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Why a Portland college thinks 'Whiteness History Month' is a good idea

Portland Community College has designated April as Whiteness History Month, inciting a mixed reaction from students and the community. 

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    KATU in Portland, Oregon, gets reaction to Portland Community College's proposed "Whiteness History Month" project.
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Portland Community College in Oregon has declared April “Whiteness History Month” so faculty and students can study the heritage of whiteness and its impact on society. 

A similar program has never been attempted by another university, and Portland Community College (PCC) says that is exactly the problem. 

“Whiteness is a state of consciousness, often invisible, shaping how white people view themselves and others and thus perpetuating ignorance through communities,” PCC writes on their website. “Cultural racism is founded in the belief that 'whiteness is the universal'…." 

Recommended: Black History Month: 10 must-read classics by African American authors

With almost 90,000 students enrolled each year, PCC is Oregon’s largest college. 

But on Oregon’s whiteness scale, PCC is actually a fairly diverse school. Sixty-eight percent of PCC identifies as Caucasian, 11 percent as Hispanic, 8 percent as Asian and 6 percent as African American. 

PCC has a larger percentage of African American students than other state universities, or the state of Oregon itself. 

Portland State University has a student body of about 28,000, with 3 percent identifying as African American. The University of Oregon has over 24,000 registered students with only 2 percent identifying as African American. Oregon has a population of almost four million, but only two percent of the statewide population is African American. 

“I think at this point in time, a lot of people don’t want to talk about it because it’s ugly … but it’s necessary. It’s happening. We’re in a city that’s heavily gentrified,” PCC student Bri Williams told KATU2 News.

But PCC says their "Whiteness History Month" is not a Caucasian equivalent to February’s Black History Month.

“Whiteness History Month Project, unlike heritage months, is not a celebratory endeavor, it is an effort to change our campus climate,” the school’s website explains. “The Project seeks to challenge the master narrative of race and racism through an exploration of the social construction of whiteness.” 

The project is not a celebration of white people. Rather, the school says the program was inspired by the Black Lives Movement and larger trends of African American injustice in the US. PCC officials say discussion of the possible event has been in the works since 2014. 

Some critics accuse the program of "whiteness shaming." But PCC spokeswoman Kate Chester said this viewpoint is wrong because “there is a difference between white and whiteness.” Whiteness History Month will focus on “whiteness as a social construct,” and not whites as a group of people.

“We’re trying to force a more nuanced discussion of society as it exists and how that society privileges people from a certain background and disadvantages people from other backgrounds,” PCC’s community relations manager Abe Proctor tells KOIN News. “The intent isn’t to cast blame on anyone but rather to look at the context of racism and how it affects everyone.”

PCC is accepting Whiteness History Month contributions, such as lectures, art, and workshops, from students and faculty until Feb. 1. 

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