Dr. Noel Ignatiev, a historian and professor at Massachusetts College of Art, has been called one of the 10 most dangerous minds in America--all because of his theories on race. Ignatiev's book, "How the Irish Became White," is a staple in most "white studies" classes, a relatively new course of studies that explores race and privilege in America. The co-publisher of the academic journal Race Traitor, Ignatiev spoke with NEWSWEEK's Peter Bailey:
What is "whiteness studies"?
Blacks have been studying whites for years as a matter of survival. We study whiteness and the privileges that come with it. "Whiteness" is an effort to build an identity based on what you're not--"I'm not black, I'm not Mexican, therefore I'm not subject to the social discrimination attached to being one of those ethnicities." The term whiteness studies is misleading because what we're actually trying to do is eliminate racial categories in America, but we have to study the history of racial categories to understand racism.
You've called for the elimination of the white race.
When we say we want to get rid of the white race, we don't want to kill people. That's nonsense. We want to destroy the social meaning applied to race. People may free themselves of the crippling and stifling identity of whiteness. There's better ways of grouping people than putting blacks on one end of the room and whites on the other.
How has whiteness evolved in America?
All whiteness represents is exclusion. It represents a system by which privilege is handed down by means of skin color. Whiteness is a club; skin color is the badge of membership. There are numerous groups of Africans, Europeans and American Indians, but in America we're grouped into red, white and black, which provides a reason for social standing. It's directly tied to racial oppression.
What would whiteness be without racial oppression?
Nothing. If we do away with the privilege attached to white skin, we may end racial oppression.