University of Wisconsin–Madison


Professor Revel Sims


Three position papers will be assigned throughout the semester. The purpose of a position paper is to articulate an argument with supporting evidence. It describes a position as well as the rationale based on facts or information that provide a solid foundation for your argument. Position papers for this class are necessarily short and should be between one and two, single-spaced pages of text—excluding figures, references, or other additional material that may form part of your submission. Papers should follow standard formatting and referencing guidelines such as APA or Chicago—e.g., no more than 1” margins, Times New Roman 12-point font, etc. Papers must include the following two items:

1. An introduction containing a summary of the issue and relevant background information and a clear and concise statement of your argument/thesis.

2. Supporting documentation or evidence for your position.

Each position paper will account for 20 percent of your overall grade—totaling 60 percent.

Position Paper #1

The first section of the course explores the early development of whiteness and white supremacy in what has become the southern part of the United States. While certain features of race/racism/racialization that emerged from this period seem relatively constant, it is incorrect to assume that this particular system of white supremacy was inevitable. Recent scholarship on racialization during this period—some of which we will read in this class—attempts to trace the development and purpose of white supremacy in order inform our current understanding of the subject. In particular, three arguments have been made about whiteness and racialization that have been useful to scholars. These are:

• the class argument—i.e., white supremacist racism developed as a means of maintaining ruling class domination;

• the gender argument—i.e., white supremacist racism worked through gender and served to restrict certain sexual relationships in order to determine the position of children, inheritance, and political participation; and

• the independence of race argument—i.e., white supremacist racism emerged from the specificity of European culture, history, and imaginations which often supersedes or displaces class or gender considerations.

The first position paper asks that students confront these arguments directly and create an informed argument based on evidence. In addition to the readings assigned for the class, students should reference primary sources as part of their paper. Three excellent sites for digital versions of important documents and information from the period are:

1. Digital History “Virginia Slave Laws”


2. Virtual Jamestown “Selected Virginia Statutes relating to Slavery”


3. Loving Day “Legal Map”

4. Africans in America PBS Resource Bank


Learning Goals

1. Introduce students to highly structured, argumentative writing and expectations for further writing assignments in the class.

2. Engage with one of the principle constructs of race analysis.

Position Paper #2

Despite how it is often presented, theory is not an abstract exercise among academics within the “ivory tower.” On the contrary, theory is often a popular practice that is crucial for not only understanding complex social phenomena, but also for engaging with and transforming phenomena. The second position paper asks that students chose one among the five theories of race covered in this class—i.e., ethnic assimilationism, the inner colonial model, structuralist and Marxian approaches, Critical Race Theory, and Omi and Winant’s racial formation—and argue why they are useful/necessary for understanding a particular phenomenon of your choice that is relevant to whiteness. As clearly and succinctly as possible, the paper should summarize the theory and devote the majority of their paper toward describing how the approach explains—or fails to explain—the topic. 

Students are encouraged to select a topic that they are knowledgeable about or are interested in. For example, some broad areas that students might draw from are: music, language, citizenship, social movements, education, etc. As a good, general rule of thumb, the more specific the issue the easier it will be to dissect it theoretically.

Learning Goals

1. Provide an opportunity for students to distill the major features of a particular theoretical approach to understanding race.

2. Reinforce the utility of theoretical thinking to everyday circumstances.

Position Paper #3

The final position paper for asks that students take a side on the central subject of the class—i.e., whiteness itself. Specifically, students should provide support for an argument about whether or not whiteness should be abolished? This paper demands that students draw from the span of the entire course—i.e., the history of whiteness, theories about race and racialization, and perspectives on white supremacy and privilege—in order to: (1) define the central tenants of whiteness as you understand them and (2) provide a rationale for why or why not whiteness should be abolished. Students can choose another topic for this position paper if they like but must run it by me first.

Learning Goals

1. Summarize the main features of whiteness and white supremacy.

2. Expose students to the difficulty of anti-racist praxis through engagement with transformative thinking.


Professor Sims’ Approach to Evaluation

To each student I send an email with a short standard note and the following info.

Argument: [reproduce a summary of student’s argument in order to share a reader’s perspective]

Strengths: [highlight main strengths of the paper–e.g., clarity, argument, etc.]

Things to consider: [highlight paper’s weaknesses, things that were absent that would have strengthened the paper, errors that detracted from the work, and/or observations about how their work fits within the literature.]

Grade: [xx/20]