Stephen D. Brookfield responds to the articles presented by Edith Gnanadass and Shantih E. Clemans discussing their interest and critiques on “Why White Instructors Should Explore Their White Racial Identity,” from ProLiteracy’s free online peer-reviewed research journal Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy. The journal is published twice a year with research on adult basic and secondary education transitioning to higher education and career programs.
An excerpt of the article “Response to Edith Gnanadass and Shantih E. Clemans,” by Stephen D. Brookfield of the University of St. Thomas, is highlighted below.
I want to thank my two colleagues for engaging so passionately and accurately with my work, and for problematizing all the omissions and blindnesses I carry. Their critiques are spot on and add nuance and context to a “fast and furious” analysis! As a 70-year old who is currently battling his employer for his speaking out on institutional racism, I am aware that my time for action is limited. The perception of time slipping away certainly fuels a tendency to strip things down to essentials. So I love how these two critiques illustrate why questions of identity are best addressed in conversations between those representing as much intersectionality as can be arranged. One of my core beliefs as a teacher is that introducing the question of race in a predominantly white institution (and indeed in any context) is best accomplished by a multiracial teaching team. That’s pretty much the only way that all the complexities of racial identity can be addressed. And the context within which whiteness is named and critiqued is so crucial. Although my piece contains some broad strokes advice, I am quite prepared to reverse or contradict these if something about the situation requires me to experiment radically with methodology.
But, of course, as Edith Gnanadass so pertinently points out, a full explanation of structural inequities requires the permanent reality of intersectionality to be centered; 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.” In fact, one of the ways that white supremacy maintains its power is by creating such a binary. The central idea of white supremacy is that only whiteness confers superior reasoning ability and calm, logical analysis, and that’s why whites should always be in the position of making decisions for the rest of the collective. Once that essentializing idea is challenged, decentered and displaced, then the structures based upon on it start to seem less automatically legitimate.