The discussion around Stephen D. Brookfield’s article “Why White Instructors Should Explore Their White Racial Identity” is continued in this week’s highlight of ProLiteracy’s online research journal, Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy. The free online journal publishes research on best practices in adult basic and secondary education, expanding to college and career programs.
Shantih E. Clemans, of SUNY Empire State College, further explored racial identity and education in “Response to Stephen D. Brookfield’s Why White Instructors Should Explore Their White Racial Identity.” An excerpt of the article is highlighted below.
In principle, I agree with Stephen Brookfield’s strong assertion that white teachers need to carefully explore what it means to be white. However, I have two primary points of departure. First, Brookfield falls short in offering practical guidance to support the imperative of white exploration. While I see the importance of white people embarking on self-exploration, I have more practical concerns. Specifically, how, when and why explorations connected to racial identity occur are the more pressing considerations for the flame of change to ignite in the hearts, minds and practices of teachers (and in all of us, frankly).
Second, Brookfield claims that we need to reject a “color blind view of the world for its seeming emphasis on the universal aspect of humanity.” He also suggests that whiteness can be separated out from other aspects of human identity. On the contrary, I see the more chances we take to learn from each other—teacher, student, black, brown, white (and all)—the more seeds of empathy are planted, the more commonalities we recognize in each other. Rather than something to critique, humanness is actually a doorway in, a tool to unlock the gnarly puzzle of privilege and power. In college-readiness programs and community-based GED centers, one small way white-dominated conceptualizations of humanness can be redirected is through the creation of learning activities that are rooted in personal experiences connected to race, such as pair interviewing exercises, reflective journals, and autobiographies (Clemans, 2017). “Many teachers include activities that engage students in sharing their experiences and finding their commonalities—not just personal characteristics such as how many sisters they have, but talking about how an issue touches their daily lives” (Nash, 2019, p. 64). I maintain that only through curiosity, genuine care, openness, and listening to people’s life experiences (really listening from their perspective) can whiteness (and blackness, femaleness, and queerness for that matter) be brought into sharp focus.