Why White Instructors Should Explore Their White Racial Identity
Posted by Jessica Gilmour on January 02, 2020 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryStories from the FieldcategoryAdvocacy

Today we are highlighting an article from the ProLiteracy research journal Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy. The online, peer-reviewed, themed research journal publishes twice a year to inform practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and funders about best practices in adult basic and secondary education, college, and career programs.

An excerpt of the article “Why White Instructors Should Explore Their White Racial Identity,” by Stephen D. Brookfield of the University of St. Thomas, is highlighted below.

Why should white instructors in multiracial ABE classrooms explore their own whiteness? If racial identity is largely a cultural, not biological, construct, then why focus on any form of racial markers? Doesn’t this constant harping on race create unnecessary divisions and stop us all from getting along? Well, it’s not talking about race that disrupts social harmony; it’s the fact that whiteness as an identity is connected to power, particularly to the way that a learned blindness to racial inequality helps maintain a system that exhibits structural exclusion and normalizes brutality. Whiteness buttresses power in a taken for granted, unnoticed way. As George Yancy (2018) writes, this is because racism is not the process of individually demeaning or diminishing others, “a site of individual acts of meanness” (p. 74); rather, it’s being “implicated in a complex web of racist power relationships … heteronomous webs of white practices to which you, as a white, are linked both as a beneficiary and as co-contributor to such practices” (Yancy, 2018, p. 75). Since my whiteness constantly benefits me, and since that benefit accrues to me because we’re defined in relation to the supposed “stigma” of blackness, I am racist. I don’t go about hurling racial epithets, but I am “embedded in a pre-existing social matrix of white power” (Yancy, 2018, p. 76) that gives me advantages of which I have only an occasional awareness. To feel safe is my norm, to be “systemically racially marked for death” (Yancy, 2018, p. 102) is Yancy’s.

I have been struck over the years by the fact that people of color tell me that the most helpful thing whites can do in terms of fighting racism is to become aware of what it means to be white. They say it’s much more important for whites to learn that they have a particular racial identity, and to examine how that identity operates in the world, than it is for them to learn about the cultures of racial minorities. Yet in a multiracial classroom, it seems to me that culturally responsive teaching that varies instructional modalities to take account of say, collective modes of generating knowledge, is crucial.


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