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'The Problem of Whiteness' professor speaks out about criticism


ASU has been in the national spotlight lately, not over sexual assault cases, allegations of substance abuse or its "party school" reputation but for the addition of a new upper-division English course.

The course, ENG 401: U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness, is described by the University as a class looking at the “major critical schools of recent decades — post-colonialist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, feminist, new historicist.”

After the class was brought into the spotlight, critics have come from out of the woodwork to attack the course and its professor, Bebout.

Recently, National Youth Front, a national organization describing itself as an “elite youth organization dedicated to the preservation of America,” has posted fliers around the Tempe campus depicting Bebout as “anti-white.”

Angelo John Gage, chairman of National Youth Front, defended his group’s actions but said they never attacked Bebout.

“No one ‘attacked’ the professor,” Gage said in an email. “All we did was simply show everyone who he really was and how he supports a racist class that is called ‘The Problem with Whiteness.’”

National Youth Front, which came under fire in January for posting fliers around the Tempe campus advocating for a declaration of war against immigration, often takes action against those who they feel are “anti-white,” Gage said.

“We are an anti-supremacist organization who has a live-and-let-live policy,” Gage said. “Those who wish to hurt our people will be confronted and exposed. Those who do not, we have no problem with.”

Bebout said he has been well-aware of the controversy surrounding his course, but said this course is not unique to ASU.

“This is a common class at many universities,” Bebout said. “There’s 20, 30, 100 classes on a regular basis (at other universities). Its purpose is to create a conversation about race and language in the U.S.”

Bebout said he is not bothered by the criticism since most of his critics have not taken the time to understand the course.

“Controversy springs up about every five years or so,” Bebout said. “Usually starting from one individual who (just) reads the title of the course and the titles of the books.”

The five books required for this course are:

  • "The Possessive Investment in Whiteness" by George Lipsitz
  • "Critical Race Theory: An Introduction" by Richard Delgado
  • "The Everyday Language of White Racism" by Jane H. Hill
  • "Playing in the Dark" by Toni Morrison
  • "The Alchemy of Race and Rights" by Patricia J. Williams
One of the main critics of this course has been Lauren Clark, ASU journalism junior and Campus Correspondent for CampusReform.com. Clark spoke with Fox and Friends’ host Elisabeth Hasselbeck in January about the course, referencing the books as a major issue.

“All of these books have a disturbing trend, and that’s pointing to all white people as the root cause of social injustices for this country,” Clark said in an interview with Fox and Friends. “So, clearly, we're seeing a course here that causes more problems than solutions.”

Bebout said his students are asked to filter through and create their own ideas, then develop their own understanding from those conversations.

“I’m a firm believer of ‘you can’t join the conversation if you're not sitting at the table,’” Bebout said. “These people are not sitting at the table.”

Lauren Clark or any representative from CampusReform.com could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Clark's year in school. This version has been updated with the correct information.

Reach the reporter at Jlsuerth@asu.edu or follow @SuerthJessica on Twitter.

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