Tag Archives: Library Spotlight

what is whiteness?: a critical examination

The Davis Family Library has highlighted a variety of groups through displays over the last 10 months including racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community and the disabled. Take the opportunity now to critically examine whiteness as an identity and system of privilege. Visit the Davis Family Library lobby December 1st through the 17th to see works that highlight this topic. Also, listen to Drs. Laurie Essig and Daniel Silva interrogate whiteness as a social and historical construct via StoryCorps with transcript found at On Whiteness with Laurie Essig, Daniel Silva, Katrina Spencer. Use the whiteness glossary to enhance your vocabulary surrounding this topic. All underlined terms and more appear in the glossary.

Listen to the “On Whiteness” interview here.

From left to right, Daniel Silva, Katrina Spencer and Lauries Essig

From left to right, Middlebury College Portuguese Professor Dr. Daniel Silva, Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies Professor Dr. Laurie Essig participate in an interview in which they address the topic of whiteness. Listen to it via StoryCorps.

Names; Hometowns; Roles on Campus; Times At Midd:

AM: Addie Mahdavi; Newfane, Vermont; American Studies Major— Part of Middlebury Anarchist Coalition; Women’s Ultimate Frisbee. I’m entering my fourth year at Middlebury.

AF: Amy Frazier; Memphis, Tennessee; Film & Media Librarian; 2 years.

KS: Katrina Spencer; Los Angeles, California; Literatures and Cultures Librarian; 10 months.

LE: Laurie Essig; from a lot of places, mostly NYC; Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies; 11 years

DS: Daniel Silva; Newark, New Jersey; Professor of Portuguese; 4 years

TA: Tara Affolter; Peoria, Illinois; Professor of Education Studies; 9 years

Do you identify as white? 

AM: I do identify as white. My relationship with whiteness can feel complicated by my also being Iranian (and vice versa), but I am read and I move through the world as a white person, so that’s how I identify racially.

AF: It’s just an acknowledgement of reality: I’m so, so white. My family is all WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) on one side, and Scots-Irish hillbillies on the other. Being from the South adds a flavor, if you will, to my whiteness, but not always a welcome one.  

To the left, a list of ethnicity estimates categorized by geographic regions and percentages; to the right, a word map highlighting areas that coincide with Katrina Spencer's DNA

A screenshot of Katrina Spencer’s ancestry.com results revealing that 81% of her DNA is shared with groups originating in Africa and 19% of her DNA is shared with groups in Europe, originally posted on Glocal Notes, a blog from the International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

KS: No, I don’t, but, as I was once told, my skin didn’t get to be this color on its own. That is, there is some history of miscegenation in my genes. When I had my DNA evaluated, it was revealed that 19% of my ancestry is European. So, no and still no. But maybe a little?

LE: I am white. Whiteness is written onto my body, but it is an unstable whiteness as a Jew. Jews became white in the US after World War II, but that whiteness has always been a not fully completed project as we can see from the present rise in anti-Semitic groups and politics. Also, in Russia- where my family is from and where I have lived a lot- Jewish is a different racial category than (white) Russian.

What is whiteness?

AM: Whiteness is a racial category that changes over time to include and exclude different ethnic groups based on relationships of power. There is no discernible culture or shared set of features that all white people have in common, aside from the shared experience of holding race-based power and privilege.

AF: “White” is what we (white people) inadvertently made ourselves when we decided that color was an acceptable basis upon which to oppress and subjugate other human beings. If they were black and brown, then we were white, even if we didn’t intend to define ourselves in the process of dehumanizing others. And I think whiteness is the baggage — the habits, the assumptions, the presumptions and privileges — that we acquired when we separated ourselves from other people. In more popular terms, I think whiteness encompasses whatever is easy, comfortable, accessible, and unchallenging for white people.

KS: “White” is frequently an “unmarked” identifier, mistakenly understood to be the default category for “authentic American” and synonymous with “standard,” “neutral,” “morally right,” “upstanding,” “correct,” true,” “sincere,” “altruistic,” “wholesome,” “pure,” etc. In our society, too often, “white,” as a noun, is equivalent to “person,” which renders non-whites something else.

Whiteness, on the other hand, is quite closely correlated to the multiple ways in which the dominant culture protects, promotes the interests of, perpetuates and preserves the privileged status and wealth of the [frequently] lightly complected descendants of Europeans and those who “pass.” (Those who “pass” may trace their ethnic and racial origins to groups outside of Europe but may share enough physical features that resemble whites that, to some degree, they are integrated into this group, are not perceived as imminent threats, and benefit from this acceptance.)

In essence, whiteness encompasses how our societies receive and respond to people identified as “white.” It is important to note that the category has been mutable for centuries and that its impact and power are transnational. Through art, media, economic relationships, and the legacies of colonialism, this system of privilege has been spread across the globe. It is not uniquely [North] American.

one white woman at left and a black woman at right in the post-Civil War southern United States

A still image from the 1939 cinematic production Gone With the Wind. Actress Vivien Leigh (left) and Hattie McDaniel (right) are featured in their roles, respectively, as Scarlett O’Hara and Mammy. The characterizations are race-based, Scarlet being prim, cultured and privileged; Mammy being wide, uneducated and subservient. Image Source: Creative Commons

LE: Whiteness is a historical project, one that began in earnest in the U.S. after the Civil War. When racial hierarchies were unmoored from slavery, they were reestablished, as W.E.B. Dubois tells us, through “the Color Line.” Jim Crow policies in the South, but also federal immigration policies, incarceration of “enemies” like Japanese Americans, and the denial of employment and educational opportunities were all linked to this Color Line. Who achieved “whiteness” and who did not in the past 150 years or so is not set in stone, but an ongoing battle.

How does whiteness manifest itself at Midd?

AM: In a lot of ways, but maybe most clearly in the assumptions made about what people need and don’t need in order to thrive here. Socially, academically, economically, and culturally, Middlebury is definitely designed to be a place where whiteness and white people can flourish, which doesn’t necessarily mean we will, but we are certainly better situated to do so than people of color.

AF: I find it genuinely difficult to address this question articulately, because the degree to which whiteness is manifest here is… kind of overwhelming. I mean, how does water manifest itself in the ocean? Look down; you’re soaking in it. One of the more pernicious habits we still frequently perform is to regard a “typical” member of our community as white. What does a Vermonter look like? What does a Middlebury student look like? The first face that pops into my head is still a white one. Demographically, that’s probably not so far from the reality, but the assumption behind it can lead us to dismiss, discount or even just overlook the perspectives of people of color as those of “other people.” They’re not other people; they’re us.

Cover art from Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life

LE: Sara Ahmed tells us that in historically white educational institutions like Midd, the very space itself is oriented around whiteness. To enter this space as a non–white body is to be immediately hypervisible and, in many ways, suspect of not belonging. That certainly happens at Middlebury. It has the look and the feel of a gated community- golf course, tennis club, the “rural,” even the use of an “e” at the end of the Grille to mark it as “olde English”– make this a space where bodies that have primarily existed in white spaces are “comfortable” and also unmarked/invisible.

KS: I was reading a piece covering Dr. Angela Rose Black that features a question she regularly poses: “Who gets to be well?” and it’s a relevant one for our campus and “community.” Who gets to to see himself/herself/themselves regularly reflected in our curriculum, faculty and staff? Who gets multiple and diverse opportunities to pick from a sea of mentors they trust? Who gets to be inspired by high-ranking Middlebury personnel who look like them? Who gets access to high quality mental healthcare provided by people who intimately know of their cultural experiences? Who consistently has their presence on this campus accepted, lauded and taken as a given? Who can attend a lecture by a controversial figure whose writings imply a racial hierarchy, enter it with a neutral mindset, and walk away utterly unscathed by its implications? Who is welcome to make serious mistakes and be excused for them? If we honestly answer these questions then we can see the ways in which whiteness manifests itself here in Middlebury.

In what ways can whiteness be problematic?

AM: When whiteness is equated with normalcy, as it often is (e.g. in the language of referring to people of color as “minorities”), it positions all other races as deviant, and leads to marginalization and invisibility or hypervisibility. Because white colonizers, scientists, politicians, theorists, etc. have violently maintained power for so long, whiteness is centered as the dominant cultural narrative in the United States and as a result institutions like Middlebury, which should be accessible to everyone, are designed only to meet the needs of white people.

AF: If “whiteness” is a product of our dehumanizing of other people, it has also served to partially separate and disconnect white people from most of the rest of humanity. This weakens us as individuals and as a society; it has led us to do things and construct systems that make us, in turn, less human.

three images of Katy Perry dressed in intercultural garb

A 31 July 2014 screenshot from Twitter user @CraigSJ‘s feed featuring white singer Katy Perry with an ancient Egyptian hairstyle and bejeweled teeth (at left), in a kimono (at top right) and cornrows (at bottom right).

KS: A large debate over the last few years addresses cultural appropriation. When white people or other groups tap into a tradition that is distinctly not theirs and profit from it while frequently and simultaneously demonizing the originators of said tradition and/or divorcing the originators from their cultural product, we encounter serious problems. We see this in music, fashion, art, culinary practice and more. As the many think pieces suggest about the Internet suggest, white people twerking in cornrows while wearing “grills” is seen as edgy, “adult” and alluring; black people twerking in cornrows while wearing grills is seen as low-class, shameful and hypersexual.

LE: Hegemonic whiteness is problematic because of a long history of being used to create social hierarchies- not just against people of color, but against sexual “degenerates” and “white trash” (poor whites). Whiteness is also problematic because, like gender, it can operate as “commonsense” and “real,” when in fact it is historically specific and culturally determined. But perhaps this is also the contradiction that can be exploited within whiteness- the space where hegemonic whiteness can begin to fall apart.

What motivated you to be a part of this display? 

AM: One of the reasons it’s easy to center whiteness as the norm is because we seldom engage with it as a phenomenon worthy of critical examination. When we question the development, maintenance, and impacts of whiteness, we come closer to de-centering it from seeming “natural” in the American social landscape and create space to value and support different racial and ethnic identities and experiences.

AF: “When all you’ve ever known is privilege, equality feels like oppression.” We see this in aggressive, destructive action all around us, and the fundamental lack of self-awareness and perspective in large swaths of white society is fuel on the fire. And as a white person, I think I have two absolute obligations: to be proactive in working to combat my own gaps in awareness and perspective; and to be open, responsive, and frank in conversation with others. So things like this are an opportunity, even in a small way, to challenge white supremacy from the white side.

KS: If you come to the Davis Family Library regularly, where I am the only black employee, you’ll know that with the help of many students, staff, and faculty,  I’ve been helping to develop displays about various cultural identities since Spring 2017. When I started, I had no intention of critically examining whiteness. But after Jonathan Miller Lane’s Rifelj lecture and call to action in September, I felt motivated to do so. Essentially, if we talk about blackness, brownness, yellowness and redness, we must establish opportunities to talk about whiteness as well. They all exist in a system together. It doesn’t make sense to talk about four of them and not the fifth. We must position our lens of scrutiny and inquiry on the dominant culture, too.

LE: All of the courses I lead are situated in critical race theory and one of them, White People, focuses specifically on the history, economy and culture of whiteness in the US. I truly believe that we don’t spend enough time trying to think critically about dominant categories, whether it’s hegemonic whiteness, normative heteroseuxality, or heteronormative masculinity.

What resources on whiteness might you recommend to Midd folk? 

AM: There’s a document called White Supremacy Culture from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun which is really useful for thinking about how white supremacy manifests covertly in group cultures. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh is a good place to start for white people who aren’t sure how privilege affects their everyday lives.

AF: The podcast Scene on Radio did an excellent 14-part series on “Seeing Whiteness.” I think this can be an accessible place to begin for those who’d like to start their own work unpacking whiteness, drawing on the perspectives of both white people and people of color, and featuring some of the best scholars working in the field. It’s long, but absolutely worth the time spent.

a book cover with a thumbs up

The cover art for the book Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander

KS: There are more to choose from than you might expect and ultimately it will depend on the readers’ objectives. But, if you want something “light” and “fun,” I’d start with Christian Landers’ Stuff White People Like. I like it because, intentionally or not, it hones in on the conspicuous consumption as an attempt to prove one’s belonging to a social class. If you’re looking to develop a bibliography, you can visit this research guide, What Is White Privilege? , that I started shaping while in grad school. And if you’re looking for people of color to lead the discussion, I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary film that centers the late author James Baldwin, a vocal critic of whiteness, conjures some serious food for thought. It’s available through go.middlebury.edu/kanopy, free to people within the Middlebury “community.” And, of course, come see the display.

LE: There’s so much! Here’s a copy of my syllabus, which includes:

Click here to visit the whiteness glossary produced by Middlebury staff and faculty.

whiteness: a glossary

20+ Relevant Terms for Discussing Whiteness

As a supplementary addendum to the “what is whiteness?” blog post, display and StoryCorps interview, some Middlebury staff and faculty have put together an informal glossary of terms that helps the community to discuss whiteness. For more on these terms, use reference materials and other published works found on this crowd-sourced list and beyond.

bleaching/whitening; columbising; colorism; cultural (mis)appropriation; dominant culture/hegemony; double consciousness; Eugenics; invisibility/hypervisibility; miscegenation; passing; WASP; white anxiety; white fragility; white gaze; white guilt; white privilege; white savior complex; white supremacy; white tears; white trash; wypipo

two images of the same man with dark brown skin on the left and considerably paler skin on the right

A screenshot from Twitter user @LittleButTalawa‘s feed depicting before and after pictures of former baseball star Sammy Sosa, an athlete from the Dominican Republic. He has deep brown skin on the left and considerably paler skin on the right.

bleaching/whitening: Both of these terms describe processes in which people attempt to alter/reduce the pigmentation in their skin, typically to increase their social capital or perceived social capital. An additional element of this practice can include people avoiding exposure to the sun for fear of its potential skin darkening effect. In many cultures, bleaching and whitening reflect a prioritization and preference for a beauty paradigm that values pale/light skin. To see more on this industry and samples of products used for this practice, visit Dencia’s Whitenicious page.(Katrina Spencer)

columbising (see definition 6.): a facetious term that alludes to Christopher Columbus and is meant to reference the ways in which white people can at times falsely/errantly “discover” cultural products, practices and/or traditions that are foreign and novel for them yet have years, decades and/or centuries of history within another cultural groups, for example, foods (e.g. phở) or hairstyles (e.g. cornrows). The “columbuser” will then announce the cultural products, practices or traditions to mainstream consumers and attempt to popularize and/or profit from them either through monetary benefit or increased social capital via consumption/practice (Katrina Spencer).

colorism: a sociocultural phenomenon in many parts of the world including the United States, Brazil, parts of  Subsaharan Africa, India and parts of East Asia in which people frequently of a lighter skin tone are seen as more beautiful than people of darker shades. In these social milieus, people whose skin more closely matches that of typical Western Europeans’ are granted greater social capital and status and afforded more desirable opportunities, for example, choice of mating partners, representations in media, job opportunities, etc. (Katrina Spencer)

Two white women modeling Bantu knots

A 29 December 2015 screenshot from Twitter user @naturalbnatures’ feed of two white models wearing a hairstyle known within black communities as “Bantu knots.” The hairstyle was dubbed “messy knots” or “mini buns,” something perhaps novel for whites.

cultural (mis)appropriation: a sociocultural phenomenon in which a member of one cultural group usurps a cultural practice from another group. For example, white women might try to style their hair in afros. White people may try to use the “n-word” as a term to express intimacy with peers. White people may try to imitate a cultural dance from a black group. Or, a popular clothing maker may take textile designs from a cultural group and use them in/on their products without the intention of the cultural group benefiting from the purchase and frequently without the intention of understanding the cultures that produced the design. For example, in the 1990s, Gwen Stefani wore a bindi at the center of her forehead. The decoration became a sort of trademark but was almost completely if not entirely divorced from the cultural practice and practicants that developed this tradition. (Katrina Spencer)

dominant culture/hegemony: Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci developed the term “hegemony” in relation to industrial capitalism in the early twentieth century. Since then, the term has come to refer to the race-based power relations and western societal hierarchies inaugurated by European expansion and reproduced through interrelated modes of oppression and exploitation such as slavery, global capitalism, and apartheid. More than power relations, the term articulates the existence of a dominant culture that has legitimized and normalized such relations and hierarchies. The hegemony of whiteness can thus be found in its construction as superior and normative in terms of intelligence, creativity, beauty, health, and sexuality; all of these being tools of oppression. (Daniel Silva)

An African American man's photo in black and white

An image of social thinker W.E.B. DuBois, one of the African American pioneers who gave voice to race relations from a black perspective.

double consciousness: Originally coined byAfrican-American sociologist, historian, and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois. The term refers to the seemingly multiple ways in which an individual relates to history and society according to different categories of identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality. These are not neatly separable but rather mutually impact one another. Using himself as an example, Du Bois argued that he saw the world as both a citizen of the United States and as someone of African descent, but equally important, how being of African descent impacted how he thought of his Americanness and vice versa. Du Bois also refers to double-consciousness as seeing oneself through both their own eyes and through the eyes of a society structured by white hegemony. (Daniel Silva)

Eugenics:  Eugenics was (and is) a highly popular and widespread set of beliefs about producing “better”  humans through science. Eugenics departments were present at most major universities and colleges, including Middlebury. It was also supported by the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations. Major intellectuals of the early 20th century, including African-American scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois and birth control pioneer Margaret Stanger, identified with eugenics.  Eugenics were marshalled as an argument for distributing information about birth control since allowing women access over when and if they reproduced was an extremely important step for creating the conditions for more gender equality and as a way to mitigating the effects of high birth rates on poverty. Eugenics was also the reason that tens of thousands of women, all poor, many of color, were forcefully sterilized after the 1927 Buck v. Bell Supreme Court decision that made it legal for states to prevent persons of low IQ from giving birth. Because American eugenics were often used within Nazi ideological justification for genocide, eugenics became less popular after World War II, although eugenicist thinking still thrives in the US and elsewhere, whether through the creation of “designer babies” or the abortion of “imperfect” fetuses. (Laurie Essig)

invisibility/hypervisibility: The seemingly contradictory existence of whiteness widely disseminated as the dominant standard and simultaneously as unmarked in relation to the forms of otherness it has historically constructed. Within the alignment of whiteness as dominant culture/hegemony (see above), the construction of whiteness as normative makes it the subject of knowledge and non-whiteness as its object of study, onto which various forms of social and biological illness and deviance are placed. As a result, whiteness is far less susceptible to the hyper-vigilance that accompanies othering and exploitation. Meanwhile, in establishing itself as the racial embodiment of legitimate personhood, whiteness is also widely disseminated in cultural production as the “standard” – be it of beauty, gender identity, intelligence, or sexuality. (Daniel Silva)

miscegenation: This term refers to the mixed, sexual mating of people deemed to be of distinct racial origin/groups. In my estimation, it seems not to highlight the sexual act itself, per se, but rather the offspring produced from the sexual act. Sexual contact, i.e. legalized rape, for example, between white men and black women during times of slavery seems to have been an entrenched part of the socioeconomic institution; the children produced from this contact, however, were the social taboo and “open secret.” (Katrina Spencer)

two images of a man, at left with hair and at right with a shaved head

An 8 April 2015 screenshot from CNN featuring before and after photos of Vijay Chokal-Ingam, a man who attempted to pass as black in order to gain a competitive edge for medical school admissions.

passing: This term describes a cultural phenomenon in which a member of a particular racial/ethnic group has enough physical characteristics that he/she/they can convincingly be believed to belong to another racial/ethnic group. Frequently the “passer” has a social motivation to want to fit in with another group because some benefit is associated with another group. For example, light-skinned African Americans with a fine texture of hair might accept being identified as white because it has allowed them to live in certain neighborhoods, receive loans/credit for establishing assets or prevented them from experiencing discrimination, persecution or violence. Passing, again,  implies that there is an incentive to be dishonest or only partially forthcoming about one’s background. Vijay Chokal-Ingam, for example, a man of South Asian descent, passed as an African American in an attempt  to increase the chances of his acceptance into medical school (Katrina Spencer).

WASP: White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, usually implying upper-middle or upper-class white people who tend to occupy positions of relative wealth and power in American society. The term specifically excludes people of Eastern or Southern European descent and Catholics — e.g., Irish, Italians, Jews, and other groups of people who have not always been considered really “white.” (Amy Frazier)

white anxiety: This stems from white fragility (see below) and usually comes in the form of a white person being concerned about appearing to be racist when engaged in conversations about race. (Tara Affolter)

-I would add that white anxiety also reflects a fear that the status, social positions of power and security held by many whites for decades, if not centuries, is being destabilized and approaching some sort of end. This insecurity can manifest itself in voting patterns, outbreaks of violence, targeting of minorities and anyone deemed “other” or “un-American.” It is a fear of disrupting the status quo. (Katrina Spencer)

white fragility: The most clear definition and explanation of this term comes from Robin Di’Angelo’s widely circulated piece “White Fragility” (International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 2011). She writes, “white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves,” (p. 57). The triggers to white fragility are quite varied and can range from someone suggesting that a white person’s point of view is racialized (not objective); to being challenged on racism by other whites; to people of color openly discussing their experiences with race and racism and so on. When white fragility is triggered, whites often look to find a white racial equilibrium in which their own world view is seen as neutral and normal and not impacted by race, racial identity or racism. (Tara Affolter)

white gaze: Toni Morrison does brilliant work around rejecting the white gaze and refusing to allow white sensibilities, pressures, and judgment to shape what her art and life can or should be. The white gaze is rooted in notions of white as the ultimate arbiter of taste, audience, and consumption. The white gaze influences how stories are told, who tells them, and who decides their importance. For example, there were two post-Hurricane Katrina photos of men, one white, one black, wading through waters with supplies they salvaged from stores. The white man’s caption reads something like: “man, finds emergency supplies for his family.” The black man’s caption reads, “man loots store in aftermath of Katrina.” The dominant white gaze defines one as heroic and the other as sinister. (Tara Affolter)

white guilt: When whites are faced with the history of whiteness, the contemporary manifestations of this white guilt can result. This guilt is often part of a white person confronting the paradox of trying to be a “good person” while living within and seemingly benefiting from a racist system. The phrase “white guilt” is usually used as a critique of those that note the horrors of white supremacy but do not confront it or take action beyond “feeling bad.” (Tara Affolter)

-Yes, I would add that “white guilt” is an unpleasant sentiment of shame and perceived powerlessness that many contemporary white people feel when considering the impact and legacies of slavery, colonialism, the massacres of indigenous peoples, the usurping of land, inner city violence within ghettoes, etc. that have been shaped by their ancestors and the policies they developed that have led to these conditions and inequities. (Katrina Spencer)

white privilege: Largely a system of rewards rooted in whiteness that benefit those who have been deemed white. This term has been used and misused over the years. One of the more popular definitions comes from Peggy McIntosh’s now standard piece, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In this piece, McIntosh offers a list of unearned privileges bestowed on whites by virtue of their skin color: from bank loans to representations of whites in curricula to claims of individuality.  (Tara Affolter)

A screen capture from a satirical Instagram page featuring a fictional character called “Barbie Savior.” It is meant to derisively depict a certain type of humanitarian who attempts to serve people and causes in developing nations yet does so in an overconfident manner that can be harmful, does so while attempting to document and publicize his or her altruistic efforts as widely as possible and does so often in a self-congratulatory way that exploits and/or misrepresents communities outside of the United States.

white savior complex: This term describes the rather entrenched motif promulgated in, through and by Western cultures that depicts white people as the ultimate and heroic problem solvers within the societies they inhabit and, importantly, the ones they do not. This ideology is heavily represented in film– see Superman, any James Bond film, the Bourne series, Avatar, etc.– and has motivated religious missionary movements, numerous instances of colonialism and much of the voluntourism we see today. This complex suggests that whites, particularly men, are capable of dominating any terrain and should and moreover, that their interventions in conflict and suffering is needed/desired/unquestionably beneficial wherever they choose to place their attention and resources. This term is closely related to themes treated in Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden.” (Katrina Spencer).

white supremacy: Intimately tied to and residing at the core of the hegemony of whiteness, the term refers to the belief that whiteness is superior to other racial and ethnic identities. More than a belief, white supremacy has also been a “scientific” argument utilized by whites in power (and not only) in order to legitimize their political, military, and economic domination over lands and bodies defined as non-white. In this sense, white supremacy is an ideology (a way of viewing and understanding the world) that is held not only by right-wing extremists and many conservatives. It is also one that often structures societies and their institutions and cultures, especially in locations that have been impacted by colonialism and slavery. (Daniel Silva)

white tears: A defense mechanism often deployed to prevent or end the expression of a person of color’s perspective or anger. Closely related to “white fragility,” white tears offer a way to shut down or derail a conversation and redirect attention to the hurt feelings or discomfort of the white person (Amy Frazier).

The title page of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

white trash:  “White trash” is a term that dates back three hundred years to describe white Americans who were so poor that even African-American slaves, who had almost no political rights, protections or opportunities for socioeconomic advancement, referred to them as “trash.” In fact, the idea of hating poor white people goes back even further to England in the 1600s. There poor whites, or,“human offal” (meat scrap that has no use), were considered both responsible for their own poverty and disposable. This “human offal” was swept up from poorhouses and off the streets of London and sent to the New World to act as “fertilizer” and allow those considered fully human (the settlers) to flourish. The hatred of poor people and the blaming of them for their own poverty runs deep in the US. In the 1990s, “white trash” was reclaimed by some poor whites and working class whites as a badge of honor, as in “white trash cooking.” In some ways, the term can function similarly to “redneck” as a sign of class solidarity, but “white trash” is also always a more debased position than “redneck.” (Laurie Essig)

wypipo: a facetious term used on the Internet that is phonetically approximate to “white people” when pronounced aloud. It is intended to mock and deride and is used when the actions, practices, thoughts and/or beliefs of white people, collectively, are false, heinous, objectionable,  problematic and/or simply deemed worthy of derision (Katrina Spencer).

For more information on these terms, see a crowd-sourced Excel file which includes many multimedia works held in the Davis Family Library that address whiteness.

Finding Sources at Middlebury Libraries

The library has millions of resources, but how do you start to find the exact title you’re looking for? The answer isn’t one size fits all. Check out the top ways to find sources below:

Finding sources at the library infographic

Research Guides

Librarian approved! These guides highlight relevant resources and databases on specific subjects and are a great place to start your research. go/guides/

Summon

Library search engine, results will show everything  the library has access to. Use the filters on the left side to narrow your results down to a manageable amount. go/summon/

MIDCAT

The traditional online library catalog, MIDCAT is a great tool when you know a specific feature of what you’re looking for like the author’s name, title, or subject of the work. go/midcat/

Interlibrary Loan

Fear not! If Middlebury doesn’t have the resource you want, you can still have it (though it might take a little longer than pulling a book off the shelves) Submit an ILL request for anything we’ll get a copy for you! go/ill/

Still Not Sure?

Meet a librarian at the Research Desk or schedule a consultation, no question is too small. go/AskUs/

Celebrating Native American/Indigenous and Alaska Native Heritage Month

In honor of Native American/Indigenous and Alaska Native Heritage Month, Dr. Irina Feldman’s Spanish 324 Class, Images of America, has collaborated with the Davis Family Library to develop a display including works that commemorate the many peoples belonging to these groups throughout the Americas. Visit the Davis Family Library to see the display and read more about how it all was shaped below. We thank Marlena Evans, Caleb Turner, Alaina HanksOshin Bista and all the unseen laborers and sponsors who make these projects successful.

The display in the Davis Family Library lobby will be staffed by students from the class on the evenings of November 6th, 7th and 8th to answer your questions on this theme. Plan to join us the evening of Monday, November 27th when Chief of the Abenaki Don Stevens will join the Middlebury College community for a talk on contemporary life in Vermont as a person of indigenous heritage. Also, stay tuned for Dr. Brandon Baird’s talk, “Unequivocally Authentic: Mayan Language and Identity in Modern Guatemala,” in the Carol Rifelj Lecture Series hosted by the Center for Teaching, Learning & Research on November 29th. The site go.middlebury.edu/calendar has more details.

a photo of the students in Spanish 324: Images of America

Dr. Irina Feldman (center, in scarf) and her students from the Spanish 324: Images of America class pose for a photo in their classroom. They have contributed their energy to commemorating Native American/Indigenous & Alaska Native Heritage Month and selected works for the Davis Family Library display.

Participants; Hometowns; Roles @ Midd; Times @ Midd:

Cover art from The Original Vermonters

This is the cover art used for a book titled The Original Vermonters by William A. Haviland which speaks of the Abenaki Indians, groups of indigenous peoples residing in what we now know as various parts of New England and Canada. Chief of the local Abenaki, Don Stevens, will visit Middlebury College on November 27th to speak to the community. Follow go.middlebury.edu/calendar for more information.

Katrina Spencer; Los Angeles, California; Literatures & Cultures Librarian; 9 months
Irina Feldman; Saint Petersburg, Russia (Leningrad, USSR); Assistant Professor of Spanish; 8 years
Peter Thewissen; Kent, Ohio; International Politics & Economics Major; 2 years
Rae Aaron; Phoenix, Arizona; International Politics & Economics Major; 4th semester
Pedro Miranda; Scarsdale, New York; International Politics & Economics Major; 4th semester
Rachael St. Clair; Minnetonka, Minnesota; Neuroscience Major; 4th semester
Sam Valone; Wayland, Massachusetts; Economics Major; 2nd semester
Sophie Taylor; Los Angeles, California; Museum Studies Major; 3rd semester
George Valentine; Montpelier, Vermont; Environmental Studies/Conservation Biology Major; 4th semester
Ella Dyett; Brooklyn, New York; Psychology/Spanish Major; 3rd semester
Holly Black; South Portland, Maine; Neuroscience/Spanish Major; 4th semester
Kiera Dowell; Charlotte, North Carolina; Mathematics/Spanish Major; 3rd semester
Annika Landis; Hailey, Idaho; Environmental Studies/Human Ecology 2nd year
Lesly Santos; Chicago, Illinois; Classical Studies Major; 3rd semester
Hannah Seabury; Santa Barbara, California; International and Global Studies major; 4th semester
Wynne Ebner; Chevy Chase, Maryland; History Major; 5th semester
Greg Dray; Guilford, Conneticut; Computer Science Major; 5th semester
Melisa Topic; Chicago, Illinois; Psychology/Spanish Major; 5th semester
Kyle Wright; Denver, Colorado; American Studies; 4th semester
Ellie Carr; Ainsworth, Nebraska; International and Global Studies; 5th semester

How does the course content for Spanish 324: Images of America relate to the theme of the display?

Katrina: Irina and I happened upon a happy intersection between discourses we wanted to highlight this semester. I wanted to underscore Native American/Indigenous & Alaska Native Heritage Month, which, here in the U.S., is often celebrated with a relatively closed geographical region in mind. Irina reminded me that when we talk about indigeneity in the Western hemisphere, it absolutely makes sense to include the regions we now know as Canada, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The Abenaki, the Mohawk, the Sioux, the Cherokee, the Inuit, the Aztecs, the Maya, the Nahua, the K’iche’, the Aymara, the Tupi, the Guaraní, the Taíno, the Arawak and many, many more groups share historical experience that cannot be seamlessly divorced by the imagined borders we have applied to modern-day regions.

A map of the Americas indicating where varying amounts of indigenous populations currently reside contemporarily.

A map borrowed from the Wikipedia entry for “Indigenous Peoples of the Americas” depicting indigenous populations from what we know today as Greenland to Argentina with the land masses darkened in gradients to show indigenous population density. Guatemala, Peru and Bolivia are the most heavily shaded with 40-45% of the populations labeled as indigenous.

Pedro/Sophie/Hannah: In Images of America, we explore how America has been represented by writers and artists from both colonial and indigenous perspectives. We seek to study how the continent was imagined from different points of view, and how these perspectives shaped (and still shape) the culture and identity of America. We strive to challenge our stereotypes and associations of the word “indigenous” through our course material and readings, and explore both sides of the narrative in a world where most of history is written by colonizers. Our goal of constructing this display in the Davis Family Library, as well as inviting Chief of the Abenaki, Don Stevens, to speak at Middlebury, is to educate the Middlebury student body on the themes we have learned from our class, especially the historical oppression and misrepresentation of the indigenous American experience.

How did you contribute to this display?

Katrina: My job was to tell the students in the class what has worked for me in the past inasmuch as shaping displays, to be open, and to direct the team to good contacts to help carry out the necessary work. My supervisor, Carrie Macfarlane, models this for me all the time. I wanted students to be realistic about timelines, conscientious about scope, but most of all, confident in their ability to carry a significant project forward. I lent advice in steering but they did most of the hard work.

Rae/Wynne: As students in Images of America, our professor and library were our resources to compile documents and materials ranging from audio and film to novels and children’s books. We pulled books from Davis Family Library and ordered others online which we identified as offering an unique perspective or valuable information. Each student contributed at least two sources that they deemed relevant and useful contributions to conversations surrounding indigenous groups in America. We then organized our sources based on geographical origins and collaborated with our peers to create a bookshelf display with visuals that offer the greater Middlebury community access to Indigenous history and culture. We hope this display will give the community the tools to recognize the importance of Native American heritage and celebrate its many elements at Middlebury.

A screenshot from a digital library resource, Indigenous Peoples: North America

This screenshot depicts the homepage of Indigenous Peoples: North America, a digital archive in the libraries’ collection rich in primary sources. To find it, visit go.middlebury.edu/databases and search entries under the letter “I” for “Indigenous.”

Describe some of the limitations the class encountered in shaping this collaborative effort.

Irina: The biggest limitation is, of course, the absence of the first-hand indigenous voices. When working on our sources and on analyzing the class materials, what we often find is a European writer talking about the indigenous experience (such as Columbus or Padre [Bartolomé de] Las Casas), or an anthropologist translating the indigenous voice for a wider public. As a class, we are scholars of indigenous experience of Latin America, but none of us is indigenous. The students have been brainstorming on how to compensate for this always-mediated condition of indigenous testimony, and I will let them speak about the solutions they found to this limitation.

George/Annika/Ella: Given that so much of the available literature on the subject is narrated from the European point of view, our challenge was to bring some of the less common indigenous viewpoints to the forefront. The first and best way to do this, we agreed, was to allow them to speak for themselves. That’s why we have invited Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki to give a talk about his tribe’s history to members of the college. Another limitation we encountered was developing this project and all that we wish to accomplish within such a short time frame.

How can we learn more about the local group called the Abenaki?

A screenshot from the Vermont Abenaki Artists' Association website

This screenshot comes from the Vermont Abenaki Artists’ Association’s website .

A screenshot of the Nulhegan Band Coosuk-Abenaki emblem/coat of arms

This image comes from the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe website where various community events are listed.

Holly/Peter: There are many resources available both online and around Vermont that we can use to further our knowledge of the Abenaki people. For example, the Vermont Abenaki Artists’ Association works to both preserve traditional Abenaki art and to create contemporary artistic expressions of their culture. This group travels around the US and Canada, and even Germany, to give demonstrations that share the presence of Abenaki culture. Their website can be found here at www.abenakiart.org. In addition to this site, the Abenaki Tribe at Nulhegan-Memphremagog maintains a separate website at www.abenakitribe.org with information about the history and current state of the Tribe, as well as links to other sources of information on the web. We encourage anyone who is interested in the Abenaki to visit these resources, or better yet attend the talk by Don Stevens, Chief of the Abenaki, to learn about the tribe firsthand.

Katrina:  The cover art near the top of this post for The Original Vermonters is an invaluable text with highly accessible writing. To educate ourselves on the Abenaki, the entire class received scanned copies of chapters 5 and 7, respectively “At The Dawn of Recorded History” and “Survival and Renewal: The Last Two Hundred Years.” Moreover, the Ethnic Studies Research Guide offers a variety of entry points for studying indigenous peoples. Librarian Brenda Ellis, liaison to the history department, has also highlighted the U.S. History Research Guide, also rich in resources for research purposes.

What did you learn about other indigenous populations in the Western hemisphere?

Holly/Peter/Rachel/Sam: Many indigenous populations understand society as operating in a state of relatedness whereas typical Western culture believes in compartmentalization and individualism. The environment, objects, and people are closely linked, and this connection is reinforced by law, kinship, and spirituality. This is a holistic and fluid way to observe society; connections supersede categories and pressure is relieved from one single object or person to perform a specific, isolated role. In this manner, indigenous populations view nature as an economic system that governs society. However, this form of society is threatened when it comes into contact with modern, capitalist societies. Governments are increasingly focusing their attention on economic development and modernization, taking precedent over indigenous autonomy and culture.

Katrina: There are two major points. First, I read University of Illinois professor Debbie Reese’s “American Indians Are Not “People of Color,” which blew my mind. It is succinct and makes it clear that many of the groups we’re celebrating belong to sovereign nations which makes their political groupings different from those of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinx Americans. Second, additional readings reinforced the idea of indigenous people being intimately tied to the land and the goods it produces, which underscored the importance of land rights and the disastrous impact that historical relocations to reservations have had on communities and ways of life.

Cover art from the the book entitled 1491 by Charles C. Mann

Depicted is the cover art for the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann that describes cultures and society in what we now know as the “Americas” preceding Christopher Columbus’ arrival. Find it through MIDCAT in the Davis Family Library collection.

What specific resources did you find that you feel others should know about related to these topics?

Katrina: 1491 and its sequel 1493 are historical works with deftly compelling titles. Essentially, they pose the questions, “What was life, culture and society like in the Western hemisphere before Christopher Columbus’ arrival and how was it indelibly impacted thereafter?”

Melisa/Mimi/Greg: The Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in Evolution is an excellent book for understanding the roots and development of various art forms utilized by Native Americans. It is especially interesting to look at the impact of those art forms on contemporary art practiced today. Another resource, My Home As I Remember, is a collaboration of over 60 Native American female authors, poets, and visual artists where they tell their respective stories of home and origin. Not only does this book bring together native women from all over the world but it also provides a resource for others to learn about different native cultures and traditions.

What do you hope the Middlebury community will gain from these efforts?

Cover art to The Arts of the North American Indian edited by Edwin L. Wade

Depicted is the cover art for The Arts of the North American Indian, edited by Edwin L. Wade. Find it through MIDCAT in the Davis Family Library collection.

Kiera: With issues such as cultural appropriation for costume parties, problematic mascots, and even the celebration of Columbus Day still widely prevalent in our society, the humanization and normalization of indigenous peoples through exposure to indigenous culture could go a long way to increase awareness of how these issues directly affect the perception of indigenous people in our society, as it is much more difficult to intentionally disregard the feelings and opinions of people with whom you feel connected. At Middlebury in particular, where the large majority of students are white, the issues facing people of color in general (and indigenous Americans in particular) are regularly addressed but not fully understood by the majority of the population, and hopefully the increase of education surrounding a variety of issues facing the indigenous and POC (people of color) would allow white students, and thus the Middlebury community as a whole, to be more empathetic with people against whom our society is prejudiced.

Katrina: As a society, we err when we think of the default prototype for an American as a white, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisnormative male. For the rest of our lives, I want us to aggressively challenge that notion that exists in our collective imaginary. Remembering the past and the violent ways in which this country was born aids that trajectory and helps us to acknowledge the legacies of the past and our responsibilities in the present.

Cover art to My Home As I Remember, edited by Lee Maracle and Sandra Laronde

Depicted is the cover art to My Home As I Remember, edited by Lee Maracle and Sandra Laronde. Find the e-book through MIDCAT in the Davis Family Library collection.

Kyle: Because Native people and first nations have historically been excluded from conversations of racial, socioeconomic, and disability justice, it is particularly important to emphasize the histories, experiences, and cultures of those people to increase representation in spaces, like Middlebury, that have historically spotlighted the experiences of white, wealthy, able-bodied, cis-hetero men. This work may help to generate a greater degree of discourse at Middlebury surrounding how certain people are systematically excluded and marginalized along lines of identity on and off our campus.

Lesly: With a population that consists of mostly [North] Americans, Middlebury could use this program to raise awareness of this group of people that has been separated from its land and marginalized from social recognition. In this aspect, it is important for people to remember the original inhabitants of this land and its history, especially in our modern-day politics. The cultural wisdom and social components that the Native American people possess could aid philosophical growth and recognition of the culture that lives within us that hardly anyone speaks about. This may also be something that can support mindfulness for inclusivity and respect towards different cultures/people.

Latin Poetry (Trial through Nov. 11)

Until November 11th, Middlebury faculty, students, and staff have free access to Oxford Scholarly Editions – Latin Poetry. (To find content, search or browse and then limit to Middlebury’s access as shown in the screenshot at the bottom of this post.)

This access includes the use of the Oxford Latin Dictionary widget. If you come across a word or phrase you are not familiar with, highlight it and a menu appears:

Choose Oxford Latin Dictionary and see the results!

Try it out and let us know what you think. Email eaccess-admin@middlebury.edu or contact your liaison.

 

Screenshot showing texts limited to Middlebury:

Trending Questions: How should I start?

Trending Questions“I have to write a research paper. How should I start?”

We’re hearing this question a lot these days, and we aren’t surprised. The librarians at the Research Desk have helped many students begin working on research papers — and the process is a little different every time. Depending on the assignment (how long is the paper? what are the requirements and goals? when is it due?), the topic, and the prep work you’ve done already, we might suggest beginning in Summon, or MIDCAT, or… on a sheet of notebook paper where you’ll jot down a few keywords to get the thoughts flowing.

If this trending question has been on your mind lately too, go ahead and ask a librarian! Find us at the Research Desk in the Davis Family Library, behind the Circulation Desk at the Armstrong Library, or online at go/askus/.

Pulling back the curtain on the Research Desk

What can I do at the Research Desk?There is, of course, no curtain at the Davis Family Library Research Desk! But still, sometimes it seems like we should be making what we do at the desk more visible. So, let’s (air quotes) “pull back the curtain” —

Many people think you have to have a question to talk with a librarian at the Research Desk. If you do have a question, please talk with us! But even if you don’t know what your question is, we still can help. Just tell us about your assignment and together, we’ll figure out what you should do next.

What can I do at the Research Desk?

  • Get help finding a book!
  • Explore the magical world of citations!
  • Learn how to use Interlibrary Loan!
  • Have someone listen to your research woes and offer you sound advice!
  • Or, just ask directions to the restrooms!

AND MUCH, MUCH MORE!

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We’re at the Research Desk Sunday-Friday, and in the evenings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Find our hours (and lots of other research help) at go/askus/.