A lot of folks seem to be getting pretty up in arms about this whole “White Dude” scholarship thing that is happening at Texas State in San Marcos. As a Texas resident but non-native, I want to start by saying I too am consistently frustrated by the racism/sexism I have to confront while living in this state and attending one of its institutions, and I get why creating a scholarship for white men is gross and ignorant. A quick look at the Texas State financial aid brochure reveals a wealth of scholarships for high-performing students, none of which explicitly state racial or ethnic eligibility requirements and a couple of which do state a low-income requirement. What I’m saying here is that if you are really good at school, you can get a scholarship at Texas State no matter what your race, especially if you demonstrate financial need. Which is what Former Majority Alliance for Equality founder Colby Bohannan has said he couldn’t find when he wanted to go to school.
But then Bohannan’s public statements have clearly revealed both why he is in desperate need of exposure to a broad, liberal arts curriculum and why he had difficulty earning a merit-based scholarship. For example, in a CNN interview, when asked if he understood that many of the scholarships for black and ethnically-marked students were meant to correct the kinds of educational inequalities that existed 30 years ago, he responded, “I
wasn’t around 30 years ago to know who was going to school.” Right, Colby. I wasn’t either. I also wasn’t around 150 years ago to see slavery, but I don’t argue that black folk were never enslaved because books and archives and oral histories and public records and
archeological evidence all support the historical fact of slavery, just as they support the historical fact of educational inequality.
It is no wonder Bohannan’s worldview is so limited, if he only believes in things he experiences first-hand. Take a history survey course on racism in America, Colby. Take Intro to Women’s Studies. Read a book about white privilege and its socioeconomic effect (something like Dalton Conley’s Being Black, Living in The Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America for example). There are myriad things you’ve never experienced that inform the shape of the world you live in, and until you understand them, it might be best to not run your mouth on CNN.
But I am getting away from what I actually think is interesting about the structure of this scholarship and its stated goals. White men from Texas claiming they are a persecuted minority when really they are running EVERYTHING is a trope that has roots in the very founding of the state. Remember the Alamo? When everyone got slaughtered while trying to steal Mexican land to make another slave state but then created a mythology whereby Texans didn’t even HAVE slaves (even though most of what we know about the battle of the Alamo comes from the narrative of a slave who witnessed the event) and just wanted
capital-I Independence from those evil brown folks who were persecuting them? I mean, there is maybe nothing more Texan than claiming victimhood while oppressing everyone around you. So Bohannan as a figure is not surprising or shocking or even all that interesting.
But what is FASCINATING is how FMAFE has chosen to define racial and ethnic eligibility for the scholarship. According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman,
to be eligible for the FMAFE grant, one need only be 25% Caucasian. In other words, this is a scholarship explicitly for white men that only requires you to have one Caucasian grandparent to be considered white enough. In a country with a deep-rooted history of hypodescent, whereby children of mixed ancestry get labeled with whatever racial or ethnic assignation holds the lower social status, this redefinition of whiteness is incredibly surprising. Especially considering that most scholarships meant to encourage racial and ethnic diversity require only 25% hispanic or 25% black ancestry, meaning that potentially
someone could earn BOTH this scholarship AND a “minority” scholarship. So while trying to “protect” white men, the scholarship also works to open that classification up to a broader set of people.
I am not sure yet why exactly this reclassification of whiteness has appeared now or why exactly it came from this particular organization. But I think it might have something to do with protecting a white majority by allowing more people to “whiten” themselves. I wonder if this isn’t meant to allow Texas’ Hispanic population to start thinking of themselves as “white” now that they are becoming a majority in the state. I had a debate with a friend of mine in the social work school the other night about whether or not there will ever be a “Hispanic majority” in Texas. And my argument was that as soon as that comes close to being true (a moment like now, for instance), the sociological idea of what makes someone white will shift to allow more people into the group. It happened with innumerable other immigrant groups: the Italians, the Poles, the Irish. A shift like this allows white supremacy to persist because more people can think of themselves as white and can align themselves with racially oppressive goals because they are now part of the “us” instead of part of the “them.”
But who knows what’s really going on here. Discussions of racial and ethnic classification are always messy, and any attempt to define identity via ancestry inevitably becomes reductive and oversimplified. Though it has real effects, race and ethnicity are socially constructed, and because of this, they shift and move unpredictably. What I find interesting about this case, however, is the way a scholarship meant to provide resources for a racial group the founders see as “under attack” actually allows more people to enter that “minority” than would have historically been the case. It is interesting to watch white supremacist structures change their tack at a moment of demographic crisis.