Monday, April 16, 2012
Honoring the Late Dr. Joel Olson: "What does Whiteness Mean for White People?"
Joel Olson, a professor at Northern Arizona University whose work I have featured here on more than a few occasions, recently passed away. He was only 43 years old. Olson was the author of The Abolition of White Democracy. There he developed the idea of white racism as central to White (herrenvolk) democracy. Furthermore, Olson posited that blacks were a group of "anti-citizens" who white Americans engaged in mass violence against in order to 1) reinforce racist populist norms, and 2) where violence functioned as a type of social leveler for the imagined fraternity of White Men.
Olson's journal articles and popular writings were also very incisive. His great essay on race, white privilege, and the Occupy Movement will undoubtedly be included in a forthcoming collection of essays about that political moment.
I never met Dr. Olson. But, I would like to do right by his memory and the type of critical scholarship on whiteness which he was engaged in as an intellectual project. We rarely do "theme weeks" here on We Are Respectable Negroes. The loss of Joel calls for a bit of a tribute and reflection. To point, I will be posting a series of essays, found news items, and other pieces that take a critical perspective on Whiteness and white racial identity throughout the week.
There was always a bit of snark and sharpness operating in the spaces between the sentences of The Abolition of White Democracy. Hopefully, I can capture a bit of that energy in my honoring of its author.
As an entry point for Critical Whiteness Week, I offer up the following set of question(s): What does Whiteness mean for white people? What does Whiteness mean for those who are not white? And what does Whiteness mean in "post-racial" America?