Last week, Portland Community College kicked off its first Whiteness History Month.
If that brings up a red flag for you, you're not the only one.
It even created a video to explain the project.
The school insists that, "unlike heritage months, [Whiteness History Month] is not a celebratory endeavor. It is an effort to change our campus climate. The Project seeks to challenge the master narrative of race and racism through an exploration of the social construction of whiteness."
Even the far right found Whiteness History Month controversial.
The American Conservative wrote a post titled "Hate Whitey Month," about Whiteness History Month, which it claims is "plainly designed to convince white students to despise themselves and their culture." The post continued: "These people truly put the 'PC' in 'PCC.'"
The announcement of Whiteness Month caught the attention of Patrik McDade, program director and founder of People-Places-Things, an organization dedicated to teaching English to immigrants and refugees in real-world settings using a multicultural approach.
Of course, McDade had his doubts at first.
"Nobody has ever done this. People are provoked. It drew enough attention to be dangerous," he says. "Being a white person who's actively trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do with this right, I think it's interesting. I think white folks in Portland beat ourselves up for being so white, rightfully so, but there's not a reason we can't talk about doing it differently."
He decided to get them together to present a reading of the essays for Whiteness History Month. (The reading begins at 1 pm Wednesday, April 13, in PCC Cascade's Moriarty Auditorium, 705 N Killingsworth St.) The group of five includes visual artist Anne Mavor, who created an installation titled I Am My White Ancestors and poet Leah Mueller, who was featured at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival.
One of the writers, Tereza Topferova Bottman, who's active in Showing Up For Racial Justice, created a mashup piece of the essays. Rather than standing onstage and reading the essays, writers will present them in a dramatic weaving. The performance will last 30 minutes followed by a Q&A session afterwards.
McDade doesn't expect the reading to be controversial, but says that many of his friends who aren't white won't be attending.
"I haven't heard of anyone being angry, but some of my friends of color have said they're not going to attend," he says. "I can hear, 'Good, you should be educating yourself. That's not a safe place for me,'" or, "'I'm not that confident you're going to pull this off, but that's a mistake you need to make.'"
Most of the events are public, but organizers are taking steps to make it difficult for media to cover them. This morning, PCC prepped the participants on how to deal with the media, warning them of "self-described journalists who file stories for blog sites." The school also informed them that media need to make arrangements with the PCC Public Relations Office in advance.