"Race"ing White Instructors: Beyond the Black-White Binary
Posted by Jessica Gilmour on January 09, 2020 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryStories from the FieldcategoryAdvocacy

ProLiteracy publishes Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, an online research journal that informs practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and funders about the best practices in the field, twice a year. The article “‘Race’ing White Instructors: Beyond the Black-White Binary,” by Edith Gnanadass, is a response to Stephen D. Brookfield’s “Why White Instructors Should Explore Their White Racial Identity.”

An excerpt of the article “‘Race’ing White Instructors: Beyond the Black-White Binary,” by Edith Gnanadass of the University of Memphis, is highlighted below.

With the rise of overt racism, xenophobia, nationalism, homophobia, transphobia, and religious discrimination accompanied by attacks against women’s rights in the United States and other parts of the globe, Brookfield’s “Why White Instructors Should Explore their White Racial Identity” is a needed contribution to ABE. He shows how white normativity and the ensuing universalizing of the white experience promotes and sustains white supremacy, and thereby, structural racism. Brookfield uses Yancy’s (2018) argument to show how whites are complicit with structural racism by stating that “it’s a 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.” Brookfield’s analysis using race and structural racism clearly shows how whites as a group benefit from white supremacy by being “embedded in a pre-existing social matrix of white power” and how that confers privileges on the group as a whole. This, in turn, Brookfield contends has led to the idea of whiteness, the white experience being the norm, and the belief that white is not a racial identity. He argues that whites are raced and that race is a white problem, not just a problem for people of color, thus calling on white instructors to reflect on their racial identity to be better teachers and help students learn. With this in mind, I found Brookfield’s analysis and call for action a persuasive intervention; however, I would like to problematize and broaden his decontextualized, essentializing, and binary theorization and stated practices of whiteness by suggesting that we go beyond a binary conception of race by adding an intersectional analysis (Berger & Guidroz, 2009; Crenshaw, 1990) that includes race, social class, gender, nationality, and citizenship. Otherwise, we as ABE researchers and practitioners, will once again default to centering whiteness and the white experience while pushing all other racial identities and experiences to the margins and reducing racial relations and racism to the “white-and” binary paradigm of race. As Brookfield acknowledges in his paper, he speaks from a place of white male privilege, and based on this privilege and his experiences, there is both an essentializing of race and whiteness and binary perception of race, both of which stem from a particular cultural-historical perspective.


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