Is it Problematic for Older White Males to Teach Courses in Diversity?

This is a topic that I constantly am grappling with as I have seen it done in good ways and have seen it done in very, very bad ways. How much insight can an older white man give about the black experience during the 1960s? Of course, it’s easy to just recount history, but is there anything emotionally informative about this? How can a privileged white male know what it’s like to be a minority? I personally feel like it’s more intriguing to learn about experiences first hand. For example, I’m taking a discourses in disability class taught by a blind professor.

  • I think this is a tricky situation because it also runs the line of - can you write about something you've never experienced? I think that humanity can be understood from alternative perspectives otherwise what would be the point of trying to teach these perspectives if only those who directly experienced it can understand it. – SaraiMW 4 years ago
  • I think people of colour should be taking about diversity as it shows that the institution is taking it seriously. Yet I also think that if you are an expert on a topic you should teach it. – Amelia Arrows 4 years ago
  • Poignant question. I believe that, as with everything, it comes down to the individual. It started off with the White Male complex, whereby it's always the white man who has to save the day (Green Book). This was mainly during a time when minorities had no voice and it came down to the often privileged, always observant white people to tell their stories (Harriet Beecher Stowe). The issue of insight and authenticity is a very important one. No matter how much research one does on the matter, a white man who grew up in a middle class family will never truly know how it feels to be a poor immigrant woman from Eastern Europe living in a council flat. Unless you're Ken Loach. I think he could pull it off. – danivilu 4 years ago
  • I agree with all of the previous comments, especially in regards to the importance of the teacher's personality and methods. Just like you, I had great and bad professors for courses in diversity but oddly enough, one of my best experiences was with "an older White male', who had zero experience, yet used his 'outsider' status to challenge our thinking. To compensate for his lack of direct exposure, he would regularly invite non-White guests with pertinent views and thus creating a great environment for open, mature conversations. He may not have provided us with lived experience but he was able to secure the necessary tools for our class' objectives and you may argue that it was thanks to his 'privileges' and contacts. – kpfong83 4 years ago
  • GREAT TOPIC! I'm a WASP from a conservative family/area of the country, and the narrative was always, "Don't get offended at everything; if it's not blatant, it didn't happen." What my parents (and I) seemed to conveniently forget is that I also have mild cerebral palsy. Now, as an adult, I'm working through that and realizing that disability-based and other microaggressions *do* happen, and people *do* have problematic attitudes toward those they perceive as different. So, would I for example be offended at a non-disabled professor teaching a disability studies class? Would I be offended at a white person teaching African-American literature (as did happen in college)? It depends on how they taught it. It would require extreme respect and awareness, which I think a lot of people in that position don't have. I tend to think that white male professors could be particularly condescending in the wrong situations, because they are the most privileged sect of all. – Stephanie M. 4 years ago
  • As an older white male (who taught at the university level for more than forty years), we can bring a lot to the table. I remember as kid driving from New York to Florida and seeing "colored" on bathrooms and drinking fountains as we drove through the South. I remember local Southern police and the vulgar language they used when they looked at our "New York" license plate. This is an odd title for a proposed essay--filled with hubris. – Joseph Cernik 4 years ago
  • Depends on what you mean by diversity. If it is just diversity of skin color, then no. Now I'm not an American, but from what I understand "whiteness" as a quality is historical and it wasn't very long ago when the Anglophone countries considered the Irish and Italians non-white. One of my Polish friends who lived in Sweden for a while mentions that there is still anti-Balkan sentiment there. Finally, what kind of diversity are you looking for ? A campus where everybody looks different, but thinks the same is not diverse, at least not in my book. – Sathyajith Shaji Manthanth 4 years ago

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