographic approach and some of the issues they’ve discussed on their website, and I’m confident these sessions will be worthwhile.

Here’s a look at the topics: Session 1 (January 14): How to Talk to Others about Your Mixed Family; Session 2 (January 21): How to Talk about Race and Identity within Your Family; Session 3 (January 28): Understanding the Stereotypes Your Mixed Child will Face; Session 4 (February 4): Everyday Strategies for Raising Happy and Healthy Mixed-Race Kids. All the workshops will be held on Saturdays at the McBurney YMCA at 125 West 14th Street from 3:30-5 pm. For more details and to register and/or order the workshop CD, go to the New Demographic site. Carmen Van Kerckhova and Jen Chau have been featured on NPR, CNN, and PBS and in the New York Times and USA Today. They’re putting a professional spin on the mixed-race experience. Check out their efforts and prepare to be enlightened.

Monday, January 02, 2006


In the mid-1960s, writing about mixed-race romance was not a popular thing to do. When New Orleans native Shirley Ann Grau won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for her feisty and beautiful novel, The Keepers of the House, she made more than a few enemies and was dubbed a “controversial” author. In 2003, The Keepers of the House was reissued (with a stunning cover) and interest in this classic portrayal of racism in the Deep South was renewed.

Why put this on your list of books for 2006? Read it for Grau’s lyrical word-smithing; read it to be reminded of the impact of prejudice on generations of families; read it to understand that while some confront injustices head on, others insist on ignoring damage done on a daily basis and prefer to pretend certain issues don’t exist, or matter. Read it because, forty years later, racism and prejudice do indeed still exist, still impact generations of families, and most certainly do matter.