Teaching With Tension: Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom 081013909X, 978-0810139091

Teaching with Tension is a collection of seventeen original essays that address the extent to which attitudes about race

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Teaching With Tension: Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom
 081013909X,  978-0810139091

Table of contents :
Contents......Page 6
Acknowledgments......Page 10
Introduction: Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty- First Century (Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout)......Page 16
Part 1. Teaching in Times and Places of Struggle......Page 30
1. What “Everyone Knows”: Teaching Ferguson in St. Louis (Corinne Wohlford)......Page 32
2. Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom (Anita Huizar-Hernández)......Page 48
3. Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race in the Early American Ethnic Studies Classroom (Cassander L. Smith)......Page 62
4. Walls and Bridges: Teaching Culture and Diversity to Pre- Service Teachers (Stuart Rhoden)......Page 82
5. Multiple Strands of Resistance: Teaching African American Literature in a Maximum- Security Prison (Briana Whiteside)......Page 100
6. Relief and Resistance: Student Emotions in a Majority- Minority Ethnic Studies Classroom (Magdalena L. Barrera)......Page 116
Part 2. Teaching in the Neoliberal University......Page 136
7. The Hoop of Learning: Inclusion, Collaboration, and Education for Indigenous American Youth (Travis Franks and Kyle Mitchell)......Page 138
8. How We Lost Our Academic Freedom: Difference and the Teaching of Ethnic and Gender Studies (John Streamas)......Page 156
9. Onward into the Discomfort: Teaching for Racial Justice in an Era of Media Outrage, the Alt- Right, and the Neoliberal University (Lee Bebout)......Page 176
10. Virtually White: Teaching Race in Online Classes (Dan Colson)......Page 192
11. Toward a Pedagogy of Presence, or How I Nearly Lost My Body to the Neoliberal Academy (Drew Lopenzina)......Page 210
12. Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University: Positionality, Privilege, Resistance, and Transformation (Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson)......Page 230
Part 3. Teaching How to Read Race and (Counter-)Narratives......Page 250
14. Some of My Students Are Leprechauns (Or Why It Is Difficult for White College Students to Understand That Racism Is Still a Big Deal) (Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo)......Page 268
15. Exploring the Development of Immigrant Fiction: The Pedagogy of Counter- Narratives (Umme Al-wazedi)......Page 280
16. The Potential of a Moment: Race Literacy and Black American Literature (Philathia Bolton)......Page 296
17. Teaching Asian American Literature in the Urban Multicultural Classroom: Reflexive Practice, Cultural Politics, and the Problem of Identity within a Transnational Framework (Jungah Kim)......Page 318
Conclusion: Back to the Classroom (Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout)......Page 336
Contributors......Page 344
Index......Page 350

Citation preview

Teaching with Tension

Critical Insurgencies A Book Series of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association Series Editors: Jodi A. Byrd and Michelle M. Wright Critical Insurgencies features activists and scholars, as well as artists and other media makers, who forge new theoretical and political practices that unsettle the nation-​state, neoliberalism, carcerality, settler colonialism, Western hegemony, legacies of slavery, colonial racial formations, gender binaries, and ableism, and challenge all forms of oppression and state violence through generative future imaginings. About CESA  The Critical Ethnic Studies Association organizes projects and programs that engage ethnic studies while reimagining its futures. Grounded in multiple activist formations within and outside institutional spaces, CESA aims to develop an approach to intellectual and political projects animated by the spirit of decolonial, antiracist, antisexist, and other global liberationist movements. These movements enabled the creation of ethnic studies and continue to inform its political and intellectual projects.


Teaching with Tension Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

Northwestern University Press Evanston, Illinois

Northwestern University Press www.nupress.northwestern.edu Copyright © 2019 by Northwestern University Press. Published 2019. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data Names: Bolton, Philathia, editor. | Smith, Cassander L., 1977–­editor. | Bebout, Lee, editor. Title: Teaching with tension : race, resistance, and reality in the classroom / edited by Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout. Other titles: Critical insurgencies. Description: Evanston, Illinois : Northwestern University Press, 2019. | Series: Critical insurgencies | Includes index. | “This volume arose out of conversations that began during an 8:00 A.M. panel session on a Saturday morning in Toronto at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association (ASA) in 2015.” Identifiers: LCCN 2018035294| ISBN 9780810139107 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780810139091 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780810139114 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Education—­Social aspects—­United States. | Multicultural education—­United States. | Race relations—­Study and teaching—­United States. | Racism—­Study and teaching—­United States. | Race awareness—­ Study and teaching—­United States. Classification: LCC LC1099.3 .T45 2019 | DDC 370.1170973—­dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018035294


Acknowledgments ix Introduction: Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-​First Century Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout


Part 1. Teaching in Times and Places of Struggle   1. What “Everyone Knows”: Teaching Ferguson in St. Louis Corinne Wohlford


  2. Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom Anita Huizar-​Hernández


  3. Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race in the Early American Ethnic Studies Classroom Cassander L. Smith


  4. Walls and Bridges: Teaching Culture and Diversity to Pre-​Service Teachers Stuart Rhoden


  5. Multiple Strands of Resistance: Teaching African American Literature in a Maximum-​Security Prison Briana Whiteside


  6. Relief and Resistance: Student Emotions in a Majority-​Minority Ethnic Studies Classroom Magdalena L. Barrera


Part 2. Teaching in the Neoliberal University   7. The Hoop of Learning: Inclusion, Collaboration, and Education for Indigenous American Youth Travis Franks and Kyle Mitchell


  8. How We Lost Our Academic Freedom: Difference and the Teaching of Ethnic and Gender Studies John Streamas


  9. Onward into the Discomfort: Teaching for Racial Justice in an Era of Media Outrage, the Alt-​Right, and the Neoliberal University Lee Bebout 10. Virtually White: Teaching Race in Online Classes Dan Colson



11. Toward a Pedagogy of Presence, or How I Nearly Lost My Body to the Neoliberal Academy Drew Lopenzina


12. Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University: Positionality, Privilege, Resistance, and Transformation Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson


Part 3. Teaching How to Read Race and (Counter-​)Narratives 13. Frangible Whiteness: Teaching Race in the Context of White Fragility Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek 14. Some of My Students Are Leprechauns (Or Why It Is Difficult for White College Students to Understand That Racism Is Still a Big Deal) Carmen R. Lugo-​Lugo



15. Exploring the Development of Immigrant Fiction: The Pedagogy of Counter-​Narratives Umme Al-​wazedi 16. The Potential of a Moment: Race Literacy and Black American Literature



Philathia Bolton 17. Teaching Asian American Literature in the Urban Multicultural Classroom: Reflexive Practice, Cultural Politics, and the Problem of Identity within a Transnational Framework


Jungah Kim Conclusion: Back to the Classroom Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout


Contributors 331 Index 337


This volume arose out of conversations that began during an 8:00 a.m. panel session on a Saturday morning in Toronto at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association (ASA) in 2015. Despite the early-​morning, weekend time slot, conference-​goers showed up and engaged panelists in a robust discussion about the challenges we all face as educators who are deeply invested in teaching and studying about race. The editors of this volume, who were all presenters on that panel, extend our gratitude to those in attendance, including our co-​ presenter Karen N. Salt, and the panel chair Drew Lopenzina, the latter whose chapter appears in this volume. The dialogue generated by the panelists’ engagement informed the shape of the present volume. We also owe a debt of gratitude to those who attended a second panel session about the same topic at the annual College Language Association (CLA) conference two years later in Columbia, Missouri. We presented our thoughts to an equally enthusiastic audience that filled the room almost to capacity. Our colleagues in attendance, many of whom teach at historically Black colleges or universities, shared with us the challenges they have encountered and the strategies they have employed in their classrooms when teaching subjects that involve race. The robust question-​and-​answer period, made even more so by our co-​presenter Casarae Gibson, only confirmed the need for the present volume. Our experiences at both of these conferences provided encouragement for the editors of this volume to move the dialogue into print and to invite others to join. We wish to thank the ASA and CLA conference organizers for giving us the space to have our first formal conversations about teaching race, though we have been discussing these issues informally for years. We also thank the volume’s sixteen contributors who wrote with us and trusted our vision. Our volume is what it is because of them. For trusting our vision, we also thank the editorial staff at Northwestern University Press, especially Gianna Francesca Mosser, who believed in the project from the very first moment and remained wholeheartedly ix



committed to seeing it through to fruition. Thank you, as well, to the editors of the Critical Insurgencies series, Michelle M. Wright and Jodi A. Byrd, and the two anonymous readers of the manuscript, who provided invaluable feedback every step of the way that has enabled us to produce a strong final product. We extend, now, our individual thanks. Philathia—­I would like to thank my colleagues and co-​laborers, Cassie and Lee, for their enthusiasm and collaborative spirit throughout the duration of the project. Their individual areas of expertise and prior experiences with publishers provided a strong backbone for the project. Most importantly, I am sure that the congeniality we shared over the course of three years working on this project, during various life episodes and pressing work-​related deadlines, is the envy of many. It has been a real joy. To my students at the University of Akron who shared valuable feedback with me, inside and outside of class, and who contributed to my chapter in meaningful ways, I say thank you. Your openness and inquisitive spirit encourage in me a sense of hope. To my former professors at Spelman College, Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper and Stephen Knadler, you deserve a note of gratitude. You kindled in me a love for learning and sparked the desire to teach at the college level. Your engaging, rigorous classroom experiences provided the template for my own. Finally, to my immediate family—­my parents Carrie H. Bolton and H. Dwight Bolton—­and to my sister and brother-​in-​ law, Lucinda Bolton-​Jones and Demetrice Jones, I say thank you. Your unwavering faith in me has been a true source of encouragement. Cassander—­I would like to extend gratitude first to my colleagues at the University of Alabama (UA) who work every day to challenge the structures of white supremacy that have informed so much of the historical culture of the state and the university. I also would like to thank all those students who have enrolled in my courses at UA over the years. I am grateful for all the ways they trust my pedagogy and have challenged me to be a more effective teacher. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my coeditors. It is certain that this particular volume would not have materialized had it not been for the late-​night venting sessions I shared with Philathia about the struggles of teaching African American topics at predominantly white institutions in the face of proclamations from Black celebrities donning the label “New Black” and declaring that race is no longer an issue. Thanks to Philathia for having the vision to realize that those informal sister-​girl chats deserved a more formal outlet. Thanks to Lee for coming along and sharing his



own tense experiences teaching Chicano/​a literature, illustrating that racial tensions reach far beyond a Black/​white divide. His perspective and experiences provided much-​needed balance for our editorial team. I am indebted to them both for their collegiality, work ethic, and fierce commitment to making the world—­or at least our tiny corners of it—­ more compassionate, more just, and more humane. Finally, I owe my greatest thanks to my husband Alberto Pérez-​Huerta, who knows better than anyone all the ways that I, as a teacher-​scholar, have struggled and strived and failed and flourished in the face of this current moment. Thanks for all your silent strength, brainstorming, compassion, and the shared commitment to teaching in ways that embrace diversity. Our partnership makes the work more manageable and meaningful. Lee—­I would like to thank the students that I have worked with over the past twenty years. From teaching in secondary schools to higher educational settings, I have been blessed to work with energetic and inquisitive individuals who seek to build a better world. Their passion and commitment are energizing and revivifying in hard times. I am also indebted to the numerous mentors and colleagues who have shaped my approach to teaching, pushing me to take risks; treat students, myself, and others with compassion; and when things get rough, to keep going. I am tremendously grateful to Philathia and Cassander for inviting me to collaborate on this project. They imagined into being first a conference panel and then this volume as the means for making a critical intervention in pedagogy for tense times. My conversations with Philathia and Cassander, as we put this project together, gave me new insight into teaching for racial justice, and our conversations and our friendship became a source of comfort when teaching thorny topics that can be otherwise isolating. Finally, I would like to thank my wife Sujey Vega and my son Michael Bebout-​Vega. Sujey is an inspirational scholar and educator who has long pushed me to consider things from perspectives I might not otherwise have recognized. Michael, a precocious boy, constantly reminds me that he is always listening, always learning. Together, Sujey and Michael remind me to stay grounded, and that while the stakes are high, the direction is clear.

Teaching with Tension


Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-​First Century Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

On Monday, August 1, 2016, Baltimore County police shot and killed an armed African American woman named Korryn Gaines in her home after several hours of failed attempts to serve Gaines a bench warrant for her arrest. Her crime: failure to appear in court for traffic violations. Police also shot and wounded her five-​year-​old son, who Gaines was holding in one arm while handling a shotgun in the other. For some people, Gaines’s death, while tragic, presents a clear example of when police are justified in using deadly force. According to reports, not only did Gaines threaten to shoot police if they entered her home, she actually did fire off several rounds, and she did so after some six hours of SWAT team efforts to talk her out of the apartment. For those people inclined to believe that the United States is moving toward a more postracial social order, Gaines’s death is not about race. This is not a case where the police rushed to judgment and read her Black body as inherently threatening. She, as this narrative goes, left the police no choice but to kill her to protect their own lives—­and, ironically, the life of her child. Presumably, the standoff would have ended with the same tragic results if Gaines had been white. There is a second narrative; it is one that renders Gaines’s death as another instance of state-​sponsored violence targeted at communities of color. According to this perspective, racial bias was manifested in the officers’ decision to pursue Gaines so aggressively. Baltimore police mobilized a SWAT team to bring in a woman whose crimes prior to that day were misdemeanors related to traffic violations. Proponents 3


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

of this argument contend that she was not a violent criminal; in fact, she had no criminal record whatsoever. However, rather than disengage or deescalate the encounter, police persisted in their efforts to arrest Gaines. Even after calling in a medical expert to provide insight about Gaines’s mental state—­Gaines reportedly suffered from brain damage and developmental delays due to lead poisoning—­police continued in their efforts to arrest her.1 For those who see racial bias at work in this deadly encounter between an African American woman and Baltimore County police, the United States remains a place in which racial and ethnic minorities feel the oppressive weight of discrimination daily, often with deadly consequences. These encounters go beyond one woman’s apartment and reach into the homes of others who are vulnerable in their claims to citizenship, belonging, and fair treatment. In this narrative, the state violence that targets Black lives is also intricately connected to sanctioned violences that always suspect Muslims of national disloyalty and potential terrorism and that demonize Latina/​os as perpetually foreign and criminal. From this perspective, the police’s encounter with Gaines would not have ended in the same way had she been white. To be white in the United States often means to be perceived as unquestionably American, with all of the expected courtesies and pertinent civic and social rights. To be ethnically or racially marked, by contrast, means to be seen as perennially alien and suspect. This assertion, for a fleeting moment in our history, was contested with the election of our first president of African descent, Barack Hussein Obama. Could it be that the United States was finally “postracial”? Were we as a society beyond race being so consequential in determining one’s destiny? Most Americans likely would agree that proclamations of a postracial United States in the early years of President Obama’s administration were premature. This is not to say, however, that Americans are united in their thinking about the country’s racial woes. Often, people disagree about the extent of the problem, its causes, and the potential for resolution. In this volume, then, we are concerned with the disharmonies, the tensions that arise when people—­teachers and students—­converge in classroom spaces with differing perspectives about race and its role within the United States. How does one argue that race matters less today than it did sixty years ago in the face of incidents like the deadly July 2016 shooting just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, of Philando Castile by a policeman, who reportedly pulled over Castile’s car because Castile’s “wide set nose” matched the description of a suspect in a robbery?2 Likewise, how does one argue

Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century


that the country has not progressed racially when an African American man can occupy the most powerful position in the country—­arguably one of the most powerful positions in the world—­and win his bid for a second term as president?3 These competing impulses—­belief in and against the relevance of race—­have created a tension, as the chapters in this volume illustrate, that has come to bear on how, why, and what we teach in ethnic studies courses and beyond.

From Critical Theory to Pedagogical Principles Too often in American popular and political culture, people speak of race in transhistorical, monolithic, and simplistic terms. This tendency exacerbates tensions like those separating the racial worldviews mentioned above. But to teach race successfully—­to teach with tension—­requires something different altogether. We believe this, and Teaching with Tension demonstrates how teaching race requires attention to nuance and specificity. Any meaningful interrogation of race must be grounded within understandings of racial formation, differential racialization, and intersectionality. These theoretical paradigms function as pedagogical principles. Racial formation makes legible this idea that while race and racism have been sociopolitical forces for centuries, they have changed, and accrued new meaning, over time. Race may have originated in using religious and other cultural differences to justify the enslavement of Africans and the theft of Native lands, for example, but race became biologized with the rise of Enlightenment thought and scientific classification. While still bearing traces of earlier times, today’s racism, shaped by the mid-​twentieth-​century civil rights struggles and neoliberalism—­ascribes racial attributes to cultural and individual difference.4 Differential racialization is critical for students and teachers to recognize that while all communities have been, and continue to be, impacted by white supremacy, they have not been impacted in identical ways. Here, we find Andrea Smith’s three pillars model a useful point of departure. Smith has contended that white supremacy works in distinct and connected ways as it targets and racializes communities. She argues for a three pillars model wherein each pillar functions as a binary. The pillar of slavery/​capitalism organizes the logic that racialized bodies, particularly those of African Americans, are enslavable whether through a chattel slavery system or in the prison industrial


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

complex. The pillar of genocide/​colonialism exposes how Native peoples have been targeted for removal and their lands expropriated. The pillar of Orientalism/​ war both expands the U.S. empire beyond its current borders through invasions and fortifies those borders through nativist fears of racial others. Smith’s paradigm is exceptionally useful in several ways. First, she recognizes that different communities have experienced white supremacy through distinct modes of oppression. Second, she notes that white supremacy thrives because these three pillars are interrelated. People of color may gain standing but reinforce racial inequality by participating in the logics and processes that target other communities. For instance, when African Americans staked claims to “forty acres and a mule,” they participated in the logic of settler colonialism. When Native peoples join the military, they participate in a project of Orientalism/​war.5 Although Smith’s paradigm may be limited in its overly broad strokes, it demonstrates one way of recognizing that white supremacy is both complex and contingent upon disparate racializing projects. Race is not simply contingent upon historical context or a specific set of social relations. Race is also always contingent upon its relationship to other sociopolitical factors in a broader “matrix.”6 That is, understanding the dynamics and experiences of race requires recognizing how gender, class, sexuality, and other aspects shape racial dynamics and experiences. Teaching race against racism requires that students and teachers recognize these historical and experiential differences. Moreover, the sprawling and contingent nature of white supremacy exposes that teaching about race requires different skills and strategies depending on the community and racial project that one is examining. As scholars and educators, we believe these theoretical paradigms are foundational to transformative race work in and out of the classroom. The chapters in this volume attend to these principles in a variety of ways. Woven together in conversation, these chapters form a tapestry depicting specific, nuanced, and dynamic explorations of race.

Entering the Conversation at This Flash Point Moment Teaching with Tension engages with and extends a decades-​long conversation about the ways in which race, gender, and class influence the academic experiences of faculty and students at U.S. colleges and universities. From This Bridge Called My Back to Presumed Incompetent,

Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century


there is a lineage of scholarship that has approached these issues from the perspective of teachers, illuminating the struggles that faculty of color, women, and those from working-​class backgrounds have faced when trying to earn acceptance and respect in academia.7 Others have explored the ethical and pedagogical implications for educators who bear privileged gendered and raced identities and are working in fields of ethnic and gender studies, in other words, “teaching what you’re not.”8 The authors bell hooks, George Yancy, and others have drawn on Paulo Freire’s “pedagogy of the oppressed” to formulate strategies for advancing social justice struggles in U.S. educational contexts.9 In the field of education, Gloria Ladson-​Billings has initiated a call for culturally relevant pedagogy wherein a teacher’s cultural competency is critical for connecting with and fostering learning across communities and disciplines.10 However, the intersection of race and education does not always follow a liberatory trajectory. Roderick Ferguson and Jodi Melamed have shown that universities incorporate difference by marketing and commodifying the language of “race,” “diversity,” and “multiculturalism.”11 These studies interrogate the extent to which discourses of human difference get co-​opted in higher education in order to increase student enrollment and consequently institutional profits, while simultaneously maintaining the social order. In addition to the above mentioned studies, Teaching with Tension derives critical energy from the work of Kristin Haltinner, whose edited collection Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness (2013) directly addresses the challenges of teaching in college classrooms amid the prevalence and optimism of color-​blind rhetoric; that is, rhetoric which assumes or asserts that race is no longer a significant factor in our society. Haltinner’s book offers applied, practical advice for teachers about how to teach race in a cultural moment framed by the optimism of what many proclaimed in 2013 to be a burgeoning postracial era. In the few short years since Haltinner’s volume was published, the sociopolitical landscape has shifted in ways which challenge that racial optimism. For example, the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial (and gendered) rhetoric that darkened the last presidential campaign season have forced many to at the very least interrogate our rhetoric. Teaching with Tension updates Haltinner’s study by presenting chapters that address the challenges of teaching in a cultural moment marked by varying degrees of hope, pessimism, bemusement, and a great deal of anxiety on the part of teachers and students alike. What


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

is more, our volume interrogates the extent to which these racial anxieties are exacerbated by a neoliberal impulse that prioritizes student satisfaction, even if and when it compromises students’ intellectual development. Teaching with Tension, then, advances pedagogical scholarship by examining the discourse of race in a particular cultural moment when the idea of postraciality and color-​blind logics make many people, students especially, resistant to discussing race in all its nuances. Adding to this resistance are university policies that reflect tenets of neoliberalism; that is, policies that treat students as consumers and the university as a business with the ultimate goal of satisfying the customer—­or at least supplying said customer with a bankable skill set. As a result, professors sometimes encounter pressure, especially in the humanities, from administrators to deliver course content in ways that are not controversial and to safeguard the comfort level of students. Teaching with Tension presents a series of chapters that interrogate these political, economic, and social pressures that all impact how we teach and talk about race. This book operates on the premise that race has become especially difficult to teach in the current moment, when people are contemplating the extent to which we are or are not living in an American sociopolitical context that is in the process of rendering race neutral. Employing perspectives that are theoretical, anecdotal, and pedagogical, the seventeen chapters in Teaching with Tension confront this moment. But what precisely is this moment? Since starting work on this volume in early 2015, as its editors we have thought long and hard about what we mean when we refer to a “current moment.” Certainly, it is a finite time marked by a narrative beginning and an ending. While the moment is still unfolding, its beginning is easy enough to identify—­the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008. Obama’s 2008 campaign and his successful 2012 reelection bid were marked by a rhetoric of hope and possibility as he galvanized a young, multiracial coalition to propel him to victory. After his initial win, politicians, media pundits, and many others were struck by the utopian possibilities of his victory. The United States had elected its first Black president. Some declared that the nation was entering a “postracial” era; that is, an era in which racial prejudice and discrimination no longer exist. For some, the legacies of racial injustice had been overcome. Yet this edenic vision was short-​lived, if it had ever really existed. Prior to and long after his election, a conspiracy-​ minded birther movement questioned Obama’s U.S. citizenship and his

Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century


Christian faith, dog-​whistling assertions that a Black man could never be truly American. At the same time, certain high-​profile media figures who are recognized culturally as Black, such as Raven Symoné, were on record denying such a label, as Symoné did in her interview with Oprah Winfrey. Symoné, in effect, argued that race was more theoretical than tangible. She was American, she told Winfrey; she just happened to be darker. There is much to unpack in that encounter with Winfrey and in Symoné’s statement, particularly as it pertains to the paradox of race as, theoretically, a social construct but also as a lived reality, and as it relates to the way that intersectionality politics influences the degree to which one recognizes oneself as raced. Of course, color-​blind assertions of postracialism emerged elsewhere as well. In 2010, Arizona passed a ban on the teaching of ethnic studies in public K−12 schools. Specifically targeting the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American studies program, the law deployed postracial language arguing that classes must not promote “ethnic solidarity” and should only treat students as “individuals.” Here, the postracial hope seen in Obama’s election became a way to fight curricular equality. What we seek to point out, simply, is that inasmuch as Obama’s presidency marked the hope of postracialism, it also struck a particular chord of racial tension in this country concerning how we recognize race; and for some people, postracial discourse was a means for halting racial justice. It is from this moment that the present volume began to emerge. We have sought to explore the tension between postracial hope and the sociopolitical tumult involving race that has marked American society. How have and are these oppositional forces shaping our teaching? In what ways are our students seeing themselves, and what they study, as a result of this tension? Is race seen, and does it matter? Then came the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the election of Donald J. Trump. As editors, we knew we would have to acknowledge what his being elected to the office of president would mean to conversations on race. His “story” marked yet another moment in which different narratives involving race surfaced for a country still embattled by its lingering significance. In ironic ways, both Obama and Trump carried populist messages. Obama rode a multiracial coalition to victory, with a message that championed that all Americans—­regardless of race or creed—­were a welcomed part of the country. Trump, on the other hand, mobilized the ordinary, “everyday man,” often without overt attention to race. His explicit message was more about job creation, economic stability, and safety for the country. However, his rhetoric


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

was imbued with appeals to a growing white and nationalist base that vilified Mexicans and Muslims, derided strong women, and emphasized “law and order” policing as a thinly veiled code for anti-​blackness. On the night of the election and for weeks afterward, mainstream journalists, political pundits, and those engaged in social justice struggles registered shock at the success of his campaign and his election to the office of the presidency. However, despite the shock of Trump’s unexpected election, the toxic mix of nativism, Islamophobia, sexism, and anti-​blackness that found expression in his campaign did not emerge out of nowhere. It has a long history in the United States and found fertile expression during Obama’s presidency. Here again one need only consider the birther movement and assertions that “all lives matter” and “blue lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Moreover, while Obama campaigned on unifying hope and his presidency ushered in material and social gains for many aggrieved communities, he also oversaw the largest deportation regime in U.S. history, an effort that disproportionately impacted Latina/​o families. Yet treating 2016 as a historical break is erroneous for another reason. Doing so places an undue emphasis on explicit bigotry and occludes the interrogation of more insidious forms of racism. In the classroom and in the broader United States, color-​blindness remains the dominant racial ideology. Indeed, the cultural dominance of color-​blindness is evidenced in part through the media’s utter shock and disbelief at how successful a political movement based on white nationalism can be in the United States in the twenty-​first century. Here we caution against the impulse that may bracket off Trumpism as a social ill and inadvertently give a pass to the perniciousness of color-​blindness and the existence of systematic inequality prior to 2016. We point out, too, that this current moment, with all its dynamics, is not anomalous. Rather it is a flash point, yet another mark along a historical continuum that has defined the racial culture not just of the United States, but also of the Western hemisphere dating back to Columbus’s encounters with Native Americans and, subsequently, the transatlantic slave trade. In recent memory, some Americans might recall the racial optimism of the early 1980s when Black Americans, Latinas/​os, and other minority groups were starting to experience the economic and social gains of the civil rights movements of the previous decades. The Reconstruction of the late 1860s was another flash point that had promised racial progress, as did the cultural renaissances in

Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century


Harlem and Chicago in the 1920s. Any one of those moments promised a move toward a postracial society. As a flash point, this current moment stems from two interrelated factors. First, during the mid-​to late twentieth century, colleges and universities across the United States expanded to accommodate the gains made during the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, and other freedom struggles. The acknowledgment of certain demands made during this era included the introduction of African American, Latina/​o, Asian American, Indigenous, and ethnic studies departments and programs. There was a “market” for courses in these programs, and the significance of their existence worked well to advance America as a new global leader of “true” democracy.12 At the same time, the world was experiencing a global realignment to reinforce the racial status quo wherein states adopted discourses of diversity, color-​blindness, meritocracy, and personal freedom, to paradoxically maintain and advance inequality with the assumed purpose of de-​radicalizing justice struggles and managing potential dissent.13 Second, since the late 1970s, the rise of neoliberalism has also restructured education through the shift toward privatization and the romance of the individual. Thus, as one again considers 2008, it emerges as a catalytic moment, since the election of the first Black American president signaled to some a new postracial era that necessitated a shift in how, where, and why we talk about race, coupled with the Great Recession of 2008−09 that spurred a greater embrace of neoliberalism by university administrations.

Mapping Tensions Together these are the sociopolitical currents that shape the educational context—­they fashion the tensions with which we teach. Situated within this context, Teaching with Tension interrogates the following key questions: How does rhetoric about postraciality complicate the ways we historicize race or talk about race and current events in our classes? In what ways have students’ thinking about race provoked “new” ways for contextualizing the study of race? What teaching strategies work well (or fail) to help students navigate our current moment? In what ways have both students and teachers negotiated racial issues as both individual and social phenomena and as pedagogical and humanistic imperatives? This moment of tension emerges, at once, as the embodiment of neoliberalism, color-​blindness, and a mythic postracialism, and


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

the contributors to this volume have written with this awareness. Thus, the operative word in the title of this volume may be the preposition—­ Teaching “with” Tension. We could ask, then: How does tension shape our teaching? And how do we as educators take this dynamic and turn it into a productive force? To teach with tension is to move forward with students into discomfort, to arm them with strategies for understanding the world and the worlds of others; it is to grapple with injustices past and present in order to render a better future. To do this, we must teach with tension and an awareness of the tensions that shape the contexts in which we teach. The chapters in this volume identify and address numerous origins and forms of tension. One of these, as noted earlier, is the tension between competing visions for education. One of these visions sees historically white institutions fostering a diverse population of students and curricula. The other prioritizes a model wherein the student is imagined as a customer in the context of the rise of neoliberalism. At heart, the former model imagines universities as socially transformative, and the latter model positions education as a service provided to secure a revenue stream.14 The conversations had in this volume address this tension, as educators reflect on their being pushed and pulled between these two educational visions. For example, they address the challenges of holding on to degrees of autonomy in a “democratized” classroom, as they seek to expose students to narratives that center ethnically diverse people, that cultivate critical thinking about race, and that challenge white supremacy, all the while receiving pressure from within and outside of the university to develop coursework that is consumer-​centered, and thus often less challenging. The chapters in this volume also explore tensions that arise as students of various ethnic and racial backgrounds find themselves aware of competing ideas related to race, power, and certain cultural narratives that they may never have questioned before. This tension may be framed as one of emotion. Not in the sense that those from aggrieved communities may be “emotional,” as is often claimed by those who deride ethnic studies. Rather, as many of the contributors examine, white fragility and other expressions of privilege foster emotional tension and potential impasses in the classroom. Here, teachers must navigate the minefield and push students and themselves beyond their comfort zones. And they must do so with care. The authors in this volume also take up the tension located in the relationship between educators and students as they think through the

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way that teaching race becomes impacted by assumptions about race as it is read in the body of the instructor or the bodies of the students. The writers are candid about the challenges faced when they seek to build relationships with students who may not share their racial and gender identities. Some also speak about inviting tension between the professors’ value systems and what the students believe to be true about them based on their physical appearance. They do so to advocate a type of narrative disruption that advances critical thinking about race. A final mode of tension involves the way professors have negotiated another type of awareness, one that has our students thinking critically about connections between current events—­as they unfold—­outside of the university and what this means for what they deem as relevant for learning in the classroom. The question that drives this side of the discussion is “How do time and place produce unique challenges (and opportunities) for teaching about race and ethnicity?” Our writers specifically address the exigencies of teaching about race in the wake of Obama’s presidency and amid continued freedom struggles. Along with their insights are those provided from educators who offer strategies on ways to historicize race when teaching literature and ethnic studies courses in our current sociopolitical climate. They underscore the merits of clearly cultivating a type of race literacy among students that enhances not only their reading of literature, but also their recognition of counter-​narratives and their ability to challenge certain mainstream cultural narratives involving race. Some may see a book about tension, teaching, and race and they will assume that the tension originates only with the concerns of students and faculty of color. For others, the word “tension” will trigger an immediate association with negative implications. We wholeheartedly reject both positions, for our understandings of tension are more nuanced, dynamic, and potentially transformative. First, tension is always multifocal. It emerges when two or more forces are in opposition. For example, tension does not form simply when students of color fight for curricular reform, but from those efforts’ interaction with the intransigence and resistance of historically white institutions. Nor is tension inherently negative. It may be uncomfortable but highly productive. Here we urge readers to remember the words of Kate Rushin’s “Bridge Poem”: “Stretch or drown /​Evolve or die.”15 For Rushin, to avoid the tension of stretching and evolving is to choose death. While we do not wish to romanticize tension, we do recognize it as a condition of both the physical and social worlds. The answer, we suggest, is to


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

recognize the tension, map its contours, and make use of it when and where one can. The seventeen chapters of this volume are organized into three thematic parts. Part 1, “Teaching in Times and Places of Struggle,” examines the dynamics of teaching race during the current moment, which is marked by neoconservative politics and twenty-​first-​century freedom struggles. Part 2, “Teaching in the Neoliberal University,” focuses on how the pressures and exigencies of neoliberalism (i.e., individualism, customer-​service models of education, and online courses) impact the way in which race is taught and conceptualized in college classes. Part 3, “Teaching How to Read Race and (Counter-​ )Narratives,” hones in on the direct strategies used to historicize race in classrooms comprised of millennials who grapple with postracial or color-​blind ideologies. Readers will find that many of the chapters in this book could have been located in the other parts of it as well. This is not by happenstance. While each chapter and each part builds upon the last, they also create a nonlinear, networked discussion that invites readers to make other connections. Taken together, these parts and their constitutive chapters offer rich and fruitful insights into the complex dynamics of contemporary race and ethnic studies education. As all of these chapters will attest, college classrooms are populated by students and teachers of diverse backgrounds, life experiences, political perspectives, and understandings. Each of these shapes the students, the teachers, and the class, as educators address both foundational concepts and the even more thorny issues of race in the contemporary classroom. Yet, despite the challenges here, there is also great opportunity. We believe that teaching and doing race work today requires both pushing students to think in historically grounded ways and seeing racialization as always contingent upon the experiences of others. Drawing together personal reflection, pedagogical strategies, and critical theory, Teaching with Tension offers concrete examinations that will foster this type of student learning.

Notes 1. Tom Jackman, “Did Lead Poisoning, and Outrage over Police Violence, Set the Stage for Korryn Gaines’s Death?” The Washington Post, August 3, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp​ /2016/08/03/did-lead-poisoning-and-outrage-over-police-violence-set-the​ -stage-for-korryn-gainess-death/?utm_term=.1c3e019d5375.

Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century


2. Andy Mannix, “Police Audio: Officer Stopped Philando Castile on Robbery Suspicion,” StarTribune (Minneapolis), July 12, 2016, http://www​ .startribune.com/police-audio-officer-stopped-philando-castile-on-robbery​ -suspicion/386344001/#1. 3. In a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News in July 2016, some 60 percent of Americans, across racial and ethnic lines, agreed that race relations in the United States were bad. This polling came in the immediate aftermath of two high-​profile killings of Black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana and the subsequent military-​style ambush of five white police officers in Dallas, Texas. “Poll: Majority of Americans Think Race Relations Are Getting Worse,” The Washington Post, July 16, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/more-than-6-in-10-adults-say​ -us-race-relations-are-generally-bad-poll-indicates/2016/07/16/66548936​ –­4aa8–­11e6–­90a8-fb84201e0645_story.html. 4. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1994). 5. Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” in Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (Boston: South End, 2006), 66–­73. 6. With “matrix” we are specifically drawing upon Patricia Hill Collins’s theorization of the matrix of domination. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Revised Tenth Anniversary Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 1999), 273–­90. 7. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 4th ed. (1981; Albany: SUNY Press, 2015); Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris, eds., Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2012). 8. Katherine J. Mayberry, Teaching What You’re Not: Identity Politics in Higher Education (New York: New York University Press, 1996). 9. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994); bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (New York: Routledge, 2003); George Yancy, Look, A White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012); Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (New York: Bloomsbury, 2000). 10.  Gloria Ladson-​Billings, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-​Bass, 2009).


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

11. Roderick A. Ferguson, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011). 12. Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011). 13. Howard Winant, The New Politics of Race: Globalism, Difference, Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004); Robert L. Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969); Melamed, Represent and Destroy. 14. For an example of a socially transformative model, see El Plan de Santa Barbara. For a discussion of how neoliberalism incorporates diversity as an added value, see Ferguson, The Reorder of Things; and Melamed, Represent and Destroy. Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education, El Plan de Santa Barbara: A Chicano Plan for Higher Education (Oakland, Calif.: La Causa, 1969). 15. Kate Rushin, “Bridge Poem,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 4th ed., ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (Albany: SUNY Press, 2015), xxxiii−xxxiv.

Part 1 Teaching in Times and Places of Struggle


What “Everyone Knows” Teaching Ferguson in St. Louis Corinne Wohlford

Almost as soon as protests propelled Ferguson, Missouri, to national headlines in August 2014, my colleagues and I at Fontbonne University, located twelve miles away in Clayton, the seat of St. Louis County, began to ask what it meant for our students, many of whom live in and around Ferguson, in the area known locally as North County. We called meetings to talk about how we would fit it into our first-​year seminar course, Culture and the Common Good. We revamped our existing syllabus for the Introduction to African-​American Studies to focus on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.1 We participated in a variety of efforts to support the community in Ferguson. Like many schools, we held panels to discuss the ways that race matters in various disciplines, we offered supportive conversations and prayer sessions, and we tried to explain again and with more urgency the dynamics of white supremacy as Ferguson erupted in anger that was both righteous and hateful. Marcia Chatelain’s invaluable #FergusonSyllabus hashtag inspired me to create an interdisciplinary course, Ferguson: Context and Consequences, which I offered in spring 2015. In the syllabus, I explained that we would not discuss Darren Wilson’s guilt or innocence nor debate Michael Brown’s character. We would not try to dissect the forensic evidence or sift through eyewitness reports. Instead, we would focus on what one protest poster called “the whole damn system” to understand the contexts, which were already urgent before August 9, 2014, and to consider what implications Ferguson, the Black Lives 19


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Matter movement, and the ensuing white backlash would have for our region and nation. We would reject color-​blindness, since it was impossible to understand Ferguson without discussing race, but we would also focus on the role of the state. Our animating questions were these: from where did the protesters’ distrust come, and what were its effects on Ferguson and on the nation? We looked to sources in law, journalism, urban planning, history, music, and psychology for explanations and hosted guest speakers that included Brittany Noble-​Jones, the first news reporter to cover Brown’s death; Loretta Prater, an activist whose son Leslie had died at the hands of Chattanooga police in 2004; and Maria Chappelle-​Nadal, a state senator from nearby University City and a prominent voice in the protest movement. The seminar-​ style course on Ferguson was small and relatively diverse, with five white men, one white woman, five Black women, one Latino man, and one Latina woman. I am a white woman, and my teaching assistant is a Black woman. About half the students were from St. Louis city or county. Three were out-​of-​state students, and about half were from rural Missouri. Two were adult students; the others were of traditional college age. Their major fields of study ranged from pre-​law to education to speech-​language pathology. I knew most of the students in advance, whether through prior coursework in American history, culture studies, or the first-​year seminar, or through the many activities surrounding race relations we had held in previous semesters. A few had become fledgling activists in the months between Brown’s death and the start of the course, but none was an experienced protester. When the course began, I asked the students why they had chosen it. A couple of them admitted that they just needed the course to fulfill a requirement, but most—­and not only the white students—­explained their feelings of confusion as they reacted to the protests in Ferguson. Those who were from out of state or from rural areas explained their discomfort as stemming from the fear that their families and friends felt at the place where they had chosen to attend college, yet they did not know how to reply to my question, or even necessarily what they thought themselves. Students not from St. Louis struggled to understand the local geographical divides. Most were uncomfortable with the destruction of Ferguson’s infrastructure, even as almost everyone expressed concern about the nature of Brown’s death. These concerns cut across racial, gendered, and geographic lines. “I don’t know what to say” was a refrain shared among the students.

What “Everyone Knows”


One early focus of the course was the concept of respectability. None of my students had been familiar with the term beforehand. By demonstrating how respectability politics work, I encouraged students of all backgrounds to think more critically about the contexts for the distrust of police in Ferguson and beyond and to frame their own critiques of racism more effectively. However, in this chapter, I will discuss the ways in which my classroom discussion of respectability took some unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable turns. These moments reframed my teaching, offering me better insight into the diverse kinds of knowledge the students held and how that knowledge affected their arguments in class. These moments demonstrated how the discourses of respectability inform a kind of double consciousness, to use W. E. B. Du Bois’s term, in some of my Black students.2 Specifically, I came to see that Black students who had grown up in or near Ferguson operationalized a kind of respectability politics that had allowed them to navigate a racist culture and become successful college students. Yet they also were able and eager to make powerful antiracist critiques based on their experiences in those same places. However, this realization also pushed me to make some uncomfortable choices as a white teacher. Asking my students of color to interrogate their own racial experiences was perilous terrain that not only violated some of the codes of color-​blindness by which instructors often are assumed to abide, but also reproduced racial hierarchies via professorial/​student hierarchies. Yet coming to better understand my students’ experiences with respectability emboldened me to take more risks that enriched my students’ experiences. After teaching this course, I believe that predominantly white institutions like my own must devote greater attention to the politics of respectability if they want to fulfill the diversity, equity, and inclusion goals that are, in the wake of Ferguson, more urgent than ever. “Respectability politics” has come to have a negative association in and around the Black Lives Matter movement, which emerged after the 2012 death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of community watchman George Zimmerman but grew in intensity after Ferguson. The term, introduced by the scholar Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her 1993 book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church: 1880 to 1920, suggests that Black women have negotiated success for themselves by conforming to white normative standards of moral virtue and middle-​class behavior.3 While the term describes behaviors in Black culture, it is also attractive


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to whiteness because it displaces white responsibility for racial inequality onto Black individuals, families, and neighborhoods and away from the social institutions that reproduce it, such as criminal justice, law, education, finance, and health care. Fredrick C. Harris explains, “What started as a philosophy promulgated by Black elites to ‘uplift the race’ by correcting the ‘bad’ traits of the Black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of Black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of Black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity.”4 In the context of Ferguson, respectability politics was evident not only in the voices of Black elites such as journalist Don Lemon and self-​help guru Iyanla Vanzant, but also among white deniers of racism who suggested that had Michael Brown been more polite and law-​abiding, his death would have been avoided. This assumption is a key target of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Ferguson Police Department’s choice to release video of Brown’s alleged strong-​arm robbery on the same day they released the name of the officer who shot him created particular rancor among protesters, since many viewed this information as an attempt to divert attention from what they saw as Brown’s murder. As Marc Lamont Hill explains in his book Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond (2016), the Ferguson police likely assumed “that the public, including the Black community, would not invest its support in Brown if he was marked as a criminal.”5 Perhaps no figure in Ferguson better illustrated the demanding logic of respectability politics than Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, whom Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder investigated for “inciting a riot” in November 2014. Head, despairing at the failure of the grand jury to indict Wilson, shouted “Burn this bitch down” in a momentary outburst of grief and frustration, even though he had previously and afterward called for peace. That Head, who had been incarcerated, seemed to fit a stereotype of disordered Black culture—­particularly of the disordered Black family—­thrust him into the spotlight as white conservatives assigned him blame for his stepson’s presumed misbehavior and death. I set out to discredit “respectability politics” early in the course, since I was eager to suggest to my students that one’s rights are not a function of one’s respectability and to demonstrate how decades of research on the Black community have shifted the blame for inequality from racism to deficiencies in Black culture. Students read passages of the 1965 Moynihan Report, which famously described Black families

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as a “tangle of pathology,”6 and we analyzed internet memes about Brown’s family that reproduced this thinking. We then contrasted those claims with, for instance, statistics on the actual involvement of Black fathers in their children’s lives. I introduced Eduardo Bonilla-​ Silva’s term “cultural racism”7 and discussed Robin D. G. Kelley’s Yo Mama’s Disfunktional.8 Then, turning to Bill Cosby’s infamous “pound cake speech,”9 we examined the ways in which Black voices reproduce similar lines of critique—­that is to say, in respectability politics—­well outside the academy. The concept was valuable for students who were uncomfortable blaming Black families for police brutality, but had trouble arguing an alternative position. The night after that particular class, one of my students happened to recognize Michael Brown Sr. at a local fast food restaurant—­a powerful reminder that Brown’s family are real people who live in our community, not caricatures on the internet. The student shook Brown’s hand, and Brown wished God’s blessings on her and her friends. The piece that moved students most deeply was an excerpt from Gerald Early’s book Daughters: On Family and Fatherhood (1994).10 Early, an esteemed Black professor at Washington University, the premier educational institution in St. Louis, related his story of being racially profiled at an upscale local mall. Although the piece is dated—­the event occurred in 1991—­both the mall, Plaza Frontenac, and the university retain their prestige. Early writes poignantly of his humiliation and of lashing out at one of his daughters in the depths of his rage, as he tried to explain to her that white society sees him as nothing more than an animal. Early’s piece masterfully illustrated the vulnerability of even the most respectable of Black men. Although most of my Black students generally understood this idea already, for some—­particularly for those of relative class privilege—­it nonetheless hit harder. My white students understood through Early’s story the ways in which humiliation can breed rage, which allowed them to reframe Brown’s stepfather not as a criminal rioter, but rather as a grieving husband and parent. Understanding the politics of respectability also helped my students who had attended (during the previous semester) a presentation from Bernice King and other representatives of Atlanta’s King Center. King had appeared on our campus to invite participants in the center’s initiatives to promote peace in Ferguson. At that event, prominent African American residents of St. Louis—­ pastors, politicians, bankers, and police officers, many of them representatives of the civil rights era—­ filled the first two rows of seats, alongside the university administration.


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King and her associates on the stage emphasized a strategy of nonviolence while also stressing education and fiscal responsibility as the keys to transforming racial inequality. Many students shifted uncomfortably in their seats throughout this presentation, and when protesters from the Ferguson movement, standing in the back of the room, began to object vociferously to the characterization of themselves rather than police as violent, many students nodded their heads in agreement. This event illustrated a core conflict between the civil rights era and the emerging Black Lives Matter era: this new movement did not require its victims to be “respectable” to argue for their rights; they would not accept a characterization of themselves as the troublemakers. The Ferguson protesters and those that came afterward understood that respectability cannot fully protect Black citizens; moreover, it should not have to. My extended lesson on respectability seemed to have been successful, not just in questioning its value, but also in setting a tone for the class discussions that would follow. We would not—­and my students almost entirely did not—­turn to critiques of Black culture in order to explain away systemic, institutionalized racism. Contextualizing respectability politics this way played an important role in creating a safer classroom experience for my students of color, and it focused all students on appropriate critiques of systemic racism and on the precarity of lives affected by it. I saw a meaningful deepening of the commentary from several students, especially those who had been most focused on the damage to Ferguson’s stores and businesses, as they began to reassess what such destruction represented—­it was more, they realized, than an excuse for criminal misbehavior. However, later in the semester, I was humbled to realize that understanding the concept of respectability, and even hearing my critique of it, did not necessarily mean that the students in my classroom could be free of respectability politics themselves. In one informal journal entry, one of my Black students, a Ferguson resident, inveighed against the use of Black English, arguing that it was unintelligent and embarrassing. In my written comments, I countered that Black English has its own grammar and coherence, that it is simply a dialect like any other. Gesturing toward our discussions of respectability, I encouraged her to consider whether one’s dialect ought to determine his or her right to be protected or respected. Toward the end of the student’s journal entry, I also underlined a passage of a sentence that contained the phrase “feeling some type of way,” a term the writer had used in expressing

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her frustration with Black English. “Isn’t this Black English?” I queried playfully, knowing this student’s sense of humor, and adding a “smiley” face next to it. Although I found this journal entry a bit surprising, given that this student had repeatedly expressed substantial concerns about institutionalized racism, I did not think much of what I had written. But the next class period, the student approached me, laughing and hitting me on the arm, clearly more at ease than ever before in the class. “I loved your comments on my journal! You and I can hang out!” she joked. She went on to explain that she was shocked at what I had written on her paper and especially at my familiarity with the phrase “feeling some type of way.” Something clearly had transformed for her: a sense that she could speak in a way that she was not comfortable speaking before. The moment was lighthearted, but I found this exchange deeply affecting, and it opened many questions for me as a white instructor. What had she meant when she wrote the journal entry in the first place? Did she really believe that Black English was the embarrassment she had told me it was? Or was she telling me what she thought I wanted to hear? Could it be both? I had already shared with the class my personal and professional investments in antiracism. Indeed, I had argued strenuously against respectability politics. And yet, it seemed, by virtue of my position and my race, perhaps she truly didn’t know that she didn’t have to be “respectable” with me. If she felt she had to perform respectability in this course, I wondered, how did she feel in every other course, almost all of which would have been taught by white faculty at our predominantly white institution, and few of which likely had addressed these topics explicitly? Of course, my thoughts were not limited to this particular student, but to all of my students of color, in this and every course. It was a stark illustration of Du Boisian double consciousness. Du Bois writes that double consciousness is a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” Even if I did not look at my student with “amused contempt and pity,” as Du Bois suggests,11 she seemed to have felt some expectation of that judgment from me. In the next chapter in this volume, Anita Huizar-​Hernández explores the struggles of Latina/​o students in Arizona after the passage of legislation that banned the teaching of ethnic studies in that state. These students suffered academically as their cultures and histories became antithetical to the state’s values in education. A few weeks later, my student challenged me again on the issue of respectability, this time more publicly. I had shared an article with the


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students about the process by which northern St. Louis County municipalities like Ferguson collect revenue through aggressive ticketing of motorists and court fees. The story we read profiled one woman who had amassed an overwhelming sum in fines and fees. The woman could not afford to pay them and could not show up in court for fear of being arrested there. Almost all of my students—­except two Black students from North County and my teaching assistant, who was also from North County—­were shocked at the injustice of these fees as a revenue source for the municipality; it seemed to them an obvious illustration of the systemic racism that gave context to Ferguson residents’ distrust of the police. It was perhaps the most compelling bit of evidence they had seen that racism was endemic to Ferguson’s police department to that point. Many looked heartbroken. But the woman from Ferguson shrugged. “I don’t feel sorry for this woman at all,” she announced, and her North County peers began to nod in agreement. “Everyone knows you send someone else to court for you so you don’t get arrested,” they insisted. The rest of the class looked shocked. So I stopped the class. “Wait a minute,” I said, “I want to ask the rest of the class—­how many of you knew that you send someone else to court for you so you don’t get arrested?” There was silence. Not a single student, Black, brown, or white, raised his or her hand. This moment revealed something bigger than just a difference in neighborhoods; after all, two white students from North County also had not raised their hands. “Why do you think,” I asked the class, “that these three people knew this and the rest of us did not?” This moment shook the class—­ and for me, it was the defining moment of the course. It had not fully occurred to my Black North County students that the rest of us, apparently including the journalist who had written the story, did not know this information, and it had never occurred to my other students that their classmates operationalized knowledge like this in their day-​to-​day lives. The Black students from North County needed this information; the rest of us did not. Shocked at his own prior ignorance, one white North County student, who has since gone on to do thoughtful community-​based work for social justice, exclaimed, “I was raised on Channel Nine!” He was alluding to the local PBS station that, he implied, had misled him about the harmonious state of race relations in his community. This incident underscored a realization for me that, as my student’s reflection on Black English also had suggested, it was Black students’ conformity to the codes of respectability that, to an extent I had not

What “Everyone Knows”


fully appreciated before, had brought them to my classroom in the first place. My student from Ferguson was not just embarrassed by Black English, but was also proud of her own success. Without their knowledge of how to navigate institutions of white supremacy, whether in criminal justice or in education, many of my Black North County students would not likely have been the successful college students they were. Their double consciousness had brought them here. Yet this knowledge—­and labor—­was largely invisible to white students and faculty, including myself. How could I invite students to be authentic in the classroom if my very presence suggested otherwise? This perspective reframed respectability for me as a kind of knowledge that can coexist with systemic critique, for none of these students believed that institutionalized racism was not a problem. “How to be successful in a racist society” and “How to critique racism” were two distinct streams of knowledge, and sometimes, as Du Bois suggests, the insights from one could not be reconciled in the same moment with the other. Thus, a student could rail against a corrupt criminal justice system while also viewing with contempt a neighbor who failed to navigate that same criminal justice system successfully. As a white instructor, I had nothing to contribute to the stream of knowledge, learned in Black culture, that had in many ways protected and promoted them. Yet in the classroom, the Black North County students sometimes seemed unaware of which vision, which stream of knowledge, was animating their comments, and I wanted to make sure they could untangle these threads without discrediting either of them. As Du Bois suggests, double consciousness can create a “contradiction of double aims” since one wishes neither to “Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa,” nor to “bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.”12 How could I even attempt to help my students of color understand their perspectives as the gifts of what Du Bois calls “second-​sight”?13 So after the “everyone knows” discussion, I asked the Black North County students to have a private meeting with me and my teaching assistant. I had never before called a meeting with students of only a particular background, and perhaps I would not have made the same choice if I did not feel I had a relationship with them as individuals—­a kind of familiarity I would not have been able to build without prior investments in extracurricular activities and other course content before this semester. Nonetheless, such a move countered conventional wisdom. I began by apologizing: I had not fully respected the


Corinne Wohlford

kinds of knowledge they had used to help them become successful. Yes, I told them, I believe that one’s respectability should not determine one’s rights. But I, as a white person, also did not have to worry about navigating a fundamentally racist culture to keep myself safe. Agreeing, my teaching assistant said, “Yeah, my grandma would say that Mike Brown needed to stay on the damn sidewalk.” Another student pointed out that although Gerald Early had been treated unfairly at Plaza Frontenac back in 1991, he lived to tell the tale—­to his powerful friends in elite St. Louis society—­in book form, a point she hadn’t made in class. Respectability didn’t make him invulnerable, but it made him safer and allowed him to make a principled stand against his mistreatment. It would be audacious of me to argue that respectability has no place in a racist American culture, or to argue against the wisdom of these students’ grandmothers. This is why, although I may be able to teach them about the historic contexts for the protests in Ferguson, I needed to be clear to myself and to my students that I was not giving advice or judgment about how one should comport oneself. It was this kind of discussion of respectability that Randall Kennedy recently defended in his controversial essay “Lifting as We Climb: A Progressive Defense of Respectability Politics.” Kennedy writes, “My parents inculcated in me and my two siblings a particular sense of racial kinship: in our dealings with the white world, we were encouraged to think of ourselves as ambassadors of blackness. Our achievements would advance the race, and our failures would hinder it. The fulfillment of our racial obligations required that we speak well, dress suitably, and mind our manners.”14 Yet Kennedy also points out that adherence to such strict norms of respectable behavior did not mean that his parents or others of their generation did not understand the injustice of these requirements: “They were under no illusion that strict adherence to their protocols would immunize us completely against the ravages of negrophobia; they knew that racism targeted ‘good’ Blacks too. But they reasoned that their strictures would at least improve our chances of surviving and thriving.” Kennedy illustrates that performing respectability is not incompatible with critiquing racist systems. My students were making the same argument. These voices are important in understanding what Magdalena L. Barrera calls the “resistance of color” in her chapter in this book, as she explores various stances taken by students in her ethnic studies classroom. Still, I urged the students in that private meeting to consider their audiences when they admonish other Black people for violating norms

What “Everyone Knows”


of respectability. Perhaps those critiques were fair, but I asked them to consider how white classmates might misinterpret their comments—­ might, indeed, miss the essential critiques of white supremacy that these same students were also making in favor of explanations that seem to fault Black people or culture. I encouraged them to consider how the two distinct frames of knowledge that they have—­of white supremacy and also of how to navigate white supremacy—­might intertwine in complicated and sometimes conflicting ways in their own analyses of Ferguson or any other charged situations, so that they might be more conscious of how and when they use each frame. This was not to say that I did not want them to share the knowledge they had acquired, for their sharing clearly had benefited us all, but rather to put it into context, to realize the injustice inherent in the fact that they had needed to learn this, whereas their classmates and I had not. I pointed out to them as well that their classmates often have neither of these streams of knowledge. Afterward, with their permission, I shared key points of our discussion with the wider class, encouraging them, too, to think about the two streams of knowledge and how much or how little they know of each. It was not, after all, only the Black North County students who ought to have responsibility for thinking about the difference between how to navigate a racist culture and how to critique it. The faculty at educational institutions nationwide are often fearful of discussing race and racism in the classroom because these topics are difficult. What, they fear, if they “say something wrong”? What if they alienate someone? What if they offend? These, of course, are the same questions many of our students of color ask themselves daily, without the option of retreat. The faculty’s fears, I believe, are not only about the effects upon their students; they are also, equally or more, about the fear of being judged poorly themselves. Their course evaluations might suffer. A complaint might be filed. Tenure might be denied. And so they simply do not discuss race, do not explore white supremacy, denying in their silence the very reality that their students of color navigate daily. They protect themselves and those students for whom a discussion of racism would be most painful, at the expense of those for whom racism itself is most painful. This self-​protection is, to use Robin DiAngelo’s term, “white fragility”;15 however, it is given the veneer of respectability by virtue of professorial authority. We cannot allow ourselves to be fragile and at the same time ask our students of color to be resilient. Although I considered myself relatively resilient already, challenging my Black students on respectability politics was not easy for me. I knew


Corinne Wohlford

I was breaking many norms of color-​blindness that are assumed to be sacrosanct in higher education. I recognized the fundamental problem of a white person in a position of authority who is challenging people of color on their own experiences and opinions—­a fact I openly admitted to the students. I feared I was suggesting that Black students have not a double but rather a false consciousness about respectability, and I feared that my white students would explain away all Black conservative critique as mere respectability politics without real analysis. I realized, not for the first time, that my Black students deserved more faculty members of color who could speak to both streams of knowledge in a way that I would never be able to do. In the end, I decided that challenging my students was an essential piece of being an educator, and whatever metacognition I could encourage in my students would be worth their while. Too many courses taught by white faculty who address race rely on students of color as co-​teachers, to the degree that I often wonder whether students of color learn much in them. While I certainly learned from my students in this, like every, class, I wanted to provide something meaningful to all of my students. I also cannot overstate the importance of the institutional commitments to antiracism made by my university president and the Sisters of St. Joseph, Fontbonne’s sponsors, in providing an institutional setting in which I felt able to explore these issues. Indeed, after this discussion, the North County students seemed more energized, more vocal than they had been before. The student from Ferguson recently graduated and sent me a note thanking me for exposing her to “so much knowledge that I am still investigating.” My former teaching assistant often references this discussion as pivotal to her understanding of how to respond to such deflections as the “Black-​ on-​Black crime” argument that attempts to circumvent any discussion of police brutality. Although she is deeply concerned about violence within the Black community, she also understands why these are two different discussions. I believe that, rather than being upset by my non-​color-​blind approach, my students felt more valued because I was willing to speak to them in ways that other faculty largely avoid. Both sides of their double consciousness were recognized and affirmed. In fact, my admission of discomfort may have been even more useful than I realized for my white students, as well, because it modeled an ability to change one’s orientation toward what one knows, to revise oneself, to recognize the imperfection that is always unavoidable when a white person leads a discussion about racism. My white students

What “Everyone Knows”


were subsequently more able to offer their own imperfections and revisions. “I didn’t know any of this” was a regular comment from my white students, who were regretful but unafraid to admit their ignorance about all manner of racial inequities. I never told my white students what to do with the information they received; there were no primers on appropriate language or political action steps. Instead, they were incorporating new knowledge into their worldviews and considering how they might apply them, whether as social workers or lawyers or teachers. Their insights became simultaneously less guarded and more thoughtful. Understanding knowledge as a function of our experiences and social positions—­ideas connected to respectability and to double consciousness—­is relevant not only to students from the Ferguson area, of course. Our class learned much about respectability from a rural white student who realized he was granted leeway that his Black peers would not have been granted—­for instance, when being stopped by police with a car full of (legal) weapons. Another white rural man in my class explained to me at the end of the semester how much of his ideas about Black urban culture had originated in white rural culture; his perspective had shifted in part because he realized that the source of his ideas was far from authoritative. A rural Black student and a wealthy Black student sometimes questioned their ownership of blackness since they had not shared similar knowledge; their contributions helped to describe the diversity of Black experience. A Latina student from the Southwest reflected on how the discourse around race in her home state differs from those prevalent in St. Louis, and a Black Chicagoan compared and contrasted racial politics in the two cities. Antiracist teachers owe it to their students to show that knowledge itself is not only racialized but also highly localized, even as white supremacy and respectability pervade all races, classes, and locations. Respectability politics inculcates white privilege across diverse locations; it is a shared expectation even as we differ in our relationships to it. The more nuanced understanding of respectability at predominantly white institutions that I developed while teaching this course has several implications inside and outside the classroom. In the classroom, instructors can help differentiate these streams of knowledge—­the difference between how to stay alive and successful in a racist culture and how to critique a racist culture. By asking questions of all students with regard to the origin of their information, and where or how they learned what they knew or took for granted as common knowledge, the


Corinne Wohlford

instructor can help students see how uncommon much of this knowledge is. Students can learn to see double consciousness as the “gift of second-​sight” that Du Bois described.16 Instructors can push students to think about why our knowledge differs, and what effects those differences have. For instance, we can still argue that respectability politics undermines important critiques of racial injustice, in effect changing the topic and shifting blame, without disparaging students who have learned to live by the codes of respectability. It is also important to consider respectability politics as campuses nationwide continue to engage with diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives. Although much ink has been spilled over recent student protest movements at campuses across the nation, and most notably at the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”) in Columbia, two hours from St. Louis, we seem to forget that most students are not protesting. Like mine, most students are unsure what to say and how to say it, even when they do have deep concerns. Even at my campus, which is only a dozen miles from the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement, many, and perhaps most, students of color are working harder simply to navigate racist culture than they are working to dismantle it. They attempt to navigate two worlds at once. This does not mean that these students would not like to see change inside and outside their universities. We must be responsive not only to those who are protesting, but also to those who are not or cannot. And we should not expect adherence to respectability to hold, especially as Black Lives Matter rightly continues to challenge it. As the Concerned Student 1950 movement at Mizzou illustrated, and as my own students’ emerging resistance to the King Center’s presentation in 2014 suggested as well, students are growing less comfortable with respectability politics. The vocabulary of resistance is beginning to circulate in popular culture—­on social media in particular—­in ways that are affecting our students’ relationships to respectability. The discourse around microaggressions, for instance, might well be understood as an emerging unwillingness to perform respectability, to bear the burden of navigating standards and expectations of whiteness that most institutions hardly know exist, in what is a shifting of responsibility back to the aggressors. Still, most of our students are not familiar with terms like “microaggressions” at all, and they are even less ready to demand more comprehensive institutional change. While a critique of microaggressions may not go far enough in instituting systemic change, we ought to applaud the efforts of students who do voice the quotidian terms of

What “Everyone Knows”


their marginalization, recognizing the critical consciousness and self-​ awareness that such critiques require. To shift the responsibility for building an inclusive culture away from the students and onto their institutions is an important intellectual and developmental exercise, not one to be dismissed as “whining” or inimical to free speech. Indeed, respectability politics reminds us, as Du Bois did a century ago, how unfree much of the speech on our campuses truly is. Universities can be transformative spaces for students, teaching them how to build just institutions themselves, if they are willing to be transformed themselves. Michael Brown was days away from beginning his life as a college student when he died. We will never know what knowledge he would have brought to a classroom. Throughout St. Louis and the nation, what “everyone knows” is hardly the same; perhaps only the primacy of white supremacy is common knowledge. To hear from all of our students in ways that are authentic and productive, to truly build common knowledge, we will need to take some risks and be willing to have some uncomfortable and imperfect conversations, as Stuart Rhoden argues in his chapter in this volume. We may not always know what to say, but we can begin by figuring out how we have come to know what we know. The reward, in my experience, far outweighs the risk.

Notes 1. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New, 2010). 2. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Dover, 1994). 3. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–­1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993). 4. Fredrick C. Harris, “The Rise of Respectability Politics,” Dissent, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-rise-of-respectability-politics. 5. Marc Lamont Hill, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond (New York: Atria Books, 2016), 28–­29. 6. Daniel P. Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (Washington, D.C: Office of Policy Planning and Research, United States Department of Labor, 1965). 7.  Eduardo Bonnilla-​Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-​Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).


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8. Robin D. G. Kelley, Yo Mama’s Disfunktional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Boston: Beacon, 1997). 9. Bill Cosby, “Dr. Bill Cosby Speaks,” 2004, http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/​ ~schochet/101/Cosby_Speech.htm. 10. Gerald Early, “Daughters: On Family and Fatherhood,” in Ain’t But a Place: An Anthology of African-​American Writings about Saint Louis, ed. Gerald Early (St. Louis, Mo.: Missouri Historical Society, 1998). 11. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 2. 12. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 3. 13. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 2. 14. Randall Kennedy, “Lifting as We Climb: A Progressive Defense of Respectability Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, October 2015, http://harpers​ .org/archive/2015/10/lifting-as-we-climb/​. 15. Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no. 3 (2011): 54–­70. 16. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 2.


Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom Anita Huizar-​Hernández

The legislature finds that there is a compelling interest in the cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws throughout all of Arizona. The legislature declares that the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona. The provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States. —­Arizona Senate Bill 1070 A school district or charter school in the state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following: (1) Promote the overthrow of the United States Government; (2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people; (3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; (4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. —­Arizona House Bill 2281 Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. —­Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story”



Anita Huizar-Hernández

In Arizona in spring 2010, political tensions rose as quickly as the temperatures. In April, Governor Jan Brewer signed two controversial pieces of legislation into law: Senate Bill 1070 and House Bill 2281, which targeted illegal immigration and ethnic studies, respectively. Both laws garnered national attention and crystallized a reputation for Arizona as either atrociously xenophobic or admirably tough on crime, depending on who was being asked. For current college students, most of whom were between the ages of eleven and fifteen when the laws passed, this political firestorm shapes how they perceive Arizona and their relationship to the state. This chapter explores the challenges and possibilities of teaching about Arizona in Arizona in the aftermath of this political turmoil. It begins with a brief discussion of the legislation itself and the polarizing impact it had on race relations within the state. It then turns to a reflection on the pedagogical practice of teaching not only with but through tension, that is to say, how tension itself can become a powerful pedagogical tool to engage and empower students inside and outside the classroom.

Belonging in Arizona The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 1070, was meant to bolster the enforcement of federal immigration law within Arizona by “mak[ing] attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.”1 According to Governor Brewer and her supporters, the federal government had failed to address the “crisis caused by illegal immigration and Arizona’s porous border,” forcing the state to take matters into its own hands to secure its border with Mexico.2 The law made it a misdemeanor crime to be in Arizona without proper documentation, required law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s status if there was “reasonable suspicion” that he or she was in the state illegally, and penalized those who prevented in any way the full enforcement of federal immigration law.3 Arizona’s message to undocumented immigrants was clear; they were not welcome in the state. This stated goal is troubling enough; however, even more unsettling was the implicit connection that SB 1070 drew between ethnicity and immigration status. Many opponents argued that requiring law enforcement officials to ask for proof that a person was in the United

Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom


States legally based on “reasonable suspicion” was nothing more than a thinly veiled mandate to racially profile Latinos as non-​citizens until proven otherwise.4 This mandate racialized the category of immigrant, tying it to how a person looked, acted, or sounded. The combination of the law’s explicitly stated goal of making life so insufferable for undocumented immigrants that they would choose to leave (“attrition through enforcement”) and its indiscriminate application of reasonable suspicion to a racialized identity category, created a climate of extreme hostility toward the state’s large Latino population.5 Though SB 1070 never fully went into effect,6 the controversy surrounding its passage fundamentally altered race relations within the state by changing what it meant, both legally and culturally, to be Latino. Though the law claimed that “the provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States,” it is clear that the actual impact, intended or not, was a climate of racially motivated oppression7 that did not differentiate between citizens and non-​citizens.8 The entire Latino community, regardless of status, suffered psychological and physical consequences as a direct result of the law.9 The psychological impact of Arizona’s anti-​immigrant, anti-​Latino legislation became even more stark in the controversial passage of HB 2281, better known as Arizona’s ethnic studies10 ban. While SB 1070 targeted immigration, HB 2281 targeted education, prohibiting the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona’s public schools. The law, written by the Arizona school superintendent Tom Horne and carried out by his successor, John Huppenthal, targeted the Mexican-​American Studies program in Tucson’s high schools. The program was found to be in violation of HB 2281, which prohibited any courses that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, [or] advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”11 HB 2281 also stipulated that the state would withhold up to 10 percent of the monthly funding of any district found to be in violation of the law. Not willing to lose such a significant portion of an already reduced budget, the Tucson Unified School District eliminated the Mexican-​American Studies program from its curriculum. Unlike SB 1070, HB 2281 did go into full effect despite ongoing legal challenges.12 Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that, like SB 1070,


Anita Huizar-Hernández

the psychological impact of HB 2281 is high, particularly for students. O’Leary and Romero found that students suffered increased stress, depressive symptoms, and lower self-​esteem as a direct consequence of the ban.13 Additionally, the ban abruptly ended the positive impact that ethnic studies courses were having on student achievement, including “significantly higher rates of test passing and graduation.”14 Just as SB 1070 created a culture of fear among the state’s Latino community, HB 2281 created a culture of repression among the state’s students, particularly those who were at risk of failing or dropping out. Together, both laws crystallized years of mounting hostility towards Latinos within Arizona and beyond. The previous decades of increasingly militarized border policing,15 coupled with the Great Recession that began in 2008, created the conditions necessary for an extreme policy like SB 1070 to find sufficient supporters. Likewise, the xenophobic paranoia created by SB 1070 and similar policies paved the way for a ban on curricula that would threaten the narrow ideology that upheld those policies. Implicitly or explicitly, both laws tied what it meant to belong in Arizona to a particular, exclusive racial identity that did not reflect the actual composition of the state.

Resisting the Single Story In her 2009 TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns about the hazards of describing a community with one simplified narrative. She affirms that “to create a single story,” one need only “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”16 SB 1070 and HB 2281 told a single story about Arizona. This story obscured the long-​standing presence of people of color within the state and erased the complex history of movement across and within the state’s borders. As the laws gained national attention from both supporters and opponents, their depiction of Arizona “as one thing, as only one thing,” became powerfully and dangerously dominant. As Adichie cautions, “it is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power . . . Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”17 Together, the two laws made a simplified, inaccurate version of Arizona the definitive story of the state. As a professor of border studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Arizona, I have witnessed firsthand how the

Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom


single story about Arizona that SB 1070 and HB 2281 told has shaped how students approach and interpret material related to race relations in the state. Many of today’s college students were in middle and high school at the time that the laws passed. Though the specific impact of these laws on students varies depending on the students’ age, geographic location, ethnicity, and immigration and socioeconomic status, their influence is inescapable. I myself was one of those students impacted, and the passage of both laws was a watershed moment for me as a young Latina graduate student who had been born and raised in Arizona. Their passage prompted me to shift my research focus to my home state, and I soon found that while the political and legal battles leading up to and resulting from SB 1070 and HB 2281 were long and complex, the fundamental dispute they pointed to was not about politics or law, but rather about narrative. The aftermath of both laws pointed to an underlying disagreement over how to define not only the physical but also the cultural borders of the state, that is, of how to tell the story of Arizona. To contextualize this disagreement, I developed a course titled “Los arizonenses” (“The Arizonans”), which introduces students to the history of Arizona’s diverse community through a survey of its expressive culture (oral history, chronicles, novels, poems, movies, photographs, etc.). Like the authors Cassander Smith and Briana Whiteside in their chapters in this book, I turned to cultural texts in order to foment class discussion about the often uncomfortable topics we cover. The focus on narratives, both real and imagined, helps distance students from the controversial and divisive macro political discourse and gives them a framework for analyzing the assumptions behind otherwise opaque political positions. The course is structured around three phases that push students to complicate the story they’ve been told about Arizona. In the first part of the class, students read historical accounts and travel to different meaning-​making sites such as museums and archives to explore how they shape viewers’ opinions and perceptions of the histories they preserve and present. After discussing what stories are either underrepresented or erased altogether, in the second part of the class, students interview people who reside within the state in order to create a living archive of Arizona stories. Finally, students produce their own narratives about the state by developing creative projects based on the interviews they have conducted. Though tension invariably arises, by the end of the semester, students have a much more complicated understanding of the place where they live and how representations of its past continue to shape its present and future.


Anita Huizar-Hernández

Located in Tucson in the southern part of the state,18 the University of Arizona (UA) was founded in 1885 when Arizona was still a territory.19 Today, UA is a large and diverse public institution. Of the 8,000 new freshman students entering the university in fall 2016, 56 percent were Arizona residents and 42.6 percent were ethnic minorities.20 With such high numbers of both Arizona residents and ethnic minorities, it is hardly surprising that the tension present when teaching about Arizona in Arizona is palpable. Nevertheless, as Corinne Wohlford argues in her chapter “What ‘Everyone Knows’: Teaching Ferguson in St. Louis,” teaching in close geographical proximity to course content presents not only unique challenges, but also opportunities. Instead of shying away from the political controversies of the past decade, I have found that students are not only able but eager to engage with the issues that have defined their opinions of the state and their place within it. Despite inevitable disagreements, students are much less resistant to engaging with polemical topics and themes when they feel they are part of, and not just subject to, debates about defining what it means to be an Arizonan. In order to gauge what impressions students have of the state, on the first day of class I ask them three basic questions: (1) What are three words you would use to describe Arizona in the past? (2) What are three words you would use to describe Arizona in the present? and (3) What are three words you would use to describe the Arizona community? In the next class, I share their answers in the form of word clouds that visually represent the most common responses and themes. Although each class is different, some common themes prevail. Students tend to think of Arizona in the past as a barren wasteland, providing words like “hot,” “dry,” and “desert.” They rarely mention any people, and if they do they tend to be “cowboys,” not Native Americans (and especially not specific tribal nations like the Navajo) or Spanish or Mexican settlers. As far as Arizona in the present is concerned, students always respond overwhelmingly with the word “hot,” which is likely a function of the fact that temperatures on the first day of class tend to hover around 115–­120 degrees Fahrenheit. Aside from this visceral physical response, they tend to focus on how modern the state is, emphasizing that it is “big” and has “large cities” and “freeways.” Students sometimes allude to the state’s demographics with words like “diversity” and “multicultural,” although specific communities like “Mexicans” or “Hispanics” rarely come up. The final question, Arizona’s community, always provides a good gauge of what story students have learned and internalized about the people of the state. In some semesters, students

Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom


will mention “political tension,” “discrimination,” and “division,” while in other semesters students will provide more neutral or positive descriptors like “diverse” and “welcoming.” Regardless of where they fall along the spectrum, this last question gets to the heart of the purpose of the course: to help students analyze what has shaped their assumptions about who belongs in Arizona. The first phase of the class introduces students to an archive of stories about the state’s history, preparing them to discuss Arizona’s recent controversial legislation by contextualizing it within a much longer timeline. Beginning with pre-​Columbian civilizations and moving through the Spanish conquest, Mexican independence, U.S. expansion, and finally Arizona statehood, students explore how a diverse array of people have shaped the physical and cultural landscape of the state. They grow accustomed to discussing polemical topics such as migration, citizenship, and civil rights in the context of the past, preparing them for similar though more heated conversations about the present. Though at first the students’ eyes glaze over at the prospect of reading archaic documents in Spanish (a challenge for all students, but especially the less fluent who struggle with modern, let alone sixteenth-​century, Spanish), these stories come alive in the archives where they analyze manuscripts, photographs, and diaries in their original form. In their reflection papers, students often describe how the physical experience of being in the archives helps them understand the importance and continued relevance of these historical narratives to current debates. Though students are enthralled by the archives, they are also unsatisfied with their limited scope. A cursory comparison with oral histories studied in class and stories that students may have learned from their own families quickly demonstrates that the archives are full of gaps and silences, especially when it comes to the experiences of marginalized communities. To address these archival elisions, in the second phase of the class, students prepare questions and conduct interviews with people whose stories may not otherwise appear in the archival record. Finally, students use these interviews to make their own creative projects, developing their own written, visual, or aural narratives about the state. Throughout the course of the semester, students individually and collectively challenge the dangerous single story of Arizona by recovering, expanding, and imagining the many other narratives that have shaped the state. The thoughtful student discussions, reflections, and projects that have emerged from this course demonstrate that when given the


Anita Huizar-Hernández

opportunity to analyze how narratives are formed and disseminated, students can learn to move past talking points and critically engage with opposing political views. Ironically, this sort of intellectual labor is precisely the goal of ethnic studies. Though politicians like Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and other supporters of HB 2281 defined ethnic studies as divisive and culturally specific courses that are intended to indoctrinate students into a particular viewpoint, many ethnic studies scholars contend that the goal of their field is quite the opposite: to analyze how and why social relations form. In his article “The Future of Ethnic Studies,” Gary Okihiro affirms that “ethnic studies is not identity politics, multiculturalism, or an intellectual form of promoting affirmative action for people of color,” but rather “the analysis of power relations.”21 Sandra K. Soto and Miranda Joseph similarly propose that ethnic studies, far from an intellectual project that speaks only to a specific group of students based on their racial or ethnic identity, “equips students from all racial backgrounds with a set of interdisciplinary critical thinking skills for understanding, analyzing, and writing about social relations in the United States, as well as transnationally.”22 In a complex and multicultural world, few skill sets could be more necessary to student success both inside and outside the classroom. This sort of intellectual activity is fundamental to producing not only highly engaged students, but also highly engaged citizens. Keith Barton and Alan McCully caution that students who shy away from controversial issues in the classroom and whose viewpoints are left unchallenged become disengaged citizens, lacking the necessary tools to actively participate in the democratic process. They affirm that “if modern democratic societies depend on the ability of citizens to take part in reasoned discussions with those whose opinions differ from their own, then surely it is our job as educators to develop this ability in our students.”23 While not all students may have access to the privileges of formal legal citizenship, they are nevertheless important members of and participants within their communities. By not only presenting diverse viewpoints, but also training students to analyze the construction and diffusion of the arguments behind those viewpoints, educators train students to become engaged community members. Part of this training includes the difficult truth that conflict is an unavoidable part of community. This is a valuable lesson for students to learn, since “citizens who are aware of ideological diversity in their community appear to embrace conflict as a necessary part of the democratic

Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom


process.”24 Students who have had the opportunity to engage with and analyze conflict are more likely to engage with the democratic process that will impact every aspect of their lives, whether they realize it or not. Students should come out of the classroom understanding that, as Diana Hess writes, “multiple perspectives are an asset—­not a hindrance—­to democratic thinking, participation, and governance.”25 Because engaging controversy in the classroom is so linked to engaging in the democratic process, the stakes for not taking advantage of the opportunity to develop these skills in students are incontestably high and resonate far beyond their years in school. Hess cautions that “people in the United States should be in favor of hearing the other side because the consequences of not doing so are so dangerous—­to our own thinking, to the decisions we make about how to solve the public’s problems, and to democracy itself.”26 Now more than ever, this threat is utterly apparent. As people become increasingly isolated in their own echo chambers, the classroom can become a rare and vital space for encountering and engaging with different perspectives. This is not to say that students will emerge from a classroom that engaged controversy feeling as though they can solve all of their community’s problems. The truth is quite the opposite: the deeper students delve into the various arguments and viewpoints surrounding controversial issues, the more they realize the incredible complexity of topics like border security and immigration and education policy. As Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer found, merely empowering students to feel like they can make immediate and individual change had its own drawbacks. They found that a curriculum which exposes students to structural inequality frustrates them, but also motivates them to talk “about politics and political issues.”27 If we are trying to get students to not only act but think critically about those actions, then we must be comfortable with leaving them frustrated and unable to tie up the loose ends of contemporary controversy. “If teachers and students decide that such problems are hopeless or, alternatively, that it is easier to pursue a vision of citizenship that avoids conflict, the full promise of democracy will not be realized.”28

Teaching to Transform These challenges are not unique to Arizona. While the foregoing analysis demonstrates that teaching in Arizona during the last decade


Anita Huizar-Hernández

presents specific challenges, it would be disingenuous to present these challenges as wholly divorced from larger debates happening throughout the country regarding border security, education, and citizenship. As Seline Szkupinski Quiroga notes, “In the 2 years following the passage of SB 1070, 31 states proposed similar legislation and 5 states enacted similar laws.”29 Arizona is clearly not alone in implementing controversial policies that heighten racial tension and polarize the communities they purportedly protect. In the wake of the most recent presidential election, these state policies have gained further traction nationally, since the federal government is now invested in telling a single story of American greatness that ignores or erases large swaths of the population. Recovering, expanding, and imagining stories that challenge the exclusionary dominant narratives that mark our current political moment does not in and of itself avoid or even diffuse tension. The fear that so clearly underpins Arizona’s and the nation’s xenophobic, anti-​immigrant, and anti-​intellectual laws is a fear of the unknown consequences of acknowledging and incorporating other stories that may challenge or contradict those established narratives. Nevertheless, Adichie proposes that many stories are not a threat but rather an asset to any thriving community. She affirms, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”30 Now more than ever, students and educators throughout the country are subject to a hostile, polemical climate in which certain stories have been strategically employed to dispossess, malign, and break the dignity of many people. If one silver lining can be taken away from this, it is that the classroom is uniquely situated to counteract these dangerous narratives. In their study of the harmful effects of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies, O’Leary and Romero found that “a positive ethnic identity, based on knowledge of one’s cultural heritage and history, was associated with higher self-​ esteem and fewer depressive symp31 toms.” While they were speaking specifically of Mexican and Mexican American students in Arizona, the “take-​home message” of their study resonates broadly, “that youth are finding strategies to remain engaged in the nation’s civil processes and that this contributes to their personal resilience, despite the barrage of negative messages and obstacles placed in their way by powerful individuals in the society.”32 As educators, it is not only our responsibility but our privilege to help students

Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom


analyze those messages, challenge those obstacles, and develop strategies that will help them not only understand their world, but transform it for the better.

Notes 1. “SB 1070,” Arizona State Legislature, http://www.azleg.gov/legtext​ /49leg/2r/bills/sb1070s.pdf. 2. Mark B. Evans, “Text of Governor Brewer’s Speech after Signing SB 1070,” Tucson Citizen (Tucson, Ariz.), April 23, 2010, http://tucsoncitizen​ .com/mark-evans/2010/04/23/text-of-gov-brewers-speech-after-signing-sb​ -1070/​. 3. “SB 1070.” 4. “SB 1070.” 5. According to the U.S. Census, in 2010 almost 30 percent of Arizona’s residents were Hispanic or Latino. See “QuickFacts: Arizona,” U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/04. 6. Legal concerns over the constitutionality of SB 1070’s controversial provisions prevented it from ever going fully into effect. See Seline Szkupinski Quiroga, “Vamos a Aguantar: Observations on How Arizona’s SB 1070 Has Affected One Community,” Latino Studies 11, no. 4 (2013): 580–­86. 7. Many scholars have documented this racially motivated oppression. In her study of South Phoenix, a diverse working-​class community that is primarily Latino, Szkupinski Quiroga found that residents felt vulnerable, anxious, and afraid following the law’s passage (see Szkupinski Quiroga, “Vamos a Aguantar”). In their study of two southern Arizona high schools with a majority of Mexican-​heritage students, Richard Orozco and Francesa López found that SB 1070 had a measurable negative impact on student success because it increased their perception of ethnically based discrimination; see Richard Orozco and Francesca López, “Impacts of Arizona’s SB 1070 on Mexican American Students’ Stress, School Attachment, and Grades,” Education Policy Analysis Archives 23, no. 42 (2015): 1–­23. In their study of mixed immigration-​status households, Anna Ochoa O’Leary and Azucena Sánchez found that the ripple effects of SB 1070 extended to all family members regardless of their individual immigration status, creating such a climate of fear that it affected their ability to access essential services like health care; see Anna Ochoa O’Leary and Azucena Sánchez, “Anti-​Immigrant Arizona: Ripple Effects and Mixed Immigration Status Households under ‘Policies of Attrition’ Considered,” Journal of Borderlands Studies 26, no. 1 (2011): 115–­33.


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8. “SB 1070.” 9. These consequences range from a general climate of fear and discrimination to family separation, economic decline, and educational underachievement. See Alison Parker, Forced Apart: Families Separated and Immigrants Harmed by United States Deportation Policy (Human Rights Watch, 2007); and Randy Capps, Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children (National Council of La Raza, 2007). 10. For a genealogy of ethnic studies programs in the United States, see Anna Ochoa O’Leary and Andrea Romero, “Chicana/​o Students Respond to Arizona’s Anti-​Ethnic Studies Bill, SB 1108: Civic Engagement, Ethnic Identity, and Well-​Being,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 36, no. 1 (2011): 9–­36. For a genealogy of Tucson’s ethnic studies program in particular, see Kevin Terry, “Community Dreams and Nightmares: Arizona, Ethnic Studies, and the Continued Relevance of Derrick Bell’s Interest-​ Convergence Thesis,” New York University Law Review 88, no. 4 (2013): 1483–­1520. 11. “HB 2281,” Arizona State Legislature, http://www.azleg.gov/legtext​ /49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf. 12. See Terry, “Community Dreams and Nightmares.” 13. O’Leary and Romero, “Chicana/​o Students,” 26. 14. Nolan L. Cabrera et al., “Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson,” American Educational Research Journal 51, no. 6 (2014): 1102. 15. SB 1070 was in many ways a continuation of and response to decades of increased militarization along the U.S.-​Mexico border. See David K. Androff and Kyoko Y. Tavassoli, “Deaths in the Desert: The Human Rights Crisis on the U.S.-​Mexico Border,” Social Work 57, no. 2 (2012): 165–­73. 16. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story,” TED Talk, July 2009. 17. Adichie, “Danger of a Single Story.” 18. Unlike the rest of the U.S. Southwest, Tucson and the rest of southern Arizona did not join the United States in 1848 following the Mexican-​American War. The United States bought this small strip of territory five years later as part of the Gadsden Purchase. Due to Spanish and later Mexican settlement patterns, Tucson has a much longer history of both cultures in comparison to the rest of the state. See Thomas Sheridan, Arizona: A History (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995) and Sheridan, Los Tucsonenses (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986).

Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom


19. In 1885, the territorial legislature divided the territory’s three institutions among its largest cities; the insane asylum went to Phoenix, the capital to Prescott, and the university to Tucson. Thus the University of Arizona became the land grant university for what would become the forty-​ eighth state in the union. See “A Proud Beginning,” University of Arizona, http://www.arizona.edu/ua-history. 20. “UA Incoming Class Has Diversity, High Achievers,” UA News, August 17, 2016, https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/ua-incoming-class-has​ -diversity-high-achievers. 21. Gary Okihiro, “The Future of Ethnic Studies,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 4, 2010, http://www.chronicle.com/article/The​ -Future-of-Ethnic-Studies/66092. 22. Sandra K. Soto and Miranda Joseph, “Neoliberalism and the Battle over Ethnic Studies in Arizona,” Thought & Action (2010): 54. 23. Keith Barton and Alan McCully, “Teaching Controversial Issues . . . Where Controversial Issues Really Matter,” Teaching History 127 (2007): 13. 24. Barton and McCully, “Teaching Controversial Issues,” 16. 25. Diana Hess, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion (New York: Routledge, 2009), 77. 26. Hess, Controversy in the Classroom, 173. 27. Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer, “The Limits of Political Efficacy: Educating Citizens for a Democratic Society,” PS: Political Science & Politics 39, no. 2 (2006): 293. 28. Kahne and Westheimer, “Limits of Political Efficacy,” 295. 29. Szkupinski Quiroga, “Vamos a Aguantar,” 581. 30. Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story.” 31. O’Leary and Romero, “Chicana/​o Students Respond,” 26. 32. O’Leary and Romero, “Chicana/​o Students Respond,” 26.


Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race in the Early American Ethnic Studies Classroom Cassander L. Smith

At the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, several American athletes made history. Among the most spectacular of those athletes was the artistic gymnast Simone Biles, who walked away from the games with four gold medals and a bronze, making her the most decorated gymnast in U.S. Olympic history. Added to her accomplishments is the fact that Biles, who is Black, dominated in a sport that traditionally has had little participation from African Americans. We can name on the fingers of one hand the number of Black women gymnasts who have represented Team USA at the Olympics. Only two, besides Biles, have ever won gold medals,1 and Biles is the second ever to have won the gold medal for best all-​around. None has ever dominated the sport the way Biles has. Recognizing the racial significance of Biles’s achievement, the basketball star LeBron James posted the following message on Facebook and Instagram in the hours after Biles’s last victory, a gold medal for the floor exercise: “Simone + Simone = Gold!!! Congrats young Queens!! Truly inspiring for so many, especially young Black girls. My daughter was watching with me. #GoUSA #GoldStandard.”2 On the surface, this congratulatory message appeared innocuous, one superstar athlete celebrating the achievements of other high-​caliber Black athletes. A number of James’s followers on social media did not 49


Cassander L. Smith

see it that way, though. They accused James of race baiting. One poster wrote, “ ‘especially young black girls’? So had it been a white, Hispanic asian etc etc it wouldn’t have been as special?”3 Another poster complained, “Why do we have to make it a race thing? All of us are human. God made us all.”4 The reactions to James’s post raise a question about how we read Simone Biles. Is she a racial barrier-​breaking athlete in the tradition of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and her own gymnastics predecessor Dominique Dawes? Or have we moved beyond the era and need for such athletes? Have we arrived at a moment in U.S. cultural history when Biles’s race can be immaterial to her achievements? Thinking beyond sports, have we moved toward a moment when hyphenated identities are obsolete? Many people might have been tempted to answer yes to this question before November 8, 2016. The election of our forty-​fifth president, Donald J. Trump, on that day, however, has revealed a kind of cultural schizophrenia. On the one hand, we want to indulge a utopic vision of one unified America under which different races belong, hence the criticism of James’s social media posts. On the other hand, even as people were criticizing James’s perceived racial divisiveness, Americans were propelling into the White House a presidential candidate whose campaign was marked by a heightened degree of racial and gendered rhetoric. Trump’s election, just a few short months after the Olympics, represents the desire for a whiter, more male-​ centric America—­ perhaps encapsulated best in his borrowed slogan “Make America great again.” Like Ronald Reagan before him, Trump used the phrase to harken back to earlier eras in American history when life might have been better, but only for select segments of the population. As Malcolm Barrett’s time-​traveling character points out in the NBC science fiction drama Timeless, “I am black. There is literally no place in American history that’ll be awesome for me” . . . or for any other people of color or for white women, for that matter.5 Now, we must grapple with a rhetorical longing for a postracial America alongside what looks like a resurgence of white supremacy dressed up in the euphemism “alternative right” or “alt-​right” for short. As a scholar and teacher of early American studies, with an emphasis on African American cultures, I find that the racial anxieties which played out in 2016 during the presidential election also manifest themselves in my college classrooms, where students often ponder and sometimes openly challenge the need for courses that emphasize the literature of historically marginalized populations. For sure, this challenge from students is not new. We can look back to the 1960s, when

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


Black studies and other ethnic studies programs emerged in American colleges and universities, and then again in the 1990s, during the height of the U.S. culture wars, when academics debated the browning of college curricula.6 Twenty-​five years ago, we extolled the virtues of multiculturalism in education on the grounds that it fostered inclusivity and more accurately represented the diversity of America’s past and present. Multiculturalism took the form of special topics courses on African American culture, Chicano literature, Asian American history, and so forth. Today, students demand new answers and new approaches to the question of why multiculturalism matters, since the discussion no longer centers on who is included or excluded from an American body politic. Indeed, as the reactions to James’s post illustrate, Biles’s Americanness is taken for granted. Instead we debate the necessity of naming her difference, and qualifying her Americanness with the label “African.” Likewise, students question the need for courses that continue to isolate and emphasize the cultures of historically marginalized populations, rehearsing—­in their more petulant moments—­the rhetoric of reverse discrimination. They articulate concerns, for example, that a course on early Native American literature obscures the historical contributions of early Euro-​American settlers. Some resist ethnic studies courses on the grounds that the historical conditions that necessitated such courses no longer exist. President Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House surely proves racial progressivism, doesn’t it? We can see the consequences of this kind of thinking in Arizona, for example, in 2010 when the state implemented House Bill 2281 dropping ethnic studies courses from public school curricula, the effects of which Anita Huizar-​Hernández addresses in more depth in her chapter titled “Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom” in this book. I should note that the color-​blind rhetoric fueling student attitudes (and the passage of HB 2281) is not unique to the present moment.7 I should note, too, that the rhetoric has been muted in recent months in the face of certain policy measures advocated by the Trump administration. In 2017, those policy efforts included an executive order banning immigrants coming into the United States from seven countries with majority Muslim populations, and a proposal to build a wall along the country’s southern border to keep out “illegal” immigrants from Mexico. The present moment matters because it brings us back to those same racial debates we thought were finally behind us when we elected the country’s first Black president in 2008. What is more, this


Cassander L. Smith

return to old battlegrounds brings with it a certain anxiety and frustration that play out in the classroom. As the editors point out in this volume’s introduction, postraciality was an ideal declared too soon, and now teachers and students alike converge in the classrooms to grapple with what that means. In an effort to reach students groping around in the ambiguous but receding haze of postraciality, those of us teaching (early) American ethnic studies must rearticulate the stakes involved in studying the literature of hyphenated populations. If students do not understand themselves as African American or Native American, for example, but as simply American, then what is African American or Native American literature? Why are these exceptional? How do we teach these courses in light of student anxieties about reverse discrimination? How do we weigh our own investment in the subject matter—­as teachers and scholars—­against shifting cultural attitudes that in turn inform the attitudes of our students? Is it possible to teach hyphenated courses and maintain relevancy in a climate that suggests there is no longer a political or social impetus for such identities? In what follows, I examine the tensions and subsequent pedagogical challenges that arise from students’ competing understandings about what is or what was African American literature. Specifically, I discuss a pedagogical strategy I employ with my students, an in-​class exercise that requires them to perform a critical reading of an episode of the ABC television sitcom black·ish in tandem with eighteenth-​century African American literature. Through the exercise, students arrive at their own answers about the relevance of studying race in early America. I teach an undergraduate survey course in African American literature at a large public university in the Southeast. The course is capped at thirty-​five students. The seats fill quickly most semesters, with freshmen and sophomores taking the course to satisfy general education requirements. The vast majority of students who register for the course would mark “Black/​African American” on a U.S. Census form, and they come to the course with little if any previous exposure to African American literature. In fact, on the first day of class, when I ask them to name five writers of African American literature from any period of American history, seldom can they name five. On occasion, they even identify white American writers such as Kathryn Stockett, whose 2009 novel The Help, about the intricate relationships among African American domestic servants and their white employers, was the basis for a

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


Hollywood movie. I also ask them why they enrolled in the course. They answer overwhelmingly that they are there to fulfill core requirements. As we embark on a journey through three centuries of writings by people of African descent living in what is now the United States, students most often struggle with the early texts; that is, the eighteenth-​century poetry of Phillis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammon, the nineteenth-​century political writings of David Walker and Maria Stewart, and the slave narrative of Harriet Jacobs. They struggle not because of the prose style of the writers, but because of the subject matter—­slavery and racial discrimination. We spend some six weeks, more than a third of the semester, discussing the works of antebellum Black writers, whose works, in the words of Bernard W. Bell, “bear witness to and are weapons in the individual and collective struggle for the freedom, literacy, justice, and integrity of black Americans.”8 In other words, these early texts are vital to the study of African American literary traditions. The students nonetheless feel uncomfortable lingering over these texts that, some complain, reduce the African American experience to slavery. Slavery ended many years ago, they declare, so why do we keep talking about it? In the face of such readings, they must contend with feelings of dread, self-​pity, embarrassment—­and anger. As one student put it when I taught the course in spring 2014, “Jacobs’s narrative makes it hard for me to like white men.” At this point in the term, I see competing impulses or ways of thinking about the literature emerge in the students. Some of them think of African American literature as discontinuous. I call this a “discontinuity model” because these students see the racial impetus that had created earlier African American literature as no longer present in our day and age. So, the discontinuity model deems racial disparity a relic of bygone eras—­colonial exploitation, slavery, Jim Crow. For students who subscribe to this model, the literatures produced in these bygone eras are also relics. These students evoke postracial rhetoric to emphasize differences between the racial climates in early and contemporary American cultures. In this way, their thinking echoes that of Kenneth Warren and his understanding of African American literature as a literary movement that existed between 1896 and 1964. According to Warren, the Black literature produced in this time period was unique as “an imaginative response not merely to the lived reality but also to the legal fact of segregation.” He characterizes the literature of this era as “prospective” in nature, fueled by Black authors’ endeavors to imagine a new era for race relations in America, an era in which state-​sponsored


Cassander L. Smith

segregation and discrimination would come to an end.9 For Warren, that end arrived in 1964 with the passage of civil rights legislation that dismantled Jim Crow. According to Warren, from that moment on African American literature—­as it had been previously understood—­ceased to exist. What we get today, he argues, is a body of texts that lack the kind of cultural and political cohesion that defined African American literature during the Jim Crow era. In short, Warren identifies discontinuity in an African American literary tradition. In opposition to the discontinuity model, some of my students subscribe to a model of continuity, understanding racial disparity as an ongoing struggle that has its roots in the time periods we study in early American courses. They see continuity in terms of how race mattered then and now, pushing against postracial rhetoric. They might, for example, read about Frederick Douglass’s physical confrontation with the “slave-​breaker” Master Covey in Douglass’s slave narrative and connect that fight scene with the power struggle between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, which resulted in Martin’s death in 2012. Or they draw parallels between the sexual exploitation of Harriet Jacobs and women today in the music industry. There are drawbacks and advantages to both models. Discontinuity encourages a particularly nuanced discussion of the ways in which African American literature has evolved over centuries—­but it also might overstate that evolution, especially for students who are already predisposed to believe that race no longer functions as a useful marker for discussing human difference. A continuous perspective fosters students’ engagement and investment in the earlier material because it resonates in their daily lives, but it potentially creates a false sense of unity that could obscure the specific political, social, and economic details that circumscribe the lives of people of color today. Complicating these competing impulses is the fact that my own scholarly (and personal) proclivities lead me to perspectives more sympathetic with those students who can identify and appreciate the continuities. That is to say, I am invested in mapping out the ways in which race has energized the literary productions of Black writers from the beginning to the present. Consequently, I must account for my own biases alongside those of my students, especially when leading them through discussions of early African American literature. To get students interested in that earlier material, I rely on many of the traditional pedagogical strategies employed in writing and literature classes: writing prompts and free writes, role-​playing, and journal writing. I have also tried creative writing techniques. Sometimes I

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


ask students to create sketches or daily diaries of characters from early African American texts. Other times, I ask them to place in dialogue a figure from an early African American text with a figure from a twentieth-​century text. These approaches, with varying degrees of effectiveness, are designed to stimulate students’ imaginations about the life experiences of Black Americans in earlier periods—­and from there to think more critically about how those experiences do or do not relate to the present. Ultimately, and this is where I must check my own biases, the point is not for students to leave the classroom modeling my own sociopolitical leanings. Rather, they should have a greater appreciation for the aesthetics and the cultural value of early African American literature. Whatever continuity or discontinuity they might find in this literature, my goal is to help them transform their (competing) impulses into rational, intellectual formulations. As perhaps the most effective exercise for achieving this outcome with students, I have them perform a comparative analysis of the television show black·ish and the works of two eighteenth-​century Black writers, Briton Hammon and Phillis Wheatley. First airing on ABC Broadcasting in fall 2014, the situation comedy black·ish is a retooling of the groundbreaking 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show. It follows the lives of Andre “Dre” Johnson (played by Anthony Anderson), who is an advertising executive for a marketing firm. He has a wife named Rainbow (played by Tracee Ellis Ross), who is a surgeon, and they have five children. They live in an upscale suburb of Los Angeles, in a neighborhood where few Black families live. The show derives its comedic energy and tension from the generational gap between the father, Andre, who grew up fully immersed in “Black” culture, and his children, who are coming of age in an environment where youth engage each other less in terms of race and more in terms of economic and social affinities. For example, the oldest son (Junior), has a racially diverse group of friends who are drawn together by their interests in science fiction, technology, and, of course, girls. Andre laments what he sees as his children’s disconnection from Black culture, and he sets out to correct it. In one episode, Andre educates his son about the “head nod,” an obligatory gesture among Black men that signals racial solidarity. In a scene at the beginning of that episode, Andre sits at the head of the dining room table. Rainbow sits to his left, Junior to his right. Andre’s father Pops (played by Laurence Fishburne) sits at the other end of the table. In


Cassander L. Smith

the scene, Andre recaps for his wife and father the events that occurred earlier that morning when he took his son, Junior, to school. As Andre explains it, they enter the school parking lot and pass by another Black father and son. Andre dutifully nods at the father, but Junior passes by his Black classmate without performing the head nod. That evening at the dinner table, Andre complains, “Pop, you shoulda seen him. The boy just stared . . . no nod. Like his neck was broken.” Fishburne’s character responds, “Well, maybe something is wrong with his neck. Did you ask him?” Rainbow, who is not nearly as fervent as her husband about making sure the children stay rooted in Black culture, says to her husband, “Junior’s generation has a different perspective on the struggle than you and Pops.” But Andre insists, “The nod is important. It’s the internationally accepted yet unspoken sign of acknowledgment of black folks around the world.” As proof, viewers get a fifteen-​second mashup of clips in which prominent Black men—­including President Obama—­ covertly give the head nod to other Black men.10 Andre’s shock at his son’s cultural illiteracy represents his own existential disorientation—­especially when at the end of the episode he sees his son finally employing the head nod, but directing it at one of his non-​Black classmates who shares his passion for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The episode raises a number of questions with which I ask students to grapple. What is the significance of the head nod—­on both the denotative and connotative levels? What is the source of the disconnect between Andre and his son? I also ask students to think about the economic dynamics of the show. In many of the episodes, Andre and his family deal with—­in colloquial terms—­“rich people problems.” One episode is about the parents hiring a nanny, and another episode is about the children’s obsession with material items such as cell phones and basketball sneakers. In yet another episode, the parents buy their oldest daughter a car. They live in a large, sprawling home that has attached a guest house in which Andre’s father lives. All of this is to say that part of the racial tension that fuels the show stems from the Johnson family’s location in an affluent, all-​white suburb, which feeds Andre’s racial self-​consciousness and paranoia. The Johnson children are able to integrate into this wealthy, white neighborhood—­despite their racial difference—­because of their economic status that makes them (more or less) the same as their neighbors. If they live in a postracial environment, class privilege enables it. What is more, Andre derives a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that his children have managed to escape the poverty—­and the crime

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


and struggles—­that defined his own upbringing. We often get flashbacks of his impoverished childhood in Compton that are designed to illustrate his upward mobility. That success, though, comes at a price. Andre often wonders whether his move from the old neighborhood also distances him, and by extension his children, from their racial roots. Racial difference—­at least for the children—­is not self-​evident the way it is for Andre. Blackness, then, functions as a contested space in the Johnson household. Indeed, the very title of the show, “black-​ish,” implies a defect or shortcoming, a lack that still contains the essence of a thing. How does one exist in this kind of liminal state? Human-​ish? American-​ish? Postracial-​ish? I ask my students to speculate about how each character in the show might answer the questions “What does it mean to be black or blackish, and why does blackness matter?” I ask them, too, to contemplate the reverse. Just as blackish connotes “not quite,” it also connotes the idea that an entity influences or “flavors” another entity. So, how then does the very presence of the Johnson family in an all-​white, affluent neighborhood “blacken” that space? I show this episode to my students in order to prime them for conversations about race and existential quandaries that defined the life experiences and literature of Black Americans in earlier eras. In eighteenth-​ century African American literature, for example, race was no more self-​evident than it was for the Johnson children in the twenty-​first century. Because of a shifting political landscape in the second half of the eighteenth century, identities like African American or African British were not simply ethnic or racial markers, but political and national signifiers. As Vincent Carretta notes, “British and American identities were recent political constructions invented in the eighteenth century,” in the aftermath of revolution. And many Blacks—­ especially those enslaved—­who were living in the newly formed United States identified themselves nationally, not just racially, since they were motivated by an optimism “about the possibility of achieving universal freedom and justice” as American subjects.11 In light of this political landscape, I have my students read first the 1760 captivity narrative of a Black, enslaved sailor named Briton Hammon, who lived in Massachusetts. In 1747, Hammon sought permission from his master to go on a trading and sailing expedition down to Jamaica. In effect, he wanted to hire out his time on the high seas. Hammon’s master allows his travel. In the summer of the next year, Hammon finds himself on a ship off the coast near Cape Florida. The ship is attacked by Native Americans, who


Cassander L. Smith

kill everybody aboard, except for Hammon, who becomes their captive. This event initiates a nearly thirteen-​year ordeal in which Hammon is held captive by first Native American and then Spanish forces down in Cuba. All the while, he longs to return, and eventually does, to his master Winslow in Massachusetts. In 1760, Hammon narrates his story in a captivity narrative titled A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon. In an effort to translate the immediacy of Hammon’s narrative, I employ the pedagogical strategy that Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg has termed “enunciation,” whereby texts are studied not only as representative entities, but also as unique creations with their own sets of social, political, and cultural contexts. Reading African American literature in this way bears, in Goldberg’s words, “the structural, institutional imperatives and contexts for narrative action, for canon formation, for classroom practice, for cultural interaction in ‘real’ life” that is at the heart of African American literature.12 In other words, I call on my students to study African American literature with a special emphasis on the sociopolitical enunciations of the texts, the ways in which those texts are products of and circumscribed by race, gender, class, religion, and other kinds of politics. In helping my students enunciate Hammon’s narrative, I point out several important features of his text. First, it might have been written by an amanuensis or ghost writer; certainly it was heavily edited. Second, we credit Hammon’s narrative with initiating an African American literary tradition.13 His is one of the first texts we have found written in English in the archives that places at the center the lived experience of a black African. Third, Hammon’s narrative is structured very much as a typical Puritan’s Indian captivity narrative would be. These stories, which were popular in seventeenth-​ century colonial New England, were quite often of white women being taken captive by Native Americans, and they constitute one of the first genres of writing in early America. These texts have a circular structure. The narrative begins with the Puritan subject existing in a “civilized” state, that is, Christian. She (on occasion the subject is male) is pulled out of civilization and away from God by a Native American captor. Physically and psychologically, the captor drags the captive farther and farther into the wilderness.14 As the captive moves farther away from civilization, she loses a sense of self, and is confronted with the necessity of assimilating Native American habits in order to survive. Then, the captive experiences some turning point that strengthens her resolve to be free.

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


At this point, the captive begins a journey back toward civilization and redemption. The narrative ends where it began—­with the captive restored to civilization. Importantly, these narratives express an identity conflict for the subject who has been fundamentally changed as a result of captivity. The captive returns to civilization with the authority of exceptionalism but also with an identity crisis after having “gone native” and returned. Captivity narratives reflect this paranoia, often emphasizing the subject’s true European nature and, if the subject is a woman, emphasizing her virtue.15 Hammon’s narrative is interesting because it expands the captivity narrative genre by placing front and center the experiences of a black African man. Hammon’s narrative identifies his race in only one place—­on the title page. In the actual narrative, he marks himself as a British subject experiencing the same kind of ordeal as his Anglo-​colonial New England counterparts. At one point in his narrative, he escapes his Spanish captors and finds asylum on an English ship. When his Spanish captors demand that the English ship captain release him, according to Hammon, “the Captain, who was a true Englishman, refus’d them, and said he could not answer it, to deliver up any Englishmen under English colours.” 16 As this moment illustrates, Hammon’s race is immaterial to the story he relates. Rather, he articulates himself in terms more national and political. His race appears immaterial even in the very structure of his narrative. He is able to adopt the generic features of the Puritan Indian captivity narrative, despite the fact that he is not white or female, by representing himself as Puritan and English.17 Because the students have watched and discussed an episode of black·ish prior to reading Hammon’s narrative, they are ready to identify and discuss some of the racial politics that characterize Hammon’s narrative. In fact, they might even find commonalities between Andre’s identity struggles and Hammon’s efforts to articulate his identity. Like the Johnson children living presumably in a postracial setting, Hammon, or so his narrative seems to suggest, lived in a world where his race mattered less than his national identity. I ask them to think critically about Hammon’s racial consciousness. Does he himself speak as a Black subject? An American colonist? An English subject? A displaced African? If his narrative is the beginning of an African American literary tradition, then what is African American about his text? Students readily draw parallels between the Johnson children and Hammon by comparing the title page of Hammon’s narrative with the racial self-​effacement that the Johnson children seemingly perform.


Cassander L. Smith

The students speculate that Hammon is operating in a world where his skills as a sailor are more important than the color of his skin, a very optimistic determination to be sure. This is perhaps their effort to break away from the dominant narrative about Black American suffering in early America. Soon the discussion turns toward observations about how we define African American literature. On occasion, a really astute student will ask, “If a person does not identify as African American, how can the literature that he produces be labeled as such?” I do not answer this question. Instead, I deepen the inquiry by encouraging them to read against the grain the idea of racial immateriality in Hammon’s text. Is it really the case that Hammon mutes his racial difference, that it does not matter? Why mention it at all and in such a prominent position on the title page? Also, his racialized, servant status contributes to the text’s greatest source of irony in the fact that he is already a captive (either enslaved or indentured to a Massachusetts owner) when he is taken captive off the coast of Florida. When I ask them to think more critically about the degrees of captivity that Hammon experiences, students really engage with Hammon’s psyche. They wrestle with big concepts like Stockholm syndrome and hegemony to articulate the complexities of the racial politics at work in Hammon’s narrative. Importantly, the text becomes for them not an illustration of Black suffering, but an occasion to really unpack the nuanced experiences of a black African living and narrating his story in eighteenth-​century America. Like Hammon, his contemporary, the poet Phillis Wheatley, confronts the problematics of race, which offers students another perspective on racial identity in early African American culture. Wheatley was born approximately in the year 1753 and was sold into slavery when she was seven or eight years old. She arrived at a Boston harbor on July 11, 1761, aboard the ship Phillis, for which she was renamed. A Boston merchant named John Wheatley and his wife, Susanna, bought Wheatley for domestic work, but she proved too frail to be of much use as a physical laborer. At a young age, Wheatley exhibited a marked intellectual aptitude; her owners’ daughter, Mary, taught her how to read English and Latin. The family encouraged Wheatley’s intellectual development, supplying her with books and writing materials.18 By her late teens, Wheatley had become a renowned poet. Her poetry fused classic Greek and Latin structures, styles, and classical allusions. Her themes were often patriotic, familial, and religious, veering into the sociopolitical. Her one and only published volume of poetry, titled

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), covers a range of topics and poetic styles. She includes odes and elegies for famous figures such as George Whitefield. Some of her poems are personal addresses to English royalty. Some are patriotic and reverent. Others hint of sentimentality, mourning the death of children. One of her most frequently anthologized poems is “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” which I have my students read in conjunction with Hammon’s narrative. In the poem, Wheatley muses about her own Christian conversion experience. She constructs herself as the model convert, a self-​avowed African heathen who finds religion in America. Given the poem’s brevity, I include it here: ’Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their colour is a diabolic die.” Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.19

We can say a great deal about these eight lines rendered in iambic pentameter with heroic couplets, but I ask my students to hone in particularly on the references to race and Wheatley’s subject position. Perhaps because this is poetry and students inherently fear analyzing poetry more than they do prose, initially students resist doing more than interpreting the poem at the surface level. They are unsure how to read her. A couple of students might with some hesitation question whether she is an “Uncle Tom” figure who succumbs to the negative rhetoric about blackness, or whether she is an ironic trickster figure writing in a coded language that both accommodates and resists the status quo. But mostly, they take at face value her negative reference about blackness and assume that she is writing from a conciliatory standpoint. They do not use the word “brainwashing,” but they determine that she is writing the kind of poem that would please her master and mistress. This interpretation makes sense given that at least half of those in the class in any given semester subscribe to more conciliatory postures regarding race relations. To them this seems to be a poem about reconciliation, instead of rage and condemnation. Wheatley seemingly expresses gratitude and acceptance of an enslavement that brought her to Christ.


Cassander L. Smith

Using close-​reading techniques and the 2014 sitcom, I navigate students through the poem’s complexity. First, I have them read the poem in two parts, lines one through four and lines five through eight. In the first quatrain, the speaker seemingly embodies a hegemonistic persona that understands blackness (and its geographical locus) as inferior and lacking. The poem begins with a sincere but self-​deprecating tone. Then we arrive at the turn in line five where the perspective shifts from self-​referential to the other. From this third-​person point of view, the speaker acknowledges and distances herself from the negative perception others have about people of African descent. The speaker signals that she does not share that mentality. In other words, the second half of the poem challenges the self-​deprecation that the first four lines imply. The final couplet announces that challenge even more prominently when the speaker shifts perspective again and ends with the second-​person direct address. From this point of view, she transforms into a critic who is no longer contemplating the problem of blackness but proposing the solution. She cautions white Christians to “Remember” that “Negroes, black as Cain, can be refined and join the Angelic train.” For Wheatley, that “refinement” is crucial since it has the potential to consume racial differences, bringing people together under the umbrella of a common Christian identity. After this point, I bring students back to the idea of “blackish.” If we think about blackish as a symbiotic influencing, then Wheatley in her poem acknowledges that symbiosis in religious terms, as a spiritual lightening for black Africans. Christian refinement makes the “negro” somewhat blackish rather than wholly “black as Cain.” On the other side, Wheatley’s white, Christian readers risk a spiritual darkening—­a blackening of the soul, if you will—­by not acknowledging or by impeding the redemptive potential of African Americans. After explicating the poem with students, I have them compare and contrast Hammon and Wheatley’s racial rhetoric—­or the lack thereof. Both envision an American space that elides racial difference, with Wheatley rendering her vision through a critique of the status quo. I ask students to note any modern-​day resonances in how the two writers talk about race. If postracial rhetoric today is about interacting with people in terms beyond race, then might Wheatley and Hammon, I suggest, have made this gesture more than two centuries ago?20 What, then, I ask students, is “post” about the idea of a postracial America? I ask students to define the features of a postracial era, and its presumed predecessor—­a “racial era.” And what might the writings of Briton Hammon

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


and Phillis Wheatley—­and their contemporaries—­tell us about those eras that have defined the United States’ social politics? Of course, the students’ answers to these questions differ widely, but the thread weaving through their diverse responses is a recognition that race was not a self-​evident category of identity in eighteenth-​century African American culture. What is more, they begin to understand and appreciate the racial nuances of earlier periods and, by extension, their own current moment. As students continue to negotiate what I can best describe as a kind of post-​postracial rhetoric, the lesson plan I have outlined here can facilitate classroom discussions. In future iterations, I might focus more on the anxiety inherent in articulating a sense of self and the stakes involved in doing so. The episode of black·ish gives those anxieties a modern-​day resonance. Wheatley and Hammon’s narratives remind us that those anxieties have been a cultural mainstay, not a twenty-first-century phenomenon. Why did Wheatley in 1773 remind her white, Christian readers that black Africans could be redeemed? Why did blackness need “refinement,” and what did refinement look like? This line of inquiry reveals the angst that drives “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” I could ask my students why Hammon and Wheatley have to self-​identify at all. Students also could think through Wheatley’s “immigration” status and the fact that immigration was, even then, a highly politicized construct with potentially catastrophic consequences in the daily lives of people living inside and outside of what would become the United States. Students could compare the rhetoric in Wheatley’s poetry to that of those immigrating to the United States today. For sure, Wheatley did not come here willingly. How might forced migration have dictated the shape of her poetry and her identity politics? We could also expand the contextual framework for Wheatley and Hammon’s poetry in order to examine more closely the global dimensions of their works. Wheatley traveled and published her poetry in London and toured the country as a famed poet before coming back to Massachusetts. Hammon traveled from colonial Massachusetts to Jamaica to Cuba and to London before finding his way back home. Both were relatively cosmopolitan travelers. What is more, neither was actually a citizen of the United States. They lived in a colonial Massachusetts, and even after the Revolutionary War, the Constitution excluded them from citizenship. Yet, we label them as African American and credit their work with advancing certain American literary


Cassander L. Smith

traditions. Beyond questions of race, we could ask simply what is American about their works? It has always been a challenge to get students invested in historical material. That challenge is even more pronounced when we are approaching that historical material from perspectives that students think are now irrelevant. Here are several questions I continue to ponder as I create exercises to engage my students in early American race matters: How do we as educators avoid (or embrace) the impulse to defend the existence and viability of the courses we teach, especially those courses that fall under the rubric of early ethnic studies? The danger is that students will perceive such courses as part of a historical landscape and irrelevant to the present age; so how do we translate the immediacy? Is there immediacy? If we, in fact, are striving for a postracial nirvana in which people adopt a “color-​blind” mentality, what does that mean in terms of how we approach multicultural education? Is the goal to render multicultural education a moot point so that the study, for example, of American literature is also the study of African, Chicano, Asian, and Native American literatures?21 Pondering more broadly, I also wonder how we move the conversation beyond notions of color-​blindness that inevitably render invisible the physical and cultural differences of people? In other words, how might we enunciate human differences without racializing those differences? Given the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, are we pushing backwards toward a more essentialist, nationalistic model of American cultural studies? From my vantage point in the college classroom, I see an American culture that has arrived at a moment of acute anxiety as we attempt to reconcile the ideals of two very different presidential eras—­ the one ending in 2016 and the one beginning in 2017. If we have not arrived in a state of postracial bliss and stability, then where are we? That question might be the greatest source of tension in the classroom and beyond.

Notes 1. Dominique Dawes made history as the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal for gymnastics. Gabby Douglass won two gold medals during the 2012 games in London. 2. LeBron James’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Lebron/​. James’s post also references the accomplishments of swimmer Simone Manuel,

Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race


who made history as the first African American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the Olympics. 3. LeBron James’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Lebron/​. 4. LeBron James’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Lebron/​. 5. Malcolm Barrett (“Rufus Carlin”), “Pilot,” Timeless, written by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan (NBC Broadcast, October 3, 2016). 6. The culture wars of the 1990s were themselves a time of competing impulses, with Americans divided over the appropriateness of either preserving the “traditional values” of Western culture that were so central to how we understand American identity, or of supplanting a status quo, and with it traditional notions of U.S. nationalism, that silenced and marginalized large segments of the population. 7. As Andrew Hartman points out, in the decades following the passing of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, Americans debated, anticipated, and claimed, if not a postracial era, a progression in American racial relations that rendered race a neutral factor in people’s daily existence. See Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). 8. Bernard W. Bell, “Voices of Double Consciousness in African American Fiction: Charles W. Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy West, and Richard Wright,” in Teaching African American Literature: Theory and Practice, ed. Maremma Graham, Sharon Pinealut-​Burker, and Marianna White Davis (New York: Routledge, 1998), 133. 9. Kenneth Warren, What Was African American Literature? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011), 42. 10. “The Nod,” black-​ish, directed by James Griffiths, written by Kenya Barris (ABC Broadcasting, October 8, 2014). 11. Vincent Carretta, Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-​Speaking World of the 18th Century (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996). 12. Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg, “The Way We Do the Things We Do,” in Teaching African American Literature: Theory and Practice, ed. Maremma Graham, Sharon Pinealut-​Burker, and Marianna White Davis (New York: Routledge, 1998), 175. 13. For more on Hammon and the origins of African American literature, see the introduction to Carretta’s Unchained Voices. See also Rafia Zafar, We Wear the Mask: African-​Americans Write American Literature, 1760–­1870 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); and Dickson Bruce, The Origins of African American Literature, 1680–­1865 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001).


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14. Here, we understand “American wilderness” as any landscape that had not been settled by Europeans. For more on the symbolic, cultural work that captivity narratives performed, see Roy Harvey Pearce, “The Significances of the Captivity Narrative,” American Literature 19, no. 1 (March 1947): 1–­20, doi:10.2307/2920438; Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-​ Stodola and James Arthur Levernier, The Indian Captivity Narrative, 1550–­1900 (New York: Twayne, 1993); Richard Slotkin, “Chapter 4: Israel in Babylon: The Archetype of the Captivity Narratives (1682–­1700),” in Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–­1860 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1973); and Tara Fitzpatrick, “The Figure of Captivity: The Cultural Work of the Puritan Captivity Narrative,” American Literary History 3, no. 1 (spring 1991): 1–­26, http://www.jstor.org/stable/489730. 15. For more on the gender politics of the genre, see Michelle Burnham, Captivity and Sentiment: Cultural Exchange in American Literature, 1682–­ 1861 (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997). 16. Briton Hammon, A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance (Boston: Green & Russell, 1760), 11; “Documenting the American South,” 2001, University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/hammon/hammon.html. 17. For more on the racial politics of Hammon’s narrative, see “Genius in Bondage”: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic, ed. Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2001). In particular in that volume, see Robert Desrochers Jr., “ ‘Surprizing Deliverance’: Slavery and Freedom, Language and Identity in the Narrative of Briton Hammon” (153–­74); and Karen Weyler, “Race, Redemption, and Captivity in the Narratives of Briton Hammon and John Marrant” (39–­53). 18. Vincent Carretta, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011). 19. Phillis Wheatley, “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” in Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, A Native African and a Slave (Boston: George W. Light, 1834); “Documenting the American South,” 1999, University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://​ docsouth.unc.edu/neh/wheatley/wheatley.html. 20. In his study of Wheatley’s cultural and political imagination, Frank Shuffelton notes that the “world [Wheatley] imagined . . . was cosmopolitan, multiracial and free.” The same could be said of Hammon. Shuffelton, “On Her Own Footing: Phillis Wheatley in Freedom,” in “Genius in Bondage”: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic, ed. Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2001), 188.

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21. These questions and the answers might feel a bit retrograde, especially for those who study African American literature. Black writers in the early days of the civil rights era in some cases argued against the notion of an African American literary canon and instead saw themselves as Black Americans writing into an American literary tradition. These integrationists, among them Ralph Ellison, argued that African American literary production was fueled by and in turn fueled American literary movements like American modernism. Ellison, for example, claimed Ernest Hemingway as a literary ancestor. For a concise discussion of Ellison and integration, see Alan Nadel, “The Integrated Literary Tradition,” in A Historical Guide to Ralph Ellison, ed. Steven C. Tracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).


Walls and Bridges Teaching Culture and Diversity to Pre-​Service Teachers Stuart Rhoden

As an instructor, I used to give in the teacher induction program a required course on culture and diversity. However, in the curriculum map for pre-​service teachers, there are no other specific course requirements that articulate a pedagogy of practice centered on diversity and cultural understanding. Consequently, for many pre-​service teachers in the program, this course is the only exposure they receive concerning the multitude of diverse perspectives, races, and ethnicities they will encounter once they enter their own classrooms. This chapter briefly discusses some of the concerns with having only one class that focuses on culture and diversity, instead of embedding these important concepts into the curriculum of every course. In the first weeks of the course, students engaged in an activity in which they presented a brief 5–­7-​minute slide show (like a “PechaKucha” or “Ignite” presentation) that identifies something unique or noteworthy about their upbringing and cultural background. After I answered questions about the types of “culture” this presentation could include, one student raised her hand and said, “I don’t understand what you want for this presentation. I’m from San Diego; I don’t have a culture.” Being taken aback by this response, I inquired how she defined “culture.” She went back and forth about it being something “other than white” and other stereotypes. I asked her to present her PowerPoint on the aspects of San Diego that defined her. As the semester went on, she became increasingly frustrated with both the instructor and the course. She did 69


Stuart Rhoden

not see the value in learning about what I classify as “third rail issues”—­ issues related to class, race, gender, LGBT issues, and other -​isms. She felt that as a pre-​service K−5 teacher, all she needed to learn was how to teach young children and that my course’s subject matter, while interesting, was not relevant, important, or relatable to her students. I asked if in her student teaching she encountered many students who looked like her. She sheepishly replied that she had not. It was in that moment when I thought we would have a breakthrough, a deeper understanding of the meaning behind this course. Unfortunately, that did not occur. Reflecting on this experience, I realized that many pre-​service teachers, many of whom, per the statistical data, mirror the demographics of my former student—­young, white, and female—­also view themselves as not having a “culture,” and are afraid of confronting their unconscious or unknown biases, about the students they will soon be teaching. It is a far easier task to learn about methods, classroom management, or pedagogy than it is to confront one’s own cultural unknowing. This chapter confronts that challenge and others that arose while I was teaching several sections of a semester-​long course to pre-​service teachers on culture and diversity in the southwestern part of the United States. As in many pre-​service teacher education programs, most of the class consisted of students who were white, female, and in their early twenties. This chapter also focuses on the tangible classroom tensions that arose whenever students’ preconceived notions about culture and society were challenged, either by their nonwhite or straight peers or by the instructor, who is a Black male. What was exceptionally perplexing was that many of the white pre-​service teachers carried the same thought as the young lady at the beginning of this chapter: that the ideas of culture and diversity were not age-​appropriate for the population of children they were being trained to teach (K−5). Finally, despite even having several nonwhite students who were members of various racial, ethnic, or marginalized groups (e.g., Indigenous/​Native, Latino, LGBT, military, parent), there was an apprehension among many students about discussing issues that went beyond the students’ familiar “known.” The conclusions drawn from this chapter include highlighting the need for the integration of diversity issues throughout teacher-​training courses; and the need for more opportunities for pre-​service teachers to become more aware of and lean into their discomfort by examining the cultural disconnect between their educational experiences and that of many of their students. The goal is to help pre-​service teachers understand that being a culturally knowledgeable educator can positively influence the

Walls and Bridges


academic and social-​emotional achievement of not just their students, but of their own professional development and growth.

A Change Is Gonna Come In his famous song “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke sang, “There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long. But now I think I’m able to carry on. It’s been a long time coming. But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.” Over the last few decades, at least since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983,1 whether because of the increase in the numbers of students of color, mandates from the U.S. Department of Education, or local state government directives, the public educational landscape has significantly shifted towards accountability and greater oversight of what takes place in the classroom, as well as teacher evaluations and performance. However, the teaching population has consistently remained populated by significant numbers of white females.2 As such, despite significant efforts to increase the number of teachers of color in the classroom, in teacher education programs, as well as alternative certification programs, their numbers have not been able to keep up with the increase in the diversity of the student population.3 While there has never been a 1:1 correlation between students of color and teachers of color, the teaching population in many urban areas continues to be majority white. However, it is of critical importance to emphasize that it is not just race that is relevant, but rather how one views culture and diversity issues regardless of one’s race/​ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status in the classroom. It cannot be assumed that if we place teachers of color in majority urban districts, or even in collar and suburban districts, that students of color would begin to outperform their white counterparts. In fact, it does a significant disservice to students of color to be consistently compared to their white (and Asian) counterparts rather than compared to earlier generations of students of color. It is important that education policy-​makers strive to achieve two objectives. We must first increase the number of teachers of color in the pipeline and in classrooms in every school district across the United States. We must also concurrently assist in instructing white female teachers already in the pipeline or in their own classrooms about various ways to become more culturally and socially aware and responsive to their students’ discussions concerning their home cultures.


Stuart Rhoden

To this end, many teachers’ colleges across the country have implemented some sort of diversity requirement for all of their students.4 This could be a one semester, three-​credit course, or a commitment to social justice and cultural diversity that permeates every required course which pre-​service teachers take towards their credential. The amount of effort, and of equal importance, the professors who teach these classes, speak volumes to the commitment of the college’s efforts to promote diversity as a meaningful goal. For example, the university where I earned my teaching credential has an explicit commitment to “social justice.” Not only was this commitment embedded in every piece of literature promoting the program, but it was deeply entrenched throughout every aspect of the program from recruitment through graduation and was highly regarded in the communities where in-​service teachers taught. Every university has a different perspective on the extent to which it can and should incorporate diversity. There are a variety of reasons for this trepidation, but the bottom line is that efforts to increase the importance and relevance of diversity and social justice need to be at the forefront of not just colleges of education, but throughout college campuses. One of the most overused adages in education is that educators teach the way they were taught. Most future educators do not have a problem teaching like they were taught, because more often than not, they were the smartest students in class throughout most of their academic careers. However, if we are to grow the profession, and to be honest, increase the number of students of color who become teachers of color, we have to diversify the manner in which we recruit students to become teachers. This means that we want to encourage high-​achieving students, as well as those who have “struggled,” because some of those students could perhaps, as teachers, be more in sync with their struggling student population, and more in sync with their students’ home cultures. One of the lessons we need to impart to those we recruit, and to those who are currently in pre-​service training programs, is how to increase their awareness of difference. Many of these pre-​ service teachers, especially if they are white females, are probably entering classrooms where their culture may be dominant in the teachers’ lounge, but nowhere else on campus. As we have seen in the past few decades, public education is becoming populated with more students of color.5 Training pre-​service teachers has to include a fundamental theoretical understanding of, and most importantly, an ability to not only understand but implement two theoretical constructs—­culturally

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relevant pedagogy and reality pedagogy. Each of these frameworks is grounded in the notion of classroom power dynamics. Explicitly, these frameworks elucidate what power is in terms of culture, and who gets to exert their power to “validate” which culture(s) become valued in particular classrooms.

Grounding Pre-​Service Teachers in Culture, Power, and Reality Culturally relevant pedagogy is defined by Gloria Ladson-​Billings as having three criteria: the ability to nurture students’ academic abilities, the ability to cultivate and support student (and I would argue teacher) cultural competence, and the introduction of students to developing a “sociopolitical or critical consciousness.”6 What Ladson-​ Billings and other anti-​deficit scholars are aiming for is a fundamental understanding of what John Dewey articulated in regard to teachers and their classroom practice and pedagogy: understanding and recognizing the “whole child.”7 The difference between Dewey and those who follow Ladson-​Billings is that her conceptualization of the “whole child” includes not just students’ experiences outside of the classroom, but also specifically the experiences that lead to what some identify as students’ “cultural baggage.”8 In the intervening years since Ladson-​ Billings first advanced the notion of culturally relevant pedagogy, she and others have developed the theory to include “culturally appropriate” and “culturally responsive” pedagogies. Recently, Christopher Emdin has put forth a model that includes the original conceptualization of Ladson-​Billings, and remixes it to include not just an acknowledgment of a student’s culture, but an understanding of said culture and how it impacts the decisions that students make in their schooling.9 Emdin identifies his new theoretical framework as “reality pedagogy.” Emdin defines reality pedagogy as focusing on the “cultural understandings” of students, namely in a classroom environment.10 As with everyone in almost every circumstance, it is difficult to divorce ourselves from the way we view the world based on our lived experiences. Rather than trying to leave our culture or the way we view the world and construct knowledge at the door, or worse, be subjected to having our culture devalued, Emdin seeks to lean into that cultural understanding and utilize it to assist in creating positive academic and social achievement for students, particularly marginalized students and students of


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color. The work of Emdin and other anti-​deficit educators continues to shift public education towards equality. Central to that equality and, for that matter, equity, is a conceptualization of how power is enacted in school environments. As we begin to examine culture and diversity in the context of public education and training pre-​ service or in-​ service teachers, it has become increasingly difficult to both advance the conceptualizations of “safe space” and push students beyond their preconceived notions of diversity and culture. More succinctly, public schools have traditionally been breeding grounds for promoting understanding, learning, and the “greater good.” Leonardo and Porter highlight that the comfort of those who may be uncomfortable, particularly whites, in discussing these issues is the epitome of the problematic paradigms of “color-​ blindness” and “safe spaces.”11 Increasingly on college campuses, there has been a transition away from learning that challenges perspectives in order to further academic, intellectual, and personal growth, and towards a trend in which those principles become at odds with society’s desire for conformity, political correctness, and the fear of alienating the “customer” (e.g., parents). Students of color and others whose culture differs from the “norm” consequently are torn between either leaving their culture (no matter how they define it) at the “schoolhouse gate” or challenging the norms and mores of the “dominant” culture by demanding that their culture be equally valued and respected. In response to being more culturally appropriate and respectful of students’ home cultures, teachers, administrators, and districts are tasked with the tough choice of having to decide a level of cultural acceptance that both advances social justice but also maintains social peace, or at the very least the norms and mores of the community. In many places around the country, this dichotomy has led to fruitful debates that include a broader conceptualization and discourse surrounding various cultures not previously emphasized in public education (e.g., Indigenous/​Native, LGBTQ, hip-​hop, and youth culture in general, to name a few). However, this gesture toward greater cultural awareness has also brought about an increase in hate speech, fear, and “othering.”12 Thus, cultural acceptance has not been uniformly accepted or adopted across states or districts, much less individual schools. Nor has cultural appreciation occurred collectively at a rate in which the majority of the students who either self-​identify or are classified as “other” have received the type of identity and cultural acceptance that they so desperately deserve and desire.

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In the era of “political correctness,” what has been safe in terms of advancing cultural awareness in public education has been what I call “drive-​by” celebrations of holidays and heroes. What I mean by this term is that usually there is a perfunctory “celebration” of predetermined women during Women’s History Month, a discussion of or honoring of “acceptable” Black and African American “heroes” during Black History Month, and a brief mention of Cesar Chavez during Hispanic Heritage Month. What is of critical importance and far more difficult to achieve is the creation of meaning behind these cultural artifacts and individuals, and an application of these cultural norms in schools and classrooms.

Navigating Third-​Rail Issues in Public Education One necessary component of being a socially just and culturally relevant educator is being able to not only see the humanity in others, but to possess empathy. It would seem that this characteristic would be a prerequisite for being a teacher. However, as the bar has shifted towards alternative certification and data-​ driven accountability, the requirements for what it means to be a “proficient” teacher have changed dramatically. What is interesting to note is that while schools and districts have been clamoring for more classroom inclusion not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but also in terms of class, gender, and sexuality and especially learning differences, once these previously “othered” populations do populate classrooms, they are still seen as what Marc Lamont Hill labels “nobodies.”13 What has become confusing to many is who is truly in favor of advancing diversity and inclusion since many in education have co-​opted these terms and applied them incorrectly (e.g., professional development). However, once diversity actually occurs, in too many instances, the offense is just beginning. I would also challenge that this dynamic takes place not just in the K−12 teaching environment, but also in higher education as well. When seeking tenured positions, for many professors, it seems as if their teaching is consistently subordinate to the other two criteria: research and service to both the profession and the university or institution. It is clear that just like you don’t need to touch fire to know it is hot, you don’t need to be a member of an oppressed group to be able to teach oppressed (or previously oppressed) students. What is necessary


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in order to be an effective classroom educator in the early twenty-​first century is empathy and the ability to see the humanity in others despite what appears to be obvious differences. Part of being able to see the humanity in others is to possess humility in oneself. The question is, how does one learn to be humble, and is this a desirable characteristic to possess in a classroom environment? Being a twenty-​first-​century teacher is much like being a teacher in any other generation with the exception that, because of social media and the heightened ability to see so many examples—­both positive and negative—­of classroom teaching through YouTube and cell phone cameras, the scrutiny of teachers is no longer reserved for administrators or department chairs; we are all critics of the profession now. As such, now that the doors are open to everyone’s classroom, we are able to see what is actually being done. Fellow educators, parents, critics, and admirers can praise or punish those whom we think are “good teachers” or “bad teachers.” Central to this discourse, however, is an understanding of how to, as Sheryl Sandberg has noted, “lean in.”14 We have to make sure that educators are equipped to be able to lean into discomfort in the classroom.

Leaning into the Discomfort “Leaning into the discomfort” is a simple way of saying that classroom teachers need to be able to not only know what they know, but also be able to comfortably acknowledge that which they do not know. Educators need to be adept enough in a classroom environment to be able to demonstrate humility, strength, curiosity, and competence. To paraphrase the noted motivational speaker Marianne Williamson, educators need to understand that they are not the only teacher in the room; they are students as well. When teaching at the collegiate level, it is sometimes difficult for students to open up to and participate in class discussions. This is especially true when there is a significant amount of “controversy” or “contention” concerning issues around race, class, gender, and so forth. In particular, in more than a few sections of my course on culture and diversity, I have utilized popular music and videos to engage students in a dialogue about what it was they saw in the particular video. Usually this entailed a pair-​and-​share with a neighbor about what they saw, what it meant (to them), and why it mattered as it related to the issue

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or larger class lesson for the day. Often this micro-​level discussion, especially when it occurred cross-​culturally, created an opportunity to have a dialogue that some of the students had never experienced before regarding these issues. It was a way, on a very micro level, to bridge the gap between their misunderstandings and stereotypes and a more holistic and realistic understanding of a particular culture—­especially if that discussion took place with a member of an “othered” culture. It is important for educators to humble themselves and remember that they are not the only “expert” in the room—­especially when issues are centered on cultures that are different from their own. Hence, it is critical that students are not only able to demonstrate their cultural knowledge to the instructor via their journals or other private communications, but also to demonstrate that knowledge to their peers. Learning from students is something that has been done for years by excellent teachers, but it is not something that is often conveyed to those preparing to enter the classroom. Much of this apprehension is based on a fear of “losing control” or not being able to manage students’ responses to difficult issues and topics. We must stress to pre-​service teachers that they must be humble enough to acknowledge what they do not know, especially when it comes to understanding students’ home cultures. One of the ways to practice the type of humility necessary for today’s classrooms before becoming a teacher is to engage in activities that highlight one’s own blind spots and implicit biases. Teachers’ colleges and alternative certification programs consistently highlight how they prepare teachers for the classroom by teaching them about the world in which they live. But how effective is this training? How long does it last? Is it meaningful to the students and applicable to their lived experiences?

Tolerance, Acceptance, Culture, and Understanding There is a difference between tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa described the difference in this way: We need to develop the ability to listen to each other and understand the reasons for the differences among us in our approach to life. We may not always agree, but by understanding the


Stuart Rhoden basis for differing ideas about various parts of our lives, we can find the common ground that enables us to work together for the good of all. We’ve all seen compassion and cooperation emerging in times of crisis for people around the world, but our challenge is to make that cooperative spirit the norm all of the time. To understand each other in the way I mean it, we need to be less judgmental and accept that: 1. Our way may not be the only way; 2. Emotion often gets in the way of objectivity; and 3. No religious belief, ideology or “pressing need” justifies the violation of another person’s basic human rights.15

Teachers have traditionally been taught that they are the “expert” in the room and have to maintain a certain level of “power.” As their preparation continues, teachers learn how to manage students, and teach students, but often they are not taught to like students. This central principle of being successful in the classroom is grounded in conceptions of how we build trust and learn to learn about one another. The timeworn approach was that the older person in the room would be respected because of his or her positionality, age, experience, or simply because “that is the way things are traditionally done.” Today, while some wistfully long for the days when teachers of any number of years of experience could walk into a classroom and command respect, we now have to appropriately earn our students’ respect. This may sound like a controversial statement, but when you ponder the Tutu quote, is it really that difficult to strive to find common ground, even with, or rather especially with, those with whom you are about to spend an entire semester, or a whole year? It is through this reflective inquiry and meaningful conversations that teachers can move from the unknown to the known, and most importantly for those who are wary of this pedagogy, to reduce classroom management issues and improve student learning.

Walls and Bridges: A Reflection on Teaching Culture and Diversity This reflective analysis stems from a culture and diversity course that I taught for two semesters during the 2014–­2015 academic school year. The course was populated with pre-​service teachers who were training

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to enter classrooms ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. The students were in a cohort model, meaning they had taken all of their classes en masse as a group. As such, any professor entering the classroom begins with a slight disadvantage in that the students are familiar with each other, but not with the professor. In addition, for this particular course, there were several sections with different instructors teaching the course—­all of who highlighted different aspects of the curriculum. The course description, which was created for all of the instructors to use, highlighted several key aspects of diversity in an educational setting. Some of these aspects included emphasis on the fact that teachers are never “just” teaching; they are role models, reinforcers, and interpreters of “the culture of schooling.” Other aspects include the intersectionality of school culture and the reproduction of cultural norms and values. The course syllabus states: Many of our beliefs, attitudes, and values are learned at home from our parents, others are learned in school from tests, teachers, and informally from peers. Cultural expectations function as lenses and blinders: they enable us to focus on certain aspects of the world and blur others or make them invisible. American culture is diverse and complex. American cultural institutions, especially education, affect different social/​cultural groups in different ways. Concepts of race and ethnicity will be central to the critical inquiry of this course. However, this course is not a multicultural education course or a course on cultural diversity. It is a course that addresses the need for teachers to reflect on and analyze their own teaching and its varied impact. Teachers are NEVER “just” teaching—­they are (among other things) molding, reinforcing, changing, and negotiating the culture of schooling. (Course syllabus, 2013)

Consequentially, the implicit expectation was that this course would challenge students’ normative beliefs about culture and teach them about how those beliefs influence classroom and school culture, with the intent of preparing them for a greater cultural understanding of their students. The course outline included several projects and assignments that were uniform throughout the implementation of the course, but it was suggested that each instructor make the syllabus their own through


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the assignment of specific readings related to the course themes. For this instructor, it also meant giving students the historical foundational knowledge, as well as the most recent literature focusing on the various topics. The following sequence of topics was suggested as a way to lead students through the course materials: what is culture, culture comparison/​education and schooling, culture in schools, how culture is created in schools, hidden curriculum, culture as disability, cultural conflict, ethnic studies, and solutions to cultural conflict. On average from the shell syllabus (the one everyone started with), most of the readings were peer-​reviewed journal articles written prior to 2010, with the exception of three of the readings that focused on cultural conflict. Having completed my graduate coursework within five years of teaching this course, I was intimately aware of some of the more recent literature that expanded the material from its origins to its practical classroom applications for twenty-​first-​century students and schools, and I was eager to update the syllabus to include this newer scholarship. One of the first challenges I found in teaching the course was creating a classroom culture which emphasized that there was “no right answer.” For pre-​ service teachers accustomed to being “right,” this challenge was not one they easily mastered. For pre-​service teachers, even those in the beginning or middle stages of their practicum and student teaching, observing examples of cultural practice in a classroom is something that an experienced, socially just mentor teacher may not explicitly communicate to his pre-​service interns. For classroom teachers who do more than “drive by” one-​day events focused on holidays and customs, how they interact with their students, from the first-​day introductory biographies to students bringing in photos of their “family” or neighborhood, pre-​service teachers who see these activities, unless specifically instructed or mentored, may not understand their cultural significance in helping to build classroom cohesion, unity, and trust. As such, it is incumbent in college courses on diversity to articulate the significance and understanding behind these seemingly innocuous first-​week events, and stress their importance in gaining classroom cultural congruence. Another challenge to teaching a course that focuses on diversity is that many individuals, especially those who grew up in seemingly monolithic communities, feel as if they, as one student indicated, do not “have a culture.” The overpopulation of predominantly white females in pre-​service teacher programs means that they are sometimes

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challenged to articulate the differences that exist between their own experiences with schooling and those of their future students, many of whom are of color, from a different socioeconomic background, live in different communities, or a combination of all three. For some, this task is familiar. For others, they may never have had to think about difference, not because they don’t want to, but because they have never been asked to. In every course I have taught from high school to graduate level, I have begun with an activity focusing on identity from the workbook Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.16 Students are asked to create a box in which they fill in (you can choose any sociocultural variables) their race, age, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and educational status. After students complete their respective answers, they answer the following questions: Which do you identify with the most? Which do you identify with the least? Which do you think others identify you as the most? Which do you think others identify you as the least? Once this is finished, the students pair up and discuss their answers. Then in the larger group, we begin a discussion about being placed into a box, about how it feels when others identify you as something different than your own interpretation of yourself. We think about whether it is possible to decouple those variables depending on space and place. In general, many students after engaging in this exercise are somewhat more aware of their own cultural identity and how it is perceived by others. Hopefully, they are also more inclined to demonstrate empathy toward others and an understanding of the effects of how one might see oneself differently than society does, or how others’ perspectives of oneself can be seen as either a negative or positive. This is an excellent exercise for then embarking on culture and diversity issues because students have something to relate to from their own cultural identity box. As an instructor, my goal for the semester is to begin to help the students to not just think outside of this cultural box that they have created for themselves, but to smash their preconceived notions of that box and themselves. Several interesting phenomena emerged in these courses with pre-​service teachers who were preparing to embark on teaching K−5 students. In cohorts in which there was a diverse group of students based on, for example, age, experience level, and gender, there seemed to be a greater understanding of the need for a course such as this. However, in cohorts in which there was less diversity, students had a


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difficult time understanding the need for this course. A third group, which was split, had several vocal young white females who were opposed to the notion that the course’s content matter was “appropriate” for the classrooms they were going to enter. The pedagogy implemented in this course consisted of beginning each session with a video that centered on the topic being discussed. In addition, there was ample use of YouTube and TED Talks to provide a triangulation (readings, lectures, and videos) of the topics from multiple perspectives. PowerPoint presentations highlighted the readings and helped provide guided questions for small-​group and large-​group discussions on the topics. Overall, the use of technology and video was helpful for many students to see the types of inequities that occur in classrooms and society; however, some of the students were unable to draw connections about the videos, especially the non–­Ted Talk videos, that aimed to bring in diverse perspectives connected to specific topics. Another reason why the videos received mixed reactions was perhaps that students are not familiar with the use of media literacy as “text” that can be seen as engaging and informative, rather than just entertaining.

Lessons Learned One of the lessons learned from teaching this course is the strong need for instructors to be explicit from the beginning about the importance of individuals having a greater awareness of diversity and culture, not just as educators, but as members of society. This is important when training K−12 educators, but it is also equally critical for every discipline in the academy. The more we can demonstrate how diversity increases productivity, cohesion, and overall results no matter what the workplace environment is, the more likely our students will begin to see its critical importance.17 Those of us who grew up in a different era assume that because millennials have had earlier and more frequent interactions with a diverse range of races and are seemingly more receptive to progressive social justice issues, they are culturally competent and aware. But often, despite this proximity, millennials are unaware of each other’s cultural differences. The pervasive political correctness culture that has infected college campuses and elsewhere has mitigated innocent (and yes, sometimes not so innocent) questioning of those who are different for fear of offending others or being incorrectly labeled “sexists,” “racists,” or “homophobic.”

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To truly create “safe spaces,” we as professors need to clearly articulate that college is exactly the appropriate space where ideas are learned, challenged, discussed, and debated; it is a space where ideas thrive. Another component to the successful implementation of diversity courses is the need for an overt endorsement from teacher education programs themselves. Throughout the teacher education program, it needs to be clear that despite diversity and culture having only one specific course, the learning outcomes are not only desirable but are a critical component of being a competent, and not just a culturally competent, classroom teacher. If we continue to isolate “those issues” into “these courses,” then the disconnect and apprehension that pre-​service teachers sense, and which I would argue some in-​service teachers possess as well, will continue. Being a socially just and reflective educator means sometimes looking into that mirror, seeing one’s own implicit biases, growing from their deconstruction, and learning from that discomfort. Teachers, as the course syllabus stated, are never just teaching. They are mentors, cultural navigators, academic experts, and leaders. As such, we need to prepare teachers to lean into learning about their students’ cultures and understanding of difference. This is especially the case for those who come from environments that have traditionally been monolithic or environments in which silencing dissent has traditionally been the norm. In addition, they also need to be able to share freely their own cultural norms and mores in order to create a cross-​cultural dialogue in which the outcome will be a greater understanding from multiple perspectives. Without this critical reality, we will continue to see significant student disengagement, classroom management issues, and a lack of trust between students and teachers.18 It is imperative that pre-​ service teachers learn about culture and diversity, and I would strongly recommend that they learn this through an integration of the literature throughout their teacher education program rather than in a single course.

Notes 1. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform: A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education (Washington, D.C.: The Commission: [Supt. of Docs., U.S. General Printing Office distributor], 1983.


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2. Emily Deruy, “Student Diversity Is Up but Teachers Are Mostly White,” ABC News, March 21, 2013, https://abcnews.go.com/ABC​ _Univision/News/student-diversity-teachers-white/story?id=18782102; Tyrone C. Howard, ed., Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms (New York: Teachers’ College Press, 2015). 3. Richard Ingersoll, Lisa Merrill, and Daniel Stuckey, Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force Report # RR-​80 (Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 2014). DOI: 10.12698/​ cpre.2014.rr80 4. Linda Darling-​Hammond, Julia Koppich, Letitia Fickel, and Maritza Macdonald, Creating Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Excellent Teacher Education Programs (San Francisco: Jossey-​Bass, 2006); Christopher Emdin, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood . . . And the Rest of Y’All Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Boston: Beacon, 2016); Gloria J. Ladson-​Billings, “Preparing Teachers for Diverse Student Populations: A Critical Race Theory Perspective,” Review of Research in Education 24 (1999): 211, doi:10.2307/1167271. 5. Sonia Nieto, Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Classrooms (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, 2013). 6. Ladson-​ Billings. “Preparing Teachers for Diverse Student Populations,” 211. 7. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 1916). 8.  Robert T. Moran, Philip R. Harris, Sarah V. Moran, and Neil Abramson, Managing Cultural Differences: Global Leadership Strategies for Cross-​ Cultural Business Success, 8th ed. (Oxford: Butterworth-​Heinemann, 2014). 9. Christopher Emdin, “Dimensions of Communication in Urban Science Education: Interactions and Transactions,” Science Education 95, no. 1 (August 23, 2010): 1–­20, doi:10.1002/sce.20411; Emdin, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. 10. Emdin, “Dimensions of Communication,” 1–­20. 11. Zeus Leonardo and Ronald K. Porter, “Pedagogy of Fear: Toward a Fanonian Theory of ‘Safety’ in Race Dialogue,” Race Ethnicity and Education 13, no. 2 (2010): 139–­57. 12. Christine E. Sleeter, “Confronting the Marginalization of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy,” Urban Education 47, no. 3 (February 28, 2012): 562–­84, doi:10.1177/0042085911431472.

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13. Marc Lamont Hill, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond (New York: Atria Books, 2016). 14. Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013). 15. Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness: A Personal Overview of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (London: Rider Books, 2000). 16. Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, eds., Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, 2nd ed. (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2007). 17. Michàlle E. Barak, Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace (Sage Publications, 2016). 18. Stuart Rhoden, “Trust Me, You Are Going to College: How Trust Influences Academic Achievement in Black Males,” The Journal of Negro Education 86, no. 1 (2017): 52–­64.


Multiple Strands of Resistance Teaching African American Literature in a Maximum-​Security Prison Briana Whiteside

The burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs. —­W. E. B. Du Bois

In the academic year 2014–­2015, I taught a survey course in African American literature to 17 male students—­16 African Americans and 1 white—­at an Alabama maximum-​security correctional facility as part of a teaching initiative offered by my graduate program. We held our class in a large room called the “visitation yard,” which is about the size of a typical school lunchroom. This is an area in which inmates usually meet with guests on designated visitation days.1 Three vending machines, a water fountain, and several tables and chairs constituted the furniture in the space. The room also contained three large windows adjacent to a single door through which “free people,” as inmates called them, could enter and exit. Once the visitation door was closed, it could not be opened unless it was unlocked with a key or buzzed from an outside office. Four cameras positioned in the corners of the room allowed officers in other parts of the prison to view our activities, and the far-​right corner of the yard housed two restrooms for visitors. We were under constant surveillance, and during class times, it was not uncommon for us to overhear the personal conversations of officers standing nearby. I noted that the outside noise never 87


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seemed to disturb my students, but I always struggled to maintain my own focus. I entered this space as a scholar, teacher, African American, woman, and graduate student, reflecting Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality. In her examination of women and identity politics, Crenshaw insists that scholars interrogate race, gender, and other identity categories in order to understand the ways in which multiple identities intersect to form single subjectivities. Her aim is to acknowledge intra-​group differences while still accounting for group identity group differences, Crenshaw politics. To accommodate these intra-​ posits that intersectionality is a way to “illustrate that . . . racism and sexism factor into Black women’s lives in ways that cannot be captured wholly by looking at the women, race, or gender dimensions of those experiences separately.”2 I find Crenshaw’s concept particularly useful for reflecting on my experiences teaching African American literature in an Alabama maximum-​security facility. An intersectional approach braids the tense and numerous complexities that informed the outcomes of my classes. One source of tension, for example, resulted from my academic background, which had prepared me to work and teach students in a university setting; this background did not translate easily into teaching incarcerated people in a prison setting. As another example, I am an African American woman from a low-​income community on the South Side of Chicago, and so I could relate to some of the racial and socioeconomic issues that my students discussed in the class; however, they still viewed me as a teacher and initially questioned my motives for being there and teaching. Complicating things further was my own naive, elitist assumptions that I would automatically be afforded a measure of respect not just from the inmates but from the prison authorities as well, given my status as a doctoral student studying at the state’s preeminent, “capstone” educational institution. I was wrong. Thus, in this chapter I will recount my teaching experiences and the tensions that ensued from my positioning as an outsider living in the state of Alabama and teaching in the prison system. Ultimately, this chapter discusses the ways in which my positioning as an African American woman impacted my pedagogical interactions with inmates at a maximum-​security prison. My discussion centers on my students’ reading of African American literature and the ways in which their reading created tense moments in the classroom. My own subject position complicated those tensions. Indeed, there were moments when discussions about the literature shifted from the text

Multiple Strands of Resistance


to personal experiences, causing moments of self-​reflection for my students and for me. To illustrate this dynamic, this chapter focuses on my students’ discussion of two African American narratives—­Richard Wright’s novel Native Son (1940) and J. Edgar Wideman’s memoir Brothers and Keepers (1984). These two texts aroused the most resistance from my students. I detail the forms of their resistance and reflect on why they responded in particular ways. I self-​reflect, as well, discussing my personal conflicts with the prison structure and its workers. In addition, I describe my attempts to neutralize tensions in the classroom and create a “safe” space for learning through writing assignments. I conclude with some observations about how writing assignments can be used to deescalate tense moments in the classroom.

Selected Reflections from Teaching in Prison: Reading Native Son I introduced students to Wright’s Native Son in week 11 and to Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers in week 13 of the course. Most people who have read Wright and Wideman’s narratives would agree that these texts are intense. I was not surprised that my students exhibited strong reactions to the readings—­especially because they could relate to the strife of the protagonists more than the average reader could. Wright’s novel Native Son deals with social confinement that results in physical imprisonment, while Brothers and Keepers’ plot moves in and out of a prison institution. Both texts interrogate the psychological traumas of encountering prison systems long before the protagonists arrive within a prison’s material hold. Many of my students rejected the emotional demands of the narratives. Their unwillingness to engage with texts that directly talk about prison structures perhaps speaks to the effectiveness of prison systems that are designed to mete out punishment rather than promote rehabilitation. Richard Wright’s canonical novel Native Son is the story of Bigger Thomas, an inner-​city youth who is on death row for killing a white woman. As a product of a single-​parent home in the 1930s, he struggles with race, class, religion, and identity. Bigger—­whose name is an acronym for Bad Nigger—­takes a job as a chauffeur for a rich white man named Mr. Dalton. Bigger’s plight deteriorates when he “accidentally” suffocates Mr. Dalton’s daughter Mary. In an attempt to discard her body, he stuffs it into a trunk, mutilates the body, and then burns it in a basement furnace. While on the run from the police, Bigger rapes and


Briana Whiteside

murders his Black girlfriend Bessie in an abandoned Chicago building. Once captured, Bigger is prosecuted and sentenced to the electric chair—­but not because of the actual heinous acts he has committed. Instead, he is convicted of raping Mary, the one crime he didn’t commit. Initially, my students resisted any measure of identification with Bigger. They scorned his perceived “slave mentality” and criticized his “defeated” mindset that hindered him from “winning” in life.3 They categorized him as bipolar, and some deemed his actions as spoiled and childish. Furthermore, the students frowned upon his proud disposition, which was highlighted by his unwillingness to help support his family. To them, Bigger’s behavior was a disgrace and they found him problematic. Their candid observations about Bigger Thomas mirrored that of the state prosecutor in the novel, D. A. Buckley, who at various times describes Bigger as a “half-​human black ape,”4 “black mad dog,”5 “sly thug,”6 “sub-​human killer,”7 “beast,”8 “infernal monster,”9 and a “demented savage.”10 The students struggled to understand Bigger as a product of the same system and social stereotypes that even today question the humanity of inmates and see Black men as inherently violent and dangerous. It was clear that some of my students, as Michelle Alexander observes, had become blind not so much to race, but to the existence of racial caste in America that deemed criminals as characterless and purposeless people deserving of collective scorn and contempt.11 This assertion was implicit in one student’s remark that Bigger was “vicious” because “there was no evidence that white people were against him.” This student didn’t identify the implicit racism in Mr. Dalton’s decision to donate ping-​pong balls to Black communities as a philanthropic initiative, or in the fact that he exploited the African American renters in his housing properties. The fictional Mr. Dalton has a real-​life counterpart in the very prison where my students were housed. This prison had no library, but there were four basketball courts.12 In essence, my students knew and yet they did not know the impact of systematic structures that are used to reinforce cycles of oppression on people of color. Native Son demanded that they (re)confront those systems. As part of the discussion of Native Son, I gave a writing assignment that asked students to record their personal reactions to Wright’s text. I wanted to assist them in coming into a critical awareness of their resistance to the narrative. In the responses, some students revealed that they struggled with Bigger because he reflected a part of them that they wished to forget. Particularly, one student wrote: “When you

Multiple Strands of Resistance


see yourself in him you don’t like him. You can try to tolerate him with hopes that he would make the transformation into a man.” The hope of transformation reflects the plot of several Black male narratives, specifically Ernest Gaines’s character Jefferson in A Lesson Before Dying (1993), where the protagonist Grant is tasked with the duty of (re) humanizing the death row inmate Jefferson before he is put to death.13 This response also expresses my student’s deeply embedded need to transform and transcend his prison sentence. If Bigger could change once he went to prison, maybe there was hope for my students as well, and when he did not overcome his condition, they hated him—­maybe in the same way that they hated their own decisions. Overall, reading and writing themselves within the silences of Native Son provided the students with the rare space to tend to what Toni Cade Bambara calls their “inner nation” in an attempt to untangle years of hurt and neglect.14 For the most part, my students’ issue was not necessarily that they did not like Bigger, but that the book measured the minuscule progress that, by 2015, we had made in America with a Black president. In essence, their hope for a postracial society informed their feelings, which is a point echoed in the introduction of this volume and the chapter in this book entitled “Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race in the Early American ‘Ethnic’ Studies Classroom.” In their writings, some students made references to growing up in crack homes and low-​income housing structures, as well as being made to grown man; their assume prematurely the responsibilities of a full-​ inability to overcome societal pressures paralleled the inability of Bigger himself. Specifically, one student wrote about being put on display as a child of poverty by white people outside his community who gave him school supplies. He decided never to accept the help of another person after this instance. Overwhelmingly, the students reflected on how societal pressures had landed them in jail serving harsh sentences. Due to the limited space for introspection in prison, the students began possible restorative practices by utilizing classroom writing assignments. Perhaps through a shared communal identity, my students felt comfortable with disclosing some of their personal stories. They formed a community with an unspoken understanding of racial injustice, police brutality, and broken communities that were noticeable in their individual experiences, but which did not transfer as easily to the literary texts we studied. Therefore, our class space reflected Vorris Nunley’s theory of the ways in which African American “hush” harbors function. For


Briana Whiteside

Nunley and his articulation of African American hush harbor rhetoric, the concept of hush harbors evolved from enslaved people’s construction of “hush arbor[s]” or “bush arbor[s]” where “black rhetors and speakers were free to engage in and deploy otherwise heavily monitored practices, knowledges, and rhetorics disallowed in the public sphere under the disciplining gaze of Whites and Whiteness.”15 On the one hand, within a highly surveilled space, our classroom served as a physical manifestation of a hush harbor. On the other hand, through writing assignments, students constructed mini-​hush harbors in which they asserted the realities of their truth in the days between class sessions, endeavoring to reconcile, I would like to think, their personal pasts through the literature they studied and their own writing.

Endangered Bodies: Reading Brothers and Keepers A discussion of the 2012 Trayvon Martin case served as a transition from the reading of Native Son to John Edgar Wideman’s memoir Brothers and Keepers. My students reflected on the similarities between Martin, who was shot and killed by the neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in central Florida, and Bigger Thomas. Our conversation on Martin ties into Corinne Wohlford’s chapter in this book, “What ‘Everyone Knows’: Teaching Ferguson in St. Louis,” which centers on understanding respectability politics in the midst of social unrest. In my classroom, students spoke about the issues of white people gazing on African Americans and the fears of losing Black bodies. The fear associated with possible loss of the body is also addressed by Ta-​Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me (2015), where Coates laments in an open-​letter format to his son that “the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body . . . the destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy.”16 Wideman, thirty-​two years earlier, makes the same observation. Wideman’s memoir recounts the social pressures and psychological responses that routed his brother Rob to prison for murder and him to a middle-​class life as a professor of English at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He interrogates the pathological interplay of white exploitation, racist neglect, and internal despair that have intensified, rather than lessened, in America’s cities since the 1960s. The book opens in 1976 with the writer waiting for word from his fugitive

Multiple Strands of Resistance


younger brother. In facing Rob when he does arrive and in their subsequent meetings in jail over the years, Wideman recognizes that their polarized circumstances provocatively express the duality of African Americans’ psychological legacy in the United States. Ironically, in pursuit of the “American Dream” of material success, John chooses the “safe” path in terms of a career and family championed by white society. Rob follows a more dangerous line that challenges racist obstacles through illegal channels that promise the glamor of the outlaw. Both men, despite their very different choices, now find themselves fumbling to recover what they sacrificed in pursuit of America’s elusive seduction of “making it.” My students characterized Wideman’s narrative as “another prison book,” and they were uninterested in the book because they associated it with prison voyeurism in the “free world.”17 Again, their engagement with the literature was complicated by their positioning behind bars. I prompted them to think critically about the physical prison structure, as opposed to recurring and intangible constructions of imprisonment in African American literary writing. Though there is no long-​term sense of escape, literature provides the opportunity to live momentarily as someone else through the pages of books. With this in mind, I asked my students about the possible values of Wideman’s text, as well as what they had learned about Wideman, a free man entering the prison structure voluntarily. Initially, no one spoke, and their silence was a form of active resistance towards the book and the prison system represented through the officer’s presence in the room. In this vein, Toni Morrison addresses the complex reality of silence when she asserts that “silence bec[o]me[s] an unbearable violence, even in a work full of violence and evasion.”18 Morrison’s claim is particularly engaging within the confines of an overly violent structure where the students’ refusal to speak inflicted a form of self-​ violence that the very structure of the prison institution encourages. Eventually, the one white student in the class pointed out Wideman’s observation that prisoners’ bodies were in a constant state of danger. Particularly, he was interested in the way that the author described the incarcerated men’s disagreements with the keepers (prison guards) and the unmitigated power that guards had over inmates’ bodies. Interestingly, the other students neither validated nor objected to this observation, and our classroom discussion stopped. To break the silence, I assigned them an impromptu writing exercise. In reading their responses, I quickly realized that they refused to speak—­on the


Briana Whiteside

topic of bodily vulnerability in a prison complex—­because their very bodies in that moment were vulnerable to the prison guard in the room and those watching through closed-​circuit monitors. Literature was not simply an imaginary, escapist luxury for them. It potentially correlated to real, actual danger. I was brought to this understanding only when my students chose to write through their silences, which gave life to unspeakable truths about their reality. They commented on their endangered bodies and relayed several stories that testified to their abuse—­the product of an officer’s bad day, for example, or punishment for an accusation of wrongdoing without investigation. Reading their responses created discomfort for me, since I had neither the power nor the leverage to intervene on their behalf. I stood passively as a mere witness to their testimonies. In essence, the students agreed with Wideman’s observation about the scarring of people—­whether inmate, guard, or visitor—­who come into contact with prison structures. While the scarring varies depending on the positioning, Wideman tells of the possibility of guards punishing an inmate because of the guard’s dislike for the inmate’s visitor. Their confirmation of Wideman’s assertion still impacts me today, especially when my students explained how my very presence and the material I was teaching them could endanger them. The very act of learning was itself a source of tension in this prison classroom. Specifically, they could be punished for interrogating confinement in America, even if it is only through a literary lens. Therefore, they were reluctant to expose any parts of themselves that could be used against them by the prison officer in the room or maybe by any of their classmates, for that matter. Put another way, the harm done to my students outside of class taught them to be silent. Ultimately, if they could be punished for learning—­ despite the fact that the prison approved the class—­then they would feign disinterest in its power. Their attempt to leverage power within the prison structure complicated our learning community and further exposed the limits of my educational training. Above all, though, the students had to ensure their survival outside of the classroom, and this required a level of masking that is all too familiar in African American culture. Hence, writing inside of a prison is a highly political act of resistance, for by the act of writing, creativity and strength of humanity are manifested. Unfortunately, prisoners’ voices are endangered as well as their bodies. My students attempted to respond to the demand I placed on them to think analytically and to symbolically liberate themselves through

Multiple Strands of Resistance


literature, just as Jefferson in A Lesson Before Dying (1993) moves from psychological confinement to intellectual freedom because of Grant’s expectation of him to transform. For instance, one student wrote about how he left our class and attempted to hold mini-​classes in his dormitory with a single copy of the readings, but was discouraged by officers. The officers’ response corresponds to Robert Scott’s claim that “prison systems discourage most forms of self-​organizing of incarcerated people based on the stated aim of undermining gang activity.”19 Whether the prison officers feared gang activity with men reading photocopied books or not, I do not know, but guards confiscated the materials and stopped the dormitory sessions. The officers’ response potentially speaks to a system’s commitment to dehumanize people behind bars, which makes the officers complicit in a system that is committed to dehumanizing punishments beneath the disguise of safety.

Conclusion Due to the anxieties surrounding the experiences of African Americans in America and the content of the class material, my students underwent psychological evaluations before they were granted clearance into the classroom. While some of our main goals and objectives were to develop a broader conception of African American literature and sharpen the interpretive skills of expressive culture, the active engagements that literature demands had to be approached with a sense of emotional responsibility. For instance, some of my students had been alive during the Harlem Renaissance era, and they provided unique experiences to our classroom discussions beyond the readings. Their memories added a deeper understanding of the content that we were reading; therefore, the individuals who were part of our classroom community were expected to have the capacity to appreciate as well as reflect on the multiple forms of learning taking place. In reading and discussing a range of materials—­from 1746 to the present—­we considered the historical and cultural factors that informed African American literature. To ensure successful participation, the prison education program provided students with pens, legal pads, and folders, and I photocopied readings from my personal library during the course of the semester. In addition to weekly reading assignments, I assigned reading responses that functioned as discussion references equal to those in a


Briana Whiteside

university classroom. While in the university, teachers can request that a student leave if he or she is disruptive or undermines the safety of peers; in the prison classroom, I adopted other tactics such as impromptu writing assignments to deescalate tense moments. For instance, while discussing the vocabulary in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), the commentary elevated to an emotionally aggressive level after an inquiry posed by the only white student in the class. He questioned Douglass’s ability, as an ex-​slave, to write in such a “prestigious” manner. He sought information about censorship and possible educational outlets for ex-​slaves, but his curiosity as well as his racial positioning prompted the other students to distrust him. Almost immediately students commented on his problematic inquiry of Douglass’s ability to write. They saw their white classmate’s observation as evoking stereotypes about the learning capabilities of African Americans. Multiple students exchanged emotional commentary about literacy and the education of Black people. Uncertain about how to deescalate a racially charged discussion between adult men who have been told for so long that their opinions did not matter, I turned to what I know best—­writing. The above example illustrates my struggles with classroom management. None of the strategies we are taught in the academy apply in the prison complex. This is largely the case because ultimately control and authority in the prison classroom space are not invested in the teacher. Prison officers and administrators had power over my students’ bodies, as well as my own in many ways. Specifically, the officers could decide that they did not want class to be held for the full time, and they could command that I leave without a moment’s notice. There were also instances when I contacted the prison before driving there—­the journey was two hours from my home—­and was told that I would be able to have class, only to arrive at the institution and be turned around. Without a moment’s notice, a safety concern could cause the prison to go on “lockdown” and restrict any movements inside. What is more, my students could be snatched out of the classroom without explanation. This lack of authority made my choices even more complicated when confronted with moments like the one described above. I was torn between taking the side of the white student—­and playing into notions of white innocence that render nonthreatening and non-​prejudicial his questions—­or validating the responses of my Black male students. Was I expected to intervene in the disagreement between the men? As a facilitator, how should I neutralize the classroom space when the

Multiple Strands of Resistance


prison institution is designed to prompt hostile responses? I considered the possibilities and knew that I could not afford to respond wrong. In the end, my raced, gendered body eased the tension. Several students perceived through my body language my growing discomfort as the discussion escalated. Slight tremors in my writing hand might have given me away. They spoke up in an attempt to calm down the arguing men. I imagine that this was a moment for them to show themselves strong and embody the status of warriors to protect a woman. Their ability to calm the situation brought a sense of satisfaction to them, for they knew that though I had a measure of authority—­however small it was in this space—­I was still a woman. Perhaps, my students thought of their mothers or sisters in that moment, remembered what it was like to provide protection for them, and accepted the unasked task. In that instance, classroom order was restored as a tacit social contract between teacher and students. After we deescalated the conversation, the impromptu writing assignment served three purposes: it gave me a moment to regain my composure, it allowed students the opportunity to analyze their observations of the incident, and it granted me a personal pedagogical learning moment. This exercise is similar to what Rhea Lathan explains of literate activities that “are located within the norms of an interpretive community. Therefore, the direction of . . . analysis is reciprocal—­from the group to the individual and the individual to the group.”20 On the one hand, the writing implementations aided in gaining a deeper understanding of the current situation, thus further connecting me with the learning needs of my students. On the other hand, it allowed students the space to analyze critically the rapidly unfolding discussion and their reactions to it. In all of the writing assignments, students responded to the prompts, but they also disclosed various levels of traumatic personal experiences, such as reflections on actions that had landed them in prison. One student in particular revealed his conviction, and his retrospective understanding of instances leading up to the event, as well as his growth in prison. For other students, the act of writing produced anxieties due to its perceived level of danger. In their fear of exploitation, they wanted to know who would be reading their responses, if I would judge them on their writing abilities, or if I would think of them differently if they exposed areas of themselves that were unfavorable. This hesitancy was apparent in some students’ inability to articulate the traumas of their experience. Through multilayered performances of resistance,


Briana Whiteside

my prison teaching experiences join the conversations of Jacqueline Jones Royster and Deborah Brandt about literacy. Royster explains that literacy “is the ability to gain access to information and to use this information variously to articulate lives and experiences and also identify, think through, refine and solve problems, sometimes complex problems, over time.”21 Brandt highlights how the act of writing exists in connection to a larger social, cultural, and political system.22 Because literacy is not a linear process, the intersections of recovery and written activites are necessary because they emphasize the challenges of literacy in prison. This observation is not without acknowledgment of how the cathartic method of writing yields power to the author. I would argue that the method of writing also brings new awareness to the reader. After interacting with inmates at a maximum-​security prison and reading their prose, I walked away from this teaching experience with a keener sense of my own biases and deficits as a budding teacher and scholar of African American culture. Michelle Alexander writes that “like ‘coloreds’ in the years following emancipation, criminals today are deemed a characterless and purposeless people, deserving of collective scorn and contempt.”23 Similarly, in Brothers and Keepers, Wideman interrogates his ability to form a common ground with his brother who is a convicted felon. Wideman reflects that the hardest habit to break, since it was the habit of a lifetime, would be listening to myself listen to him. That habit would destroy any chance of seeing my brother on his terms; and seeing him in his terms, learning his terms, seemed the whole point of learning his story. However numerous and comforting the similarities, we were different. The world had seized on the difference, allowed me room to thrive, while he’d been forced into a cage . . . I had to teach myself to listen. Start fresh, clear the pipes, resist too facile an identification . . . I had to listen, listen.24

Alexander’s observation and Wideman’s dilemma of listening correspond to a barrier that I crossed in order to establish common ground with my students and gain their trust. Unfortunately, popular culture’s representation of prison, the Alabama Department of Corrections’ PREA training, and personal biases taught me to distrust, and therefore disregard, people who were incarcerated. Subconsciously, I had made assumptions about my students long before we met. I believed

Multiple Strands of Resistance


that they were unreliable, lazy, misinformed, dangerous, and untrustworthy. I bought into the hype that all people who are incarcerated deserve their sentencing no matter how extreme. I was wrong. Because of those assumptions, in my mind their crimes overshadowed who they were as citizens and, more importantly, as people. I had to work to hear them past their prison attire and their crimes. Moreover, I found it difficult to fully resist the system even when I could identify its insidious effects on inmates and Black culture at large. I realized that I am not separate from the power structure, but that does not prevent me from responding within it. Hence, my approach to facilitating meaningful and intellectual discussions rested in a genuine investment in the students that I taught. In the vein of Paulo Freire, who speaks of learning as a mental and spiritual practice, my teaching approaches were geared towards beginning rehabilitation through literature.25 Freire’s point about learning as more than an intellectual practice is helpful in understanding other classroom dynamics, as the chapter entitled “Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom” in this book points out about students’ experiences analyzing sixteenth-​ century Spanish documents. Similarly, bell hooks posits that facilitators must “teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students,” which is “essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply begin.”26 hooks’s observation echoes my commitment to hearing the students past their crimes in order to reaffirm the value of their thoughts and thereby help them to transcend their current circumstances. In order for this approach to work, I had to choose consistently to position myself as someone operating within our classroom community and not as an absolute, authoritative figure or observer. I also had to choose to see and feel past the degrading treatment I experienced at the hands of correctional officers, which was its own kind of confinement. When I stepped inside the visitation yard door, I existed in a kind of liminal space where I was definitely unable to identify with the feeling of perpetual confinement that was the reality of my students, but was still not free to move and act at my own whim. The prison authorities made it clear that they could delay my entrance back into the “free world” or cancel my class altogether. Many times I entered the building and felt powerless and intimidated by the might of the State. As a prison “visitor,” I faced my own sense of humiliation and depersonalization. For example, there were times when an older white female officer referred to me as a “girl” though I was well past the age


Briana Whiteside

of girlhood. On several occasions, gate officers attempted to deny me clearance into the prison for having a computer, despite the fact that I could provide them with documentation showing that the warden had approved. Interestingly, when the program’s coordinator attended class with me, there was no issue with clearing the same computer. I would argue that prisons have an institutional bias against literary pedagogical facilitators or any teacher, for that matter. As outsiders, we interrupt the daily system of the prison structure, and we have the potential to bring hyper-​emotional awareness to people who have been taught to live beyond their feelings. Our classes are an inconvenience to officers who operate on the surety of a systematic schedule. And facilitators allow the guards to lock us within their gates without any guarantee that the doors will open when we are to leave. We become their prisoners until they release us. Yet, though our bodies are restricted, the journeys we have taken with our students supersede our bound physical realities and have the potential to render a sense of healing.

Notes 1. Throughout this chapter I use the term “inmate” when referring to the larger prison population and “student” to identify the men who were enrolled in my class. 2. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989): 139. 3. I generated the information on the students’ thoughts and feelings from program-​mandated prison reports that I compiled during each of the teaching sessions. 4. Richard Wright, Native Son (New York: Harper Collins, 1940), 408. 5. Wright, Native Son, 409. 6. Wright, Native Son, 409. 7. Wright, Native Son, 409. 8. Wright, Native Son, 411. 9. Wright, Native Son, 412. 10. Wright, Native Son, 414. 11. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New, 2010), 141. 12. This is no longer the case. In 2015 I undertook an initiative to start a library at the prison. Currently, the library is operational with 600 books.

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13. Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying (New York: Knopf, 1993). 14. Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters (New York: Random House, 1980). Bambara redefines “nation” as a varied, practiced, and multifocal entity. If “outer nation” represents Black communities and collectivity, “inner nation” constitutes internal collectivity and wholeness. Both inner and outer nations affect one another and must be in concert in order to prompt personal synchronization. 15. Vorris Nunley, Keepin’ It Hushed: The Barbershop and African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2011), 23. 16.  Ta-​Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015), 10. 17. My students used the term “free world” to describe the society outside of prison walls. 18. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 22–­23. 19. Robert Scott, “Distinguishing Radical Teaching from Merely Having Intense Experiences while Teaching in Prison,” Radical Teacher 95, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 23. 20. Rhea Lathan, Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955–­1967 (Urbana-​Champaign, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 2015), xxii. 21. Jacqueline Royster, Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women (Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000), 45. 22. Deborah Brandt, Literacy in American Lives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 23. Brandt, Literacy in American Lives. 24. J. Edgar Wideman, Brothers and Keepers (Boston: Mariner Books, 1984), 77–­80. 25. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2000). 26. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 2004), 13.


Relief and Resistance Student Emotions in a Majority-​Minority Ethnic Studies Classroom Magdalena L. Barrera

Every fall semester, I stride into a classroom of fresh young faces. Boisterous voices suddenly become hushed as students see their history professor for the first time; and forty-​five pairs of eyes follow my progress across the room. Though I have experienced this first-​day scenario many times over, I still feel butterflies in my stomach as I set up for class. I return the students’ gaze, smile reassuringly, and announce, “Welcome to Mexican American history!” The young people seated before me are new undergraduates, nervously taking in their first class. So far, all they know is that this course is required, satisfies multiple general education requirements, and will be about Mexican American history. Beyond that, they are unsure what to expect from the class or from me, their first Latina professor. Little do they know that they are about to embark on an emotional yearlong journey. They will encounter American history from a new perspective, one which acknowledges the brutal legacies of genocide, slavery, and Manifest Destiny; this curriculum has the potential to significantly impact their personal identities. I am excited for them—­and for myself, because no matter how many times I have guided groups through this journey, seeing ethnic studies’ emotional power never gets old. The students’ faces will soon reflect feelings of surprise, sadness, hope, and anger—­sometimes simultaneously. I look around the room again: Who among these students will catch on quickly? Who will need more time before being convinced that racial legacies impact our lives today? And 103


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who will refuse to acknowledge these realities, instead claiming that I perpetuate a “victim mentality”? In this chapter, I describe my experiences teaching a first-​ year Mexican American history course. The students in the class are predominantly Latinx but also included Blacks and Asian Americans. Across race, they are all low-​income and the first in their families to attend college. Far from being a monolithic group, students of color enter the course with differing perspectives on race, racism, and their racialized identities; consequently, they respond to course topics with a variety of emotions, ranging from relief, sadness, and outrage to outright resistance and denial. Drawing from scholarly literature, personal observations, and student evaluations, I will analyze what lies behind these varied reactions. Finally, I will reflect on emotion as a pedagogical tool in majority-​minority classrooms; I find that faculty must harness emotions and tension carefully while facilitating a space where students can undertake intellectual risks.

Teaching Race: Where Are the Students of Color? Despite the growing numbers of students of color who are entering higher education, research that examines their experiences as they learn about race and racism has yet to keep pace. Most work on teaching race focuses on white students’ resistance to discussing systemic racism. Such readings find that white students believe true racism is intentional, individually based, and overt, and that people of color are overly sensitive.1 White students often view their resistance simply as being engaged in independent thinking and, using the ideology of abstract liberalism, they claim the moral high ground in rejecting the existence of inequalities.2 A subset of this area focuses on the experiences of faculty of color in primarily white institutions. The research documents how faculty members of color—­especially women of color—­are more likely to have their authority and pedagogy challenged, encounter resistance to course materials, and receive negative evaluations, impeding their career progress.3 While this literature is important, I share Enid Logan’s concern that “though it is fundamentally anti-​racist and activist in nature, the fact that this literature tends to assume and center white racial subjects means that, ironically, it also reproduces a kind of white privilege.”4 Within this scholarship, students of color typically are addressed in two ways. The first is how they respond to the resistance of their white

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peers: they may feel resentful and silenced when instructors entertain diverse viewpoints, including ones resistant to race, or when they must serve as “cultural experts,” sharing their lived experience to educate white peers.5 A second area is how students of color respond differently to faculty of color compared to their white instructors. Many students feel more comfortable when instructors share their ethnic backgrounds, leading them sometimes to push the boundaries of classroom civility.6 Others have examined how a color-​blind ideology has impacted minority students’ identity formation, leading them to believe that the inequalities discussed in class do not impact them.7 A small but growing number of studies examine how faculty and students of color interact with each other in majority-​minority classrooms. Among these are Dora Saavedra and Marisa Saavedra, who describe pedagogical approaches that create a more reciprocal classroom partnership with the Latina/​o students in their southern Texas institutions.8 Logan et al. point out that unlike their white students, most students of color have been contemplating their racial identities from a young age, which raises the question: “What does it mean for non-​white students to rediscover race from the perspectives of sociology, history, or ethnic studies?”9 Reflecting on their teaching at a tribal college, Miranda Haskie and Bradley Shreve pose a critical question for those of us who teach history to students of color: “How does one engage people about some of the ugliest actions and most atrocious crimes committed in modern world history, especially when so many in the classroom continue to feel the effects of those events?”10 Julie Maybee examines students of color’s resistance to critical race theory-​based pedagogies, pointing, for example, to students’ reluctance to connect their lived experience to broader systems of racial domination.11 Sonya Alemán and Sarita Gaytán identify this trend as “resisting decolonization,” arguing that some students of color remain complicit in their own disenfranchisement.12 This chapter contributes to the discussion of how students of color experience learning about race, using as a case study my teaching ethnic history in a majority-​minority classroom and centering student perspectives on the learning process.

An Emotional Counterspace My home institution reflects the demographic trends that are transforming college campuses nationally. It is a public, urban university with a structurally diverse student population that is 32 percent Asian


Magdalena L. Barrera

American, 23 percent Latina/​o, 22 percent white, and 3 percent Black. I teach in the Mexican American Studies (MAS) Department, and the students in my classes are nearly all Latina/​o; many come from small, predominantly Latina/​o agricultural towns, making this campus the most diverse environment they have ever experienced. Like many institutions, ours contends with low retention and graduation rates for Latina/​o and Black students. To address this institutional challenge, MAS teamed with the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which recruits and provides academic support for low-​income, first-​generation students. In a three-​year collaboration, MAS reserved a section of Chicana/​o history for EOP’s Summer Bridge students, who had undergone a five-​week program preparing them for their first semester in college. Our aim was to create a community of academic and cultural support in order to enhance the persistence and progress of historically underrepresented students. Mexican American history seemed like a wise choice for this collaboration, since scholars have found that ethnic studies courses improve students of color’s academic performance “through limiting feelings of prejudice and experiences of discrimination in college.”13 Our course examines how American history looks different when viewed from the perspective of Mexican Americans. In the fall semester, students journey from pre-​Columbian civilizations to the Reconstruction era; the following semester takes them from the 1880s to today. Though we cover much of the same ground that students learned in K−12, this course highlights the experiences of Latina/​os and other people of color in U.S. history. I enjoy teaching this course, since it relates to my personal and professional identity as a U.S.-​born Mexican and first-​generation college student. I envision my class as an emotional counterspace on campus. While counterspaces typically are formal campus community centers for students of color, they can also be formed in courses where students of color predominate and which center their perspectives; in other words, they provide a “safe space” where students can take intellectual risks without the fear of being perceived as inferior.14 I encourage students to see themselves as valuable members of our campus community who are here not just to receive knowledge, but also to shape it, for the reality is that they already know the strengths and challenges of their home communities. Thus, the purpose of this class is to introduce them to concepts and frameworks that help them make sense of their lived experiences. The MAS/​EOP collaboration excited me for many reasons. Because the students had spent many summer weeks together, they already

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would know each other well; I anticipated that they could be drawn more easily into discussion, enabling us to reach deeper insights into the issues of race that power the course. Additionally, the EOP section brought a greater enrollment of Asian American and Black students; and since I was eager to share the historical connections among our communities, I redoubled my efforts to incorporate cross-​racial history into my course lectures. I anticipated that because most of the students came from immigrant, working-​class families and were first-​generation college students, they would be especially receptive to the empowering messages of an ethnic studies curriculum.

Two Become One: The Choir and the Neutrals I quickly realized that the students held widely varying responses to learning about race in American history—­which should not have surprised me, because “students of color” are hardly monolithic. Though their cohort shares a similar socioeconomic background, individually they have differing degrees of academic preparation, ethnoracial identities, and citizenship status; as a result, they hold radically divergent understandings of their intersectional identities, making our classroom a ripe space for the disharmonies we are exploring in this volume. In my experience teaching the complexities of American history and the legacies of structural racism, students of color fall into three broad categories: the choir, the neutrals, and the resisters. Drawing from personal experiences and student evaluations, I will illustrate how these groups express the feelings raised throughout the course. The choir is comprised of Latina/​os who are passionate about exploring issues of race. Many arrived at this point because they had the opportunity to take an ethnic studies course in high school or to participate in an ethnic student group, such as ballet folklorico. Often their families instilled in them a strong sense of ethnic pride, or they had a teacher, mentor, or coach who did the same. As a result, students in the choir come to college with salient racial identities. They speak up the most during discussions—­sometimes even as I am speaking, because they are so eager to share their perspectives. They are enthused from day one, when we delve into pre-​Columbian history; they understand that this starting point signals that our course will take a different approach from their previous history classes.


Magdalena L. Barrera

Though the choir is vocal, the neutrals initially outnumber them. Racially diverse, this second group enters the course with skepticism. Some neutrals are Latina/​os who acknowledge historical racism, but are unsure whether it persists, a phenomenon that Cassander Smith identifies as a “discontinuity model” in her earlier chapter, “Resisting Impulses and the Challenges of Teaching Race in the Early American ‘Ethnic’ Studies Classroom.” Though the neutrals have experienced discrimination, they are reluctant to identify it as such because they have not yet learned the conceptual frameworks to understand race as an institutional system.15 Many do not feel a strong connection to their ethnicities; some neutrals are biracial students who are unsure of how to identify. Another reason why neutrals are skeptical is because they are not Latina/​os, and hence they don’t understand why they must enroll in a Mexican American studies course. The same pre-​Columbian history that excites the choir dismays the non-​Latina/​o neutrals because they are nervous about learning words rooted in Nahuatl and Spanish. However, the neutrals begin to relax halfway through the fall semester once we encounter more familiar periods of American history; this reencounter galvanizes them once they comprehend how the experiences of one racial group are closely tied to others—­for example, comparing and contrasting the experiences of Native Americans in the mission system with that of slaves on Southern plantations. By the time the fall semester ends, most neutrals have joined the choir. Watching the neutral students undergo this shift is an exciting experience as an instructor, when one witnesses how ethnic studies academically engages students of color. The choir and neutrals express common sentiments about their journey in the course. The first is surprise and dismay to discover that race remains a defining feature of the American experience—­ especially since many of the students come from ethnic enclaves and may not have experienced overt discrimination from whites.16 One student explains, “I now see that America is not a kind nation and whites are racist against many minorities. It has changed my way of perceiving new concepts and ideas of race and society.” Another observes, “Something that I learned about myself was the fact that as a minority/​color race, I will be looked down upon. Even though I am living in America, . . . the treatment between color and white people is a big difference.” This latter example records the challenges some students have with using the term “people of color”; in writing, they often render it as “color people” or even just “colored,” which may reflect the usage of

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English-​language learners who are unfamiliar with “people of color” as a political term. Second, confronting racial realities deeply unsettles them. Along these lines, a student shares: “[This class] has upset me at times. I came from being taught all these nice things about history. . . . I realized that the way things were handled before were really cruel.” The vague, passive language in this example reflects the student’s discomfort with the course content. Some students feel on-​edge after taking the class: “I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’m always in defense mode waiting for people to say a microaggression.” While this student adeptly uses new vocabulary, he remains deeply ambivalent about how this newfound awareness shapes his daily experience. For others, learning the history of racial injustice leads to bitterness and frustration. One student dramatically asserted: “The USA has a very ugly past. . . . Africans and Mexicans were used as slaves. Also Native Americans were kicked out of the lands they originally founded. This was all an excuse for USA imperialism and manifest destiny. ‘America, land of the free and home of the brave,’ more like ‘indigenous holocaust and home of the slaves.’ ” A third theme is disappointment that the K−12 system failed to teach them a more complex version of American history. Many students felt disconnected from previous history classes precisely because those had rarely included the contributions of racial minorities. One young person explains: “Before I wasn’t interested in learning about history in elementary, middle, and high school. So when EOP made me take MAS, I was disappointed. However, [this class] has impacted my knowledge of American history.” These responses demonstrate how students of color feel more engaged in courses that seriously explore race. They feel shortchanged by previous teachers: “In this class, everything you have learned in middle school to high school was not the full . . . truth of history. As you proceed in this class, you will realize that you have been lied to or [teachers] sugar-​coated history for you.” Through these emotions, students articulate how ethnic studies courses create a critical counterspace on campus, especially since students are rarely required to enroll in such a class as part of their general education requirements. In fact, it is a counterspace that invites neutral students to move into the ranks of the choir. One of the strongest themes voiced by students is that they entered the course doubting its relevance, but soon changed their minds. One student candidly writes: “Before I took this class I was a bit unsure if I wanted to take it.


Magdalena L. Barrera

Although I am Hispanic I thought, ‘Why should I take it if I’m not even Mexican?’ ” Sharing this perspective is a student who explains: “Yes this is a Mexican American Studies class, and you’ll just assume that they are only Latinos in the class and you’ll feel left out, but to be honest, in certain discussions anyone could relate to their history.” This particular quote demonstrates that students broaden their knowledge of other ethnic groups, developing a more nuanced understanding of racial relations. Students acknowledge that having a broader perspective proves to be a critical skill in today’s world: “Just because it is a Mexican American Studies class doesn’t mean that if you are not Mexican . . . you won’t be able to relate to what you learn in class. This course will teach you to be open-​minded about everything, and that is something that helps a lot, especially in the world we live in today.” As students begin to apply their newfound knowledge beyond the class, it paves the way for a notable shift inside the classroom: they reclaim their power in responding to race-​based discrimination. While many students become overwhelmed and angry upon discovering the extent of institutional racism, some move beyond that stage to integrate stories of how communities of color have fought systemic oppression. In this vein, a student explains: “I learned to speak up about injustice or anything that is wrong. I might be shy or barely able to talk, but I realized that I have a voice in my community/​class.” This student’s conflation of community and class also exemplifies the ethnic studies classroom as a counterspace; more than a collection of students in the same class, it is actually a community of support. The most powerful theme that students articulate is that the course concepts not only made them more informed thinkers, but more importantly, they engaged them in a process that strengthened their identities. One student writes: “You will learn many new aspects of history that contradict your previous knowledge of history, but it is okay. Throughout the lectures and readings, you will learn about history in a way that might make you feel ashamed of being an American.  .  .  . Although this class may make you question history  .  .  .  , you should become a better person at the end.” In this example, the student’s words acknowledge three critical points: one may feel threatened to hear views that contradict previous learning; grappling with the racist aspects of American history might cause one to feel shame about being American; and yet questioning one’s beliefs ultimately makes one a “better person.” Other students further emphasize this perspective; for example, the student who memorably summarized U.S. history as

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“indigenous holocaust and home of the slaves” advises future students, “You will realize what the USA has done and figure out your own identity in this course.” His words suggest that the payoff for confronting the painful aspects of America’s foundation on racist structures is that one will arrive at a much deeper sense of self as a person of color. This theme is especially resonant for Mexican students; one poignantly admits, “Being Mexican is something I didn’t really like about myself, until I took this class.” Such comments reveal how ethnic studies courses can help students of color develop a more informed personal identity. These themes reflect the emotional journey that the choir and the neutrals experience in the course. Most students are galvanized to learn a more complex and honest version of American history, appreciating the experience despite the mixed emotions it conjures up. Nevertheless, there is another group that remains unmoved by historical evidence and the lively discussion of their peers: the resisters.

Understanding “Resistance of Color” The resisters who are also students of color are generally few—­perhaps just four in a class of forty-​five students. Racially diverse, they tend to be quiet; yet, rather than indicating shyness, this silence can be understood as one form of their resistance. Their reluctance to speak stems in part from fearing that their views will not be well received, particularly after the neutrals join the choir. They typically sit against the walls or in the back row, manifesting their marginalization. Their body language is similarly disengaged, with folded arms and inscrutable expressions. While the choir enters the course primed to explore issues of institutional racism and the neutrals become more open midway through the fall semester, the resisters stay resistant all year long. Whether it is the cumulative effect of hearing about centuries of racism or the fact that we end the class by discussing the odds they have overcome to arrive at college, the final days of class are the most frustrating ones for the resisters. In fact, our concluding discussions of the educational pipeline for students of color, the deficit-​based approaches of the K−12 system, and the concepts of microaggressions and racial battle fatigue all push them over the edge; their anonymous writings become especially angry. The place where they express themselves most clearly is on student evaluations solicited at the end of each semester.


Magdalena L. Barrera

Why do these students remain resistant? The simplest explanation is that they are genuinely conservative, coming from households that espouse conservative ideologies. Thus, as they encounter alternative perspectives in class for the first time, they engage in the same ideological pushback that we see in white students, offering “any alternative explanation for the racially unequal picture painted by sociological research.”17 Rather than engage course materials in a scholarly way—­ and perhaps even failing to do the readings at all—­conservative students of color believe that the course lectures prove my personal bias: “You have a very racist mindset. You think that all white people believe people of color are inferior to them.” In this extreme example, this student boils down two semesters of evidence to a much simpler explanation: the instructor’s “mindset.” Unable to accept more complex constructions of race relations, this student repeats the simplistic binaries we have spent many months calling into question. A second factor contributing to students of color’s resistance is a broader generational color-​ blindness. Many have grown up learning that to acknowledge race invites “divisiveness and tension”;18 they instead prefer to insist, “We are all one human race.” As the course begins, many other students in the class hold this sentiment; however, the neutrals soon abandon this argument once they learn the difference between biological and sociological conceptions of race. Among those adhering to a color-​blind ideology is a student who writes: “I have weird beliefs . . . . I do not believe in the idea of different races. Having people classified under different races causes conflicts.” In this example, we can unpack layers of resistance: the perception that his beliefs are “weird” in the context of this course; the worry of being judged by his peers on the basis of these beliefs; an insistence that race is something one should choose not to acknowledge; and a clinging to the biological definition of race. Students’ color-​blindness may be rooted in the color-​ blind rhetoric that followed Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in California, as well as the fact that they experienced eight “postracial” years with a Black president. Nevertheless, color-​blind ideology is so pervasive that not even a semester-​long confrontation with history can move students whose “frames tend to trump facts.”19 Despite color-​ blind claims, resisters have grown up feeling the effects of race and may have internalized racist beliefs about people of color. In this way, their resistance becomes a defense mechanism: ironically, the idea that people of color bring racism onto themselves is comforting to some because it implies that discrimination can be

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stopped by changing their ways of thinking or by conforming to the politics of respectability, as Corinne Wohlford describes in an earlier chapter in this book. One student angrily insists: “You promote the idea that we are still oppressed in this country and that we do not have equal opportunity. This mentality breeds laziness and it is this thinking that keeps us people of color down.” According to this logic, the keys to freedom from racism rest in our own hands. Moreover, this comment suggests that racial equity can be achieved without ever confronting the past. Finally, the use of the word “mentality” reflects a continued perception that racism stems from personal prejudice rather than from institutionalized systems. Just as people of color might internalize racism, so too can they internalize their success, believing they have independently earned their accomplishments. A meritocratic ideology runs deep among resisters.20 Neutrals also share this ideology at first, but as with “one human race,” they abandon this belief once they develop a deeper understanding of race-​based inequities. Defying the evidence of discriminatory patterns, a student declares: “Basically you choose what you want to learn. I have been told my whole life that if I work hard I can become whatever I want. I learned [that] college and the real world won’t treat you special.” Here we can see the desire to retain control over his personal narrative and the fervent hope that if he does not acknowledge race, then it will not affect him. This writer continues, “You cannot expect to get special treatment because you are black, Asian, Indian, or Latino.” A meritocratic ideology may result in feelings of despair and futility when confronting the idea of structural racism. Resisters may wonder, “Why should I put forth effort if the system is stacked against me?” As Maybee observes, “Many black and Latino students do not want to believe that the sort of racism described by CRT [critical race theory] is out there waiting for them, especially after they have worked so hard to go to college and hope to get a degree that will get them a better-​ paying job most likely in a white-​dominated environment.”21 Feeling overwhelmed by the evidence, resisters argue that I have focused too much on oppression: “I have definitely learned a lot about American history in this class. The problem is this class doesn’t offer a solution to the oppression people of color have faced. . . . We must look at ourselves as equal to [whites] and stop believing we are oppressed.” This student acknowledges the broader spectrum of views in the course, but his comment indicates that the weight of racial discrimination overwhelmed him to a point where he could not also hear narratives of


Magdalena L. Barrera

resistance that led to positive change. Moreover, he demonstrates a thorough refusal to engage with structural racism, blaming people of color for the discrimination they experience because they supposedly don’t see themselves as equals. For all of these reasons, we cannot use students’ racial identities to predict how they will respond to learning about institutional racism.22 We must further remember that resisters may also be at a different stage of their understanding of their intersectional identities. They may not have integrated a personal vision of what it means to be a “person of color” and may actively dis-​identify with the label—­especially if it means confronting a legacy of discrimination, even when that legacy includes triumphs in the collective struggle for justice.

Navigating Diverse Reactions While one may be surprised by what content will trigger strong reactions in class, there are key topics that never fail to do so. One of the best examples occurs in the fall semester, when I introduce the concept of race not as a biological reality, but rather as a historical construct. At the start of class, when asked to define race, students point to “your looks” or “your blood.” After I debunk biological definitions and introduce the sociological definition of race, I use casta paintings—­Spanish colonial paintings that depict mixed-​ race couples—­ to illustrate the convoluted reasoning by which “white blood” improved one’s social standing in colonial Latin America, while “African blood” led one further away from privileged status. We discuss how such classifications have lingered in our current understandings of race. Students in the choir are electrified; memorably, one Latino student sparked laughter when he exclaimed, “That must be why my grandma says I should marry a light-​skinned girl!” Students like him are excited to connect their lived experience to a broader historical legacy, and they gain facility articulating these insights as interlocutors with neutrals and resisters. Meanwhile, neutrals are moved by the visual evidence of the paintings, particularly since class and privilege are so interwoven in them; these images appeal to their sense of injustice and help them understand the constructed nature of “race.” However, despite the spirited discussion, the resisters remain wary. Before class ends, I ask students to revisit their initial definitions of race and explain whether or not they would revise what they wrote at the start of class. Almost all admit that their

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previous understanding was biology-​based; yet, the resisters respond, “No, I wouldn’t change, because there’s only one human race,” or “Race is biological, we have different skin tones.” They remain utterly unmoved by the assigned reading, the content of the lecture, and the class discussion of the past seventy-​five minutes. In the spring semester, a critical moment occurs during our discussion of school segregation in the early twentieth century. As class starts, I ask the students what kind of reputation their high school had (“Was it considered a ‘good’ school?”) and why. From there, we delve into the segregation of Mexican students in Texas, California, and the Southwest; as with casta paintings, I draw on photographs of “white” and “Mexican” schools in 1940s Texas to illustrate the differences in those schools’ resources. We end class by returning to the present day, discussing public school funding and its impact on young minds. By the spring semester, students who were formerly neutral have joined the choir; thus, most express shock and anger to see the extreme differences between the physical facilities of white schools and those of nonwhite schools, not to mention the poor quality of education that students of color received. Black students are amazed to learn that Mexicans also faced segregation; this shared history of oppression strengthens the interracial bonds within the class. Yet once more, the resisters grow angry not about the history, but rather at the suggestion that stark educational differences continue today. They continue to insist that students of color who want to succeed can do so simply by force of will; institutional factors do not matter as much as one’s desire. They remain unconvinced by both the historical evidence to the contrary and the anecdotal accounts of their peers. Given the emotional divides between the choir, neutrals, and resisters, faculty of color in courses that have a central focus on race must strike the right balance between showing enough emotion to generate enthusiasm from the choir and the neutrals, but also holding back enough so as not to alienate the resisters. Indeed, Elizabeth Higginbotham explains, “One’s pedagogical style, ability to communicate a vision of the course, and ability to engage students in the learning process” are as critical as the course materials themselves.23 The following strategies have been useful in guiding students through emotional subject matter. 1. Provide constant reminders that the course defines race as a social construct and racism not only as individual bias, but more importantly as an institutional reality. New learners appreciate the


Magdalena L. Barrera

reiteration of important definitions and the opportunities to express core concepts in their own words. Beverly Tatum shares the working assumptions behind her race-​related instruction; among these are the differentiation between racism and prejudice, and the idea that “it is virtually impossible to live in U.S. contemporary society and not be exposed to some aspect of the personal, cultural, and/​or institutional manifestations of racism in our society.”24 Meanwhile, Maybee finds that linking critical race theory and Marxism may appeal to students of color who are more attuned to their class status than their racial identity, helping them approach learning about systemic racism with a more open mind.25 2. Collect multiple viewpoints by allowing students time to process their thoughts and by welcoming diverse opinions. As instructors, we feel relief when we see hands raised immediately in response to a question. Because those hands usually belong to members of the choir, I must remind myself to allow others time to process their responses. Likewise, as the discussion unfolds, it helps to remind students that they don’t have to share the same views. Caviness encourages instructors to “intentionally draw out resistance” by asking why “some students” may resist course themes; this approach enables students to indirectly voice points that they feel may be unpopular.26 3. Give a variety of assignments that enable students to collectively explore difficult concepts and which invite multiple feedback opportunities. Because students experience a roller-​ coaster of emotions, they may appreciate the opportunity to explore the course concepts beyond traditional essays and exams. One could assign creative group work (collages, presentations, short movies); more collaborative approaches to test-​taking, such as group quizzes; and invite students to suggest exam items as a way to engage more critically with their notes. In this vein, Tatum recommends providing opportunities for “self-​generated knowledge,” such as inviting real-​world observations.27 On a similar note, the more often students have the opportunity to share feedback, the more empowered they feel in class discussion. A helpful practice is to solicit anonymous mid-​semester evaluations asking what about the class is going well, what can be improved, and what students can do to make the class even better. 4. Identify individual actions that students can take to combat the hopelessness and anger evoked by discussing institutional racism.

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Learning how entrenched racism is in everyday interactions can leave students feeling overwhelmed and hopeless; they may wonder how they can fight institutional racism. Tatum argues, “Heightening students’ awareness of racism without also developing an awareness of the possibility of change is a prescription for despair. I consider it unethical to do one without the other.”28 To address this paralyzing effect, we should help students identify what they can do within their spheres of influence to challenge racial inequities.29 Students may collaborate on action plans to respond to racism, or they may practice how to use the course concepts to combat microaggressions. However, although ending with a “message of hope” can help students face challenging realities, we ultimately must remind them that there are no quick fixes.30 5. Acknowledge the pedagogical value of classroom tension and emotions. Students undergo a K−12 education that emphasizes rote memorization and simplistic understandings of American history. Teaching students to engage in uncertainty, debate, and conflicting interpretations furthers their intellectual development as they learn to keep an open mind while considering alternate views, ask new questions rather than settle for pat answers, and participate in the give-​and-​take that leads them to better understand contemporary society. We should openly address classroom tension and explain how it enriches students’ learning. For instance, neutral and resistant students benefit from hearing the strong voices of their peers in the choir; they often are better persuaded about the existence of institutional racism when the choir agrees with my assertions or shares their lived experiences as examples. Meanwhile, the choir learns better argumentation when confronted with the differing viewpoints and skeptical questions of others. Although some argue that an effective instructor is “objective,” the emotions in an ethnic studies classroom can provide a “critical role in learning” and a “powerful way to engage [students] in a subject and spur new forms of action.”31 Indeed, as Anita Huizar-​Hernández argues in her chapter, “Resisting the Single Story in an Arizona Classroom,” helping students navigate conflict disrupts ideological echo chambers and engages them in the democratic process. Moreover, “the shift from the intellectual to the emotional is often swift and unexpected” in the classroom.32 I am open with students about my personal investment in


Magdalena L. Barrera

the material, and I admit that I get fired up when discussing how racial injustices of the past extend into the present day. I let them know that if they choose to join me on this journey, our classroom will always be a space where they can process their thoughts and feelings without judgment. While these techniques are pedagogical practices that enhance any classroom atmosphere, when taken together in a course centered on the legacies of institutional racism, they can be powerful tools for helping both the students and the instructor navigate the diverse reactions that students bring to course materials.

Emotion in the Majority-​Minority Classroom Being a faculty of color in a majority-​minority classroom is intense. I am excited by the challenge of bringing students to a more nuanced understanding of race and thrilled to see neutral students join the choir, because it opens up the possibility of interracial collaborations within the classroom and beyond. Simultaneously, I feel dismay when encountering resisters—­ especially when they retain their previous limited understanding despite the sheer volume of injustice that we discuss. Faculty exhibit differing responses on whether emotion is an effective pedagogical tool. Stayce Blount describes the effort she puts into closely regulating her emotions while teaching in a majority-​minority setting: “As I teach about white privilege, I am sometimes filled with feelings of anger or sadness. However, I feel that these are inappropriate emotions to display in the classroom, and thus try to maintain a factual or objective stance.”33 By contrast, Audrey Kobayashi explains, “I have tried to imagine this course if I could somehow remove the element of emotion, if I could teach ‘just the facts,’ objectively, with just as much controversy as would be pedagogically stimulating. I cannot do such a thing, of course, because then it would not be about racism.”34 How we approach classroom emotion is in no small part shaped by our students; faculty of color who teach in majority white classrooms certainly must grapple with an entirely different set of considerations than I have here. Furthermore, as others point out, “Whether and how instructors distance themselves from how they ‘really feel’ in relation to the material will vary by . . . their own status (e.g., untenured faculty might feel less comfortable and safe, and distance more than tenured faculty), and social locations (race, ethnicity, gender and sexual

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identity).”35 Earlier in this book, Brianna Whiteside emphasizes the importance of reflecting on her intersectional identity as she engaged with students in an African American literature course held in a correctional facility. Taking up this call, I must note that my identity and self-​presentation as a first-​generation academic, a tenured professor, and a cis-​gendered Latina are factors that inform my comfort at being emotionally open with the particular students whom I teach. When I am at the front of the classroom, I must be true to my emotions in a way that models for students how they might do the same. The choir and the neutrals understand this effort and get on board; a small group of resisters always remains. When it comes to them, all I can do is continue reaching out, drawing out their voices, and pushing them to consider alternative views. I also take comfort by reminding myself that these students are young people are who only recently have begun a difficult journey, and there is no telling how today’s teachings may impact them as they head into uncertain futures.

Notes 1. Martha Copp and Sherryl Kleinman, “Practicing What We Teach: Feminist Strategies for Teaching about Sexism,” Feminist Teacher 18, no. 2 (2009): 101–­24; Beverly Tatum, “Talking about Race, Learning about Racism: The Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom,” Harvard Educational Review 62, no. 1 (1992): 1–­25; Barbara Applebaum, “Engaging Student Disengagement: Resistance or Disagreement,” Philosophy of Education Yearbook (2007): 335–­45; Jennifer Mueller and Joe Feagin, “Pulling Back the Post-​Racial Curtain: Critical Pedagogical Lessons from Both Sides of the Desk,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristen Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 11–­24. 2. Courtney Caviness, Patti Giuffre, and Maria Wasley-​Valdez, “They Don’t Get It: The Promise and Problem of Using Student Resistance as a Pedagogical Tool,” in Teaching Gender and Sex in Contemporary America, ed. Kristin Haltinner and Ryanne Pilgeram (New York: Springer, 2016), 175–­83; Eduardo Bonilla-​Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-​Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York: Rowman Littlefield, 2003). 3. Chavella Pittman, “Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students,” Teaching Sociology 38, no. 3 (2010): 183–­96; Christine Stanley, “Coloring


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the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities,” American Educational Research Journal 43, no. 4 (2006): 701–­36; Stuart Rhoden, “Walls and Bridges: Teaching Culture and Diversity to Pre-​Service Teachers,” in this volume. 4. Enid Logan, Stayce Blount, Louis Mendoza, Chavella Pittman, Rashawn Ray, and Nicole Trujillo-​Pagan, “Double Consciousness: Faculty of Color Teaching Students of Color about Race,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristen Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 124. 5. Elizabeth Higginbotham, “Getting All Students to Listen,” American Behavioral Scientist 40, no. 2 (1996): 203–­11; Caviness, Guiffre, and Wasley-​ Valdez, “They Don’t Get It”; Dalia Rodriguez, “Silence as Speech: Meanings of Silence for Students of Color in Predominantly White Classrooms,” International Review of Qualitative Research 4, no. 1 (2011): 111–­44. 6. Anne-​ Marie Nuñez, “Counterspaces and Connections in College Transitions: First-​Generation Latino Students’ Perspectives on Chicano Studies,” Journal of College Student Development 52, no. 6 (2011): 639–­ 55; Katherine Hendrix, “ ‘She Must Be Trippin’: The Secret of Disrespect from Students of Color toward Faculty of Color,” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 110 (2007): 85–­96. 7. Michelle Espino and Jenny Lee, “Understanding Resistance: Reflections on Race and Privilege through Service-​Learning,” Equity & Excellence in Education 44, no. 2 (2011): 136–­52. 8. Dora Saavedra and Marisa Saavedra, “Women of Color Teaching Students of Color: Creating an Effective Classroom Climate through Caring, Challenging, and Consulting,” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 110 (2007): 75–­83. 9. Logan et al., “Double Consciousness,” 124. 10. Miranda Haskie and Bradley Shreve, “Hózhó Nahasdlii: Finding Harmony in the Long Shadow of Colonialism: Two Perspectives on Teaching Anti-​Racism at a Tribal College,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristen Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 97. 11. Julie Maybee, “Audience Matters: Teaching Issues of Race and Racism for a Predominantly Minority Student Body,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 43, no. 8 (2011): 853–­73. 12. Sonya Alemán and Sarita Gaytán, “  ‘It Doesn’t Speak to Me’: Understanding Student of Color Resistance to Critical Race Pedagogy,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 30, no. 2 (2017): 128–­46.

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13. Nuñez, “Counterspaces and Connections,” 641. 14. Tara Yosso and Corina Lopez, “Counterspaces in a Hostile Place: A Critical Race Theory Analysis of Campus Culture Centers,” in Culture Centers in Higher Education: Perspectives on Identity, Theory, and Practice, ed. Lori Patton Davis (Sterling, Va.: Stylus Publishing, 2010), 83–­104; Eamonn Callan, “Education in Safe and Unsafe Spaces,” Philosophical Inquiry in Education 24, no. 1 (2016): 65. 15. Tema Okun, “Teaching about Race and Racism: The Imperative of History,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristen Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 61. 16. Maybee, “Audience Matters,” 857. 17. Joyce Bell, “The Importance of a Race-​Critical Perspective in the Classroom,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristen Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 31. 18. Alemán and Gaytán, “It Doesn’t Speak to Me,” 11. 19. Mueller and Feagin, “Pulling Back the Post-​Racial Curtain,” 18. 20. Alemán and Gaytán, “It Doesn’t Speak to Me,” 10. 21. Maybee, “Audience Matters,” 866. 22. Abby Ferber, “Bringing Students into the Matrix: A Framework and Tools for Teaching Race and Overcoming Student Resistance,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristen Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 142. 23. Higginbotham, “Getting All Students to Listen,” 205. 24. Tatum, “Talking about Race,” 3. 25. Maybee, “Audience Matters,” 862. 26. Caviness, Guiffre, and Wasley-​Valdez, “They Don’t Get It,” 177. 27. Tatum, “Talking about Race,” 19. 28. Tatum, “Talking about Race,” 20–­21. 29. Bell, “Importance of a Race-​Critical Perspective”; Higginbotham, “Getting All Students to Listen.” 30. Ana-​Maria Wahl, Eduardo Perez, Mary Jo Deegan, Thomas Sanchez, and Cheryl Applegate, “The Controversial Classroom: Institutional Resources and Pedagogical Strategies for a Race Relations Course,” Teaching Sociology 28, no. 4 (2000): 330; Carissa Froyum, “Dealing with Emotions in the Classroom,” in Teaching Race in Contemporary America, ed. Kristin Haltinner, Ronald Aminzade, and David N. Pellow (New York: Spring Publishing, 2013), 88. 31. Froyum, “Dealing with Emotions,” 81.


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32. Audrey Kobayashi, “ ‘Race’ and Racism in the Classroom: Some Thoughts on Unexpected Moments,” Journal of Geography 98, no. 4 (1999): 179–­82. 33. Logan et al., “Double Consciousness,” 131. 34. Kobayashi, “ ‘Race’ and Racism in the Classroom.” 35. Caviness, Guiffre, and Wasley-​Valdez, “They Don’t Get It,” 182.

Part 2 Teaching in the Neoliberal University


The Hoop of Learning Inclusion, Collaboration, and Education for Indigenous American Youth Travis Franks and Kyle Mitchell

This chapter is the result of collaboration between staff members of the Red Ink Indigenous Initiative for All and the Hoop of Learning Program (HOL) at South Mountain Community College (SMCC) in Phoenix, Arizona. The Red Ink Initiative, a nonprofit umbrella project founded by the poet Simon Ortiz (Acoma) and Dr. James Blasingame of Arizona State University, promotes Indigenous creative expression and dialogue between Native and non-​Native communities by organizing local and regional events and by publishing RED INK: An International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Humanities. HOL is a high school-​to-​college program serving urban Native American students in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area and is part of a diversity initiative put in place across the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) to promote multiracial democracy and multicultural inclusion.1 Because Indigenous students are more vulnerable to experiencing conditions that prevent them from achieving academic success in secondary and tertiary schools, HOL serves as a bridge program in two important ways. First, HOL offers high school students the opportunity to earn a limited amount of college credits through MCCCD, thereby easing them into the college experience. Second, because HOL is organized around the concept of the Medicine Wheel (figure 1),2 it promotes Indigenous ways of knowing even while it also prepares students for success in the broader mainstream world of academia—­what 125


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is often referred to as “walking in two worlds.” In this regard, HOL represents a break from the colonial legacy of American Indian education, which has largely been premised on assimilation into the dominant society at the expense of one’s cultural identity.

Figure 1. The Hoop of Learning

The partnership between HOL and the RED INK initiative constitutes an important part of traditional education practices, particularly by focusing on the importance of storytelling by instructors who are not only experts in their craft but also, themselves, Indigenous. In fall 2015 Travis Franks, the nonfiction editor of RED INK, contacted Kyle Mitchell (Navajo Nation), the HOL program coordinator at South Mountain Community College, about holding an event that would bring the two groups together. Mitchell proposed that the RED INK staff facilitate a creative writing workshop for his cohort of students. Later in the semester, Franks was joined by poetry and production editor Bojan Louis (Diné) and arts editor Shiloh Ashley (enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) for the first of what was to become a series of workshops. The partnership between Franks and Mitchell has grown to include RED INK oversight editor Henry Quintero (Nashcale Mexican Apache) and fiction editor Kenny Dyer-​Redner (Paiute

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and Shoshone), as well the HOL program at Phoenix College, which is another affiliate of MCCCD. Mitchell and Franks have consistently worked together since their initial meeting, organizing a month-​ long college application workshop over the summer of 2016 in addition to the three creative writing workshops held at SMCC. The second and third of those workshops introduced a new cohort of HOL students to fiction and poetry writing guided by professional, published Native writers. Based on the success of these workshops, Mitchell published these students’ stories as a chapbook titled Native Voices through Literature, which Franks edited. At the final HOL class meeting of the summer, contributors read their stories aloud to their peers, instructors, and family members. Furthermore, the college application workshops have, in part, resulted in four HOL students from SMCC receiving almost $7,000 worth of scholarships. This chapter of Teaching with Tension is another part of our continuing collaborative partnership. Here, we turn our attention from the students we currently work with to the instructors and professors with whom they may soon be working. As advocates for Indigenous social justice, we write of our students within the complicated and ongoing colonial education models that present specific challenges for many Native Americans. More than that, we encourage alternative practices that can be employed by educators working with Native students to promote empowering inclusiveness that does not ignore, stigmatize, or subjugate their unique Indigenous identities. These practices range from forming caring relationships between teachers and their Native students to developing programs like HOL that can be instituted in college districts and university systems. In all cases, our aim is to encourage redress of the assimilationist and exclusionary policies that have shaped education for Indigenous students in the United States. Our chapter features four observations and arguments about American Indian education and one example of a successful alternative to colonial models. First, education for American Indians under colonial models has historically excluded Indigenous peoples, cultures, and knowledge even as assimilation into white mainstream society has been the primary objective. Secondly, because the neoliberal university is an extension of the long-​running colonial educational model, settler colonial theory should inform critiques of the present state of academia. Third, in order to promote academic success, teachers


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should understand the ways in which current Native students’ school experiences are negatively shaped by settler colonialism and historical trauma. Fourth, Indigenous communities, teachers, and administrators must consider alternative educational frameworks that have been shown to improve Indigenous students’ overall well-​being and chances for success. Lastly, this chapter concludes with a discussion of the partnership between RED INK and HOL as a model for inclusive, Native-​centered education.

From Reduction to Pushout: An Overview of Colonial Education for American Indians While the history of American Indian education under colonialism is too vast and complex to cover here in so few pages, K. Tsianina Lomawaima has succinctly said that education for Natives—­as opposed to education by Natives—­is a story of exclusion.3 That is, American Indian education policy has historically been aimed at assimilation through subservience, particularly in exploitative labor practices, substandard academic opportunities and expectations, and the suppression or erasure of Indigenous knowledge systems. Moreover, generations of Indigenous students have been taught to internalize white supremacy and self-​ loathing, inherently learning that Native peoples and cultures not only add little or nothing of value to mainstream white society, but that, as “primitive, superstitious people,” they do not even understand the concept of value.4 Even though the total assimilation of Indigenous Americans into the dominant settler culture has never occurred, colonial frameworks continuously adapt new modalities of marginalization. In whatever form it has taken, colonial education for Native Americans has always claimed the authority to control where Indigenous people belong. More than one settler project in North America employed mission systems that sought to civilize Indigenous peoples through the “reduction” of their supposedly savage beliefs and behaviors, instilling in their place a Christian faith and work ethic. As the United States solidified and then expanded as a nation, the federal government took on increasing responsibilities for Native welfare. As such, much of the nineteenth century witnessed the “removal” policies of Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, and Grant. Removal gave way to reservations as more and more land was forcibly brought into the Union,

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leaving less and less space for Indigenous peoples, and certainly not enough to constitute a vast “Indian Territory.” At their inception, reservations were thought to be sites of transformation, not of perpetual isolation, and “most Americans imagined reservations to be temporary enclaves where Natives could be effectively schooled, civilized, trained as domestic or manual laborers, and then swallowed into the lower strata of American life.”5 As it became evident that reservations were not merely way-​stations along the path to assimilation, policy makers and rights activists debated whether or not Natives would ever be capable of fully integrating into mainstream society. However their views on Natives’ potential for assimilation might have differed, political opponents arguing opposite sides of “the Indian Question” found common ground in the belief that Native lifeways were nearing an inevitable, natural end. Essentially, even reformed Indian education policy maintained the premise that Indigenous peoples must leave behind the vast majority of their traditional ways in order to be brought up to—­but not beyond—­ the minimum basic standards of mainstream society. Lewis Meriam’s The Problem of Indian Administration (1928) charged that federal negligence was the main culprit behind the so-​called decline of Native cultures, pointing in particular to substandard conditions to which Indigenous students were exposed. Today it is a well-​known, bitter fact that Indigenous children were routinely mentally, physically, and sexually abused at boarding schools.6 Yet even when significant policy changes were enacted, assimilationist ideology undergirded the support of supposed allies such as Meriam, Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, and Richard Henry Pratt. It was Pratt, after all, who not only founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School but also famously remarked that “all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”7 Ideally, not only would “civilization” rescue vanishing Indians by delivering them into modernity, but the U.S. economy would benefit from the introduction of a racially othered workforce that had menial training and limited socioeconomic mobility.8 In 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) signaled a generation’s worth of progressive legislative reform that expanded the recognition, participation, and protection of Indigenous students. How, then, are Native students still underserved and seen as underperforming? Over roughly the same period in which legislation such as the EOA and similar measures were being put into practice, neoliberalism


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gained a footing across private sectors and public institutions, emphasizing individualism and efficiency as the personal responsibilities of “consumers” who would form supply-​and-​demand relationships with the “markets” that shape their lives. As the latest major development in colonial education, neoliberalism uniquely affects Indigenous students, who, as a group, continue to face disproportionate marginalization. Being made to believe that they must pick one lifestyle over another is distinctly harmful, given the legacy of assimilationist policies. Often, the choice between a life in or near poverty or a life of financial stability is closely tied to race and ethnicity: either continued racial and economic marginalization, or “selling out” to the white mainstream by obtaining an education and pursuing independence through employment. At the same time, neoliberalism’s contrived binary of government intervention versus market freedom undermines the objectives of teaching and learning because, when education is seen as a commodity in a free market, “producers and consumers” value profit over well-​being.9 In other words, open acceptance policies ensure that more tuition-​paying students enroll in colleges and universities, but there is little incentive to accommodate students who cannot or will not adhere to the prevailing institutional standards, academic or otherwise. For Indigenous peoples, this is merely another iteration of colonial educational models premised on an either/​ or assimilationist ideology.10 Indeed, Drew Lopenzina’s contribution to Teaching with Tension demonstrates that the shift toward distance learning in the neoliberal university model routinely employs the language of conquest vis-​à-​vis progress versus primitivism. Because there is a special emphasis on consumer accountability within neoliberal ideology, “failure” can also be seen as a choice by the student, who, in refusing to conform to the status quo, demonstrates an unsanctioned Native trait that has no place within the colonial education system. Students like these are often humiliated, shamed, and labeled as delinquents through the practice of school pushout; in this practice, factors such as a deficiency in numbers of mentors and role models from similar backgrounds, disrespectful or culturally insensitive teachers, peer violence, standardized assessment, and a lack of institutional support for hardship or accommodation for diversity all culminate in a student being pressured to leave school.11 HOL is unique in that it works within a university system and against neoliberalism’s tendency to adversely disadvantage Indigenous students by emphasizing competition over community.

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Teachers Who Don’t Know History Are Doomed to Repeat It: Critical Interventions for Today’s Classroom Many of the chapters included in Teaching with Tension, particularly the contributions of Lee Bebout and John Streamas, address the potential emotional, psychological, and even physical violence that educators risk in disrupting deep-​seated narratives of white supremacy in the classroom. Moreover, they offer strategies for mitigating these harmful outcomes and ensuring that the necessary work of race studies takes place through our continued presence and engagement. When working with Indigenous students, teachers, and particularly non-​Native teachers, can improve the likelihood of student success by including theories of historical trauma and settler colonialism into their pedagogies. Methodologically, both of these practices deal with cause and effect, trying to understand how present conditions are shaped by ongoing processes of colonization over Indigenous lands and lives. Scholars engaging with these occasionally overlapping discourses have developed strategies for redressing many of the negative impacts that colonialism has inflicted on Native peoples. This is especially fruitful in imagining alternative models with learning environments and practices that do not perpetuate exclusion and assimilation. As a concentrated area of study, historical trauma entered academic discourse through Jewish cultural studies and the legacy of the Holocaust. Because the effects of colonialism in the Americas have been described by some scholars as genocidal, historical trauma has become a useful means of analyzing Native histories, health, and art.12 In Indigenous studies, scholars using this framework place the current psychological and social experiences of Native peoples within an ongoing, intergenerational narrative of deeply harmful events perpetuated through colonialism. Particularly significant in these narratives are the dispossession of land, suppression of languages and cultures, and violence that resulted in significant loss of life.13 Native youth experience depression and mental health concerns at a level disproportionate to their non-​Native peers and are more at risk of experiencing delinquency, violence, alcoholism, and suicide, even though the majority of Native youth do not engage in these activities.14 Because they are bound up in Indigenous culture in relation to colonial history, these behaviors and outcomes can contribute to the rate at which Native students experience school pushout. But as Natsu Taylor Saito has pointed out, implementing historical trauma into or in place of colonial


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frameworks is necessary if we are to pursue justice for Native peoples. The fact is that the specific issues that Native students face based on historical trauma cannot be adequately addressed by frameworks like the colonial education model, which, like the constitutionally based legal system, “presumes the legitimacy of occupation and colonization.”15 Importantly, historical trauma is not a justification for Native youth committing acts of violence against others or inflicting harm on themselves. Rather, it is a reminder for educators to practice informed cultural sensitivity and adapt to the particular needs of the students and communities they serve. Historical trauma and settler colonial theories share the premise that colonialism continues to shape the lives of Native individuals and communities despite the misnomer that nation-​states such as the United States are postcolonial. Settler colonial theory first gained traction in anthropology and has since become a framework used in history, literature, and cultural studies programs, and particularly Indigenous studies. What distinguishes settler colonialism from other forms of colonialism is that, first, settlers made for themselves new homes in conquered lands rather than returning to their countries of origin and, second, that settlement has not fully ceased. Instead, settler invasion has shifted to less overtly physically violent practices over time, naturalizing conquest as inevitable.16 Patrick Wolfe offers an adept explanation of how “the elimination of the native” recurs in myriad ways throughout settler colonial projects: When invasion is recognized as a structure rather than an event, its history does not stop—­or more to the point, become relatively trivial—­when it moves on from the era of frontier homicide. Rather, narrating that history involves charting the continuities, discontinuities, adjustments, and departures whereby a logic that initially informed frontier killing transmutes into different modalities, discourses and institutional formations.17

These ideas are important to Native students’ education in two ways. First, Wolfe’s point about the history of invasion being a structure rather than a trivial event exposes the narrow-​mindedness of comments about people of color needing to “get over” the past. Here, settler colonial and historical trauma theories both suggest that events in which frontier violence occurred have lasting, often unresolved, effects on contemporary Native peoples.

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Equally important is Wolfe’s second point: that the logic of elimination underlying historical events on the frontier has been translated into more subtle acts of violence that are still taking place. According to both settler colonial and historical trauma theories, contemporary Indigenous people regularly experience the legacies of colonial violence in their daily lives through intergenerational grief passed down from previous generations and new traumatic events they witness themselves. In this vein, Eve Tuck suggests that neoliberal education is a colonial phenomenon that deploys the logic of elimination—­or exclusion, in Lomawaima’s words—­to push out students who, like Indigenous peoples, have been deemed unworthy within settler hierarchies, particularly the framework of white supremacy.18 Elizabeth Strakosch rightly argues that “while neoliberalism decries categorical racial exclusion from citizenship regimes on the grounds of individual equality, it easily reconstructs racial categories as statistical clusters of risk, threat and incapacity.”19 In other words, neoliberal educational models risk reproducing the colonial dichotomy of savagery versus civilization that has oppressed Indigenous peoples for centuries and made their ongoing dispossession more achievable. Neoliberalism, historical trauma, and settler colonialism share an inherent myth of inevitability that makes combating the logic of elimination difficult but necessary. Those who are marginalized by these oppressive structures often despair that things will never change for them; likewise, those who are sympathetic to the plight of others may wish that things were better while lamenting that issues like poverty, racism, and health crises are issues too big to overturn. These feelings are produced and reproduced by the oppressive structure in order to legitimize and perpetuate the power of those in charge and elide their culpability in prospering from the exclusionary subjugation of necessary Others.20 In legitimizing their own modalities, discourses, and formations, however, these structures also invalidate alternative, potentially challenging practices, making the work of decolonization seem radical, dangerous, or futile. Nevertheless, it is essential to see that practical, beneficial alternatives do exist and that real change can be effected.21 And this is key to the success of HOL programs, which, because they are housed on campuses across the MCCCD, offer the students and Indigenous communities they serve a bridge into the university system that supports and encourages their culturally specific ways of knowing and being.


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Theorizing Inclusive, Native-​Centered Models of Education If, as Lomawaima has argued, the history of American Indian education is predicated on exclusion, it would seem, then, that decolonial strategies would be based instead on inclusion. But as Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morril point out, the “inclusion” of Indigenous peoples has too often meant their absorption into and erasure within dominant sociocultural ideologies and practices.22 In other words, acts of inclusion—­ multiculturalism, for example—­ can ultimately reaffirm the assumed right of institutions’ dominance over nonconformist Others. Because assimilation has been such a constant agenda in how the United States has dealt with Indigenous peoples, especially in its education policies, Native youth are conditioned to feel as if they must choose between success in dominant, non-​ Native society or retaining their cultural identity. Lomawaima, Begaye, and Roppolo and Crow have separately attested to the belief, however, that Native students stand the best chance for academic success (and indeed, survival) through educational training that values both local Indigenous and Western epistemologies.23 Conscious inclusion cannot reaffirm colonial hierarchies at the expense of Indigenous beliefs, values, and knowledge, even—­ and especially—­when the latter do not perfectly align with Western paradigms of knowing and being. Indeed, as Lomawaima has suggested, “acts of inclusion are powerful acts of affirmation of our shared humanity that do not require homogenization, standardization, or flattening of cultural vitality or distinctiveness.”24 Native youth are not problems to be solved through exclusion or inclusion. Even if, as a group, they experience particular challenges that affect them to varying individual degrees, they also possess unique qualities that empower them in ways that must be valued, nurtured, and cultivated. Inclusive, Native-​ centered educational models make this possible. While it is important to keep in mind that teaching strategies will vary depending on the age, gender, and cultural identities of students and their teachers, we contend that three considerations must inform pedagogical approaches. First, research demonstrates that Native students benefit from close relationships with educators who are invested in their personal well-​being and their cultural heritage.25 Second, Native students’ learning outcomes improve with curricula that incorporate active learning and the layering of knowledge by community experts, both of which are traditional educational practices.26 Third, Native students thrive in environments that adapt to their cultural distinctiveness

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and prepare them for success in mainstream settings.27 In the section that follows, we will demonstrate how these three considerations are put into practice in HOL programs, focusing specifically on the partnership between the Hoop of Learning program at South Mountain Community College and RED INK, a nonprofit initiative that encourages Indigenous arts and humanities. HOL is designed to ease Native students’ transition into postsecondary educational settings by fostering a sense of community and bridging the divide between Western and Native educational models. Culturally unfamiliar course offerings and a lack of a sense of community at school are major factors in the low enrollment rates for American Indian students in higher education institutions. Unfortunately, these issues can begin before Native students enter universities or colleges. Including a culturally relevant curriculum is particularly important for urban American Indian students, who often suffer from a loss of identity due to their parents’ relocating for careers, education, and to obtain basic resources like electricity, running water, and modern technology. Indeed, relocation for personal growth often comes with a price for Native people, who lose direct access to the oral traditions and tribal concepts that are needed to reinforce their identities. Despite the fact that American Indians have understood and taught generation after generation through oral traditions, their primary and secondary educations today stem from learning models structured by Western concepts of literacy, science, and mathematics. Yet American Indian students tend to not pursue postsecondary educations and are often not fully ready for the mandatory core competencies in college. The introductory period into university life can be especially hard for American Indian students, who struggle to find a community with which they can bond and find a sense of belonging.

Telling Our Stories Together: Creativity and Collaboration in the Classroom While there are many educational initiatives specifically designed for Native American students, the Hoop of Learning program is unique to the Maricopa County Community College District and its Division of Academic and Students Affairs and American Indian Outreach Program. HOL was piloted in 1995, and active programs are now housed across all ten campuses within the MCCCD. Because it is a bridge


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program designed to foster learning environments and promote the enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of American Indian students in Maricopa County, Arizona, each HOL program partners with high school districts and tribal schools near their respective campuses. Native students are eligible to apply between grades 9 and 12.28 Once they are accepted, new cohort members complete a placement test and, after an advising session with their program coordinator, enroll in up to two college courses per semester. Importantly, HOL is not a dual-​ enrollment program, meaning that college courses do not count toward the completion of a high school diploma. As such, students must maintain a required minimum GPA in high school and college courses to remain eligible for the program. Because many Native students struggle with financial hardship that prevents them from postsecondary studies, HOL awards academic scholarships to every accepted student, covering the semester’s tuition, fees, textbooks, and supplies. Because its design and objectives are based on Indigenous ways of knowing, HOL promotes the inclusion and empowerment of Native identity within the college district. The “hoop” that gives the program its name and design is adopted from the Medicine Wheel, which represents for many Indigenous people a lifetime of mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional development. Further, because HOL involves students’ families and community partners, the program “replicates a traditional tribal community in which a student’s progress is monitored and facilitated by a broad network of relations.”29 Based on these concepts, the program’s stated objectives are to promote positive cultural identities, personal integrity, educational resilience, and career development among the county’s urban Indigenous youth.30 As such, HOL practices several of the concepts advanced by Tuck, Lomawaima, and Roppolo and Crow, particularly that Native students should not be forced to sacrifice their cultural distinctiveness for a formal, mainstream education. Moreover, the program is designed so that Native faculty, staff, and community members often lead classes and workshops. The cultural bonds shared between instructors and students are more likely to foster mutual respect and understanding, which contribute significantly to Native students’ learning outcomes. Moreover, these instructors provide positive reinforcement that cohort members are capable of walking in two worlds. Mitchell’s training in the U.S. Army and in American Indian storytelling traditions made him an ideal representative of how to successfully navigate a career in mainstream society without sacrificing one’s Indigenous identity. While deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, he came to realize

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that indigeneity is a global identity that forms connections beyond national and ethnic specificities. As such, he felt able to communicate on a personal level with the remote Afghanis he came in contact with, and many of them reciprocated his feelings because they shared similar physical features. At the same time, he experienced cultural ignorance from within the military and began to actively speak out against negative stereotypes of Native peoples. Mitchell’s knowledge of Diné (Navajo) culture began forming during his early childhood under the instruction of his grandparents, who raised him in the Navajo Nation and introduced him to their oral traditions. When his service in the military ended, he began taking part in storytelling events in Phoenix, where he met many urban Native youth who had never heard these stories because they were disconnected from their respective reservations. Because Mitchell showed an interest in working with this particular group, Marilyn Torres, a storytelling faculty member at the South Mountain Storytelling Institute, recommended him for the Hoop Coordinator position. While Mitchell’s duties as an HOL program coordinator include recruiting, maintaining enrollment, and budgeting, program planning is the most significant duty he performs. This role requires balancing university-​structured academics with cultural workshops led by Native community members who promote Indigenous knowledge-​sharing and application that strengthens students’ communal bonds and promotes pride in the richness of their cultural heritage. The HOL program at South Mountain Community College routinely includes presentations, demonstrations, and workshops by community partners. The American Indian documentary filmmaker Dustinn Craig presented his PBS special We Shall Remain: Geronimo to the students, stressing that credible research is not only done through archives, but also through oral traditions communicated by elders. He explained to HOL students that even if they are not especially close to their traditions at this point in their lives, there are people who possess rich and valuable knowledge that the students can learn in time. After his presentation, Craig talked directly with the students, asking them to share their own views of American Indian truths—­what they have learned within their own tribes and how that knowledge contrasts with what they have seen or heard about Natives in mainstream media. For Mitchell, confronting these stereotypical misrepresentations of indigeneity is an important part of his position as program coordinator. In their place, he has turned to Native storytelling to demonstrate how modern and elegant Native self-​expression can be. One semester,


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Mitchell assigned readings from Sherman Alexie’s story collection Blasphemy and invited MCCCD staff members Dominique Hunter (Pawnee) and Melody Lewis (Mohave) to facilitate analysis and group discussion of the selections. Students not only learned from matriarchal elders, but they were encouraged to engage with Alexie’s stories personally, discussing how his fiction speaks to their own lived experiences. When RED INK relaunched their journal in the winter of 2016, Mitchell’s HOL students were able to meet privately with Alexie, who happened to be the keynote speaker at the release party, to talk about his work and the importance of Native youth pursuing their creative interests. This special opportunity came about because of creative writing workshops Mitchell and Franks developed to partner RED INK with the SMCC HOL program. Because he is invested in storytelling, Mitchell has worked with RED INK members to develop his students’ abilities and confidence in telling their own stories by instituting creative writing workshops as a part of their semester curricula. The workshops are designed to instill in students the importance of cultural representation and expose them to new concepts and perspectives on Indigenous identity. Moreover, they are intended to strengthen academic skills such as reading, writing, and critical thinking that will be continuously used as students pursue higher education. Generally, workshop sessions last for two hours, with instructors taking half an hour to introduce themselves and give a prompt that they find useful. Students then take an hour to draft stories or poems and ask questions of the RED INK members, who move about the room and offer strategies for completion or revision. In the final half hour, students share their stories aloud with the entire group and receive praise and further revision recommendations. The workshops have been so successful that Mitchell and Franks collaborated in the summer of 2016 to self-​publish a chapbook of SMCC HOL students’ stories and poems titled Native Voices through Literature. A special meeting was held during which contributors and editors read stories to one another and family members in attendance. The inclusive, collaborative nature of the partnership between RED INK and HOL has been essential to its successes. While the workshops came about because of his friendship with Mitchell, Franks knew that, since he is non-​Native, he would need to bring in fellow RED INK members to share their stories and skills with HOL students. Mitchell’s students have responded positively to RED INK staff members, who are all dedicated to Indigenous social justice through their education,

The Hoop of Learning


employment, and activism, and the partnership between HOL and RED INK continues to grow, branching out to other campuses in the MCCCD. Both RED INK and HOL operate within large university systems and college districts that have complex relationships with neighboring Indigenous communities. Within their respective academic communities, however, both organizations work to ensure that Native perspectives are not only represented but supported and that Native youth are afforded opportunities to strengthen their cultural bonds and develop the necessary skills for success in mainstream society. The positive outcomes of the partnership between RED INK and HOL can be seen in the scholarships our students have received, and in the works of prose and poetry they have produced. Equally or perhaps more important, though, is the continuous support that students receive from those of us already working within the academic community at large. Both Franks and Mitchell reiterated this support in our respective letters to our students that were published in the chapbook Native Voices through Literature. We close with part of Mitchell’s message to our students—­but also to yours: I appreciate the opportunity to share what I think is important for you all to know, which is various perspectives of Native people. Not to be limited by the outside perspective of Native Americans, by what we see on movies, magazines, and social media. Rather, to know that we are always above and beyond whatever that outside view of us may be. Use your work to show the world your view of being a Native American in our modern times, express yourselves through words, brush strokes, sketches, beads, music and endless other ways. Know that every time you write, it becomes Native Literature. Every time you create art, it becomes Native Art. Every time you sing and play, it becomes Native Music. You are creators with no limitations. Our collaboration with Red Ink has shown that we all have voices. Never be afraid to speak up and share your perspective. You are all unique and will always have something to offer the world.

Notes 1. Rufus Glasper, “Achieving a Multiracial Democracy on Campus,” New Directions for Community Colleges 162 (2013): 79–­80.


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2. Image sourced from the Chandler-​Gilbert Community College HOL web page. 3. K. Tsianina Lomawaima, “American Indian Education: By Indians versus for Indians,” in Blackwell Companions to American History: A Companion to American Indian History, ed. Philip J. Deloria and Neal Salisbury (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 437. 4. Michael Yellow Bird, “Cowboys and Indians: Toys of Genocide, Icons of American Colonialism,” Wicazo Sa Review 19 (2004): 39. 5. Lomawaima, “American Indian Education,” 427. 6. Andrea Smith, “Boarding School Abuses, Human Rights, and Reparations,” Social Justice 31 (2004): 7–­8. 7. Richard Henry Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” in Official Proceedings of the Annual Meeting, 1892, National Conference on Social Welfare (1892): 46, available through the University of Michigan Digital Library Texts database at http://quod.lib.umich.edu​ /n/ncosw/ACH8650.1892.001?view=toc. 8. Lomawaima, “American Indian Education,” 431; Smith, “Boarding School Abuses,” 6–­7; Kimberly Roppolo and Chelleye L. Crow, “Native American Education vs. Indian Learning: Still Battling Pratt after All These Years,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 19 (2007): 5. 9. Eve Tuck, “Neoliberalism as Nihilism? A Commentary on Educational Accountability, Teacher Education, and School Reform,” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 11 (2013): 339; Jessica Braithwaite, “Neoliberal Education Reform and the Perpetuation of Inequality,” Critical Sociology (2016): 6–­7. 10. Tuck, “Neoliberalism,” 325–­26. 11. Anne E. Campbell, “Retaining American Indian/​Alaskan Native Students in Higher Education: A Case Study of One Partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ,” Journal of American Indian Education 46 (2007): 20–­21; Eve Tuck, “Humiliating Ironies and Dangerous Dignities: A Dialectic of School Pushout,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 24 (2011): 819–­21. 12. In addition to the work by Brave Heart and DeBruyn, see also David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World; and Nancy J. Peterson, “ ‘If I Were Jewish, How Would I Mourn the Dead?’: Holocaust and Genocide in the Work of Sherman Alexie,” Multi-​Ethnic Literature of the U.S. 35 (2010): 63–­84. 13. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart and Lemyra M. DeBruyn, “The American Indian Holocaust: Healing Historical Unresolved Grief,” American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research 8 (1998): 60; Teresa

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Evans-​ Campbell, “Historical Trauma in American Indian/​ Native Alaska Communities: A Multilevel Framework for Exploring Impacts on Individuals, Families, and Communities,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 23 (2008): 320. 14. David D. Barney, “Risk and Protective Factors for Depression and Health Outcomes in American Indian and Alaska Native Adolescents,” Wicazo Sa Review 16 (2001): 137 and 144; Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian/​Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence, Ending Violence So Children Can Thrive, U.S. Department of Justice (2014), 37–­40. 15. Natsu Taylor Saito, “Race and Decolonization: Whiteness as Property in the American Settler Colonial Project,” Harvard Journal on Race and Ethnic Justice 31 (2015): 45–­46. 16. This does not suggest that colonially inspired physical violence against Natives has ceased, as is clear in the disproportionate degree to which Native women experience sexual violence in the United States and the fact that the majority of these crimes are perpetuated by white males. See Andrea Smith, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide; and Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. 17. Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8 (2006): 402. 18. Tuck, “Neoliberalism,” 341. 19. Elizabeth Strakosch, Neoliberal Indigenous Policy: Settler Colonialism and the “Post-​Welfare” State (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 46. 20. Tuck, “Neoliberalism,” 339; Scott Lauria Morgensen, “Settler Homonationalism: Theorizing Settler Colonialism within Queer Modernities,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 16 (2010): 117; Evans-​Campbell, “Historical Trauma,” 325; Yellow Bird, “Cowboys and Indians,” 39–­42. 21. Tuck, Neoliberalism,” 339–­41. 22. Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morril, “Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy,” Feminist Formations 25 (2013): 17. 23. Lomawaima, “American Indian Education,” 423; Timothy Begaye, “Native Teacher Understanding of a Culture as a Concept for Curricula Inclusion,” Wicazo Sa Review 22 (2007): 47; Roppolo and Crow, “Native American Education,” 7. 24. K. Tsianina Lomawaima, “History without Silos, Ignorance versus Knowledge, Education beyond Schools,” History of Education Quarterly 54


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(2014): 355. Roppolo and Crow similarly urge “the inclusive valuing of difference and the recognition that Indian and non-​Indian worlds are not mutually exclusive. We can only seek common ground,” they write, “if we admit that our current positions within a mixed classroom are different but in proximity to one another” (“Native American Education,” 25). 25. Roppolo and Crow, “Native American Education,” 6–­ 7; Begaye, “Native Teacher Understanding,” 42–­44; Campbell, “Retaining American Indian/​Alaskan Native Students,” 21; Barney, “Risk and Protective Factors,” 146–­47; Tuck, “Humiliating Ironies,” 818–­19, 826; Lomawaima, “History without Silos,” 352; Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, Ending Violence, 125; Office of American Indian Outreach for Maricopa Community College District, Maricopa Hoop of Learning Program Operating Procedures and Program Guidelines, 5. 26. Campbell, “Retaining American Indian/​Alaskan Native Students,” 31–­35; Roppolo and Crow, “Native American Education,” 10–­11; Office of American Indian Outreach, Maricopa Hoop of Learning Program, 4; Lomawaima, “History without Silos,” 353–­ 54; Tuck, “Humiliating Ironies and Dangerous Dignities,” 824–­26; Tuck, “Neoliberalism,” 340–­41; Begaye, “Native Teacher Understanding,” 47. 27. Roppolo and Crow, “Native American Education,” 3, 23–­26; Begaye, “Native Teacher Understanding,” 41; Campbell, “Retaining American Indian/​Alaskan Native Students,” 35; Office of American Indian Outreach, Maricopa Hoop of Learning, 2. 28. Mitchell’s cohorts are predominantly Navajo, and the average age of students is sixteen years old. 29. Office of American Indian Outreach, Maricopa Hoop of Learning, 4. 30. Office of American Indian Outreach, Maricopa Hoop of Learning, 4; Glasper, “Achieving a Multiracial Democracy on Campus,” 80.


How We Lost Our Academic Freedom Difference and the Teaching of Ethnic and Gender Studies John Streamas

I returned from my second class of Thursday, August 27, 2015, Introduction to Multicultural Literature, feeling good about the first week. The first day, Tuesday, had been devoted to general introductions and a review of the syllabus; and by Thursday we were already reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-​Time Indian. It is a good book for starting the semester because it is easy to read, its racial concerns are clearly worked into the plot, and several students might well have read it already in high school. Besides, Alexie attended this university, Washington State University, a quarter-​ century ago. And the novel is set in nearby Wellpinit and the Spokane Reservation. The students in my class included an older white man who worked at the university, a woman from Oman who was bright and perceptive, and a Chinese woman who devoured English-​language fiction. This promised to be a good semester. I went into my office to review emails before going home. One email came from Campus Reform, a website known for right-​ wing agitation. The Chronicle of Higher Education calls this website an “internet outrage machine.”1 Sounding innocently curious, the writer asked for an explanation of a sentence in my syllabus: “Reflect your grasp of history and social relations by respecting shy and quiet classmates, and by deferring to the experiences of people of color.” 143


John Streamas

I started writing a sincere response, mentioning that the last phrase simply asked everyone to honor the perspectives of students of color, perspectives that in too many college classes those students themselves suppress. But then I recalled that Campus Reform’s tactics involved baiting women and people of color into making our “political correctness” seem prejudiced. Any response would lead to trouble. I did not know that at the same time, Campus Reform was sending similar emails to two of my department’s graduate teaching assistants, one teaching our 100-​level Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies course, and the other teaching our 300-​level Women and Popular Culture course.2 I never learned whether these teaching assistants knew the truth about Campus Reform, but one did respond to the email. The issue in the Ethnic Studies syllabus concerned the term “illegal alien,” and in the Women and Popular Culture course the issue was gender-​restrictive language. Students in those classes were gently warned that they might lose points if, after learning about the issues raised by such language, they persisted in using it. In the days that followed, the headlines in right-​wing media screamed about the teaching assistants’ threatening to reduce students’ grades for using problematic language. The August 29 Campus Reform headline read: “Professors Threaten Bad Grades for Saying ‘Illegal Alien,’ ‘Male,’ ‘Female.’ ”3 On Monday, August 31, the Fusion headline warned, “A Washington State University Professor Will Penalize Students for Using ‘Illegal Alien.’ ”4 The Independent Journal Review website carried the heading “Professor at WSU Forcing Students to Recognize White Privilege by Prohibiting These Common Words.”5 The headlines seemed to focus on the issue of teachers penalizing students for “politically incorrect” language. But these agitators were more upset about the language itself. After all, my syllabus mentioned no deductions in points or grades, and yet, after excoriating one of the teaching assistants, Independent Journal Review charged that “Professor John Streamas goes even one step further.”6 The issue of grades was, thus, only a teaser meant to draw outraged attention to “bad” multiculturalism. If a conservative professor had threatened to reduce grades for using “politically correct” language, the right-​wing media would have applauded him. Still, if the story had ended with Campus Reform and its followers, the three of us might have merely received bad publicity for a few days before the issue blew away. But the day after those queries from Campus Reform—­Friday, August 28—­we all received the same email

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


request from Christopher White, a producer for Fox News. White mentioned that his program Fox & Friends would discuss our syllabi with Campus Reform writers, and he invited me to offer “a statement in regards to your thoughts on this.”7 He ended with the text of the Campus Reform story, near the end of which appeared a quote from the lawyer Ari Cohn: It is notable that one of the syllabus provisions warns: “The subject material of this class is sensitive and controversial. Strive to keep an open mind.” How are students supposed to approach these sensitive and controversial materials at all, let alone to keep an open mind, if they have to fear that a misconstrued statement, or one that unreasonably offends a classmate, will lead to a grade reduction or even removal from class?8

While White’s own tone is surely even-​tempered, the lawyer’s tone is taunting. Surely White knows that we “politically correct” teachers know the politics of Fox News. The words “misconstrued” and “unreasonably” undermine Cohn’s point, but the main counterargument—­the thesis that underlies all work in ethnic studies and women’s studies—­is that power differentials woven into the structures and processes of systems of governance can be rectified only when those systems are dismantled and replaced. Cohn assumes that all people are equal not only in name, but also in practice. An anti-​Asian racial slur loses power when it is uttered in a place where Asians have achieved equality and justice. In such a place, ethnic studies becomes merely a history lesson. Today, though, such a place exists only in fantasy. Fox and Campus Reform base their politics on an assumption that, if it exists in policy, it exists in fact. Now I feared that the teaching assistants and I would find our in-​ boxes and voicemails barraged by racist and sexist messages from Fox fans. And indeed we did. The situation worsened when mainstream news media carried the story, in a manner no less hostile. Leaving my office one afternoon during the following week, I recognized a reporter for the Spokane NBC affiliate, and I somehow managed to sneak behind her. Messages sent to the teaching assistants—­women—­ were far worse than those sent to me. Googling later the first five pages under my name and the names of the teaching assistants, I found many hateful stories on us, but only one website that was sympathetic. Mic interviewed one of the two teaching assistants, Rebecca Fowler:


John Streamas The response has been “really vicious,” Fowler told Mic.  .  .  . She said the threats include slurs ranging from “douchebag,” “cunt,” and “bitch,” to detailed rape threats.  .  .  . One email, with the subject line “Marxist Moron,” tells Fowler—­ who’s white—­ to have a “Nigger-​ free day.” A right-​ wing blog post laments, “Clearly this bitch is mentally ill and should be fired for such insanity.”9

Jamilah King makes a crucial point that Fowler had “taught the class—­ with the now-​ infamous disclaimer on the syllabus—­ many times before.”10 My contested sentence had appeared for several years in the literature syllabus and in syllabi for several other courses. No one had complained. More significantly, students in my current class did not complain. Like Fowler, the other teaching assistant received threats of misogynistic violence. She was compelled to cancel several class meetings and instead communicate with students electronically. I received no direct threats of violence, but there were many slur-​filled attacks. Several noted that their state tax dollars are wasted on my classes. Many called for my firing. Only two or three emailers signed their messages, and none of the callers left their names. One man sent three messages over three weeks. Most of the emails were a mere line or two, filled with errors in writing, and clearly dashed off in the racist venom of a moment. Others were longer, filled with misconstrued quotations from civil rights leaders or aphorisms from right-​wing icons such as Ayn Rand. Several attached photographs. One of these showed monkeys and apes playing destructively in what appeared to be a junkyard strewn with rusting cars. The slur-​filled caption was clearly aimed at a Black professor, but then several other messages also assumed that I am Black. I estimated that one-​third of the callers and one-​fifth of the emailers were women. The scariest voicemail arrived long after the others. In early November, an apparently older man, speaking slowly, told me that he needed to discuss my syllabus with me, and that he had found my home address—­“I know where you live,” he said—­and that he would be in town for the weekend’s football game and would be sure to see me. Though local police traced the call to a city hundreds of miles away, still my partner and I were watchful during the following weekend. Other chapters in Teaching with Tension attest to the hazards of teaching about race and racism. The chapter by coeditor Lee Bebout

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recounts an experience of outside harassment most like the experience I and the teaching assistants endured, and he seems to have been targeted by even more outside groups. In fall 2015, campuses across the United States were sites of fierce protests. Writing at year’s end for The New Yorker, Hua Hsu referred to “a year when college campuses were particularly visible as hotbeds of political activity.”11 Scott Jaschik wrote in Inside Higher Education that “debates over race, racism, and higher education—­which took off in October and November—­are continuing.”12 And in spring 2016, Robin D. G. Kelley explained: In the fall of 2015, college campuses were engulfed by fires ignited in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.  .  .  . Throughout the previous year, it had often been college students who hit the streets, blocked traffic, occupied the halls of justice and malls of America, disrupted political campaign rallies, and risked arrest to protest the torture and suffocation of Eric Garner, the abuse and death of Sandra Bland, the executions of Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, Tony Robinson, Freddie Gray, ad infinitum.13

While applauding this activist spirit, Kelley cautions protesters to take care with their language and ambition. He frets over contradictory impulses in “the tension between reform and revolution, between desiring to belong and rejecting the university as a cog in the neoliberal order.”14 He offers no answers, but he problematizes the moment, reminding readers that universities’ efforts toward diversity, however earnest-​seeming, are disingenuous: Many students had come to the university expecting to find a welcoming place, a nurturing faculty, and protective administration. If they believed this, it was in no small part because university recruiters wanted them to: tours for prospective students, orientations, and slickly produced brochures often rely on metaphors of family and community, highlight campus diversity, and emphasize the sense of belonging that young scholars enjoy.15

Here at Washington State University, orientation programs for prospective students serve as weekend-​long living infomercials, with existing students, often people of color, promoting the university. Brochures,


John Streamas

websites, job fairs, educational showcases, and recruiting trips sell the university too, and some activists suggest that, on many campuses, administrators spend more on self-​ promotion than on salaries for faculty of color. Activist students here organized a group called WakeUpWSU, advancing a list of demands headed by a call for more faculty diversity. They were told of the existence of an Association for Faculty Diversity, to which I belong, but they were not told that the association seldom meets and has no budget. The tension that Kelley speaks of, “between reform and revolution, between desiring to belong and rejecting the university,”16 is much more serious than internal debates, say, within immigrant communities over the extent to which newcomers should assimilate. (These are important debates too, but they are usually resolved between generations, as my Japanese mother and I have learned.) A lesson in all introductory courses in ethnic studies warns against the “divide and conquer” tactic by which dominant groups divide multiple marginalized communities by engineering and manipulating resentments between them. This results in the unfortunate phenomenon of “oppression Olympics,” in which each group claims it has suffered more than the others and therefore has more pressing needs. Because each group’s needs evolve, and because in the age of institutional diversity dominant groups nurture for manipulation a rotating “pet” group, so that on Monday they dote on Group B while ignoring Group C and then on Tuesday dote on C while ignoring B, tensions within ethnic studies are inevitable and must be anticipated and circumvented by all affected subordinate groups. We must recognize that such tactics are woven into institutional structures that keep dominance in the same hands presumably forever. This is why those who favor, in Kelley’s words, revolution and rejection of the university face the daunting challenge of fairly organizing all aggrieved communities. But this can happen only when they set aside internal differences and overcome dominant-​group ploys. Within the university, where faculty of color are quickly labeled “troublemakers” so that they might be weeded out of the system, we must achieve a nearly impossible balance if we want both to keep our jobs and to teach for justice. As long ago as 2002, in his book Racism and Cultural Studies, the Filipino scholar E. San Juan Jr., whose brave activism has prompted administrators at this university to label him a troublemaker, acknowledged positive changes within ethnic studies, but then concluded that they may be ineffective:

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


I am skeptical whether this new retooling can give a pedagogically sharper analysis and critique of racism, ethnic conflict, nationalism in its various modalities, and exploitation in its late-​capitalist disguise. Given the absorption of innovative schemes by a marketized logic of equivalence, no amount of multidisciplinarity and border crossing, I am afraid, can grasp the material processes that condition our epistemological apparatus, our frames of intelligibility, especially the nature of the contradictions inherent in the racial polity. Unless we factor in the dialectic of social institutions and collective agencies that constitute the history of social formations within the world-​ system of accumulation, and especially the need to transform the totality for the sake of saving lives and our environment, Ethnic Studies will continue to be a futile academic exercise.17

Though we might be tempted to suggest that internal tensions vanish when we all join hands and subvert the institution and its administrative goons, still Kelley knows that tensions will always remain multivalent and ever-​changing, and that we would wisely heed the warning to “be careful what we wish for” that, sounded variously in critics from Freire to Fanon, names a need to define resistance flexibly while adhering to a fixed, even totalized, definition of justice. We know that “creative classes” enjoy the privilege of regarding tension as “creative,” while the rest of us must struggle to make it so. And we know that vigilance as a watchword is never enough, since all of us, in different straits, necessarily define it differently. That is, tension may be inevitable even in a truly postracial world, and the best difference in that world may be that we will more fully inhabit and define that tension. Kelley’s describing “the university as a cog in the neoliberal order” names an important obstacle to activists’ vision of a transformed university. In the 1990s, only critics complained that universities had commodified so much that students were now regarded as customers. In 1996 Bill Readings argued that “the university is not just being run like a corporation—­it is a corporation.”18 Now my university and others issue public documents using the word “customers” when referring to students. Money, once a forbidden topic in colleges’ publicity, is now prominently mentioned, as schools boast of fund-​raising campaigns, sizable donations, seven-​figure grants, and, here at WSU, a temporary tuition cap. The differences between administrative and faculty salaries remain unmentionable. New construction on campuses booms,


John Streamas

and, while many new buildings house laboratories, many others are recreation centers with state-​of-​the-​art equipment, or dormitories with postmodern comforts and LEED certification. Administrators should be wary, though, as protesters demand new names for old buildings already named for segregationists or corporate and political leaders who are now regarded as sponsors of injustices. Black students demanded, for example, that the University of Maryland rename Byrd Stadium, since its namesake Harry Clifton Byrd was a staunch segregationist, and at Harvard protesters demanded a change in “the law school’s seal, which is the family crest of a major donor with ties to the slave trade.”19 Surely many administrators will, in the future, be shamed into inscribing new names onto buildings now named for twenty-​ first-​ century bigots. The selling of naming rights is a flagrant nod to neoliberalism. David Harvey defines neoliberalism as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-​being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”20 Public universities are bound to a neoliberal vision of the state: “if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary.”21 States under neoliberalism make markets out of functions once regarded as public, such as education. In higher education, the most egregious example is for-​ profit schools. But when state universities see state support shrink to less than one-​fifth of their budget, they resort to cutthroat competition for students and money. Upon entering the market, public universities flash their private “brands.” Kelley is right to say that universities are an essential part of a neoliberal order. But in late summer 2016 Kelley set aside his springtime cautions, as the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) released its platform. The most controversial part of the platform called for reparations, envisioning transformations including “free and open access to lifetime education and student debt forgiveness; and mandated changes in the school curriculum that acknowledge the impact of slavery, colonialism, and Jim Crow in producing wealth and racial inequality.”22 The section devoted to education names historical problems and assigns various solutions to various systems of government. “Education in the U.S. has always been a subversive act for Black people,” the section begins. “Public universities, colleges, and technical education remain out of reach for most in the United States and policies to help students cover costs continue to

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


shift towards benefiting more affluent families.”23 Would Kelley say the platform urges reform or revolution? While it seems not to argue for a total dismantling of institutional structures—­after all, the section on education applauds some legislative measures already in place—­still, it calls for changes that would clog the arteries of neoliberalism. M4BL wants to remove universities from the market and make them into a commons, a public site accessible to all, especially to those who have no access. But even this plea seems insufficient to Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, who envision an undercommons—­“the nonplace that must be thought outside to be sensed inside”24—­which assumes that education has been oversold, especially to the colonized and the incarcerated: It cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions, one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony . . . to be in but not of—­this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.25

In what Harney and Moten call “the undercommons of enlightenment  .  .  . the revolution is still black, still strong.”26 But universities today, true to the neoliberal order, educate by austerity: The university works for the day when it will be able to rid itself, like capital in general, of the trouble of labor. . . . Students must come to see themselves as the problem, which, counter to the complaints of restorationist critics of the university, is precisely what it means to be a customer.27

Yet at the University of Missouri in fall 2015, it was students and laborers who forced the president into resigning after he had failed to address an insufferable racial climate on campus. The protest actions included “weeks of protest, a hunger strike by grad student Jonathan Butler, as well as the announcement that faculty members would not be showing up for work,” and most significantly only because it threatened the university’s pocketbook, the news that “black football players at Mizzou would be refusing to practice or play until the school president was gone.”28 This cannot be dismissed as trivial, for an entire


John Streamas

university was changed. But was it merely a case of customers demanding a refund? There was no guarantee that President Wolfe’s successor would be better, and the governing structure remained in place. The university is still a part of a neoliberal order. Can more be hoped for, or demanded? Harney and Moten say no, and even Kelley, borrowing from their work, concedes that “universities can and will become more diverse and marginally more welcoming for black students, but as institutions they will never be engines of social transformation.”29 Changes in the curriculum and demographics, while inevitable and necessary, cannot weaken a university that is forever “emphasizing a respect for difference over a critique of power.”30 This leads, says Kelley, to an individuation, a personalizing, of racism toward the private rights that are, says Harvey, essential to the market. Other academics of color have been addressing the renewed culture wars, and though their early interventions have resulted in little or no changes in the institution, still they are informing a resistance. Too many of my students of color, especially women of color, remain silent when confronted with personal prejudice or institutional injustice. They come to me and other trusted faculty, but keep their suffering to themselves otherwise. This is understandable, given their youth and vulnerabilities, and so we faculty allies must become more vocal in narrating our own experiences of injustice and, when we can protect their confidences, theirs too. Toward this end, the chapters in the 2014 collection The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent are a landmark work. In it Ana Clarisa Rojas Durazo relates her earliest faculty experiences at the University of California at Santa Cruz: “The school and university system had kept me from accessing the histories of people who shared roots with me, the poetry of people that spoke like me. . . . The university was among the hostile institutional structures that, like the experience of many that came before me and after me, persistently reminded me of my exteriority.”31 In the second paragraph of her chapter, Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes, “This chapter is a meditation on what it means to be a nobody in a university economy designed to produce somebody individuated, assimilated, and consenting to empire.”32 Indeed, in naming the “imperial university,” editors Chatterjee and Maira, when referring to “the processes of collusion and protest at work in the academic-​military-​industrial complex,” understand that we faculty of color struggle not only to preserve the integrity of our work, but also to resist the monied lures of

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


individuation; they second not only Rojas and Gumbs but also, implicitly, San Juan, in observing that “ethnic studies is increasingly part of an institutional incorporation and recuperation of protest movements and dissenting scholarship that can reproduce the deeply imperial logics of management and violence.”33 I sense that few of our students even among our ethnic studies majors understand the extent to which we struggle against complicity. But they do understand our struggles to save our jobs and our departments. And, in the age of Trump, they also understand the need to keep dissent alive. They may be too young to recall 9/​11, but we remind them that the threats against our autonomies back then are merely mirrored and amplified today: “If teachers and students cannot think and speak freely, who can? .  .  .  Narrowing access to knowledge and silencing the voices of dissent and critical thought through the stick of coercion or the carrot of funding creates chilling ripple effects. Complacency is even more dangerous.”34 Complacency must not even be an option. The suppression of voices of the marginalized takes tolls that are both personal and communal. The two women teaching assistants whose syllabi were attacked here suffered terribly from the verbal violence provoked by Fox and Campus Reform, and I fell into a long and severe depression, finally requesting a medical leave. Politically, the WakeUpWSU movement lapsed into silence, and only now have several of our students begun to lobby administrators for a commitment to our programs and faculty. While we suffer administrative silencing, administrators have sanctioned vigorous pro-​Trump public demonstrations by College Republicans and even a scheduled appearance by the now-​disgraced agitator Milo Yiannopoulis. Who, then, protects whose rights? The voices of the noisy powerful remain protected. The voices of the dispossessed remain silent. Perhaps the first change needed is a requirement that all administrators enroll in a reinvigorated—­and redefined—­ethnic studies program. On Monday, August 31, though I had no classes to teach, I needed to visit my office. At 11:20 I took a call from a woman representing the College of Arts and Sciences. She instructed me to report to the dean’s office at 1:30. Since I take a bus, I had to quickly calculate my chances for catching a route that would get me to campus to make the meeting. The woman stressed that this was an urgent meeting that I could miss only for an emergency. She did not tell me the meeting’s agenda, but it surely had to do with the weekend’s controversy. She told me that


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attendees would include my chair, the dean, the interim co-​provosts, and a representative of the state attorney general’s office. At the beginning of the call, I had hoped that the dean would assure me that the university stood firmly behind my academic freedom, especially since I am a teacher of color and my attackers were clearly racists. Now, hearing the names of the attendees, I knew that I was in trouble. Given that the attacks against my syllabus had focused on the word “deferring,” I would stop at my office to pick up my dictionary. Surely the administrators would agree that the word is innocent and would “defer” to the authority of Webster’s dictionary. I was ushered into a small meeting room and told to sit in a chair at the middle of the far side of a long table. To my right and left were the provosts, across from me the dean, to his left and nearest the door the woman representing the attorney general, and to his right the chair of my department, a white man. The table might have been built to accommodate six, but we were cramped, and as the only person of color in the room I felt surrounded by a massive presence of white bodies, blocking my access to the door. I felt cornered, trapped. The dean spoke first, noting the media frenzy surrounding the word “deferring” in my syllabus and suggesting that my use of the word represented an infringement on free speech. I could not believe what I was hearing. I felt angry, wounded, cornered—­afraid that I might lose my job over an innocent word. Then the provosts, a man and a woman to whom I will refer here as Provost A and Provost B, charged that I had overstepped my rights as a teacher, threatening others’ rights to free speech. I suggested that they were taking cues from Fox, to which Provost A not only scoffed a denial but even added that he despised Fox and its politics. I asked whether, if they were not provoked by Fox, they would have me believe that they had pored over the hundreds of syllabi from the hundreds of courses being offered in the semester and had just happened to isolate for punishment the same word in the same syllabus that Fox had isolated? Had they spent all weekend checking for infractions by bad teachers who just happened to be women and people of color teaching ethnic studies and women’s studies? They repeated that Fox had nothing to do with their action. But the fact that they knew about the Fox story and the media frenzy meant that they could not have spent their whole weekend poring over syllabi. I read to them the definition of “defer” in Webster’s New World Dictionary. The word does denote a yielding, but it is a yielding in honor and respect, as in children’s deferring to parents, or a driver’s deferring

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


to a bicyclist in the road. To defer is to honor, not to submit to coercion. The dictionary allowed no possibility of their sense of “defer” as coercive. So, I said, they agreed with Fox and disputed Webster’s. Provost B knitted her brows and told me, in a condescending tone, that “certain readers could misconstrue the word.” I countered that to tailor my literature syllabus to students who misconstrue language is no different from a math teacher tailoring a syllabus to students who think that 2 + 2 = 35. Either she misconstrued my point or she thinks that 2 + 2 really equals 35, for she merely repeated her pet clause. The dean and Provost A added that such misconstruing readers must not have their rights trampled. Provost A stressed that he is a “good liberal,” a firm believer in rights.35 Angrily, I accused him of being just another white man in a position of power telling a person of color how not to be a racist. He bristled and reddened. Then I asked Provost B just who these “certain readers” might be who misconstrue “deferring”? Surely not students, since I had used the word for years in syllabi for several courses, yet only Campus Reform and Fox, and now they, had complained. Therefore, they were representing the interests not of my students, but of Fox. Again Provost A denied a link to Fox. He is much-​ decorated: a dean, a Regents Professor, and the university’s 2014 holder of the Eminent Faculty Award. He acknowledged, patronizingly, that racism remains a problem in society, but said nothing when I suggested that one of the worst sites of institutional racism is higher education. All three administrators ordered me to change the word in my syllabus. At this point, the woman representing the state attorney general’s office said that if I refused to revise and if, afterward, someone sued, the university would not defend me. I told her that the university was not defending me now. And, besides, who would sue? A bigot might, but then the university would look to the public like a supporter of racism for refusing to protect a professor of color against a bigot’s lawsuit. She said, awkwardly, that she had not even known that I am Asian American, for I do not look . . . And then she paused, as if suddenly aware that she might have said something racist. I accused them all of racial harassment, which they vehemently denied. The meeting, scheduled for 30 minutes, stretched to 55 excruciating minutes. The teaching assistants met these administrators for only a few minutes each, and agreed to make changes.36 At the end of my meeting, I agreed to a change too, though I committed to no particular revision. Three days later, I hit upon the change I would make. The phrase containing the contested word was “deferring to the experiences of people


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of color.” So, to thwart them all, I kept “deferring” and replaced “people of color,” since those were the words that really upset Fox and, though they would deny it, the administrators. The new phrase said “deferring to each other’s experiences.” I felt confident that not even Fox would find my new phrase troubling, even with “deferring.” I distributed the revised syllabus and devoted a class meeting to the controversy. A recurring theme in the fiction we were reading was the importance of education to people of color—­in Alexie’s novel, the protagonist risks his own community’s wrath to enroll in a white high school, and in Octavia Butler’s Kindred, the twentieth-​century protagonist goes back in time and risks her life to teach a slave ancestor to read. When viewed in this light, my battle over the innocent word “deferring” was a lesson in racial literacy. Even as the teaching assistants and I were meeting with the dean and provosts, the university’s interim president issued a public statement addressing the controversy, giving fans of Fox exactly what they wanted. The statement is four paragraphs long, the first affirming free speech rights as guaranteed in the Constitution, and the second posing paternally: Over the weekend, we became aware that some faculty members, in the interest of fostering a constructive climate for discussion, included language in class syllabi that has been interpreted as abridging students’ free speech rights. We are working with these faculty members to clarify, and in some cases modify, course policies to ensure that students’ free speech rights are recognized and protected. No student will have points docked merely as a result of using terms that may be deemed offensive to some. Blanket restriction of the use of certain terms is not consistent with the values upon which this university is founded.37

The first sentence of this paragraph ends on the passive “that has been interpreted as abridging students’ free speech rights.” Passive verbs often signal a refusal to take responsibility for action named in a statement. Here the president refuses to say that he interprets anyone’s language as unconstitutional. He merely says that it “has been interpreted” by someone as problematic. Though his statement seems to affirm students’ rights, he refuses to say whether students themselves had done this interpreting, or that the only people doing it were Fox

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


and Campus Reform and timid administrators. The claim that “we are working with these faculty members” is equally disingenuous, ignoring the fact that the teaching assistants and I were coerced into making changes. By refusing to acknowledge that the faculty in question are women and people of color teaching courses in race and gender, he also refuses to name those interpreters of our syllabi as enemies of diversity. Rather than recognize our differences, then, he neutralizes us, placing us all on the “level playing field” demanded by Fox. In other words, the assumption of this statement is that there are no racial and gendered differences that need acknowledgment in any ways that might offend racist patriarchy. Hate speech is therefore free speech. But by such logic, the slurs directed at Fowler—­“douchebag” and “cunt” and “bitch”—­would be vigorously defended by our university. And the racial slurs aimed at us, especially “nigger,” would also be defended. The administrators were too ignorant or too dishonest to know that they were protecting racists and misogynists. Significantly, they would not even acknowledge, much less condemn, the haters filling our voicemails and in-​boxes. The university, in the interest of defending the free speech of racists, was silencing us. The president’s statement delighted a gloating right-​ wing media. Administrators should not have been surprised, though they refused even to notice. Tucker Carlson’s website The Daily Caller opened a story with the headline “Washington State U. SMACKS DOWN Professors Who Want to CENSOR Politically-​Incorrect Language.”38 The American Studies Association’s Executive Committee sent a statement of support of us in November. I had contacted its president, David Roediger, who presented my case before the committee. The statement is five paragraphs long, the first two of which lay blame for the controversy squarely at the feet of right-​wing media and urge administrators to defend instructors’ rights.39 The third paragraph offers a concise history of the role of critical whiteness studies in combating white identity as a “naturalized norm.”40 The fourth argues “that bracing formulations are often necessary to dislodge the well-​ensconced idea that whiteness is a norm rather than an identity to be problematized like any other.”41 The entire statement stridently defends the work of ethnic studies. The assumptions behind any attack on my syllabus originate in a racist ethic, and the assumptions behind my course originate in a challenge to the naturalized white norm. When these assumptions clash, the wise administrator rules in favor of historically marginalized peoples.


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Under the interim president’s name, a December 10 response claimed, “It is my understanding that the meeting ended with a request that he clarify the meaning of the word ‘defer’ so it would not be construed as constraining the speech of students.”42 This “understanding” is of course wrong. Any “clarifying” of the meaning of “defer” would support me and Webster’s dictionary, yet the dean and provosts coerced me into revising the wording. A later sentence is even more egregious: “The University’s response did not involve ‘hasty scrutiny,’ and neither Dr. Streamas nor the graduate students involved in this incident were forced to change their syllabus.”43 The attorney general’s representative might not have applied brute force, but her threat carried the ethical force of blackmail. As if the administrators’ abuse of me and the teaching assistants was not bad enough in August, here was the president distorting and defending their actions in December. And none of these administrators acknowledged that the only speakers whose rights they defended were those who sent us threatening emails and voicemails, and that Provost B’s “certain readers” who might “misconstrue” my word are not students of color. During my 55-​minute inquisition, the administrators did not even pretend to be advocating for the rights of students of color, nor did the president in his public and private statements. The creation of ethnic studies was of course necessary, but Asian American and African American and Indigenous and Chicano/​Latino studies became mere additives to an existing curriculum that otherwise neglected people of color. In my university, administrators used budget cuts to justify their reducing students’ core diversity requirement, and so now even past victories are diminished, and multiculturalism means mostly celebrations of “exotic” cultures. My department—­forced by austerity budgeting to merge with the Women’s Studies Department, and now apparently forced by the same rationale to split—­was chaired for ten years by the only two white men working in it. Across the university, the few faculty of color are restless, and resentful of even white allies. “I am surrounded by allies and yet the systems of oppression remain unchanged,” writes Reagan Jackson in The Seattle Globalist.44 The activist currents that Kelley sees and dreams of, that Harney and Moten theorize and rhapsodize about, may remain unfulfilled and, to many, unclear or even unattainable. That racism seems to be spreading and deepening, nearly a half century after the birth of ethnic studies, insults demographic shifts. The culture wars are back, only now

How We Lost Our Academic Freedom


transformed into images of Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio, white men clinging jealously to power. At this university, timid administrators capitulate to Fox News, and even our allies are afraid to resist. Harney and Moten, and even Kelley, think we have oversold education. Former students of color tell me they are tired of fighting the old battles, and they are still young. Perhaps an undercommons, or an alternative educational track running on the fuel of double consciousness, is the last best hope for students and teachers still struggling against white supremacy and neoliberalism.

Notes This essay is dedicated to my students of color, who are the best reason to keep struggling; the 2015 Executive Council of the American Studies Association and ASA president David Roediger; and especially Raihan Sharif—­student, colleague, ally, friend—­whose logic, thinking, and conviction are becoming indistinguishable from, and a model for, my own. 1. Peter Schmidt, “Higher Education’s Internet Outrage Machine,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 8 (September 2015), www.chronicle.com​ /article/Higher-Educations-Internet/232879/​. 2. One teaching assistant refuses to comment. Respectfully, I will not name her. 3. Peter Hasson, “Professors Threaten Bad Grades for Saying ‘Illegal Alien,’ ‘Male,’ ‘Female,’ ” Campus Reform, August 29, 2015, http://www​ .campusreform.org/?ID=6770. Hasson does quote from the response he received from Rebecca Fowler, who teaches about white privilege and writes about the politics of migrant Mexicans. But after ending his attack on her by giving her the last word, in his following paragraphs he attacks me. 4. Danielle Wiener-​Bronner, “A Washington State University Professor Will Penalize Students for Using ‘Illegal Alien,’ ” Fusion, August 31, 2015, fusion.net/story/190957washington-state-university-illegal-alien/​. This story, though it draws heavily on Campus Reform, focuses exclusively on Rebecca Fowler. 5. Duane Lester, “Professors at WSU Forcing Students to ‘Recognize White Privilege’ by Prohibiting These Common Words,” Independent Journal Review, August 31, 2015, ijr.com/2015/09/247231-professors-at​ -washington-state-are-forbidding-students-to-use-illegal-immigrant-in​ -class/​. 6. Lester, “Professors at WSU.” 7. Christopher White, email to author, August 28, 2015.


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8. White, email (italics in original). 9. Jamilah King, “A College Instructor Got Rape Threats for Banning the Term ‘Illegal Alien’ from Class,” Mic 4 (September 2015), https://mic​ .com/articles/124867/a-college-instructor-got-rape-threats-for-banning​ -the-term-illegal-alien-from-class#.cxEK03QvJ. 10. King, “A College Instructor.” 11. Hua Hsu, “The Year of the Imaginary College Student,” The New Yorker, December 31, 2015, www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural​ -comment/the-year-of-the-imaginary-college-student. 12. Scott Jaschik, “Maryland Will Rename Stadium; Art Distress at Illinois; Harvard Law Students’ Demands,” Inside Higher Education, December 8, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/12/08​ /maryland-will-rename-stadium-art-distress-illinois-harvard-law-students​ -demands. 13. Robin D. G. Kelley, “Black Study, Black Struggle,” Boston Review, March 7, 2016, www.bostonreview.net/forum/robin-d-g-kelley-black-study​ -black-struggle. 14. Kelley, “Black Study.” 15. Kelley, “Black Study.” 16. Kelley, “Black Study.” 17. E. San Juan Jr., Racism and Cultural Studies: Critiques of Multiculturalist Ideology and the Politics of Difference (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), 160. 18. Nick Butler, Helen Delaney, and Martyna Sliwa. Introduction, “The Labour of Academia.” Ephemera 17, no. 3 (2014): 468. ephemerajournal​ .org/issue/labour-academia. 19. Jaschik, “Maryland.” 20. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 2. 21. Harvey, Brief History, 2. 22. Robin D. G. Kelley, “What Does Black Lives Matter Want?” Boston Review, August 17, 2016, www.bostonreview.net/books-ideas/robin-d-g​ -kelley-movement-black-lives-vision. 23. The Movement for Black Lives, “A Vision for Black Lives,” August 1, 2016, https://policy.m4bl.org. 24. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe, Eng.: Minor Compositions, 2013), 39. 25. Harney and Moten, Undercommons, 26. 26. Harney and Moten, Undercommons, 26. 27. Harney and Moten, Undercommons, 29.

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28. Dave Zirin, “3 Lessons from University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s Resignation,” The Nation, November 9, 2015, http://www.thenation​ .com/article/3-lessons-from-university-of-missouri-president-tim-wolfes​ -resignation/​. 29. Kelley, “Black Study.” 30. Kelley, “Black Study.” 31. Ana Clarisa Rojas Durazo, “Decolonizing Chicano Studies in the Shadows of University’s ‘Heteropatriarchal’ Order,” in The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, ed. Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 187. 32. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “Nobody Mean More: Black Feminist Pedagogy and Solidarity,” in The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, ed. Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 237. 33. Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira, “Introduction: The Imperial University: Race, War, and the Nation-​State,” in The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, ed. Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 18–­19. 34. Beshara Doumani, “Between Coercion and Privatization: Academic Freedom in the Twenty-​First Century,” in Academic Freedom after September 11, ed. Beshara Doumani (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Zone, 2006), 4. 35. I teach that, whereas neoliberalism is about rights, ethnic studies is about justice. 36. Months later, in a branch-​ campus symposium, Fowler expressed regrets for failing to defend her syllabus. 37. Daniel Bernardo, “A Statement from President Bernardo Regarding Syllabi,” August 31, 2015, https://news.wsu.edu/2015/08/31/public​ -statement-from-wsu-regarding-syllabi-issue/#.VedP2Y1dU3J. 38. Eric Owens, “Washington State U. SMACKS DOWN Professors Who Want to CENSOR Politically-​Incorrect Language,” The Daily Caller, September 1, 2015, dailycaller.com/2015/09/01/washington-state​ -u-smacks-down-professors-who-want-to-censor-politically-incorrect​ -language/​. Caps in original. 39. American Studies Association Executive Committee, letter to administrators of Washington State University, November 19, 2015, email. 40. American Studies Association Executive Committee, letter. 41. American Studies Association Executive Committee, letter. 42. Daniel Bernardo, letter to Dr. John F. Stephens, Executive Director, American Studies Association, December 10, 2015.


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43. Bernardo, letter. 44. Reagan Jackson, “Accomplices versus Allies,” The Seattle Globalist, July 14, 2016, http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2016/07/14accomplices-vs​ -allies/53654.


Onward into the Discomfort Teaching for Racial Justice in an Era of Media Outrage, the Alt-​Right, and the Neoliberal University Lee Bebout

For at least a decade, my body has facilitated my teaching of difficult issues. I’m a 6-​foot 1-​inch, greying, heterosexual white male professor who focuses on Chicana/​o studies and critical race theory. I begin with my body as a text for two specific reasons. First, what I share here is far from universal. My strategies and experiences may resonate for some and not for others. Recognizing the need for a wide range of strategies that can be used by diverse peoples is critical for doing race work. Second, my whiteness and other social identities have worked as substantial assets in the classroom: “rarely has anyone tried to publicly brush aside class discussions by calling into question my political agenda. Few students question whether or not I know the facts of a matter.”1 My body-​as-​text has allowed me to teach difficult issues—­focusing on white supremacy—­and I have done so with minimal questioning and largely under the radar. That is, until late January 2015. In spring 2015, I taught a class titled “U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness,” an interdisciplinary examination of how whiteness circulates through the United States’ varying racial projects. On January 22, a student who had neither enrolled in the class nor read the books wrote a blog for Campus Reform criticizing the course for its ability to “harass” people for their “apparent whiteness.” The Washington Times and conservative radio shows picked up the story. Later 163


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that day, I learned of the news coverage when media producers began to contact me requesting me to comment. On January 23, the student appeared with Elizabeth Hasselbeck on Fox & Friends to bemoan my anti-​white attitudes. At first, Arizona State University (ASU) struggled to respond, initially wanting to say that the course dealt with “white people problem” jokes. To their credit, they let me draft the initial university response and then they trimmed it down. Their game plan was simple: in the next few days the Super Bowl would be in Phoenix and suck out the oxygen from the story. We just needed to wait. But things escalated. More media attention. Hate mail. Death threats. A white supremacist group, the National Youth Front, flier-​ed my neighborhood with pictures of me, labeling me anti-​white. This is not how you want to meet your neighbors. Neo-​Nazis protested on campus, and local progressives and anarchists counter-​protested. This is not how you want to spend the semester when you are going up for tenure. Why retell this story? What can be learned? Was this not just an odd semester that veered into the utterly bizarre? While I certainly hope that this episode was a once in a lifetime situation, it was also a catalytic moment for me—­one that revealed the dangers and necessity of teaching critical whiteness studies. Using my whiteness kerfuffle as a site of analysis, this chapter will take up three central and interconnected concerns. I will reflect on the dynamics of that semester, I will explore what I learned along the way, and I will offer a vision of why teaching critical whiteness studies directly and without apology is needed today. Through these three areas of reflection, I hope to establish the grounds from which we can move onward into the discomfort. For many, the phrase “teaching with tension” may invoke the tension-​ filled classroom and how we may work with and through that tension to foster learning. The tensions at the heart of this chapter, however, lay outside the classroom. During that difficult semester, my classroom was a site of refuge. Here, tension emerged from teaching critical whiteness studies during a time of mainstreaming white supremacy and teaching for racial justice in the era of the neoliberal university. Many in the popular media saw the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as a sign that the United States was entering a new, postracial era. Eight years later, the same people seem shocked at the rise of Donald Trump and the mainstreaming of white supremacy through the alt-​right. But the alt-​right’s white supremacy, nativism, and misogyny did not emerge

Onward into the Discomfort


out of nowhere when Trump announced his candidacy. They had been quite active throughout Obama’s rise and presidency. Thus there exists a tension between the hope of a potential postracialism and the metastasizing of white racial resentment. Another tension may be found between critical race educators like myself and university administrators who have drastically different views on education. For me, the attacks on me and my class evidenced the very real presence of white supremacy in mainstream politics and fortified my desire to fight back. For many in the university administration, the situation seemed more a public relations and political challenge that needed to be handled so that the university could maintain its image and funding. This tension created clear conflicts regarding how to respond.

Surviving the Whiteness Kerfuffle, or How I Spent My Spring Semester Immediately after the controversy began, I was faced with a set of interlocking questions: why me? Why now? Was it just bad luck? I don’t think I teach anything particularly unique. Several of my friends noted the absurdity of such an intense response by the alt-​right when folks have been doing critical whiteness studies for years. Was the course title the “problem”? Perhaps, but I would argue that it was not. ASU has offered classes called “The N-​Word” and “Sex, Death, and Snow.” They have not aroused controversy. Some have suggested that the mistake was the use of the term “problem” in the course’s title, “U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness.” Here “problem” had multiple significations: problem, a point of inquiry; problem, a social dysfunction; problem of whiteness, an allusion to the problem of the color line; problem of whiteness, echoing Richard Wright’s response to the Negro Problem—­or Mexican Problem, or Indian Problem, or Yellow Peril.2 However, I would contend that the problem is whiteness. That is, directly addressing whiteness, white supremacy, and white racism is the cause for alarm. It violates the central tenets of contemporary white supremacy: it acknowledges whiteness and associates whiteness with something other than universality, virtue, and innocence. And we must be clear about what whiteness is and what whiteness is not. What whiteness is not: whiteness is not simply European or Euro-​ American heritage. Whiteness is not another way to refer to folks with


Lee Bebout

peachy skin and melanin impoverishment. Nor is whiteness to be confused with white privilege, for that would be to focus on the symptom rather than the underlying malady. Nor should one conflate whiteness with neo-​Nazis and other extremists. Such a move gives too easy a pass to covert everyday performances of white supremacy. What whiteness is: whiteness is a set of discursive, ideological, economic and political systems that foster, maintain, and naturalize racial inequality. Joel Olson has exposed how whiteness is a political category that is foundational to U.S. democracy, where white freedom was forged out of Black unfreedom.3 Toni Morrison, Eduardo Bonilla-​Silva, and Jane Hill have shown how whiteness courses through our language in the literary, interpersonal, and political spheres.4 Cheryl Harris and George Lipsitz have demonstrated how whiteness functions as a property and economic investment.5 Steve Martinot and others have examined whiteness’s ideological power as it expresses virtue and victimhood in order to secure power and domination.6 In my courses, I tend to place these definitions in conversation so that students can see how scholars have underscored different aspects of whiteness. Most students will likely argue that these manifestations of whiteness work together and are often mutually reinforcing and constitutive. Whiteness in the United States has and continues to be forged against communities of color. While white freedom was forged against the unfreedom of Black people, one must also recognize that white settlement was forged out of the pain of Native dispossession, and whiteness as synonymous with Americanness was rendered both through restrictionist immigration policies and wars against foreign others. Whiteness, as a system, can also offer bribes as it asks people of color to participate in the oppression of other Others.7 Of course, participating in a system of whiteness and being white are two very different things. Whiteness is an unhealthy adherence to notions of individualism, meritocracy, innocence, and virtue. It is a near-​religious devotion to these concepts that has been given force through historical amnesia and a lack of social and political curiosity. It is a standpoint that judges the world for failing to live up to one’s own fantasy self. For scholars and cultural critics, including students, whiteness is an analytical lens that makes these behaviors, beliefs, and systems legible for scrutiny.8 Here it may be useful to recognize how my situation fits into a pattern. In the 1990s, Noel Cazenave faced criticism from his colleagues at the University of Connecticut for teaching a class titled “White Racism.”9

Onward into the Discomfort


More recently, Saida Grundy from Brown University and Zandria Robinson from the University of Memphis/​ Rhodes College have come under attack for explicitly critiquing whiteness and white supremacy on Twitter.10 Notably, these are just a few examples. And there are differences between them. The case of Cazenave does not seem to have been sparked by conservative activists but by peers. My situation was not spurred by my use of Twitter. So what, beyond controversy, holds these moments together? They all show how the direct address of and confrontation of white supremacy is what spurs the crisis and controversy. Here two things should be legible. Calling white supremacy by name activates what Robin DiAngelo terms “white fragility,” the anxiety and defense mechanism mobilized when the dominant racial group is held accountable for or even must face up to racial inequality.11 Second, such controversies do not ensue strictly from the inclusion of multicultural perspectives. As Roderick Ferguson, Jodi Melamed, and others have demonstrated, twentieth-​century civil rights struggles, the culture wars, and the rise of soft multiculturalism have allowed for diverse curricula to be appropriated by and used to maintain the racial order.12 Unless explicitly charged with radical politics, ethnic studies courses may fly below the radar of politicians and the media. Courses on and explicit articulations of whiteness are not quite yet part of this new racial regime, and they therefore create discursive ruptures and “white media/​moral panics.”13 While critical ethnic studies is embedded in addressing white supremacy, settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and other manifestations of power, I would argue that the direct address of power in the popular political sphere is the spark of controversy. Of course, these “white panics” over college curricula and scholarly research do not emerge organically. The websites Campus Reform and The College Fix pay a nominal fee to student activist-​journalists to ferret out “suspect” curricula and blog about them.14 Indeed, the student journalist who initiated the media coverage of my course had done the same thing to another professor in another ASU department the year before.15 Campus Reform brings these stories to the attention of conservative media outlets like Fox News. Such coverage taps into extremist groups. I am not trying to argue for a vast right-​wing conspiracy. Rather, I am contending there is a vast right-​wing discourse community. Consider how in the spring of 2016 Saida Grundy of Boston University, the residence halls of Appalachian State University, and I were all targeted by Campus Reform, Fox News, and the National Youth Front, and they were targeted in that order.16


Lee Bebout

While the outside world saw the attention that Fox News and the National Youth Front brought to my class, people within the university faced a different and related form of pressure. As I received emails suggesting that I get brain cancer and die or be hanged from a light pole, numerous people claiming to be donors, alumni, parents of prospective students, and concerned citizens contacted ASU demanding that I be fired. Many also contacted state legislators with their concerns. I should note that all of this was happening as the governor and state legislature were cutting $100 million from Arizona’s three state universities.17 Were the callers and writers legitimately concerned citizens? Or were they white supremacists posing as Arizona residents and voters? Honestly, it could have been a mixture of both, and they are not mutually exclusive. I will note, however, that John Angelo Gage, the then leader of the National Youth Front, had posted an online template of how white supremacists should complain about me. He also posted an email exchange between himself and my dean where my dean, perhaps not knowing who he was speaking with, asserted that he recognized Gage’s concerns about my class. Whether this pressure came from white supremacists or everyday folks (a distinction I would generally quibble with), what matters is that these voices of concern were treated as legitimate. For example, the ASU administration struggled to articulate the content of my course to a Republican state senator and chair of the Education Committee, Kelli Ward, who argued that her constituents thought the class was racist.18 I detail this internal pressure because while these “white panics” are becoming increasingly common, the ways in which they play out on the ground are often overlooked. Please recognize that student workers and staff had to answer the hostile phone calls directed at me. Administrators had significant time sucked away by a relatively manufactured controversy. And while I am sympathetic to administrative desires to let this die out because of the way the attention disrupted the university, I am also keenly aware that they were caught flat-​footed, without an ability to communicate about race beyond feel-​good multiculturalism. People who are hyper-​invested in whiteness are quite adept at articulating white victimhood and grievances. They are prepared to write letters and make phone calls. People who are invested in a color-​blind multiculturalism but have no expertise in race talk come to such a discursive contest ill-​prepared. A few weeks prior to flyering my neighborhood, the National Youth Front placed anti-​immigrant and anti-​Muslim posters

Onward into the Discomfort


around campus.19 When I asked someone from ASU media relations why the university had not made a statement about this, the answer was that they had not been asked for one. This is sadly telling about how people not versed in race and social justice work may inadvertently enable inequality. Simply put, when a white supremacist group targets your campus and your students, you should not require an invitation to speak out. Such a posture of silence sends a clear message to both white supremacists and the students under attack. Significantly, after receiving months of pressure from local antiracist groups, ASU issued a joint statement condemning vitriolic hate speech and asserting the need for speedy responses to it.20

Aftermath and Strategies, or What I Learned from Being Targeted by Fox News and Neo-​Nazis In the first twenty-​four hours, I was immediately concerned with how the situation would affect my tenure case. I spoke to an administrator who assured me that I was protected by the university’s policies on academic freedom. Besides, they said, other administrators were relieved to find out I was white; my whiteness, they thought, would reduce the media attention. Here the whiteness of my body that had facilitated my teaching of difficult topics for years was now something that could not only protect me, but also potentially the university as well. Would it be too much to suggest that my academic freedom was fortified by my whiteness? I am confident that university administrators would deny this, yet this is likely the case. Consider John Streamas’s description in this book of how Washington State University administrators failed to protect the academic freedom of faculty who are from underrepresented communities. Like other rights, academic freedom is less a universally applied principle and more a discrete form of property secured by a select few. Despite ASU’s support of my academic freedom, the situation left indelible impacts on me and others. Perhaps I am like many educators. I get nervous at the start of the first few days of any class. But before that semester, I had never worried about my safety and that of my students in the classroom. Rather than the opening lines of a lesson running through my head, I found, and I continue to find, myself worrying how I will protect students if a stranger comes into my classroom to complain about the content. I remember well the panic I felt


Lee Bebout

when a student and I were in my office discussing a paper. A well-​built man, his body looming in the doorway, interrupted us with the assertive question, “Dr. Bebout?” Who was this man? Should I move toward my student or him? He must have sensed my confused panic, for he then identified himself as a plainclothes ASU officer who was just checking up on me. Even the things that make you safe can terrify you. Throughout that semester and since, my wife and I have had several panics spurred by otherwise ordinary events. My returning home later than expected, seeing police officers clustered around an academic building, hearing about others receiving hate-​mail, and other events trigger memories of that semester so that threats are always potential and palpable. I explain this impact on my family’s emotional and psychological state not to elicit sympathy, but because I truly believe this to be an intended outcome, a strategy of the twenty-​first-​century culture wars. Sure, call for someone’s job; demand that they be fired. But make them fear for their safety, their students’ safety, their family’s safety—­that will stop them from teaching this stuff. That will teach them. Beyond the emotional consequences that I faced, ASU’s 2015 whiteness controversy directly impacted the lives of others. In the first few weeks of the controversy, Robert Poe, a graduate student and adjunct in another department who I did not know at the time, held a teach-​in in support of critical whiteness studies and antiracism. Students and local media gathered around Poe in the center of campus as he lectured about the core tenets of critical whiteness studies. He actively engaged naysayers from ASU’s Republican group who had lauded the initial attacks on my class and “John Hess” a member of the white supremacist National Youth Front. Hess baited Poe into stating that sometimes violence was necessary to combat white supremacist fascism. Within twenty-​four hours, a video of Poe had been posted to an explicitly white supremacist YouTube channel, calls and emails streamed into the ASU administration, and the administration decided to remove Poe as an instructor of record and discontinue any future employment of him at ASU. As my department chair explained to me, as a tenure-​track professor I had academic freedom for my work. However, that did not extend to non-​track faculty who were speaking politically on campus. Let’s consider this for a moment: arguing that sometimes violence is needed to combat white supremacist fascism, as in the case of the Allied powers in World War II, can cost a person his or her job. I will not dismiss the pressure ASU was under, but this strikes me as a decision marred

Onward into the Discomfort


by intellectual and political cowardice. Moreover, Poe was likely only speaking out against the National Youth Front because the university had failed to do so. The controversy also fostered positive outcomes. I have built relationships with local antiracist, nonprofit, and grassroots organizations. I immediately realized that I could use these relationships to place my students in internships with organizations like the Anti-​Defamation League (ADL). So far, two of my students have worked with the ADL conducting research on extremist groups. Other students have committed their time and energies to local social justice organizations. In the neoliberal era, when administrators doubt the value of the humanities, I am trying to help my humanities-​trained students achieve real-​world impact in the fight against white supremacy. So what do you do when you end up targeted by Fox News and your unfriendly neighborhood white supremacists? What did I learn from the situation? Here, I would like to offer a brief list of “best practices” or strategies one should take. This brief list offers a glimpse into a potential ugly reality of “teaching race against racism” in the twenty-​ first century.21 1. Lock down your social media and ask friends to limit information about you on their pages. One of the hardest days in the whole ordeal was when I found a family picture with my wife and son on the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer. 2. You will need surrogates for the media. Since ASU asked me not to do interviews, I came up with a list of experts, some of whom were friends, who could attest to the value of my work. Friends like Nolan Cabrera and Bill Mullen all spoke on my behalf. Other scholars like Joe Feagin and David Palumbo-​Liu spoke to the media and came to my defense even though I had never met them. Each of these individuals reframed the controversy by focusing on scholarship and the need to combat white supremacy. As experts, they could speak to the critical issues in ways that the university’s media relations team could never do. 3. Have folks write to your administration on your behalf. Within a few hours of the story making the national media, I was busy writing the press release and meeting with the provost. My wife, Sujey Vega, quickly got on Facebook and used our scholarly, activist, and friendship networks to have people write on my behalf. This offers a counter-​pressure so that the university knows you


Lee Bebout

are valued and that you are not an isolated, solitary individual who can be tossed away. Notably, this is something that students can and should do as well. 4. Contact local police and antiracist organizations. Here, I should recognize the irony of contacting the police. Six months prior to this situation, one of my colleagues, an African American woman, had been violently and illegally arrested by an ASU police officer. Some of the same white supremacists had written on behalf of the white officer. That being said, extra patrols in my neighborhood and around my class relieved some of my anxiety. The ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center reached out to me. They monitor these white supremacist groups and were able to communicate their expertise to me, the police, and ASU. The ADL was also able to get me in contact with journalists who would take a stand against white supremacy without naming me as a source. For instance, when a member of the National Youth Front showed up on campus, I was able to secure a photo of him and make him the focus of media and police attention. 5. Finally, spend good time with your family and take care of your being. This advice might emotional and psychological well-​ sound simplistic, but I mean it. Nothing can prepare you for the psychological impact of something like this. And the emotional-​ psychological toll of this is very real. Indeed, I would argue that that toll is the intended purpose of the attention. Sure, folks would like to have had me and others fired. But the real goal is to make life so rough that we never teach this subject again. While this list may work as a best practices list if such an unwanted situation happens, in some cases the groundwork can and should be laid ahead of time. For scholars educating for racial justice, it is never too early to foster relationships with local organizations. One needs to establish scholarly and activist friendship networks regardless of where one does race work. Indeed, many of the networks that were activated to support me had been deployed previously to push against Arizona’s K−12 ethnic studies ban in 2011 and organize support for my colleague who had been harassed by a university police officer. These networks were activated again in 2016 when we needed to pressure state universities and the board of regents to support Deferred Action for Child Arrival (DACA) students. Developing this infrastructure is critical work for racial justice in the new culture wars.

Onward into the Discomfort


Teaching against Racism without Apology, or Why We Need to Teach about White Supremacy Teaching critical whiteness studies has three social and educational functions that make it imperative today. First, critical whiteness studies positions whites as part of a system. Whether we like it or not, whiteness is a system that we cannot simply step out of. The degree to which we acknowledge, participate in, and resist white supremacy may be adjusted, but we are all participants because we are born into the system nonetheless. Simply put, we are never neutral observers. This is critical because whiteness has long been positioned as both the ideal and invisible norm. Teaching critical whiteness studies exposes to white students and students of color that white folks undergo a process of racialization that is both similar to and yet different from other folks. This exposure both disrupts the normative flow, making whiteness visible and strange, and it propels whites to acknowledge that they have skin in the game. With a basis in critical whiteness studies, white folks can no longer read about the racial profiling of Latinos as suspected undocumented immigrants or learn about how the school-​to-​prison pipeline disparately affects Black lives without also recognizing that that which caused the pain of others also forged one’s own unearned advantages. That is, assumptions of whiteness as Americanness and white innocence underwrite and make possible the unequal treatment of people of color. More broadly, teaching critical whiteness studies and critical race theory also fosters a common critical vocabulary across students. I have had the pleasure of teaching students from diverse backgrounds: leftist activists, first-​generation college students, veterans, students of color, and LBGTQ students regularly enroll in my classes, but so do fairly conservative, Mormon, and white, “traditional” students. All of us are complex and bring different experiences and understandings to the learning community. Through critical whiteness studies, I foster a common vocabulary that can potentially bridge the experiential rifts. For example, “racism” is a big word. In the outside world, people often use “racism” to refer to interpersonal bigotry, color-​blindness, structural inequality, microaggressions, and other attitudes and behaviors. By establishing a common language, I hope to provide students with a common analytical toolbox (like the sciences have). This emphasis on shared language and concepts rests on a belief and investment in deliberative democracy: the idea is that if we can all communicate effectively and respectfully, then we can build a better,


Lee Bebout

more just world. I have a hard time with this concept as a means of approaching the broader world. Perhaps I am a cynic at heart, but I do not believe that better communication will naturally lead to equality. That’s just too romantic and simple for me. What is possible in a semi-​ structured classroom is not necessarily possible in the broader world. However, I do believe that a shared language is critical for my students to build a caring community of learners. Moreover, a robust analytical vocabulary will pressure them to be effective rhetorical listeners. As Krista Ratcliffe has explored, rhetorical listening allows individuals to not just comprehend someone’s argument, but also to understand the cultural logics or ideological foundations that underpin various arguments.22 A shared vocabulary facilitates this practice. Despite the headaches attached to it, teaching critical whiteness studies is exceptionally important, particularly within our current political and economic context. Black, Latina/​ o, and Native people are disproportionately imprisoned. Unarmed Black men, women, and children are perceived as threats before the fact. Latinas/​os are too often viewed as perpetually foreign in the United States. Economic and political refugees are refused entry and are returned to places that the United States contributed to destabilizing. In response, many students—­many white students—­respond in two ways: “What is happening here? I want to learn more.” Or: “What is happening here? I don’t understand those people.” Regardless of the contrasting political impulses, befuddlement runs through both of these responses. These are confusing times, to be sure. However, this confusion is augmented by an ongoing erasure of racial history in the United States. Not only have the experiences of people of color been marginalized in the curriculum, but the experiences of whites-​as-​white have also largely been ignored. In and out of school, whites are taught that they are neutral observers and an often implicit ideal against which others can be judged. In this devil’s dilemma, whiteness is both invisible and virtuous. And this contradictory impulse and its epistemic impact are not new. As explored in his reading of Enlightenment philosophy, Charles Mills contends that white people experience an “inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.”23 To be clear, while I hope that my students critically reposition themselves in relation to white supremacy, I also regularly tell them that I

Onward into the Discomfort


don’t have the answers. I can decide how to live my life, but they must map their own course. The class is merely a shared space and time in which to ruminate on these difficult, thorny issues. And I tell them from the outset that the course involves heavy lifting. Not only will they be expected to read dense materials, but “for many, the challenge that this course offers will be internal, delving into the often emotional and psychological sites of discomfort.” For many of my students, particularly the white students, this is the first time in their lives they have had a prolonged and rigorous discussion about racial inequality. This can be discomforting. What do we do to work beyond the discomfort? In the classroom we must develop our own strategies, a rhetorical and pedagogical toolkit that we can draw upon at any given moment.

Embracing Discomfort Where do we go from here? For classes engaging critical whiteness studies, critical ethnic studies, and social justice, the challenges do not simply reside in the classroom, but in the outside world. The idea of these conversations triggers “white media/​moral panics.” I would contend, however, that these courses do not cause the panics. Rather, white fragility lays the stage for these panics. DiAngelo contends that white fragility stems from white people’s socially conditioned low stamina for dealing with frank yet thorny racial conversations and situations. But if fragility comes from low racial stamina, we must build the racial stamina of white folks. And there is only one way to do that. So where do we go from here? Onward into the discomfort. We must have a more robust, sustained conversation not because more communication will automatically solve issues of racial inequality, but because those issues will never be addressed without such communication. What does this look like? One route may be more classes on whiteness and white supremacy, not fewer. One colleague who wrote to me suggested that the problem was not the class, but that there were not enough like it. My whiteness course stuck out like a sore thumb because whiteness remains the norm. My colleague suggested that we need to normalize these critiques of whiteness: courses on the problems of whiteness across the United States. Moreover, we need to increase our work outside the classroom and traditional research venues. Such a call to action has become common as the liberal arts have come under sustained attack in recent years.


Lee Bebout

However, I would argue that the neoliberal divestment from the humanities and academia are broader manifestations of the attacks on ethnic studies. Op-​eds, blogging, outreach, and mobilizing will pay dividends during the next attack. And there is always a next attack. There are wonderful models for this. Here I am thinking of the public intellectual work of scholars like those who create the Feminist Wire and Latinx Talk blogs or the writing that David Palumbo-​Liu and Brittney Cooper have done for Salon. Furthermore, we should consider how such classes and intellectual work can be linked to nonprofit, grassroots, and social service organizations. Here, I am making the age-​old argument about connecting student learning to worldly experience: service learning, internships, and project-​based demonstrations of knowledge. As a conclusion and update, if we recognize that this was happening a few years ago, then the rise and branding of the alt-​right and the Trump presidency should not be entirely surprising. Indeed, the National Youth Front is an outgrowth of the white supremacist American Freedom Party, the leader of which, William Johnson, had been a Trump delegate prior to news of his explicit white supremacy being picked up by the media. After my whiteness kerfuffle, the National Youth Front changed their name to The Dispossessed, and now they have rebranded again as Identity Evropa and are making their rounds on college campuses again.24 Initially, I had only imagined teaching the whiteness class every few years. Now I’ll be teaching it every spring. The administration asked that I consider changing the course’s title. Could I remove the word “whiteness” from it? I can change the title because I was never a fan of the first one, but I cannot remove whiteness. That is the intellectual core of the class. Each spring since 2015, I have taught the class again under the unofficial title “Disrupting Whiteness”—­the university refuses to use that title. In spring 2017 I taught the class again in coordination with a small conference at ASU that we called “Speaking the Unspeakable.” And that is just what I hope to do: disrupt whiteness and speak the unspeakable.

Notes 1. Lee Bebout, “Skin in the Game: Towards a Theorization of Whiteness in the Classroom,” Pedagogy 14, no. 2 (spring 2014): 345. 2. George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Benefit from Identity Politics, revised and expanded edition (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008), 1.

Onward into the Discomfort


3. Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), xv. 4. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1993); Eduardo Bonilla-​ Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-​Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, 4th ed. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013); Jane Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism (Oxford: Wiley-​Blackwell, 2008). 5. Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993): 1707–­91; Lipsitz, Possessive Investment in Whiteness, vii–­viii, 24–­47, 105–­17. 6. Steve Martinot, The Machinery of Whiteness: Studies in the Structure of Racialization (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), 106–­28. 7. Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing,” in Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (Boston: South End, 2006), 66–­73. 8. Steve Garner, Whiteness: An Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2007), 174–­80. 9. Noel A. Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Maddern, “Defending the White Race: White Male Faculty Opposition to a ‘White Racism’ Course,” Race and Society 2, no. 1 (1999): 25–­50. 10. Katia Hetter, “Online Furor: Boston University Professor’s Tweets on Race,” CNN, May 13, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/13/living​ /feat-boston-university-saida-grundy-race-tweets/index.html; Jessica Chasmar, “University of Memphis Professor: ‘Whiteness Is Most Certainly and Inevitably Terror,’ ” The Washington Times, June 30, 2015, http://​ www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jun/30/zandria-robinson-univ-of​ -memphis-professor-whitene/​. 11. Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no. 3 (2011): 54–­70. 12. Roderick A. Ferguson, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011). 13. Hill, Everyday Language, 99–­101. 14. Peter Schmidt, “Higher Education’s Internet Outrage Machine,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 8, 2015, http://chronicle​ .com/article/Higher-Educations-Internet/232879.


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15. Lauren Clark, “University Offers Female Students Extra Credit for Not Shaving Their Armpits,” Campus Reform, July 3, 2014, http://www​ .campusreform.org/?ID=5735 16. Steve Annear, “BU Bans Chairman of White ‘Conservation’ Group,” Boston Globe, July 30, 2015, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015​ /07/30/boston-university-bans-chairman-white-conservation-group​ /nh4BJVRjZKlnRI9r6wv5rK/story.html; Catherine Thompson, “How the Great White Freakout Just Got Unleashed at Another University,” Talking Points Memo, April 24, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker​ /national-youth-front-appalachian-state-privilege. 17. Dan Nowicki, “Budget Packs Wallop for Universities, Hospitals,” Arizona Republic, March 6, 2015, http://www.azcentral.com/story/news​ /arizona/politics/2015/03/06/budget-packs-wallop-universities-hospitals​ /24540423/​. 18. Personal correspondence, “Re: Concerns from Constituents,” January 24, 2015. 19. Jessica Suerth, “Group That Posted Anti-​Immigrant, Anti-​Islamic Posters on ASU’s Tempe Campus Speaks Out,” The State Press, February 8, 2015, http://www.statepress.com/article/2015/02/group-that-posted-anti​ -immigrant-anti-islamic-posters-on-asus-tempe-campus-speaks-out. 20.  Kaila White, “Arizona College Denounces ‘Whiteness’-​ Fueled Hate Speech,” USA Today, April 30, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story​ /news/nation/2015/04/30/problem-whiteness-hate-speech-condemnation​ /26632243/​. 21. Bill V. Mullen, “Teaching Race Against Racism,” Academe Blog: The Blog of Academe Magazine, February 1, 2015, https://academeblog.org​ /2015/02/01/teaching-race-against-racism/​. 22. Krista Ratcliffe, Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, and Whiteness (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006), 17–­46. 23. Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999), 18. 24. Hailey Branson-​ Potts, “In Diverse California, a Young White Supremacist Seeks to Convert Fellow College Students,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln​ -nathan-damigo-alt-right-20161115-story.html.


Virtually White Teaching Race in Online Classes Dan Colson

“She IS part negro and has negro friends.” These words greeted me midway through my first cup of coffee as I groggily checked the active course discussion board. On the surface, they seem to be an innocuous mistake: one student (I’ll call him Cooper) adopting language from Nella Larsen’s novel Passing as he tried to make a point about Irene Redfield, suggesting that she is “not really ashamed of the negro blood she has.” But two factors complicated this mistake. First, I noted the time stamp: Cooper had posted his comment the previous night, after my final evening check of the discussion board. It had been on our board for almost eight hours. This certainly was not the first time I’ve had a student use inappropriate language to describe race in one of my classes. When it occurs in a traditional classroom, however, I can address it immediately. In the virtual classroom, it went unaddressed overnight—­the time when many of my online students contribute to our class discussions. My silence—­ though unintentional—­ allowed the language to go unchallenged, producing the second complication: other students picked up on Cooper’s use of “negro” and “mulatto,” using these words to describe the novel’s characters, leading to a thread peppered with dated, offensive race descriptions. This avalanche of inappropriate language might be written off as an unfortunate instance of collective thoughtlessness (or laziness),1 but I think it gestures toward the unique difficulties of teaching literature about race and our concomitant efforts to teach against racism in an online setting. 179


Dan Colson

The challenges of the online classroom intersect provocatively with what Kristin Haltinner calls an “ideology of colorblindness.” She notes that “many students are plagued with a sort of racial blindness causing them to interpret realities and events in a way that erases racial histories and contexts.”2 My chapter explores this ideology and the pedagogies designed to unsettle it, considering specifically how we might ask students to consider racial history and context and thus combat color-​blindness in the online context. Focusing on my recent course on African American women’s novels, I consider the problems of discussing race in a space that is in key ways color-​blind (or, perhaps more accurately, colorless): online students are not required to upload profile pictures, nor must they identify their race. As an instructor, I have access to more information than students, so I can see the ways in which my (almost exclusively white) students constructed what they imagined to be “postracial” identities. Comments like Cooper’s made me realize that online spaces risk mirroring not the traditional classroom, but online forums: relative anonymity, the absence of racial markers, and the environment itself allowed for comments that reproduced putatively “postracial” rhetoric. Teaching race online thus becomes more fraught, because the medium risks undercutting the content: choosing texts that restore the nation’s racial history and contexts appears a largely empty gesture in environments where students (unconsciously) expect the freedom that comes with online self-​representation. Because, while the internet may be a space that empowers historically marginalized voices, it also empowers those voices that bristle at any erosion of their dominance. By narrating my experiences teaching African American women’s novels (from the 1850s to the 2010s), I will explore the tensions and the opportunities presented by teaching online classes that are invested in combating the ideology of color-​blindness. In what follows, I outline some challenges of teaching race online, and then I present strategies for addressing the postracial myth in online classes. Ultimately, I propose an approach that embraces the traditions of critical, engaged pedagogy, yet remains willing to challenge students’ color-​blind sense that race no longer matters.

Radical Pedagogies and the Ideology of Color-​Blindness Radical pedagogy and strategies for addressing race and racism in the classroom have been—­ for more than forty years now—­ indebted to

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Paulo Freire’s seminal Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Calling for teachers to proceed with and encourage students to develop critical consciousness (or “conscientization”), Freire proposes his “pedagogy of the oppressed, which is the pedagogy of people engaged in the fight for their own liberation.”3 Most efforts to redress—­or at least to foreground—­systemic inequalities in education draw from Freire’s work. bell hooks, for instance, engages directly with Freire in Teaching to Transgress, where she outlines an “engaged pedagogy” that includes teaching practices to address race and gender inequalities. She references specifically Freire’s emphasis on “that historical moment when one begins to think critically about the self and identity in relation to one’s political circumstances.”4 From her focus on identities situated within a racist or sexist “political circumstance,” hooks builds a praxis that “embraces the challenge of self-​actualization.”5 She calls for a sustained “interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence,” noting that “any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged.”6 In my discipline—­ American literature from the Civil War to the present—­ Freire’s and hooks’s theories aren’t quite universally applauded, but nearly so: just as the expansion of the canon and rediscovery of works by women and racial minorities have shaped the direction of scholarship since the 1970s, engaged pedagogies of the oppressed have directed critical attention to both the content and form of American literature courses. It’s not uncommon to see courses built entirely around race, gender, class, or sexuality; classes attending explicitly to the issues that Freire and hooks raise. Canon expansion and the discipline’s commitment to teaching multiethnic literatures, however, do not themselves indicate a full embrace of critical pedagogies: it’s certainly possible to rely on the “banking model” that Freire rejects while teaching nontraditional and diverse literatures. There are still educators who embrace an expanded corpus of texts, yet treat knowledge of these texts as “a gift [to be] bestowed” upon students whom “they consider to know nothing.”7 This passive conception of learning—­wherein students are imagined to be inert recipients of professorial expertise—­remains, but has fallen out of favor in most English departments. More typically, we find a diverse curriculum accompanied by a concomitant turn toward dialogic teaching methods. In fact, the almost comically ubiquitous “student-​centered classroom” has so saturated English departments that it’s hard to imagine anyone substantively challenging the notion that teachers should


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pursue strategies to individuate learning and lead toward something like hook’s self-​actualization. I don’t wish, in this chapter, to challenge Freire, hooks, or the decades-​long effort to reject teacher-​centered, banking models of education. And I certainly don’t want to suggest that the shifts toward critical pedagogies—­ when they embrace political engagement, antiracism, and antisexism—­ are anything but progress. Rather, I wish merely to point to the complex intersection of related, yet non-​identical values: on the one hand, our commitment to teaching literatures that represent the experiences of race, racism, and inequity; on the other hand, the frequently accompanying, but not logically necessary, dedication to self-​actualization and recognition in the student-​centered classroom. My teaching experiences indicate that the advent of our purportedly “postracial” society—­ and the consequent “ideology of blindness”—­ complicates widely accepted critical pedagogies color-​ when we teach multiethnic texts to racially homogenous audiences. Thus, we must seek models that build from the Freirean tradition while accounting for the unique challenges of “color-​blind” student bodies. Take my students, for example. I teach at a small state university in Kansas. As of fall 2015, about 5 percent of our undergraduate students were African American and 7 percent were Hispanic.8 That number places us well below the already disturbingly low national averages of 15 percent (African American) and 16 percent (Hispanic) of undergraduates.9 Obviously, there are many reasons for this dearth of African American students on my university’s campus,10 but for this chapter’s purposes, these explanations are beside the point: I teach in classrooms that are overwhelmingly white. In addition, 87 percent of the undergraduates at my university come from Kansas, where only 6.3 percent of the population is African American.11 Not only are most of my students white, but many of them have grown up with few Black peers. While Kansas is not alone in this respect, and while areas with larger proportions of Black residents aren’t immune, it does make my university a useful space in which to consider the ideology of color-​blindness.12 After Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, John McWhorter polemically claimed that the “answer to the question, ‘Is America past racism against black people,’ ” is now “yes.”13 For McWhorter, the first Black president signaled that “our proper concern is not whether racism still exists, but whether it remains a serious problem. The election of Obama proved, as nothing else could have, that it no longer does.”14 The notion that our culture is postracial did

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not begin with Barack Obama, but the increased public airing of racism’s death—­along with right-​wing political movements’ shrill cries of “reverse racism”—­has produced an atmosphere in which students are surrounded by voices insisting that we may have many problems, but racism isn’t a significant one. As Haltinner argues, “they have been taught to ignore structural challenges and see racial inequality as the result of laziness or ineptitude on the part of people of color.”15 The meritocracy myth isn’t new: the belief “that the United States is a place where, if one works hard, they can achieve greatness and that any failure to succeed in society reflects on the individual” is centuries old.16 But my students inhabit a world where the end of slavery and the successes of the civil rights movement are ancient history—­ victories long since won—­so they often believe that “racial injustices of the past are no longer instrumental in determining life chances and outcomes.”17 For them, “individual racists are the only racial problem yet to be resolved.”18 I’ve found that few of my students have any awareness of systemic racism—­and when asked to discuss it, they regularly fall back on individual merit and effort. Many, without making any conscious decision to do so, have accepted that they live in a “post-​racial society [where] racial hierarchy . . . and acts of victimization solely due to race are absent from the daily reasoning, judgment, perceptions, and practices of the majority of Americans.”19 Sure, they know there are still some racists, but the problem of racism has passed. My students often participate in class discussions that include no Black voices. They live on a campus and in a state with few African American peers. They have lived in a country with a Black president since they began high school. So, for many of them, when they come to a class designed to confront them with the racial, racist history of American literature and culture, they are being asked to think about something new. This is all to say that my students are an intriguing blend: they embody the postracial ideology, yet they are largely insulated from any intrusion on their homogenous, white environment. They imagine their world to be postracial even as—­and perhaps in part because—­they are confronted with very little racial diversity. Here appears the tension confronting teachers in this setting: how to balance the imperatives noted by Freire and hooks—­how to deploy an engaged pedagogy—­for these students? When I ask students to read Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison, I, to some extent, ask something different from them than what hooks imagines. I want them to acknowledge others’ presence, which sometimes requires


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sublimating their own. I confess: for students who see a postracial world partly because they swim in a sea of whiteness, I minimize the acknowledgment of their own presence.

Teaching Race to the Raceless I was hired to teach “ethnic American literature.” My department isn’t large enough to hire a dedicated African Americanist (I’m the department’s only Americanist), so in addition to my other duties, I try regularly to teach African American literature. I came from a Ph.D. program that encouraged student-​centered, racial-​and gender-​ conscious teaching strategies. When I was first hired, however, I didn’t have much experience teaching my field (like many graduate students, I taught mostly writing), and I wasn’t really prepared for my new university’s demographics. I, like Jennifer Mueller and Joe Feagin, believed that “for education to be at all emancipatory, racially progressive educators must provide students with . . . opportunities . . . to see ‘racial and ethnic relations’ as something they are linked to quite personally.”20 Doing so would “meaningfully contribute to not just [my] students’ own self-​actualization, but more broadly to the national movement toward racial and social justice.”21 In other words, I naively imagined that self-​actualization and racial/​social justice were two sides of the same pedagogical coin. My class discussions, though, quickly showed the extent to which this predominantly white student body had unwittingly adopted the ideology of color-​ blindness: they showed little knowledge of systemic inequality and, for the most part, seemed not to think about race. My goal, of course, is always to teach these texts as literature—­ amalgams of form, aesthetics, and context—­and thus any evocation of student experience is directed toward this end. Like most literature teachers, I sometimes use student self-​narration to begin the process of understanding how literary language constructs meaning in different historical moments.22 But doing so when talking about texts that represent a history of racism in my classrooms was not accomplishing this goal, so as any conscientious teacher would, I tried to adapt. I reduced my focus on student experience, actively suppressing my white students’ efforts to “relate” to Invisible Man or Booker T. Washington. Instead, I pursued the simple—­if ambitious—­goal of jarring students, confronting them with stark reminders of our country’s racial history

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and, most pressingly, of literary records representing the experience of racism. This approach has largely succeeded in my traditional, face-​ to-​face classrooms, because students are hesitant to deny directly the texts’ racism or the ways I connect it to the present. Remember, they imagine racism to be “a problem that exists only at the level of individual actors,”23 and they certainly don’t want to be one of those few racist holdouts. In these classrooms, though, their whiteness is apparent. The same isn’t true in the virtual classroom. The course “African American Women Writers” was my first attempt to teach a class focused on race in an online setting. I designed the course to mirror as closely as possible my traditional classes: students would complete multiple writing assignments, but the bulk of the course would be discussion. In the online course, these conversations would take place on mandatory discussion boards. Students would submit reading responses, which—­along with my regular postings and questions—­would serve as the starting points for our conversations. Together, the reading responses and mandatory discussions constituted more than 40 percent of each student’s course grade. Very early in the term, I required each student to post a brief introduction to a dedicated comment board. The prompt was simple and open: “Tell us a bit about yourself.” The length of their introductory posts varied, but overall I found that students told the class more about themselves than they do when given the same prompt in a traditional classroom (some posts were 250–­300 words: very few students will talk about themselves for that long on the first day of an in-​person class). Unsurprisingly, none of the students mentioned their race. Perhaps they considered it irrelevant (if they view the world “postracially”), or perhaps their normative whiteness assumed they’re the default race. In either case, their first encounter with the class left them unraced. Next to their comments appeared a profile image—­except almost none of them uploaded a photo, so they were left with the generic avatar: a grey silhouette against a white background.24 This nondescript image echoed their putative racelessness. My students unwittingly produced a postracial classroom: the class on Black women writers began with a collective act of color-​blindness. The explosion in online classes has occurred largely as universities have sought new revenue streams and increased enrollment, but it has also been embraced as a teaching environment that is especially suited to younger generations: the image of the connected student who learns more easily through technology-​ enhanced classrooms drives much


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recent pedagogical theory. This sense that teaching with technology will resonate with the connected generation certainly includes virtual classrooms and their discussion boards: “young people today are accustomed to using social networking sites to share additional forms of media, discuss topics with their peers, and simply stay connected,” so educational strategies for mirroring sites like Facebook have proliferated.25 Many scholars go even further, suggesting that the “pseudonymity” of “online environment[s]” helps “students to find a strong and confident voice.”26 This research indicates that students are more confident participating in their accustomed virtual environments, and they flourish there free from the “pressure to adhere to the scripts normally governing classroom behavior.”27 The embrace of online teaching reflects an extension of hooksian and student-​centered pedagogies: students are empowered to speak and to share, and we should welcome anything that facilitates self-​expression. Joyce Bell and Nicholas Burks advise us to embrace this confidence and lack of pressure in order to teach about race: “because discussions about race have become increasingly difficult in university classrooms,” they use Facebook to create a “virtual discussion section.”28 They seek to promote “an open discussion of course materials related to race,” so students can express their “views of race, racism, and racial inequality . . . in a virtual race-​critical classroom.”29 And they suggest that the virtual setting is especially appropriate for discussing race, because the “online component decreases the discomfort these students may potentially feel.”30 For Bell and Burks (and others), virtual classrooms offer an ideal atmosphere for reducing discomfort, allowing for “thoughtful discussion of race related topics.”31 Gilly Salmon goes even further, claiming that the comments in online environments “are ‘neutral’ since you cannot see whether the sender is young or old, nor do you need to consider their appearance or race. This characteristic tends to favour minorities of every kind and encourages everyone to ‘be themselves.’ ”32 While I appreciate these sentiments, they are not without complication. Most notably, we cannot ignore the fact that online spaces aren’t always bastions of reasonable discourse, creating safe environments for self-​expression. Rather, the communication technologies we rightly see as part of our students’ daily lives—­online comment boards, Facebook, Twitter—­are often hotbeds of vitriol and hatred. Anyone who has stumbled down the rabbit hole of a comment board on, say, a news website knows the extent to which “self-​expression” runs wild in its basest forms: racist mockery of the Obamas, sexism toward female

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politicians and celebrities, threats of violence—­trolling and flaming aren’t infrequent.33 We should not pretend that online spaces foster only the self-​expression that we want in our classrooms. I contend that online environments may encourage what Mueller faced’ racism, where [individuals] operate in and Feagin call “ ‘two-​ seemingly tolerant, non-​racist ways in public ‘frontstage’ spaces, while engaging in much racist talk and behavior in the presumed safety of the private ‘backstage.’ ”34 The internet serves as a virtual “backstage,” where people—­for whatever reason—­feel empowered to say things in one public space (online) that they wouldn’t say in another (in person). This “backstage” behavior doesn’t require full anonymity; it merely requires the utterance to occur in a space detached from the individual’s everyday life. When we use the technologies that make our students the connected generation, we inevitably bring with them the ethos of online communication: a pseudo-​anonymous backstage that is never fully linked to the brick-​and-​mortar “real” world.35 Let us take inventory, then: students raised in racially homogenous areas attending a university with little diversity, who inhabit a world they’re told is “postracial”; students in my discipline who have become accustomed to pedagogies that privilege self-​ expression and their experiences; students inhabiting the neoliberal university described throughout this part of the book, with all of the pressures that John Streamas describes in his chapter “How We Lost Our Academic Freedom”; students from a digital generation, who are accustomed to both the internet’s relative anonymity and its concomitantly open racism and sexism; students who are asked to conduct an entire course in a similar environment, where they will enjoy a larger measure of anonymity than they would in a traditional classroom. These are my students. This is the student I have called “Cooper.” I choose Cooper not because he is the only student from whom I saw troubling comments, nor because I think he is intractable or racist. I’ve found him very teachable, responsive to suggestions, and quick to apologize. He’s not the individual racist whom the postracial generation imagines to be the death throes of racial strife; he’s merely a good example of the students I’m discussing here: he makes hasty comments because he has been empowered to do so by his atmosphere (the student-​ centered English classroom interested in his experiences and expression, the racially homogenous space he inhabits, and the online environment itself).36 In our very first mandatory discussion, Cooper said to the class: “I believe that if the ethnicity of the


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characters were not stated, it would be very hard to determine the race of a character . . . Until otherwise stated, I tend to picture everyone as Caucasian.” Here, in an online conversation about Harriet Wilson’s autobiographical novel Our Nig, Cooper innocently admits that he sees whiteness as the default. He doesn’t qualify this statement, nor evince any awareness of his own insidiously privileged stance. On the one hand, we might applaud this sort of openness, seeing an opportunity for increased awareness. In a traditional classroom, this approach would be easy to implement: one could initiate an open dialogue about why Cooper and others see whiteness as normative, and how a pre-​Civil War novel by a Black American woman connects to that view of the world. Yet, I see two problems arising directly from the online environment. First, there is the time constraint: Cooper’s comment sits there in the middle of a lengthy thread that the instructor and the students must wade through. I can’t address every comment in the thread, so I’m faced with a decision: do I focus on literary analysis and cultural context as I had planned, or do I pivot the conversation to Cooper’s statement? While both would be possible in traditional classrooms, in online classrooms, students often look at the discussion boards once a day and they typically focus on a single discussion thread. Thus, it is doubtful that many students—­other than Cooper—­would pay close attention to my response unless I forcefully shifted the entire conversation, at which point I’ve perhaps done something important, but I’ve also derailed the discussion’s other fruitful aspects. In addition, I wonder if a comment like Cooper’s would be made in the traditional classroom. It’s clearly not impossible, but I’ve rarely had students be that forthright (even unintentionally) about their views on race, and Cooper himself has never made that type of comment in my traditional classes. Rightly or wrongly, I chose to let the comment go, addressing instead some of the more properly analytical comments that Cooper made. Over the next few days, though, Cooper compared himself to the novel’s protagonist (Frado, a young Black girl being raised by a white family), saying, “Having lost my mother, I can without a doubt tell you there will be many challenges in her later life,” and he uncritically attributed to Wilson—­the novel’s African American author—­racial victim-​blaming: “I can’t understand why Wilson . . . is describing how some people don’t try to be any better than the stereotypes they are labeled as, therefore contributing to more persecution, then playing the victim when the time comes to tell their side of the story.”

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Combating Color-​Blindness in Online Courses Cooper’s two comments capture the essence of our need for engaged pedagogies to challenge the ideology of color-​blindness when teaching online. His first comment demonstrates a fascinating blend of the student-​centered, experiential impulse and a postracial worldview: he’s become accustomed to approaching literature as something to which he should “relate,” a teaching strategy that many of us—­myself included—­ use to engage students. And, in a distorted manifestation of hooks’s call to self-​actualization, Cooper implicitly asks for acknowledgment of his own presence, his tragic experiences. The link he makes between himself and Frado isn’t a problem, as such, but in a class on the literature of doubly marginalized African American women, it appears tone-​deaf, at best. At worst, the comment treats reductively Frado’s plight and the harsh realities for antebellum Black Americans: Cooper flags the tragedy he shares, yet misses the accompanying hardships that in no way resemble his own life. This blind spot is the quintessence of the postracial mindset: Frado’s race seems to him incidental, because he too has faced some of the same struggles—­the ideology of color-​ blindness insists that such difficulties are always individuated, always personal, and are detached from structural power dynamics and institutional prejudices. Cooper’s first comment alone looks innocent enough, until we recognize how his second comment follows from it. There, he transitions from a mostly harmless self-​absorption to a disturbing echo of the voices who insist that racism itself is now caused primarily by those who claim racism exists. The comment includes three moves, each building from the previous one. First, he locates the marginalized Frado as responsible: since her travails are both individuated and relatable, she should tackle prejudice head-​on. From the postracial perspective, the prejudice comes from individuals and affects individuals; it is one more personal struggle that Frado must overcome. According to Cooper, the burden for dissolving stereotypes rests on the stereotyped, and as he said, “I don’t think she is trying to make things better for herself.” He then claims that any failure to defy racial stereotypes will produce more persecution. For him, Frado is free to resist stereotypes. If she doesn’t, she contributes to additional persecution. Cooper continues to make these stereotypes—­and their consequences—­individual, but here he also reveals the stakes of not resisting them: greater “persecution.” For the color-​blind student, individual failures produce consequences


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(prejudice, persecution, etc.) for Black Americans. Lastly, he makes a statement that looks like it was pulled from contemporary racism-​ deniers: minorities who don’t defy stereotypes cause their own persecution, and then they “play the victim.” Cooper shifts from his initial privileging of the individual and necessary erasure of the systemic to the resulting sense that Blacks who can’t eliminate the forces constraining them are left only to “play” at victimhood. I wish I could report that I responded to Cooper’s comments with a mixture of sensitivity and instruction. In retrospect, it presented an excellent teaching moment, an opportunity to show the entire class how antebellum literature by African American women explores issues that still matter; to discuss with them how racist attitudes and structures from the nineteenth century have transformed into different forms, yet remain. But I didn’t. I equivocated; I didn’t call Cooper to task; I redirected the conversation to analysis. I did not illuminate the postracial color-​blindness that is in key ways the connection between the course’s readings and my students. In fact, I didn’t address my students’ attitudes toward race directly until Cooper casually referred to Irene Redfield as a “negro.” Even then, all I said was, “Please only use ‘negro’ and ‘mulatto’ if you are quoting the text. Both are offensive terms.” In hindsight, I responded to a symptom without shining light on the underlying cause. That’s the impetus for this chapter: my failure to make the atmosphere of color-​blindness more than context. As I’ve shown throughout this chapter, my online classes are a perfect storm of postracial color-​blindness. My commitment to opposing this contemporary erasure of racism’s ongoing effect on Black Americans remains, but how do we do so when teaching mostly white students in an environment that offers them an overly safe space? How do we confront students with racism and jar them out of the postracial mindset? I propose an engaged pedagogy that shares critical pedagogy’s long-​standing investment in the oppressed and the student-​centered classroom’s investment in each student’s presence, while refusing to ignore that, for teachers who teach literature about race and racism to predominately white students, these areas rarely overlap. To the contrary, asking these students to share their presence when reading texts about slavery, racism, and civil rights without directly confronting the dissimilarities of their experiences risks multiplying the effects of a color-​blind ideology. Thus, we must be willing to make our students’ relative privilege part of the conversation. I offer here four tentative strategies as a starting point.

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First and most obviously, we must continue assigning texts that unapologetically represent the history of race relations in the United States. Some choices are clear: slave narratives depicting the nation’s past horrors; Harlem Renaissance poetry capturing the fear of lynching that lingered well into the twentieth century; and radical and progressive mid-​century texts from Black writers before and during the civil rights movement. Most Americanists already teach these texts, though. We still should, but there’s an additional imperative to teach contemporary literature. Students sometimes look at slavery and Jim Crow as too distant to be relevant. It’s our responsibility, then, to assign more recent works that represent the new shapes of American racism: Jessmyn Ward’s post-​Katrina Salvage the Bones; Ta-​Nehishi Coates’s Between the World and Me, with its poignant reminder of what it means to be young, Black, and male right now; and Paul Beatty’s darkly satirical exploration of contemporary blackness in The Sellout. These texts (and countless others) speak to the current Black experience and offer us a chance to remind our students that, even if they believe race no longer matters, there are plenty of voices insisting that it still does. Second, I suggest activities to foreground the learning environment. If students are inured to the internet’s pseudo-​anonymous rhetorical free-​for-​all, we need to shock them. We can do so by sending them to two different, yet related online spaces. On one hand, we can send them to sources where open, virulent racism enjoys free reign. Reddit, for instance; an almost entirely anonymous social media site where users share racist memes, where offensive comments appear in the quintessential online “backstage,” and where white supremacists find fertile recruiting grounds.37 On the other hand, we can send them to comment boards on more mainstream websites: CNN, Fox News, and—­especially appropriate for my students—­local newspapers. Have them look at the comments posted on stories about Obama, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and Black Lives Matter.38 Then, ask them to write about the overlap between the rhetorics in these spaces and the events and attitudes in the assigned texts. This activity has several benefits: showing them there are more “individual racists” than they might have imagined; allowing them to see racist rhetoric as a continuum, rather than a racist/​not-​ racist binary; encouraging them to find links between literary texts and “real” people in their world; and forcing them to encounter contemporary racism in a space that resembles our learning environment. Third, I advocate—­paradoxical as it might seem—­asking online students to do even more self-​reflection. My online courses have convinced


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me that brief, early-​semester introductions are empty and quickly forgotten. Frankly, the self-​fashioning of banal icebreakers not only promotes courses’ racelessness, but it seems a strange act to precede serious discussions of the raced anxiety, terror, and violence we encounter in our readings. Instead, we should encourage students to write about their own experience in direct comparison to the texts. Using self-reflection in assignments designed to improve the ability to read and write about literature is a common strategy we need not reject, so long as we use it to jar students. Certainly, this activity will prompt some responses like Cooper’s, but asking students to write about themselves in relation to Black characters—­and to do so in the public space of our online discussion boards—­can help elucidate the differences. Some students may come to terms with their own relative privilege as they write; others will be struck by their peers’ tone-​deafness. This approach isn’t a panacea, but by heightening and redirecting student-​centered attention to how their experiences diverge from Black experiences, we produce hope that students will step back and say, “I am not that character. I don’t fully understand her struggles. I will not deny their existence.” Not all students will reach this point quickly, however, which brings me to my last suggestion and my biggest regret: we must be willing to call out our students’ color-​blindness. This strategy may seem obvious, but it is not without risk. Universities see students as consumers, and many instructors are hesitant to directly confront students. Yes, if a student says “negro” (or worse) in class, we’ll pause and correct them. What about comments, though, that aren’t overtly racist? That merely demonstrate the postracial worldview? That erase race as something that still matters? These are the comments we have to address if we wish to help students learn about the contemporary faces of racism. As Lee Bebout argues in the conclusion to his chapter “Onward into the Discomfort” earlier in this part of the book, we must embrace discomfort. I certainly don’t wish to ambush students, so it’s key to offer guidance on what types of comments are or are not acceptable (in syllabus language and/​or an early class session). Still, for many students, such warnings won’t be sufficient, because they simply don’t see their color-​blindness and its insidious racism. We should be proactive, but we should also prepare to be reactive. So, I must gird up and say to Cooper: “No, your experiences are not Frado’s. I’m sorry you’ve suffered, but your unconscious erasure of race, your belief that it’s her responsibility to eliminate stereotypes, your calloused sense that she

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and other Black Americans play at victimhood—­these are causing others to suffer today, in your world.” Ultimately, if we hope to disrupt the notion that racism lingers only as a problem of a few individual racists, we must remember Freire’s oppressed and be prepared to tell our students that they themselves—­ when they uncritically accept that Obama marked the end of racism in America or minimize the systemic prejudices that remain—­provide evidence that it’s not. They unwittingly reinforce racism. Then, we share the good news: our students can be a different voice. They can push back against the myth of our postracial society. Through self-​awareness and knowledge of the history and the present of race relations in the United States, they can reject the ideology of color-​blindness with hope that someday we can become not postracial, but post-​racist.

Notes 1. After I pointed out that the words “negro” and “mulatto” are inappropriate, he said simply, “I did not know they were offensive until now.” 2. Kristin Haltinner, “Introduction: Challenges in Teaching about Race and Anti-​Racism in the Twenty-​First Century,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​ Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristin Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 2. 3. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Continuum International, 2005), 53. 4. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994), 47. 5. hooks, Teaching to Transgress, 22. 6. hooks, Teaching to Transgress, 8. 7. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 2. 8. About 69 percent of the university’s students are white. This information comes from Emporia State University’s entry on CollegePortraits.com, part of the “Voluntary System of Accountability.” Universities self-​report their information. “Emporia State University College Portrait,” CollegePortraits.org, http://www.collegeportraits.org/KS/ESU. 9. Nationally, 59 percent of students are white. National Center for Education Statistics, “Fast Facts,” https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp​ ?id=98. 10. We also have a very small number of African American faculty members.


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11. U.S. Census Bureau, “Quick Facts: Kansas,” http://www.census.gov​ /quickfacts/table/PST045215/20. I’ve been told that most of our students come from Lyon County—­ the university’s home—­ or the surrounding counties. As of 2015, African Americans comprised only 6.3 percent of Lyon County’s population. It is worth noting that 21.1 percent of Lyon County’s population—­and 11.6 percent of Kansas’s population—­is Hispanic. U.S. Census Bureau, “Quick Facts: Lyon County, Kansas,” http://​ www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/20111. 12. This issue is—­ not incidentally—­ mirrored by a dearth of faculty members of color at my university. Put bluntly, the college experience for my students doesn’t necessarily expose them to any meaningful diversity, among their peers or their instructors. The experiences and strategies I describe throughout this chapter are, of course, shaped by my own whiteness, which—­in the broader context of my university’s overwhelmingly white faculty—­compounds many of the issues I discuss. 13. John McWhorter, “Racism in America Is Over,” Forbes, December 30, 2008, http://www.forbes.com/2008/12/30/end-of-racism-oped-cx_jm​ _1230mcwhorter.html. 14. McWhorter, “Racism in America.” 15. Haltinner, “Introduction,” 2. 16. Haltinner, “Introduction.” 17. Tim Wise, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-​Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equality (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010), 18. 18. Haltinner, “Introduction,” 2. 19. F. Michael Higginbotham, Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-​Racial America (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 21. 20. Jennifer C. Mueller and Joe Feagin, “Pulling Back the ‘Post-​Racial’ Curtain: Critical Pedagogical Lessons from Both Sides of the Desk,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristin Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 12. 21. Mueller and Feagin, “Pulling Back.” 22. Throughout this chapter, I focus a great deal of attention on how students can or cannot “relate” to various texts. I don’t mean to suggest that inviting students to share their experiences—­or the trite pursuit of “relatability”—­ are goals in themselves. Rather, they are strategies with which all literature instructors must grapple given the discipline’s embrace of the “student-​centered classroom.” In my classrooms, these pedagogical methods are always sublimated to the discipline itself and thus serve as a means to multiple ends: I want my students to understand the history of American racism; to see how literature, as a specific discursive formation,

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engages with that racism; and to consider the stakes of African American literature’s place in our canon. This last concern is especially important because African American literature has historically been minimized as literature (and thus as something worthy of study). Philathia Bolton compellingly outlines the stakes of this concern in her chapter in this volume. 23. Haltinner, “Introduction,” 2. 24. For reference, fewer than half of the students in my current online courses have profile pictures. This number seems to be increasing as students become more accustomed to the portal. In many cases, I can also see each student’s ID photos, but other students cannot. 25. Joyce M. Bell and Nicholas Burks, “Activity I: The Virtual Discussion Section: Using Facebook to Encourage Meaningful Dialogue,” in Teaching Race and Anti-​Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness, ed. Kristin Haltinner (New York: Springer, 2014), 282. 26. Andrea Chester and Gillian Gwynne, “Online Teaching: Encouraging Collaboration through Anonymity,” Journal of Computer-​Mediated Communication 4, no. 2 (1998), http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10​ .1111/j.1083–­6101.1998.tb00096.x/full. 27. Chester and Gwynne, “Online Teaching.” 28. Bell and Burks, “Activity I,” 282. 29. Bell and Burks, “Activity I,” 282. 30. Bell and Burks, “Activity I,” 282. 31. Bell and Burks, “Activity I,” 282. 32. Gilly Salmon, E-​ Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2003), 15. 33. As more websites have linked their comment sections to Facebook profiles, fewer of these comments are made anonymously. 34. Mueller and Feagin, “Pulling Back,” 13. 35. Put differently, online settings can exacerbate the “walls of whiteness” that Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson details in “Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University” in this volume. 36. I’ve had Cooper in other courses, and he makes far fewer problematic statements in those settings. 37. Reddit recently banned white supremacist subreddits, including “CoonTown” and “Chimpire,” but it remains a hotbed for keyboard racism. 38. For instance, the (non-​ anonymous, Facebook-​ lined) comments on the Wichita Eagle’s coverage of a recent Black Lives Matter protest range from the postracial mantra that “all lives matter” and the mythical meritocracy’s insistence that “self oppressed [sic] happens when an individual chooses to be uneducated, unskilled, having babies out of wedlock,


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participating in illegal activities. A person has free will to make their path in our society,” to overtly racist stereotypes (“Have they ever thought of another way to spend their time, like getting a job?”) and to typical anti-​ Obama racism—­“These people have NO complaint but are continuously stirred up by the hateful, racist, stereotypically lazy, jug-​eared president”—­ that resonates strongly with what students will find on Reddit and other anonymous sites. Lara Korte and Oliver Morrison, “Black Lives Matter Protestors Occupy Wichita Streets for Nearly Three Hours,” Wichita Eagle, July 13, 2016, http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article89278657.html.


Toward a Pedagogy of Presence, or How I Nearly Lost My Body to the Neoliberal Academy Drew Lopenzina

The moral imagination diminishes with distance. —­David Hume

“The defeat of Native Americans can’t really be called ‘genocide,’ ” a student announces to my Early American Literature classroom, his voice charged with a kind of testy assertiveness as he looks to either side for corroboration before concluding, “if anything, disease wiped out most of them.” He leans back in his chair, awaiting my response, even as every other body in the classroom, including my own, appears to freeze. Now, before I go any further, let me caution that this chapter is not about Native genocide per se. It is about technology and, in particular, how digital technologies that allow for distance education platforms, while promising to revolutionize the classroom experience, are, in fact, counterproductive in the ways they diffuse and discourage what the editors of this volume acknowledge as the generative “tensions that arise when people—­ teachers and students—­ converge in classroom spaces with differing perspectives about race and its role within the United States.”1 I argue that distance platforms afford students the opportunity to distance themselves from the uncomfortable encounters that lead to some of the most productive moments of learning. Drawing upon Indigenous intellectual traditions, amidst the steady demand for expanded distance offerings, I call for a pedagogy of presence, 197


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recognizing that presence itself is more than just a quaint holdover of a pre-​digital age, but actually stands at the core of cultural and educational commitments to social justice. Case in point: the student who asserts that Native genocide is a misnomer. I have heard this view, or one very much like it, voiced on multiple occasions both in and out of the classroom and, as an instructor committed to advancing pedagogies rooted in studies of Native American literature, history, and culture, I don’t necessarily resent the student for saying it. In a way, he has done me a favor. Was the decimation of Native Americans’ community and culture deliberate genocide? Was it not genocide? Most students, unlike the one who brashly forwarded this opinion, do not feel sure of the answer and are fully prepared to believe either possibility. Quite a few will secretly agree with the notion that it was not genocide. Others will strongly disagree on principle, but are not equipped with the rhetorical tools to challenge this assertion of colonial absolution. Nearly all of them will have internalized the belief that Native culture is more or less extinct, thereby rendering the question moot. And yet everyone experiences the discomfort the statement generates. So, however much I may personally disagree with the sentiment, I understand where it is coming from, the confusion the statement engenders, and the patina of truth upon which it hangs its authority. It is a topic that sits uneasily in the minds of a great many non-​Indigenous Americans, and it presents an interesting quandary in the classroom, because the statement not only directly calls out my own authority as the professor, but it positions the class in a kind of intellectual stasis, a moment of unresolved tension. In these flashing seconds of indeterminacy something happens—­there is a collective bracing of bodies, and how this passage is ultimately resolved may in fact determine the success or failure of the entire semester. As most of us who attempt to create a space in the classroom for informed and respectful conversations about race already realize, this is a fairly common occurrence. There comes that moment in a semester (and typically more than one) when a particular kind of assertion is put forth, causing an invisible ripple to shoot through the room, bodies to tense up in their chairs, and all sorts of acquired and unconscious defense mechanisms and postures of privilege to suddenly lock into place. As with my student’s statement concerning genocide, it is a moment touched off by verbal language but reified in body language, a palpable feeling in the air signaling the types of tensions brought about by racial discourse in the United States. Of course, this is the

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precise moment when, as instructors, mentors, and facilitators of a difficult conversation, our intervention is most needed. It is here where we call upon our deep understanding of the psycho-​historical legacy surrounding the construction of race and the devastating deployment of race-​based social hierarchies to help shepherd the class through its collective crisis. If we are truly prepared, then we will not only have anticipated this moment, but we will have developed a set of rhetorical tools to usefully negotiate it. For the purposes of full disclosure, I should note that in my first few semesters as a graduate instructor at the University of New Hampshire, the body language I most frequently encountered when I broached the topic of race expressed itself as something like a collective mask dropping over every face in the room. Like most Americans, my students, who were about 90 percent white, silently determined that if they could just wait out the discussion, they might strategically divert me from what was likely to be an uncomfortable encounter. I was, in fact, quite taken aback by this response the first time it happened, as my normally chatty classroom suddenly transformed into a group of stone-​ faced monks. I remember meeting up with my mentor at the time, John Ernest, and discussing this failure on my part to successfully engage the class. As he explained, “Of course they all froze up on you. You threw a live race grenade into the middle of the room. Everyone immediately went into duck and cover mode.” From that moment on, I came to understand that if I really wanted to have a serious conversation about America’s racial attitudes and constructions, it was not something for which I could portion out a week or two in the semester. I had to be prepared to initiate a semester-​long discussion that comprehended the ways in which notions of race insinuate themselves into the entire fabric of American thought and culture. Furthermore, I had to commit myself to being more than just a casual critic of that injustice. As a white male instructor, I had to be prepared to play the role of witness and ask my students to do the same. Our history and literature remain charged with declarations, statutes, determinations, and bloody actions engineered to elevate whiteness over all other forms of national identity, and if none take the stand to testify to this history, if none take it upon themselves to bear witness to such awful designs, then there can be no conclusive verdict. This remains the challenge. America is quite content to perpetually postpone such a verdict. Our strategic silences seem calculated to ensure that the case never even comes to trial. As we know, cries that


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“Black Lives Matter” are met with the reflexive response that “all lives matter.” Attempts to ban the use of reductive Native American personas as sports franchise mascots are met with the improbable claim that these demeaning symbols are, in fact, “signs of respect.” So there will be resistance, for sure, but you can break through by signaling to the class early on that the discussion is not simply going to go away. We will push through the resistance together, and moments of tension might be marshaled into improvisational breakthroughs where, as instructors, we can riff off the palpable reactions of our students to tease out a more articulate engagement. Because our bodies give us away, and in these moments we can encourage students to track down the source of tension even as it spontaneously erupts. The challenge, of course, is that you need to be prepared to handle that responsibility, manage the tensions provoked, absorb the fallout and the inevitable crises, and ultimately trust in your ability to bring the entire class safely through the experience without the grenade blowing up in your face. For instance, when you signal to your students that you aren’t going to back down about this, someone is likely to blurt out something like “the defeat of Native Americans can’t be called ‘genocide’ ”—­at which point you have to be prepared to turn that shopworn narrative into a story of survival and presence, while simultaneously engaging with some pretty horrible historical wounds. You must insist that your students gaze upon these wounds, and seek to redress them in a respectful and responsible manner that fully takes into account the experiences and emotions of Native individuals who might be in the classroom. This is not easy, and it will test the comfort zone of the professor as well as the students. I understand why many well-​meaning instructors are reluctant to take on this risk, even though I strongly believe they should be encouraged and properly equipped to do so. Recently, however, I experienced an encounter in a graduate seminar that resulted in a completely different kind of stasis—­one that seemingly negated what I consider to be the generative possibilities of tension. The seminar, entitled “Pocahontas Unplugged,” was specifically designed to interrogate and challenge foundational myths of American nationhood that have worked so successfully over the centuries to solidify notions of white exceptionalism. And, as such, the class was sure to provoke tensions—­this was, in fact, its intention—­as students grappled with and at times sought to defend the internalized biases and colonial perspectives they had grown up with ever since

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their Disney-​infused childhoods. Although taught in a traditional classroom setting with a handful of students present, the seminar also had a mandatory distance component for students who lived too far from campus or were otherwise unable to physically attend. Those students participating from a distance were brought into the classroom via a synchronous video feed, and the classroom itself was equipped with large screens and state-​of-​the-​art hardware allowing for multiple camera angles, split-​screen perspectives, and voice-​activated microphones to attract the camera’s lens, allowing everyone to interact with one another by way of face-​to-​face, on-​screen communication. Every possible effort was made for technology to erase the boundaries between the students in the room and those attending from afar. It didn’t take long in this setting before someone in the class volunteered an observation of a type that, in the past, had provoked that anticipated moment of tension. But although I could feel the visceral jolt reverberate among the few bodies present in the classroom, I realized that the students taking advantage of the distance platform remained sheltered from the experience in a way that subverted the pedagogical goals of my course. Some of those students were able to deflect the blow by simply fading from view, removing their bodies from the equation, silence being the equivalent of absence in this format. Others remained oblivious to what had just occurred. The students themselves were not at fault. The format simply shielded them from the necessity of feeling discomfort in this moment, and as an instructor I was denied the physical and emotional signals typically broadcast in such a moment, from which I might orchestrate a strategic response. Lately, as more and more of us are called upon to teach using one kind of distance platform or another, I find myself wondering if that generative moment of tension actually translates at all through cyberspace. Do we experience one another’s body language through video feeds, or does the essential tension simply evaporate into thin air, leaving the classroom hermitically sealed against the discomfort often provoked by assertions of white privilege? Taking it a step further, might “distance” itself function as a prerogative of privilege, insulating individuals from one another and from the physical consequences of their own speech acts? Who hasn’t scanned the “comments” section of any controversial blog posting and been taken aback by the hateful things average people feel emboldened to say when not in the presence of others? Even as we appear to be recklessly drifting away from the traditional “brick and mortar” classroom, this chapter seeks to further a pedagogy of


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presence—­one that promotes the necessity of bringing bodies together in space to enact meaningful discussion and change. It interrogates the implied egalitarianism of the distance education model, arguing instead that there is a level of necessary commitment, particularly when confronting America’s racial divides, that only comes through presence, by placing one’s corporeal body in the path of education, power, and privilege. I argue that when we lose sight of this commitment to learning, when we distance ourselves from the ethical considerations that arise from placing bodies together in space, we not only place an undue burden on communities of color, but we effectively segregate ourselves from the best of what the educational experience has to offer, and we become disengaged from a shared sense of purpose and weakened as a potential coalition in the struggle against social injustice. The reason why universities are, as I say, “recklessly” drifting toward distance platforms is based almost exclusively on financial considerations. University administrators, adopting business models for education (and the acumen that is presumed to accompany such an ethos), have energetically gone out in search of emerging markets in order to increase student enrollments and demonstrate overall growth in a suddenly cash-​strapped enterprise. In the not-​so-​subtle shift engendered by this institutional transformation, students are no longer seen as the “products” of our educational system within a mutually beneficial, civic-​minded, cultural endeavor, but rather they have been branded “consumers” in an education “market” where the actual quality of education takes a back seat to customer satisfaction, however that may be defined. In this new model, distance education has emerged as the cheapest and fastest means of encouraging growth by targeting students who might not otherwise have the ways, means, or inclination to commit to physically placing themselves in a classroom. Often these students are ill-​equipped, for a variety of reasons, to bear the financial and intellectual burdens of a university education. What is being marketed to them, of course, is convenience—­ the precise opposite of tension. Nevertheless, if the incentive, from the administration’s perspective, remains purely economic, from an ethical standpoint it would be difficult to implement without the cover of a proactive set of goals and rationales that speak toward the imagined pedagogical advantages of distance education. It is worth mentioning here that the reason why our public institutions of higher learning find themselves in a cash-​strapped environment after decades of state-​funded solvency from the late 1940s to the early

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1980s, has at least something (and perhaps a lot) to do with race in the classroom. Following the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education and the subsequent efforts to integrate our public school systems, there ensued a newly activated antipathy among conservative ideologues to the very notion of public education. Urban centers experienced unprecedented white flight to the suburbs, and in certain parts of the country public school systems simply shut down rather than suffer the tensions of desegregated space. While public universities have gradually shifted their pedagogical priorities (and, to a lesser extent, the demographic makeup of their faculties) to accommodate an increasingly diverse student body, a concurrent drive arose on the political Right to “drain the swamp” of public education, which, all of a sudden, had come to be seen as an “entitlement” rather than a civic responsibility. From 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president, to 2015, the amount of money states kick in for public colleges and universities has dropped “from an average of 60% of [the schools’] total budgets to 12%.”2 This all occurred amidst the backdrop of an overall shift in governance that recalibrated tax rates and revenues while simultaneously funneling resources traditionally earmarked for public bureaucracies toward the private sector instead. Today, the ultimate devolution of this trend away from education investment can be seen in the appointment of Betsy DeVos, an individual with absolutely no history of public school engagement and a vocal proponent of private schooling, to the position of secretary of education. Former Harvard president Derek Bok observes that, at the time Brown v. Board of Education was made into law in 1954, an educator and a Wall Street investment banker entered the workforce earning roughly the same starting pay.3 Today the investment banker just starting out can expect to make twice the salary of the average educator before even factoring in bonuses.4 None of this, of course, happened overnight, but the result is self-​evident. Where once as a nation we were able to actively incentivize higher education, understanding it to be the most effective route to economic vitality and public stability, the moment we asked it to be inclusive to all groups, we began the complicated process of its commodification, placing higher education virtually out of reach for many Americans and dependent on distance platforms to keep costs down and lure in prospective “consumers.”5 And, as has been well-​reported, even as support for education plummeted, state investment in our prison systems has skyrocketed, rising 130 percent in just the last eight years.6


Drew Lopenzina

In this same time frame, there has been a corresponding rise in contingent labor at universities as faculty lines dry up with the funding, becoming yet another “swamp-​draining” casualty. Conveniently, distance education offers a solution for this as well, allowing the potential for a single faculty member to broadcast to an ever larger pool of students across great expanses. Needless to say, these interrelated developments have opened up new ways to exploit both “consumers” of education and the educational labor force, all while churning out an increasingly homogenized product. And this has indeed proved a successful financial model in the for-​profit education world, even if that success depends entirely upon federal assistance programs that supplement tuition costs while online students default on their loans at rates of 60–­75 percent.7 For those of us who, like myself, work in the state university system, there is a palpable sense that public institutions, too, are being colonized by proponents of distance platforms who seem to have the ear of administration, if not the hearts and minds of faculty. To be fair, there are many faculty who have committed to the distance model in good faith and who are hardly unaware of what one group of researchers refers to as the “tension between cost and pedagogical efficiency.” For these educators, “processes and structures that support learner-​centered communication and dialogism have been key to maintaining the necessary rigor [of distance education] when fiscal concerns threaten pedagogical principles.”8 These instructors have sought out innovative ways to deliver content and rethink the entire form of interface between student and instructor, locating within traditional face-​to-​face classrooms a tendency to replicate the dominant disciplinary structures found in prisons and the military. In this estimation, a distance platform might help to level the playing field in the classroom by no longer positioning the instructor as “the sole arbiter of knowledge.”9 Curriculum designers can create equivalency by abandoning face-​to-​face models and thinking instead how distance teaching practices might, in fact, transform the traditional classroom and “create a whole new resource for discovering sound pedagogical practices.”10 This critique is useful, perhaps, in helping us understand some of the limitations of traditional classroom models, although there is cause to question the pedagogical reforms being touted, particularly when we begin to unpack the implicit correlations between “learner-​centered” pedagogies and the “student as consumer” model. And yet, recent studies have suggested that “existing performance gaps between key demographic groups already observed in face to face classrooms  .  .  .

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are exacerbated in online courses,” a pattern which, if it holds steady, “would imply that the continued expansion of online learning could strengthen, rather than ameliorate, educational inequity.”11 Even in asynchronous platforms where ethnicity ostensibly becomes invisible, it has been demonstrated that an assumption of whiteness is the default setting.12 As Dan Colson notes in an earlier chapter in this volume, the risk of online classes is not that they reproduce the traditional classroom, but that they tend to mirror online forums with their “relative anonymity, the absence of racial markers,” and an environment that allows for comments that put forth “putatively ‘post-​racial’ rhetoric.”13 All told, the arguments for growth in distance education are not compelling enough to willfully undermine the benefits of presence, and one might just as readily argue that broadening the distance between instructor and student is yet another means of reproducing and maintaining traditional power structures, as it is typically the privilege of power to distance itself from the object of its control. Doubtless, many will find my diagnosis of distance education to be overly bleak and perhaps even reductive. Either way, the change is most certainly upon us, and the question remains whether or not this model of education is as effective or even as “inevitable” as its proponents claim. David F. Noble, who has turned a critical eye toward the technologizing of American culture, industry, and education, has cautioned that “the ideology of technology takes no prisoners. In this cultural context, any and all critics [of distance education] are at once disarmed and marginalized, dismissed as ignorant cranks, Luddites, and lunatics who dare to stand in the way of inevitable progress. Their criticism, however compelling in evidence and argument, is not taken seriously.”14 In fact, our growing fetishization of gadget technology in the classroom has effectively blinded us to the many studies demonstrating how these very technologies obstruct learning. New findings argue that handwritten notes lead to greater memory retention than notes taken on a keyboard. The cognitive proficiency of multitasking, so prevalent in the distance education culture, has been equated with drunkenness. And recent studies suggest that screen technologies operate like a drug, lighting up the same portions of our brains that respond to addictive substances like cocaine and heroin. It may be that the so-​called Luddites are the ones who actually have science on their side. But as Noble cannily points out, the real threat to education has little to do with technology and everything to do with its commodification.


Drew Lopenzina

As evidence, he points to the economic model of the “correspondence school,” so popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Noble makes evident the similarity in promotional language, as correspondence courses promised to ameliorate the conditions of crowded universities, taking into account “individual differences in learning” while allowing students with existing jobs to do “course work at any time and any place, at their own personal pace.”15 Then as now, Noble argues, the correspondence system tilted toward the promise of vocational training, operating as an appendage to corporate interests, and resulting in top-​heavy college administrative pools while becoming increasingly reliant on the exploitation of faculty labor.16 Despite all of this, every single online instruction manual that I consulted in crafting this chapter continues to frame the issue of distance learning around the false binary of resistance to or acceptance of technological “progress.” Instructional textbooks are filled with exciting buzzwords invoking the “new millennium” and “course migration.” As one primer notes, “technology is increasingly becoming a given in instructional design—­the question now is not if, but how teachers will use it.”17 In this discussion, “technology” becomes synonymous with “distance,” and arguments are couched in a kind of cant of conquest, pitting primitivism versus progressivism. These primers boast that “online instruction provides the opportunity for not just a different approach, but a progressive approach to the way teachers teach . . . an evolution of sorts.”18 Progress? Evolution? Are we really going to discuss educational reform within the language of Social Darwinism? Because we have been here before. Native Americans, in particular, have reason to be wary of such reform-​minded platitudes since, in their experience, the first experiments in “distance education” in the United States entailed sending Indian children distances of a thousand miles from their homes to federally funded boarding schools like the one initiated by Richard Henry Pratt in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1879. Although here, too, the true motives for such a program were centered on profit-​driven agendas of conquest, land appropriation, and yes, genocide, as with our contemporary distance education initiatives, the endeavor was given a sheen of respectability by so-​called social “reformers” who claimed that these programs would ease the transition of “primitive” Native peoples into a “modern” Western economy. We don’t typically associate educational reform with genocidal violence, and yet Native children from across the continent were shipped to these emotionally sterile enclaves and forced

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to undergo outward and inward transformations. Their hair was shorn to conform to Western standards of grooming, and their dress and regalia were swapped out for colonial attire. The children were forbidden from speaking their own languages or expressing traditional modes of spirituality, and were forced to adopt Christianity as their religion. In return for these cultural “concessions,” Native students were offered Western literacy and industrial skills that proved of little benefit to the blasted reservation economies they were returned to after seven or eight years of cultural reprogramming. Countless students (perhaps a quarter of those who were sent) died in these facilities from causes as varied as malnourishment, disease, neglect, and possibly homesickness.19 They suffered physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, and they endured this violence at an impossible remove from their kinship networks or anyone who felt personally invested in their true welfare. Projections of social benefits were highly exaggerated, and the cultural devastation of these programs remains a traumatic legacy for America’s Indigenous peoples. Interestingly, Pratt, best known for his famous dictum to “kill the Indian and save the man,” was considered a reformer in his time and made use of cutting-​edge technologies to help advance his educational agenda. Pratt pioneered the use of the camera for publicity purposes, producing a catalog of before-​and-​after photos of his Indigenous students that offered impressive visual “proofs” of the civilizing success of his program, even if the transformations captured on film were largely cosmetic. As Pratt wrote to one congressman: Dear Sir: I send you today a few photographs of the Indian youth here. You will note that they came mostly as blanket Indians. A very large proportion of them had never been inside a school room. I am gratified to report that they have yielded gracefully to discipline and that our school rooms, in good order, eagerness to learn, actual progress, etc., are, to our minds, quite up to the average of those of our own race. Isolated as these Indian youth are from the savage surroundings at their homes, they lose their tenacity to savage life, which is so much of an obstacle to Agency efforts, and give themselves up to learning all they can in the time they expect to remain here. 20

A handful of students, such as the Lakotas Charles Eastman, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, and Luther Standing Bear, were in fact able


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to parlay their boarding school educations into relative personal success as writers and Indian rights advocates, but this was largely in spite of the boarding school programs they survived rather than the logical result of such training. In fact, as their published accounts suggest, the boarding school experiences of these Native writers were fraught with unresolved classroom tensions that scarred them for the remainder of their lives.21 It is helpful to enlist Native studies paradigms when thinking through the overall significance of a pedagogy of presence. Daniel Wildcat, a Muscogee educator who argues for reclaiming traditional Indigenous models of education, warns of a kind of “technological homelessness” as our reliance on scientific innovation increasingly insulates us “from direct experience and the acquisition of experiential knowledge.” He finds this to be an alarming trend that not only threatens our educational system, but endangers the very “conditions for our human survival.”22 The environmental biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Potawatomi Nation refers to this trend as “species loneliness,” and warns against the “deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation.” She observes, “As our human dominance of the world has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbors. It’s no wonder that naming was the first job the Creator gave Nanabozho.”23 When we abstract ourselves from our localities and the complex systems of interrelated human, plant, and animal networks that comprise them, we distance ourselves from practical knowledge that comes only through the intimate relationships forged of presence. This is a common theme in Indigenous literature, criticism, and theory. The Osage scholar Robert Warrior notes how the traditional clan systems by which many Indigenous nations organize their communities created a process for children and adults to learn “how to behave through example of those who had piled up enough life experience to know something about the world.”24 That knowledge, the basis of tradition, stories, ceremonies, and culture in general, was the very thing that the Indian boarding schools were meant to disrupt and eradicate. Warrior follows in the footsteps of the Lakota intellectual Vine Deloria, who observes of modern technology that “we tend to believe that we can apply it on a rather indiscriminate basis,” but we often “do not really understand the side effect such use creates.” Indigenous traditions, however, “recognized that the world has a moral being and that disruptions among human societies created disharmony in the rest of the world.”25

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Perhaps some will scoff that Deloria is positing an essentialist view of Native identity—­one that romanticizes an Indigenous spiritual relationship with the land and nature. Deloria, however (and Native people in general), is hardly against technology in and of itself. My personal Facebook page can attest to the many Indigenous individuals with laptops and PCs who are hardly reluctant to wield their wit on social media sites. Websites have been created for the purposes of language reclamation among Native groups, and the Cherokee have even introduced an app that allows individuals to convert their cell phones to the Cherokee syllabary so that those who wish to can now text and tweet in Cherokee. But for the most part, Native peoples remain wary of the uses to which contemporary Americans put technology, and they fully understand how the traditions that sprang up organically from a people having lived in a particular place over a millennium are bound to be steeped in a deep holistic knowledge of that place that quite possibly exceeds the less invested determinations of politicians, corporations, and modern science in general. To forward such arguments in the public arena is to be, as Noble has suggested, dismissed as a Luddite and lunatic standing in the way of “inevitable progress.” But there can be little doubt that a Western tendency to abstract the consequences of human action from the natural world it acts upon has led us to the brink of irreversible ecological destruction. Wildcat readily admits that “the World Wide Web, and technology are not necessarily the problem. All of the above are quite simply tools.”26 But he observes that when our technology fails to account for a sense of place and community, when it abstracts the physical world with its promises of progress, evolution, and improved communications, it begins to assemble the narrative ingredients of a “coyote story writ large.” He asks, “What does it tell us when the high-​tech interconnectivity of ‘webs’ and ‘nets’ leaves us feeling disconnected? It tells us that technology is potentially impoverishing and harmful to the soul, to our spiritual interior lives that are formed by the number of good relations we acknowledge and maintain.”27 When I argue for a pedagogy of presence, it isn’t simply born of a knee-​ jerk reaction to the changes brought about by distance technologies, but rather it springs from a deep-​seated conviction of the importance of presence—­the level of commitment and the potential for transformation that are only made possible through the act of bodies sharing space. Over the summer of 2016 I attended a number of meetings,


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rallies, and candlelight vigils involving Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, and LGBTQ communities. As fall came around, I found myself on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota with thousands of others, bonding together to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Come January 2017, I was marching in the streets of Washington, D.C., with a million women and their supporters, joining in defiance of what has every mark of being an oppressive and authoritarian administration—­one that readily exploits narratives of white grievance while promoting the extraction of natural resources for private profit over public initiatives for the common good. At every one of these gatherings I was thrilled by the power and potential of people coming together for a common cause, speaking eloquently and with passion, bearing witness to the social injustices that continue to stubbornly degrade our society and its institutions. One surprising common theme from all these events was a call, absent in years past, to put down the cell phones, power down the computers, get off Facebook and social media, and to engage in direct and sustained action. As Robin Wall Kimmerer suggests, when “you stand together and profess a thing before your community, it holds you accountable.”28 How different, in fact, are Kimmerer’s and Wildcat’s assertions about presence and accountability from the eighteenth-​century philosopher David Hume, who observed that “the moral imagination diminishes with distance.” Hume was commenting directly upon our capacity to care for one another, to feel connected to the fortune and well-​being of a fellow human being, when we are not obligated to operate within a sphere of physical, or sensory, intimacy. Conversely, Hume noted that when we share space, “as in strings equally wound up, the motion of one communicates itself to the rest; so all the affections readily pass from one person to another, and beget correspondent movements in every human creature.” Hume referred to this phenomenon as a “species of contagion,” and his description is remarkably similar to the phenomenon experienced in the classroom, the invisible web of connectivity, that typically registers highest during moments of tension or collective discomfort.29 The Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes that in “Maori language there is the expression Kanohi Kitea or the ‘seen face,’ which conveys the sense that being seen by the people—­showing your face, turning up at important cultural events—­cements your membership within a community in an ongoing way and is part of how one’s credibility is continually developed and maintained.”30 Presence is the key to

Toward a Pedagogy of Presence


establishing one’s commitment and defining one’s place in the community. The “seen face” is one that doesn’t hide or fade out when things get uncomfortable. Presence is essentially the determination to see things through, to inconvenience and empower one’s self by showing up—­it is as much an act of courtesy as it is one of conviction. And in Native communities, and communities of color, it often marks the difference between paying mere lip service to social justice and the building of durable relationships of mutual trust. I do not hesitate to apply these standards to the “cultural event” of the classroom which, in my mind, can be as productive for the maintenance of good-​faith relations between America’s diverse cultural groups as any collective act of resistance. I am reminded here of the opening passage in Ta-​Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which begins with the seemingly offhand question of “what it meant to lose my body.” In recalling a television interview conducted by satellite, Coates observed that, although technology “closed the miles between” himself and the interviewer, “no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak.”31 Distance education may have been the furthest thing from Coates’s mind when he penned these words, and yet it turns out that this focus on physicality forms a kind of invisible spine that runs through his entire book. The impassioned letter to his son that ensues is an extended meditation on how to “live free in this black body” and on the kind of thought and action that must serve as a bulwark “against the sheer terror of disembodiment” in the constant confrontation with institutionalized brutality, his earliest memories of which seem to have occurred in the classroom.32 The university system in America is far from perfect. It has not proven itself a progressive haven for people of color, and the struggle is ongoing. Relatively speaking, we have just barely begun the experiment of bringing diverse bodies of peoples together in our educational institutions, and the process has been messy, uneven, and strewn with roadblocks. As Charles Ford and Jeffrey Littlejohn observe in Elusive Equality, their study of public education in Norfolk, Virginia (the home of my current institution, Old Dominion University), Norfolk’s schools are actually more segregated now than at any other time in their troubled history with forced integration since the early 1970s.33 The dominant perception, here as elsewhere, was that the influx of Black bodies into traditionally white enclaves degraded the quality of education. However false these claims, desegregation and busing stirred up


Drew Lopenzina

a massive demographic shift of whites to the suburbs. Distance education seems to be emerging at precisely the moment when more people of color than ever before are seeking a university degree, but it may simply prove one more form of white flight from the discomfort of sharing space with Black bodies. Every time I speak to what I feel is the obvious inadequacy of distance platforms, I am presented with the response that “it’s just as good.” And this perspective, however untested, is authorized by the power-​brokers who decide what is best for education, the university, and America. For those of us who feel a compelling need to counter such stances, a pedagogy of presence is required. And I argue that, particularly for those of us who have committed to discussing issues of race in the classroom, it is imperative. It is not enough to witness social injustice from a safe distance. Ultimately, being present is the final signal that you are willing to put your body on the line. Showing up entails risk but also promises great personal rewards, and as much as I hope our classrooms are safe spaces where the greatest risks are rhetorical and intellectual ones, I am still very much persuaded that education at least requires that commitment—­of putting your body in that place. Presence signals a willingness to face other humans of different persuasions, ethnicities, spiritual backgrounds, genders, philosophies, and phenotypes, and share in the tensions generated by those differences, comprehend the visceral consequences of one’s thought and speech, and bear witness to these confusing and profound forces of human experience. In the classroom of presence, one cannot simply sign off when an encounter is concluded, when a conversation flails, when things get tricky. Even in exiting a room, one must still move past the bodies, face the gazes, feel the love, approbation, confusion, or disapproval of those others in the room. Historically, it has been the person of color who was the sole repository of these tensions, and within the domain of white privilege, no effort was made to intellectually or emotionally relieve that racialized pressure. Generative tension arises from the dynamic of sustained proactive engagement, by becoming a witness to the history and legacy of inequality and injustice in America, and disrupting the processes of privilege by forcing those tensions to a head and then creatively resolving them to the best of one’s ability over a semester of instruction. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that “we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with, like a boil that can never

Toward a Pedagogy of Presence


be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light; injustice must be exposed, with the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of natural opinion before it can be cured.”34 This is the same strategic mindset we need to bring into the classroom.

Notes 1. Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout, “Introduction” in Teaching with Tension: Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-​First Century, ed. Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2018), p. 4. 2. This statistic is taken from Starving the Beast: The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America’s Public Universities, DVD, directed by Steve Mims (Independent: Violet Crown Films, 2016). 3. Derek Bok, “The Salary Gap and the Public Weal: Why Graduates Shun Service Careers,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1988, http://articles​ .latimes.com/print/1988-6-19/opinion/op-7741_1_public-service. 4. Portia Crowe, “So You Want to Be a Wall Street Banker? Here’s How Much You Will Get Paid,”  Business Insider, September 8, 2015, http://​ www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street bankers-​make-​2015–­9; “Average Salary for All K-12 Teachers,” Teacher Salary, http://www.payscale.com​ /research/US/All_K-12_Teachers/Salary. 5. Derek Thompson, “The Scariest Student Loan Number,” The Atlantic, July 19, 2016. 6. Jonathan R. Cole, “The Pillaging of America’s State Universities,” The Atlantic, April 10, 2016. Cole cites the findings of a Lincoln Project Report funded by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 7. Thompson, “Scariest Student Loan Number.” 8. Kevin Eric DePew, T. A. Fishman, Julia E. Romberger, and Bridget Fahey Ruetenik, “Defining Efficiencies: The Parallel Narratives of Distance Education and Composition Studies,” Computers and Composition 23 (2006): 55. 9. Kevin Eric Depew and Heather Lettner-​ Rust, “Mediating Power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze,” Computers and Composition 26 (2009): 176. 10. Depew and Lettner-​Rust, “Mediating Power,” 187. 11. Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas (New York: Community College Research Center, 2013), 23.


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12. L. E. Sujo de Montes, Sally M. Oran, and Elizabeth M. Willis, “Power, Language, and Identity: Voices from an Online Course,” Computers and Composition 19 (2002): 253. 13. Dan Colson, “Virtually White: Teaching Race in Online Classes,” in Teaching with Tension: Race and Education at the Dawn of the Twenty-​First Century, ed. Lee Bebout, Philathia Bolton, and Cassander L. Smith (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2018), p. 179. 14. David F. Noble, Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education (New York: Monthly Review, 2001), x–­xi. 15. Noble, Digital Diploma Mills, 10. 16. Noble, Digital Diploma Mills, 10–­16. 17. Scott Warnock, Teaching Writing Online: How & Why (Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009), x. 18. Warnock, Teaching Writing Online, x–­xi. 19. See Brenda J. Child, Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900–­1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 66–­ 67; Barbara Landis, “Carlisle Indian Industrial School History,” 1996, http://home.epix.net/~landis/histry.html. 20. Richard Henry Pratt, Battlefield and Classroom: Four Decades with the American Indian, 1867–­ 1904, ed. Robert M. Utley (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964), 248. 21. See Charles Alexander Eastman, From the Deep Woods to Civilization (Boston: Little, Brown, 1916); Luther Standing Bear, My People the Sioux (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975); Zitkala-​Sa, “Four Autobiographical Narratives of Zitkala-​Sa,” in Classic American Autobiographies, ed. William M. Andrews (New York: Penguin Books, 1992). 22. Daniel Wildcat, “Technological Homelessness,” in Power and Place: Indian Education in America, ed. Vine Deloria Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat (Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Resources, 2001), 72. 23. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis, Minn.: Milkweed Editions, 2013), 208–­9. 24. Robert Warrior, Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 110. 25. Vine Deloria Jr., “Traditional Technology,” in Power and Place: Indian Education in America, ed. Vine Deloria Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat (Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Resources, 2001), 62–­63. 26. Daniel Wildcat, “Understanding the Crisis in American Education,” in Power and Place: Indian Education in America, ed. Vine Deloria Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat (Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Resources, 2001), 30.

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27. Wildcat, “Technological Homelessness,” 76–­77. 28. Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 249. 29. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 605. 30. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People (New York: Zed Books, 2012), 15. 31.  Ta-​Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015), 5. 32. Coates, Between the World and Me, 12. 33. Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, Elusive Equality: Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk’s Public Schools (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012), 6. 34. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology, ed. Richard Barksdale and Kathleen Kinnamon (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1972), 867.


Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University Positionality, Privilege, Resistance, and Transformation Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

Recent work in critical whiteness studies has examined how the unquestioned and largely invisible structure of whiteness in a racialized society translates into individual behavior—­specifically, how white people tend to resist discussions of race, white privilege, and white supremacy, particularly when asked to examine their own complicity within a racist system. For example, Robin DiAngelo’s work on “white fragility” documents the predictable strategies of resistance that white people use in discussions about race and privilege, including “the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-​inducing situation.”1 In the university context, it is often the very programs that prepare students for the “helping professions” such as teaching, counseling, and social work that are overwhelmingly populated by white, middle-​class, female students who have not had the opportunity to unlearn racially problematic assumptions; in such spaces, the dynamics of white fragility can be particularly engrained.2 A more structural understanding of white fragility focuses on what David Brunsma, Eric Brown, and Peggy Placier call the “walls of whiteness,” which are supported by the “epistemologies of ignorance” of white students who, when faced with an antiracist pedagogy that decenters the hegemony of their perspectives, respond with “denial, evasion, self-​ lying, and 217


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

non-​located guilt as the person behind this wall fails to see the central societal reality of injustice, inequality, and disorder caused by white domination.”3 Within this context, it is not uncommon for courses that critically interrogate whiteness to be portrayed as “anti-​white.” While Brunsma, Brown, and Placier are skeptical of—­but not hopeless about—­the possibility of pedagogies that break down the walls of whiteness beyond the confines of a semester-​long course, we must also consider how the walls of whiteness are upheld by the neoliberalization of the university, where, as Roberta Hawkins, Maya Manzi, and Diana Ojeda argue, “as academic knowledge is increasingly quantified and commodified, there seem to be fewer spaces for the kinds of knowledge that can contribute to imagining and building a better world.”4 Is it possible to undo the walls of whiteness within the walls of the neoliberal university? This chapter speaks to the day-​to-​day reality of teaching whiteness in an upper-​division, undergraduate, interdisciplinary social science course, where the majority of the students are white, middle-​class, and female. In centering my narrative on three auto-​ethnographic vignettes from micro-​level classroom interactions, this chapter critically analyzes the various strategies of white resistance to discussions about race while examining how my own positionality as a young, white, middle-​ class, female professor both facilitated and constrained the discussions and transformations possible in the classroom space. Moving from the micro-​level space of the classroom to the macro-​level ideological forces at work within the university, this chapter speaks to what it means to teach within a radical, interdisciplinary social justice-​focused department that resides somewhat uneasily within a neoliberal university. Neoliberal corporatization has led to an unprecedented privatization of public universities5 and has introduced a profound shift in subjectivity in the classroom. Pervasive neoliberal discourses of individualism, entrepreneurship, meritocracy, and color-​ blindness, I argue, have produced a challenging context in which to teach race-​conscious, collective, and action-​oriented courses about whiteness. Increases in the cost of a college education are accompanied by a neoliberal mentality that positions students and families as consumers who see themselves as entitled to dictate the course of their educational experience, and to more vocally resist pedagogical situations that involve discomfort. In the vignettes that follow, I focus on the role of discomfort, tension, and negative emotions in producing both resistance and transformative educational experiences in a constrained neoliberal context.

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


Vignette: “I Just Got So Overwhelmed with Feeling Terrible” It was break time during my three-​hour seminar on whiteness, and instead of stepping out to take a break, I was ambushed by two white students—­Jordan and Rose6—­as I was sitting at my desk organizing my paperwork for the second half of class. They were visibly agitated. “Can we talk to you for a second?” Rose said, aggressively hovering over my seated body. “Sure, what’s up?” I smiled, casually trying to hide my dread at the words that were about to come out of her mouth. “We’re really upset about the discussions we’ve been having in this class,” Rose said. “I had to leave during that last discussion because I just got so overwhelmed with feeling terrible.” Expressing the low tolerance for racial discomfort that characterizes white fragility,7 Rose predictably demonstrated one of the main tactics for dealing with this discomfort—­ leaving the stress-​inducing situation. Jordan chimed in. “Yeah, I haven’t been able to talk in this class at all. It’s like I’m just too scared to say anything. I’ve just been silent.” Similar to leaving the stress-​inducing situation, silence—­which repeatedly surfaced as one of the more subtle tactics of white fragility—­was Jordan’s response. Lisa Mazzei, a white female teacher educator, discusses her encounters with a stubborn “racially inhabited silence” among white female teacher candidates “that limits, if not negates, an open dialogue regarding race and culture.”8 Silence in the face of race talk represents the privilege to withdraw, resist, and disengage. Here, Jordan’s racially inhabited silence is presented as victimization, with the underlying message that it is me, the professor, and the classroom environment that have silenced him—­rather than owning his choice to remain silent. Back to Rose, who now leaned closer to me. “I think my self-​esteem is going down because of this class.” Like in Cheryl Matias’s classroom,9 Rose and Jordan had skillfully used the tactics of white fragility to shift the conversation to their own emotional reactions, centering the white experience and decentering the experiences of people of color. I nodded sympathetically, trying to empathize with the strong, destabilizing emotions of white fragility without validating their attempts to equate their pain with the pain of people of color. Here, Rose presented her experience of being white in the whiteness classroom as an aspect of white cultural victimization;10 the notion that discussing race and racism represents not an opportunity for learning and understanding, but a cost to white people. K. D. McKinney shows that such an approach


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

is rooted in white beliefs in meritocracy and the drawing of “false parallels”11 between the experiences of whites and people of color that represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the relations of power in a white supremacist society. Believing that white experiences of discomfort and silence are equal to the oppression of people of color, Rose and Jordan expected me to restore their implicit sense of cultural entitlement and superiority. Then Rose aggressively locked eyes with me. “How’s your self-​ esteem?” she asked. Taken aback by this personal question, I paused. “My self-​esteem? It’s fine. But I’ve had a rough time with my racial identity journey. This isn’t easy stuff. I want you to hang in there. I promise you that you’ll come out on the other end a stronger and more confident person.” But as these words came out of my mouth, I wasn’t entirely sure that my promise was sincere. I really wanted to say, “How dare you ask me about my self-​esteem? How does a focus on your self-​ esteem help the project of racial justice? How dare you constantly refocus the conversation on your emotions? This isn’t about you!” But I held my tongue, because I knew that would likely backfire. After all, I was a nice white lady. Nice white ladies are “good girls”—­we don’t express anger, we take care of people, we engage in emotional labor on behalf of others, and we don’t challenge people too much in their deeply entrenched beliefs. We are there to support others, and many times that support, that niceness, inadvertently lends itself to reinscribing whiteness.12 This wasn’t the first time that Jordan had resisted me. During the second week of class, he had ambushed me, again during the break, to discuss his feelings. “I just feel like the students of color in the class are so angry,” he said, projecting his own anger and discomfort onto the students of color in the classroom, rather than taking responsibility for his own feelings. “Yes, there’s some anger in what some of the students were saying,” I agreed, knowing that my take on their anger was different from his; while I viewed the anger as justified, he felt threatened by it. “There’s one person in the class specifically,” he continued. “I’ve had problems with her in other classes. She’s just so angry. During the discussion today she was talking about how students of color feel really unwelcome on this campus and I turned to Lorraine [a Black female student] next to me and she shook her head too. She was also offended by the comment. I just felt really uncomfortable.” Here, Jordan attempted to find justification for his feelings of outrage at the anger of people of color by allying himself with a student of color in the

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


class whose perspective aligned with his own and who he could use as a proxy for his own white fragility. I realized that my positionality as a white professor was playing a key role here—­because I was a white person, he could (and did) expect me to ally myself with him, along racial lines, and against the student of color in the class who had expressed anger. He was expecting me to restore the hegemony of whiteness in the classroom, and to behave in ways consistent with the behavioral norms of most white faculty members. Gently, but firmly, I refused to do so. “Why do you think she is angry?” I asked him. “Have you thought about that? Have you tried to put yourself in her shoes and understand her anger?” He admitted that he hadn’t. “I would encourage you to talk to her,” I said, softening my directive with a hypothetical would. “Find out why she’s angry. You have an opportunity to learn something from her.” Now visibly angry (at me, at her, at not getting the validation he needed), Jordan thanked me briefly and stormed off.

Positionality and Privilege: A Young, White, Middle-​Class, Cis-​Gender Female Body at the Front of the Classroom Is this it? I asked myself following my interactions with Jordan and Rose. Is this the moment I’m going to be reported to the administration for being “racist against white people”? It turned out that I was not going to be reported to the administration—­which, as an untenured faculty member, feels particularly threatening. Not this time, nor any other time I refused to take responsibility for white students’ expressions of white fragility, would I face consequences for practicing what Michalinos Zembylas calls a pedagogy of discomfort.13 My privilege as a white professor and as a relatively benign-​seeming nice white lady buffered me from the kinds of institutional chastising that has occurred at many other universities where whiteness classes are taught. In addition to the gendered politics of caretaking, which I wrestled with in my interactions with Jordan and Rose, my white and female identity—­the ways that my white skin and female body are on display in front of a class of students, many of whom claim to be race-​and gender-​blind (but are anything but, as recent research on course evaluations has shown)14—­plays a role in the ways that I enact niceness in the classroom. Angelina Castagno argues that niceness can serve as a cover for inequitable practices, such that “whiteness maintains its


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

power and privilege by perpetuating and legitimating the status quo while simultaneously maintaining a veneer of neutrality, equality, and compassion.”15 A focus on niceness, Castagno argues, often results in a focus on “meaning well” without an understanding of how intentions, however good they may be, translate into inequitable outcomes.16 My pedagogy involves a great deal of listening to and empathizing with students’ perspectives, not always pushing students toward discomfort. While I push back against students’ color-​blind and naive perspectives, I do so in a way that is gentle, not aggressive (“I would suggest,” after all), and that is sometimes too focused on protecting the feelings of white students. Here lies a key pedagogical tension between pushing students to feel uncomfortable and challenge their preexisting perspectives (many of which are, in fact, racist, sexist, classist, etc.), while not pushing them so hard that they shut down, leave, and/​or complain to the upper administration. In what ways have I, through my pedagogy of niceness, tacitly supported the strategies of white fragility? In what ways am I so concerned about creating a classroom environment that is “safe” that I have inadvertently given tacit acceptance to views that are problematic? For whom is the classroom setting truly “safe”? Can authentic learning about race take place in a classroom that is comfortable and “nice”? I begin the first day of the semester with an introduction to myself as a person—­specifically, as a white middle-​class woman who has benefited from a considerable amount of privilege throughout her lifetime. I expose my personal life to students in a kind of “whiteness confession,” an account of the formative experiences of my life to date as shaped by white privilege. This “confession” is intended to produce a context in which the sharing of emotions, experiences, mistakes, self-​critique, and transformative moments is normalized. I believe that sharing my own experiences and mistakes with students is key to producing a context in which they feel comfortable sharing; if they know me as a full human being with vulnerabilities, emotions, and imperfections, they will bring their whole human selves to the classroom, as much as they can. I realize there is a danger in this kind of confessional navel-​gazing, in indulging in public displays of guilt and shame—­albeit productively transformed into self-​reflexive critique—­that serve to, once again, center the focus on the emotions and experiences of white people. And I also realize that, as Gillespie, Ashbaugh, and DeFiore (2002) point out, while focusing on the instructor’s personal experience can produce important moments of identification between the students and

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the instructor that can lead to transformation, such transformation is typically limited to the individual level, sending the implicit message that as long as students engage in self-​reflection, there is no need to join larger political efforts to transform white supremacy at the structural level.17 As a white female professor, I leverage my white privilege within the academy to teach a course that would likely transpire differently were I a professor of color. I inhabit a space of privilege, of racial belonging, knowing that I will probably not lose my job or be denied tenure simply for teaching a course on whiteness.18 Unlike several high-​ profile cases across the country—­including, for example, the chapters by John Streamas (“How We Lost Our Academic Freedom”) and Lee Bebout (“Onward into the Discomfort”) in this book—­where alt-​right groups such as Campus Reform have deliberately targeted courses about whiteness and multiculturalism as being “racist against white people,” unleashing a vitriolic conservative media campaign based on claims of “reverse racism” and “liberal brainwashing,” I have not (yet) been subject to such tactics. While this has to do with my whiteness, my femininity, my youthful appearance (all three of which conjure notions of innocence in different ways), and the subsequent ways I deploy niceness in the classroom as a protective shield, it is also due to the fact that I operate within a department that is entirely focused on social justice. It is not uncommon for students in my department to take my whiteness course in the same semester as our required Social Justice core course and an elective titled “The Psychology of Racism.” Unlike many departments and programs in which one token “diversity” course is expected to be sufficient, the students in our program are exposed to conversations about race and privilege on a regular basis. Having built up some tolerance for the discomfort associated with conversations about race, our students are less likely to complain to the administration. And the title of my course may inadvertently and arbitrarily shield me from alt-​right media attacks, as well. “The Social Construction of Whiteness,” as my course is titled, does explicitly name whiteness, as Lee Bebout’s course does, but it does so in a way that is potentially more palatable, or at least more covert. While the intended meaning of “social construction” is to uncover the historical and sociocultural processes through which the boundaries of whiteness are made and remade to benefit those who are understood as white, whiteness as a “social construction” can also be interpreted through a postracial “race


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

is not real” frame as arbitrary and lacking material existence as a real system of social stratification. It is through this rhetorical ambiguity—­as well as my embodied whiteness, femininity, and youth in and out of the classroom—­that I may have so far escaped the harassment that Streamas, Bebout, and others have faced.

Vignette: But What about My Depression? This week, the group current event presentation19 centered on the story of Rinna Rem, a Thai-​Cambodian woman who started an online fund-​ raising campaign to help fund her therapy sessions that, she reported, were necessary due to her exposure to institutional racism.20 After the group was finished presenting, a tense discussion on mental health and racism began in the classroom. “Maybe she should have phrased it differently,” some students said, while others commented that “most people won’t understand what she means by institutional racism,” and “I think it’s petty that she’s using race to get money for her therapy sessions.” The critiques went on and on. I interjected, observing out loud that many students were feeling entitled to police her form of activism—­and that this was a repeated theme I had seen over the course of several current event presentations. What would it mean, I asked, if we actually empathically tried to understand the reasons and rationale behind the activism of people of color, rather than immediately jumping to critiquing their strategies and tactics? One or two allies in the class piped up and agreed with me. Then Emily, a white female student, raised her hand, launching into a story of how she has struggled with depression—­admitting to the class that she was feeling ashamed and scared to talk about it in front of the group. In the middle of her story, tears started to roll down her cheeks. The class silently listened, and a few moments of silence followed after she finished. A white female student raised her hand and said, “I think it was really brave of Emily to talk about something in front of the class that she feels really vulnerable about. We never really talk about mental health, so I want to thank Emily for bringing up something that has so much stigma attached to it.” Several students said “yes!” and others nodded, and the room broke into a spontaneous round of applause. The focus had now completely shifted onto Emily’s emotions. We were no longer talking about the emotions and mental health needs of the woman of color whose activism we had been discussing previously. Never before in

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


this class had I witnessed an outpouring of such support for a student sharing something emotionally vulnerable. We certainly hadn’t seen this kind of empathy and compassion just moments before when we were discussing (and critiquing) the woman of color’s experiences of institutional racism and subsequent mental health issues. I tried to bring the class back to the issue at hand, bridging our conversation between racism and mental health by arguing that racism is a mental health issue. I pointed out that we rarely acknowledge the links between mental health problems and the larger sociopolitical structure of whiteness that, as Mab Segrest argues, both dehumanizes people of color as well as damaging white people as the oppressors, albeit in a way that the pain of white people does not equal the pain of people of color.21 But my words sounded hollow and were hardly acknowledged; they had already been drowned out by what Cheryl Matias calls “white emotionality.”22 Of course, students of color also experienced and expressed strong emotions in the classroom, but when they did, they were met with less warmth and compassion than Emily had enjoyed in her expression of white emotionality. This was evident later in the semester when Lianne, a Black student who had immigrated from the Caribbean and had spent the majority of the semester awakening to countless examples of racism in the United States, responded with angry tears to the persistent white ignorance in her classmates’ comments. In the midst of discussing strategies for dismantling persistent racial stereotypes, one group found themselves discussing how one white male student, George, couldn’t find a way to undo the link between whiteness and beauty in his mind. Lianne exploded in anger. With tears streaming down her face and with her voice raised in exasperation, she observed out loud that the white students in the class could not possibly understand the experience of constantly being devalued because of being Black. Crying, she stormed out of the room, and the group froze in silence for a few moments of tension before moving on to discuss the next example. Later I learned that George and Lianne had discussed and resolved the conflict during the break, but I was left wondering about the emotional strategies of students of color when compared to their white peers. Many of the white students, faced with racial stress, expected me—­ the white professor—­to take responsibility for their feelings. Students of color, on the other hand, did not expect me to do so. Like Lianne, students of color experienced emotional reactions that they sometimes expressed in class, but they typically took responsibility for their feelings. They experienced racial stress and discomfort just as the white


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

students did, and sometimes they temporarily left the stress-​inducing situation (as Lianne had), but ultimately they took responsibility for repairing relationships, debriefing conflicts, and (most of the time) toning down their emotional responses. In the classroom space, as in the wider society, students of color were burdened with the responsibility of moving and relating in a predominantly white space, treading lightly around white fragility, and taking responsibility for educating their white peers about racism.

The Predominantly White, Neoliberal University Context The small, interdisciplinary, social justice-​ oriented undergraduate department in which I teach is situated within a large public research-​ intensive institution that, like 95 percent of colleges and universities in the United States, is historically, traditionally, and currently predominantly white.23 Although this particular public university has been able to withstand some of the skyrocketing tuition increases that have plagued other large state university systems across the country, the rise in tuition has, nonetheless, caused a change in the demographic makeup of students who show up in our classrooms—­they have only become more predominantly white, despite mounting university claims to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” For example, in my department, the percentage of white students has consistently increased, from 63.4 percent white in 2011 to 73.4 percent white in 2015. Comparatively, among students of color, Asian students are the only group whose enrollment has increased (from 6.0 percent in 2011 to 9.4 percent in 2015), while other groups of color have seen their already low numbers dwindle even more (Native American students dropped from 0.2 percent to 0 percent; Black students dropped from 6.8 percent to 5.4 percent; and Hispanic students dropped from 8.5 percent to 7.0 percent).24 While rising tuition increasingly prices out students of color, who because of institutional racism are more likely to come from working-​class and poor families, and are more likely to be the first generation in their family to go to college, a culture of hostility toward students of color has been documented in many historically white colleges and universities (HWCUs) that combines with other structural factors to push students of color out. While I work within a social justice-​focused department in which the curricular norms are oriented toward radical politics and antiracist

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


research and activism, the department sits uneasily within a university in which the upper administration is predominantly white, and the university culture is socially conservative, is unquestioningly wedded to community service that employs “white savior” tropes, and uncritically embraces neoliberalizing the university. Neoliberalization within the context of higher education translates into rapidly rising tuition, increasing reliance on hierarchical business models for hiring and compensation in which the upper administration obtains vast increases in salaries while departments increasingly rely on non-​tenure-​track (visiting and adjunct) labor, a competitive work environment that results in overwork and threatens the mental health of faculty and graduate students alike,25 the whitening of both university faculty and the student body, and institutional lip service to “diversity and inclusion” that does not fundamentally question the overwhelming whiteness of HWCUs.26 What these trends have resulted in for students is a transformation of student identities from public good-​oriented citizens into market-​ savvy consumers. As tuition increases and universities increasingly rely on international students to maximize profit via tuition, domestic students, particularly students of color27 and working-​class students, take on massive amounts of debt and feel that their university education is increasingly risky.28 The pressure for marketable skills and an entrepreneurial orientation among the neoliberal generation29 is significant, and students come to the university riddled with anxieties about whether their investment in a bachelor’s degree will be “worth it.” In all of my courses, discussions of students’ future plans and aspirations always center on these anxieties, ones that I cannot fully quell because a precarious labor context does indeed await them upon graduation. In 2015, for example, the unemployment rate of college graduates was 7.2 percent, compared to 5.5 percent in 2007.30 Within the neoliberalization of the university, any classroom that requires students to authentically self-​ reflect, confront their deeply held biases, and commit to activism is increasingly threatened by the popularity and institutional support for classes that focus on technical knowledge solely for the purpose of imparting marketable job skills.31 Although I cannot definitively claim that neoliberalization of the university has made the space of the whiteness classroom more constrained in its potential for authentic transformative learning, I suspect that this is, at least in part, the case. While the strategies of white fragility—­white students’ entitlement to racial comfort, and strategies of resistance when that comfort is threatened—­certainly predate


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

the advent of neoliberalism, it is no accident that neoliberalization is accompanied by discourses of color-​blind racism32 and color-​mute language33 that obfuscate the racism that persists in HWCUs. In the classroom, this means that white students’ attachment to color-​blind racist ideology is supported, rather than challenged, by the larger university discourses of “diversity and inclusion” that paradoxically remain largely color-​, gender-​, class-​, and power-​blind. More obviously, the racial makeup of the whiteness classroom is certainly more white than ever, given that rising tuition and a culture of hostility toward students of color at HWCUs has led to lower retention rates among students of color than among white students. Isolated in the classroom and likely to be singled out to represent their entire racial group in class discussions, students of color face a hostile classroom environment in addition to a hostile larger campus climate. Simultaneously, white students, emboldened by the perceived alliance of a large group of other white students in the classroom, are more likely to utter racially problematic comments during class discussion, expecting that their white peers (and their white professor) will back them up when they claim that race does not matter anymore, that talking about race and racism is what makes it a problem in the first place, or that they aren’t racist because they have a Black friend or partner (with all of the uncritical fetishizing of blackness that accompanies the latter statement). Within the context of a larger push toward neoliberalization at the institutional level, color-​blind racism becomes more difficult, yet all the more important, to resist at the classroom level. With the individualist emphasis of color-​blindness, it becomes easier for white students to externalize their opposition to racism, vilifying “those racists over there” (family members, ignorant friends, and overt white supremacists) while failing to expose the more subtle racism within their color-​blind perspectives. At the same time, while focusing on undoing internalized racist beliefs is important for preparing antiracist allies, students in the individualized context of a neoliberal classroom assume that their individual self-​work and exposure of their problematic beliefs is enough without engaging in antiracist activism at the structural level.34

Vignette: Cultural Appropriation This week, the group current event presentation involved an example of a controversial fraternity party in which white partygoers wore

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


blackface. All of the students, faced with an overtly racist example, agreed that this was wrong. Then, however, we segued into a much more controversial discussion of cultural appropriation in terms of dress, hairstyles, language, and cultural practices. This became one of the most contentious discussions of the entire semester, one of those moments to which Drew Lopenzina (in his chapter in this volume) points as creating an instantaneous moment of embodied tension that envelops the classroom. Many of the white students in the class—­many of whom had not spoken up much during the first part of the semester, having held themselves in tense, resistant silence—­took this opportunity to speak up, repeatedly returning to the argument that clothing and fashion are superficial and meaningless choices that do not have political ramifications. According to Ashley, a white female student, if a white person wears something from a different culture with a good intent—­with “kindness in your heart,” in her words—­then why is that a problem? Here, her defensiveness and reliance on the “good white person” trope elevates intent over impact, without any consideration for the feelings of people of color or the relations of power at work. The lens, once again, is redirected to the feelings of white people, our good intentions, our essential goodness, and the insistence that we could not possibly be racist. The phrasing of many of the white students’ arguments—­“I don’t understand why . . .”—­rather than asking a question out of real curiosity reflected defensiveness as well as what Charles Mills refers to as an epistemology of white ignorance, “an agreement to misinterpret the world  .  .  .  , a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.”35 Joe, a white male student, shared that he had been given a gift of an African shirt that he wore to campus one day, emphasizing that an African student actually stopped him on campus to compliment his shirt and say how “awesome” he thought it was that a white guy was wearing an African shirt. In doing so, this white male student attempted to use the perspective of one African individual to justify wearing the shirt, and to delegitimize the critique of cultural appropriation. What failed to register for Joe, and for most of the class, was that the assumption of lending credibility, beauty, status, or legitimacy to cultural dress by elevating it to white standards was based in a stance of white supremacy. Relatedly, what also failed to register was that members of marginalized groups are often critiqued for wearing their cultural dress, but white


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

people are praised (or, at a minimum, not critiqued) for doing the same thing with cultural attire that is not their own. Anura, an Indian female student and one of the members of the group that was presenting and facilitating the discussion, became more and more agitated throughout the discussion, and interjected with “I don’t think it’s okay for somebody who hasn’t had the experience of living in my skin to wear the culturally based clothing that I wear. Until you fully understand what it’s like to be me—­and you never will—­I don’t want white people wearing symbols of my culture, symbols that were born out of struggle and oppression.” I breathed a sigh of relief as she articulated her critique, and realized that it was also the moment for me to step in. “Let me tell you all a story,” I spoke into the tense silence; it was time for one of my “whiteness confessions.” I told the class the story of when I was in college, and was a young white hippie living in “a hippie commune”—­at which the class laughed, temporarily breaking some of the tension—­and I decided that I was going to wear dreadlocks. I explained that I did so with little to no understanding of the cultural context and colonial oppression out of which the practice emerged. I was steeped in white innocence and naïveté, and I saw no problem with appropriating a hairstyle that was neither culturally nor practically appropriate for my own cultural heritage or body and hair type. Here, my strategy reflected the kind of emotional labor36 that female professors leverage in order to teach white students the tools of antiracist self-​reflexivity, strategies that require a “willingness to plunge into personal histories to reveal to our students what it means to be race cognizant. Our self-​disclosure exposes us in our other social roles as wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, as well as professional workers.”37 However, what is problematic about such strategies of emotional labor is the danger that students, particularly white female students who can see themselves reflected in our confessional, deeply personal stories, come away from our classes with the conclusion that self-​reflexive critique and individual effort are all that are needed to be antiracist. Such an individualistic view runs the risk of disconnecting white students from their potential as white allies to larger political and social struggles alongside people of color. When I finished the story, several white students stepped in to my “rescue”—­because apparently I, or at least my innocence, needed rescuing—­to argue that it was okay to wear dreadlocks, it was okay that I didn’t know, and that it’s “just a hairstyle” and they know plenty of

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


other white people who wear dreadlocks. The discussion continued, with several students pointing out the racialized history of dreadlocks and the politics of hair, but I left feeling like I hadn’t adequately dislodged the white innocence and white fragility that took hold during that discussion. Perhaps a personal example, a whiteness confession from their white female professor, wasn’t enough to raise their racial consciousness.

Pedagogical Tensions, the Walls of Whiteness, and the Neoliberal University As the classroom vignettes in this chapter have illustrated, my pedagogy hinges upon two contradictory approaches that coexist in tension with one another—­a pedagogy of discomfort in which I refuse to cater to the strategies of white fragility expressed by my white students, on the one hand, and a pedagogy of niceness, the norms of which I have been socialized into as a white, middle-​class, “good girl.” There are moments in which I deliberately push the classroom toward tension, and there are other moments—­perhaps more frequent—­in which I back away from that same tension, strategically aware of the emotional labor and political risk involved in maintaining tension and discomfort in the classroom. Through it all, my overarching goal is to undo the walls of whiteness in an atmosphere that is at once compassionate and rigorous. What I did not anticipate in the whiteness classroom, however, was the ways in which course discussions, particularly those following student-​led current event presentations, would unfold according to a predictable pattern: after objecting to the obvious forms of racism and discrimination and the ways that whiteness manifested itself in the example presented, one student would typically “play devil’s advocate” by questioning the actions, behaviors, and thought patterns of the people of color involved. Most of the class would then jump on board, scrutinizing every aspect of the situation to propose a scenario or response that would have been “better,” in their opinion, and often inventing somewhat absurd hypothetical situations and drawing false parallels between the experiences of white people and the experiences of people of color. Sometimes one of the more racially aware students in the class would speak up, questioning this train of thought, and I would interject by pointing out the pattern I observed. In the end,


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

however, I was left wondering whether the unpopular counter-​narrative to the dominant notions of color-​ blindness, white innocence, and white fragility would make a lasting difference for my students. These discussions, as well as the moments of resistance from white students when they approached me during or after class, provided example after example of the ways that the white students in the class felt entitled to critique and police the emotional expressions and activism of people of color, and to defend white innocence. As I have shown in this chapter, I deliberately structure the whiteness classroom in a way that encourages risk-​taking, vulnerability, discomfort, taking responsibility for emotional responses, and the creation of a family-​like classroom community. Such structuring of the classroom, as I have argued, requires a great deal of emotional labor on my part. In addition to individual effort and transformation, however, the macro-​level ideological forces at work in the university and society also impact the dynamics of the whiteness classroom. Despite my attempts to push students to critically self-​examine their positionality, the neoliberal focus on keeping students (as “customers”) happy, comfortable, and safe in the classroom—­coupled with my position as a “nice white lady”—­undermines the possibility of a truly transformative pedagogy. However, while the tension between resistance and transformation persisted throughout the semester, ultimately those students who had been the most resistant in the earlier stages became more willing to embrace their discomfort, challenge their beliefs, shift their identity, and listen more closely to the stories of students of color in the classroom. For example, Jordan, who was one of the most vocal resisters throughout the majority of the semester (even though he claimed to have been “silenced” by discussions of white privilege), persisted through the space of discomfort and approached me at the end of the semester to thank me for pushing him to persist. Later, much to my surprise, he showed up enrolled in another one of my courses. However, while many students like Jordan claimed in their final project journals that they now thought differently about their own racial identity and position, some stopped short of committing themselves to antiracist action. For them, it seemed, being nonracist was equivalent to being antiracist, particularly when it came to understanding and dismantling white privilege on a structural, rather than merely individual, level. As I have argued in this chapter, which interweaves personal narratives from the classroom with the macro-​level context that shapes universities in a neoliberal era, white students’ expressions of resistance

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


to discussions about race cannot be understood separately from this larger context. In the neoliberal university, many students pay large sums of money to attend and are primarily motivated by obtaining a degree so that they can find employment. Students—­who in this context are positioned as market-​savvy consumers—­have considerable power to influence faculty reappointment, promotion, and tenure decisions based on student course evaluations, which research shows are imbued with students’ racist and sexist biases.38 Transformative learning, which necessitates a pedagogy of discomfort in order to produce a profound shift in consciousness that lingers beyond the end of a fifteen-​week semester, is often sacrificed in a kind of complicit contract between the professor and students that involves a mere performance of teaching and learning. While there are many of us who attempt to transform this kind of superficial teaching and learning relationship, the context of the neoliberal university structures the consciousness that students bring to our classrooms, regardless of our pedagogical intentions. I remain critical of the possibility of truly undoing whiteness—­beyond mere individual transformation—­within the confines of the neoliberal university, where teaching and learning are secondary to the pursuit of profit.

Notes 1. Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no. 3 (2011): 55. 2. Laura Abrams and Priscilla Gibson, “Reframing Multicultural Education: Teaching White Privilege in the Social Work Curriculum,” Journal of Social Work Education 43, no. 1 (2007): 154–­55; Sandra Lawrence and Takiema Bunche, “Feeling and Dealing: Teaching White Students about Racial Privilege,” Teaching and Teacher Education 12, no. 5 (1996): 532; Cynthia Levine-​Rasky, “The Practice of Whiteness among Teacher Candidates,” International Studies in Sociology of Education 10, no. 3 (2000): 270; Cheryl Matias, Feeling White: Whiteness, Emotionality, and Education (Rotterdam: Sense, 2016): 2–­6; Bree Picower, “The Unexamined Whiteness of Teaching: How White Teachers Maintain and Enact Dominant Racial Ideologies,” Race Ethnicity and Education 12, no. 2 (2009): 205–­6. 3. David Brunsma, Eric Brown, and Peggy Placier, “Teaching Race at Historically White Colleges and Universities: Identifying and Dismantling the Walls of Whiteness,” Critical Sociology 39, no. 5 (2013): 725.


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

4. Roberta Hawkins, Maya Manzi, and Diana Ojeda, “Lives in the Making: Power, Academia and the Everyday,” ACME: An International E-​ Journal for Critical Geographies 13, no. 2 (2014): 337. 5. Henry Giroux, The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-​ Industrial-​Academic Complex (Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm, 2007): 102–­4. 6. All student names are pseudonyms. 7. DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” 55. 8. Lisa Mazzei, “Silence Speaks: Whiteness Revealed in the Absence of Voice,” Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008): 1129. 9. Matias, Feeling White, 5. 10. K. D. McKinney, “ ‘I Feel “Whiteness” When I Hear People Blaming Whites’: Whiteness as Cultural Victimization,” Race and Society 6 (2003): 44. 11. Michael Schwalbe, The Sociologically Examined Life: Pieces of the Conversation (London: Mayfield, 2001), 182. 12. Angelina Castagno, Educated in Whiteness: Good Intentions and Diversity in Schools (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 8–­10. 13. Michalinos Zembylas, “Pedagogies of Strategic Empathy: Navigating through the Emotional Complexities of Anti-​Racism in Higher Education,” Teaching in Higher Education 17, no. 2 (2012): 119. 14. Anne Boring, Kellie Ottoboni, and Philip Stark, “Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness,” ScienceOpen Research (2016): 10; Deborah J. Merritt, “Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching,” St. John’s Law Review 82, no. 1 (2012): 254. 15. Castagno, Educated in Whiteness, 5. 16. Castagno, Educated in Whiteness, 9. 17. Diane Gillespie, Leslie Ashbaugh, and JoAnn DeFiore, “White Women Teaching White Women about White Privilege, Race Cognizance and Social Action: Toward a Pedagogical Pragmatics,” Race Ethnicity and Education 5, no. 3 (2002): 246. 18. This contrasts with the recent case of Aimee Bahng, a faculty member of color at Dartmouth, who was denied tenure by the upper administration despite a unanimous yes vote by the tenure committee. This has led to speculation among the academic community that Bahng’s innovative Black Lives Matter course figured into the tenure denial. https://​ www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/17/campus-unrest-follows-tenure​ -denial-innovative-popular-faculty-member-color. Similarly, my story also contrasts sharply with the experiences of John Streamas, a professor of

Teaching Whiteness in the Neoliberal University


color whose multicultural literature course came under attack not only from right-​ wing media, but from his own university administration as well. Streamas details his experience in his chapter “How We Lost Our Academic Freedom: Difference and the Teaching of Ethnic and Gender Studies” in this book. 19. In my courses, one of the assignments is a group current event presentation, in which each small group of 4 to 5 students (which I assign randomly at the beginning of the semester) selects a recent news article that deals with whiteness; the group presents a summary of the article, critically analyzes the ways whiteness is represented, present their opinions on the article, and facilitates a discussion with the rest of the class. 20. Ollie Gillman, “ ‘White Friends, Pay for My Therapy’: Asian Woman Wants White People to Pay for Her Treatment for Stress after Years of ‘Institutional Racism.’ ” Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news​ /article-3255295/White-friends-pay-therapy-Asian-woman-wants-white​ -people-pay-treatment-stress-years-institutional-racism.html. 21. Mab Segrest, “The Souls of White Folks,” in The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, ed. Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Eric Klinenberg, Irene Nexica, and Matt Wray (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001), 44. 22. Matias, Feeling White, 5. 23. Brunsma, Brown, and Placier, “Teaching Race,” 721. 24. Here I use the racial categories used by my institution to collect data on student demographics. 25. Roberta Hawkins, Maya Manzi, and Diana Ojeda, “Lives in the Making: Power, Academia and the Everyday,” ACME: An International E-​ Journal for Critical Geographies 13, no. 2 (2014): 344–­45. 26. Brunsma, Brown, and Placier, “Teaching Race,” 721; Jennifer Hamer and Clarence Lang, “Race, Structural Violence, and the Neoliberal University: The Challenges of Inhabitation,” Critical Sociology 41, no. 6 (2015): 898. 27. Hamer and Lang, “Race, Structural Violence, and the Neoliberal University,” 904. 28. Louise Archer, Simon D. Pratt, and David Phillips, “Working-​Class Men’s Constructions of Masculinity and Negotiations of (Non)Participation in Higher Education,” Gender and Education 13, no. 4 (2001): 437. 29. Karen Nairn and Jane Higgins, “New Zealand’s Neoliberal Generation: Tracing Discourses of Economic (Ir)rationality,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 20, no. 3 (2007): 262.


Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson

30. Alyssa Davis, Will Kimball, and Elise Gould, “The Class of 2015: Despite an Improving Economy, Young Grads Still Face an Uphill Climb,” Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper #401 (2015): 2. 31. Margaret A. Crouch, “Implicit Bias and Gender (and Other Sorts of) Diversity in Philosophy and the Academy in the Context of the Corporatized University,” Journal of Social Philosophy 43, no. 3 (2012): 214. 32.  Eduardo Bonilla-​Silva, Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014), 73. 33. Mica Pollock, “How the Question We Ask Most about Race in Education Is the Very Question We Most Suppress,” Educational Researcher 30, no. 9 (2001): 9. 34. Gillespie, Ashbaugh, and DeFiore, “White Women Teaching White Women,” 246. 35. Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997), 18. 36. Gillespie, Ashbaugh, and DeFiore, “White Women Teaching White Women,” 244. 37. Gillespie, Ashbaugh, and DeFiore, “White Women Teaching White Women,” 245. 38. Boring, Ottoboni, and Stark, “Student Evaluations of Teaching,” 10; Merritt, “Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations,” 254.

Part 3 Teaching How to Read Race and (Counter-​)Narratives


Frangible Whiteness Teaching Race in the Context of White Fragility Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

Some semesters we begin with a simple exercise—­we ask students to close their eyes and imagine “an American.” Then we ask them to write a description of the person they saw in their minds. Afterwards, we ask students to share what they wrote. Someone will raise a hand and begin reading a description of a white man. So will the next volunteer. And the next. After the third or fourth repetition, realization dawns across the class that almost everyone, regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity, described nearly the same middle-​class white man. This leads to the first of many uncomfortable discussions—­Why? Why does “American” mean a white man for so many of us? Why are his whiteness—­and maleness and class—­privileged? What are the implications and repercussions for the great many people in this country who do not share his race, his gender, his class? Are nonwhite people (or non-​male) people less “American”? This is one of the many discussions we have in our introductory literature courses about race and privilege, despite the fact that teaching race and the history of race in America remains a controversial topic. Many educators have faced severe backlash both inside the classroom and from their administrations for attempting to teach critical race theory.1 Often, this backlash can be attributed to “white fragility” as articulated by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo defines white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These 239


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress inducing-​situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”2 White fragility can cause students (and perhaps administrators) to experience discomfort, withdrawal, anger, and retaliation. These reactions can not only negatively impact the classroom environment but also teaching evaluations, which have come to bear an undue weight on promotion and tenure. Moreover, teaching critical race pedagogy is challenging in a higher education environment that tends to use a business model in which students are consumers whose comfort and enjoyment often seems to outweigh educational goals.3 It is in this context that we team-​teach a general-​education literature class for health-​science majors at a small, Midwestern, public university with a primarily white (77 percent), female (80 percent) student body, drawn mostly from rural areas—­many of whom honestly believed, when they took our course, that we are in a postracial America. (The most recent presidential election, however, laid bare that myth.) We strive to use “best practices” by applying critical race pedagogy to literature in order to create a learning environment that considers both the literary elements of texts as well as the way that intersectionality sheds light on the culture of a text’s production. Despite or perhaps because of our attempts to adhere to “best practices,” we often face a great deal of pushback from the majority white students. While we often get quite positive feedback on our approach from students of color and many of our white students, some of our white students express extreme discomfort and distress. In fact, this has led to one or more white students bringing complaints about racism against one of us to the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office (EOAA). The charges were determined to be unfounded; however, this event encapsulates the triggers and interruptions described by DiAngelo’s idea of white fragility. Many of our white students could hardly bear to discuss race even in the context of fictional worlds without becoming defensive. DiAngelo describes the defensive posture of white students as a way to avoid facing their own positions of privilege: “This discourse of victimization also enables whites to avoid responsibility for the racial power and privilege they wield. By positioning themselves as victims of anti-​racist efforts, they cannot be the beneficiaries of white privilege.”4 Instead of critically analyzing their own positions in the world, some of our white students made themselves the victims by blaming their

Frangible Whiteness


discomfort on instructors and reporting their complaints to the EOAA. They thus avoided having to take any responsibility for problems of racism and privilege in the world and focused on their own personal grievances rather than thoughtfully thinking about the grievances of less powerful groups of people. Students in this situation were reacting to the discomfort raised by one of our pedagogical approaches. We attempt to engage in what Boler and Zembylas call a “pedagogy of discomfort” when teaching complex and challenging identity issues such as race and gender. Such an approach “recognizes and problematizes the deeply embedded emotional dimensions that frame and shape daily habits, routines, and unconscious complicity with hegemony.”5 Thus, we attempt to guide students in deconstructing the ways in which issues of identity are woven into literary texts, and in order to help students relate to literature, we do not shy away from discussing contemporary issues when applicable. Although literary analysis requires an objective stance, objectivity is never a complete state, but always a striving towards. Moreover, ignoring or repressing our own emotional response to literature is a false privilege that risks universalizing the individual. For these reasons, we provide students space to write about their feelings in non-​graded assignments, and then to guide students to deconstruct those affective moments in literary texts in order to learn about the structure and power of language, as well as learn about themselves. Moreover, pointing out the aesthetic qualities of literature by peoples of color and teaching those texts as American literature are political choices, as Philathia Bolton and other authors in this collection point out. These strategies challenge the hegemony of a literary tradition that has tended to canonize white male authorship, and they challenge racist assumptions about artistic production by peoples of color. Because we want our students to be willing to slog through the emotional morass of racial (and gender) privilege, we openly discuss our own experiences with race and racial privilege, and we frequently acknowledge that these topics can be difficult and emotional. Sharing our own experiences is often a means of modeling the vulnerability that discussions of race and privilege demand. We recognize that teacher vulnerability has its limits. Exhibiting too much vulnerability could eliminate the teacher’s authority in the classroom; moreover, a degree of emotional distance is necessary for a teacher to successfully evaluate students. Thus, practicing vulnerability is not an option for many teachers. However, the fact of our white privilege augments our authority in


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

a way that permits us to exhibit vulnerability without undermining students’ belief in our ability to lead the class. Pedagogy scholarship demonstrates that instructor vulnerability facilitates an open learning environment that supports student engagement with such difficult questions.6 Engaging in instructor vulnerability in the classroom means frankly discussing our own intersectionality, family backgrounds, and experience with white privilege. Both of us openly share our experiences with race, class, and gender with our students. Although both of us are white women, we come from different backgrounds. One of us, Jennifer, grew up in the upper Midwest in a lower middle-​class family that valued education. Jennifer was encouraged by her family to pursue higher education, but she still entered college as a first-​generation student with hand-​me-​down clothes and used books, and she was too embarrassed to invite any of her upper middle-​class friends to her small, run-​down home with her blue-​collar parents. Yet, Jennifer also shares stories of how quick people always are to trust her both here in the United States and in her travels to Europe, the Middle East, and South America because of her light skin and blue eyes. In contrast, the other author of this chapter, Marcia, grew up in the Ozarks in a working-​ class, “hillbilly” family that occasionally relied on public assistance, was openly racist, and frequently castigated the “book-​learning” she vigorously sought. Marcia shares what it was like growing up while occasionally receiving public assistance—­eating government commodities like cheese and peanut butter—­as a child, and the awkwardness of entering college as a first-​generation student without the cultural éclat to fit in. However, she is quick to point out that her race gave her an advantage in becoming acculturated in academia—­ that it was essentially easier to “pass” as middle class because she was white. Interestingly, others have found her self-​characterization of her own childhood as “white trash” so offensive that they reported her use of the term to the EOAA, possibly because racializing one’s class background fractures the hegemony of whiteness, resulting in the defense mechanisms of white fragility. Students of color, however, react quite differently. Several students of color have spoken privately to Marcia to tell her that knowing that at least one of their professors had an underprivileged childhood which mirrored their own made them feel more “at home” in college. Indeed, many have expressed satisfaction with our intersectional, identitarian approach, because the acknowledgment of our own privilege kept such revelations from merely being stories about how, as one student of color put it, “white people have it bad too.”

Frangible Whiteness


However much students may be made uncomfortable by frank discussions of race and privilege, we both deeply believe that teaching critical race theory is a vital part of any humanities classroom. One potentially fruitful approach to teaching race in the face of white fragility is decentering whiteness. Leda Cooks argues that “pedagogies that speak to whiteness, that foreground the ways that structures of racial categorization always point away from White as a referent, are much needed in communication education. . . . White, in other words, needed to be marked in bodies, experiences and in words.”7 Marking, or racializing, whiteness highlights its contingent nature, its historical constructedness, and its insidious privilege. We attempt to racialize whiteness in a variety of ways. Like Carmen Lugo-​Lugo elsewhere in this collection, we discuss the historical development of the category “white” as a nebulous marker of social privilege, including the way many ethnic groups that are now “white” (Italians, Irish, even some Germans in the eighteenth century) were once not considered white, and how some groups, like people from the Middle East, might once have been white, but now are not. We also discuss how being “black” in nineteenth-​century America did not necessarily mean having dark skin—­that many “black” slaves were light-​skinned and even blonde. Ricky Lee Allen similarly describes the importance of applying a critical lens to whiteness as a pedagogy that directly intervenes in internalized racism [and] should empower students of color to see the specific ways that whiteness causes them to think less of their individual and collective selves. Also, it should develop within whites a desire to examine how we perpetuate internalized racism through both our privileging of more assimilated people of color and our devaluation of internalized racism as a critical area of study.8

Our teaching attempts to both make whiteness visible and reveal the many dimensions of race and racial privilege. In addition to the vulnerability of discussing our own family backgrounds, we also attempt to call attention to our own bodies as racially unmarked. For example, during one discussion on self-​objectification and the whiteness of Hollywood beauty standards in the context of Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, we racialized whiteness in our classroom by pointing out our own experiences of race and white privilege in the ease of buying panty hose or lingerie because “nude” panty hose matches (our) white skin tone. “Nude,” in this case, creates white


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

skin as the invisible norm to which others are held. By openly articulating this fact, students can come to see whiteness in a new way. In this particular instance, our articulation of the silent power of “nude” empowered a Ghanaian student to burst out in indignation about her frustration at having had to wear “nude” tights in dance class as a child, despite the fact that her skin was so much darker. She felt empowered to complain that she still could not find panty hose or makeup that matched her skin tone. What was empowering to this student, however, proved unsettling for some white students, who reported this conversation to the university’s EOAA for being racist, likely because we were not attempting to be “color-​blind.”9 Teaching The Bluest Eye has resulted in many discomforting discussions of race and power. One semester, white students actually accused Morrison of racism because of her use of the word “nigger.” Students were not comfortable with her presentation of the complexities of Black lives in America in a format not aimed at a white audience. To contextualize the novel, we show clips from Chris Rock’s Good Hair and Akosua Adoma Owusu’s Mi Broni Ba (My White Baby). These films allow us to discuss self-​objectification and the internalization of racist thought, including beauty standards. We also discuss the Hollywood starlets that Pauline (in The Bluest Eye) idolizes, and we challenge students to come up with modern-​day equivalents. Typically, the names they volunteer are those of white actresses. However, Beyoncé is occasionally thrown into the mix, turning the discussion to the historical privileging of lighter-​ skinned African Americans and the dearth of dark-​skinned actresses and models. Our female students of all races generally find the discussion of self-​objectification enlightening and empowering. They recognize how they have self-​objectified. This discussion is an especially crucial intervention for our female students of color, who often realize that they have self-​objectified both sexually and racially. For example, during this class discussion, a Kenyan student exclaimed that she could recognize her own self-​objectification and that this made her “sad.” Shortly after watching these two film clips, this student removed her hair extensions and stopped straightening her hair, and since that class, over two years ago, she has chosen to wear her hair in a variety of natural styles. An African American student from a different section also stopped straightening her hair around the same time. Although we cannot say for certain that our class made them more comfortable with their natural hair, it was a remarkable shift that immediately followed our discussions of race and self-​objectification.

Frangible Whiteness


While we spend a great deal of time working through the racial and social context of Morrison’s novel, we also devote significant class time to the literary qualities of The Bluest Eye. We analyze the structure of the novel and its play on the archetypal associations of the seasons, and the entire final class period of the novel is devoted to working through the many important symbols in the novel. Interestingly, students react to these discussions very differently from the more overt discussions of race and self-​objectification. They are rarely discomfited by the more literary discussions even while they admit to never having heard of Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize-​winning author. This focus on the aesthetics of the text, as mentioned previously, is a political choice in that it counteracts much of the prevailing racist historical narrative of the paucity of literary production by people of color. Yet, students respond mostly positively to this opening up of the literary canon because it does not force them to reckon with their own racial privilege in the same way as more frank discussions of race in contemporary America. While the discussions of self-​objectification and the literariness of Morrison’s novel are often well-​received, at least by our female students, many of the other discussions of race run up against the anger and defensiveness of white students. Two student comments especially highlight the white fragility exhibited by our students. During one class discussion, a female student exclaimed, “You guys are racist against white people!”10 The comment immediately stemmed from one instructor’s inability to remember the names of all of the white female students in a predominantly white, female class. The student seemed to be offended that a fellow white woman suggested that “all white women look alike.” The student was unable or unwilling to pick up the tongue-​in-​cheek tone, to decenter herself and her whiteness, or to relate the comment to previous discussions of the interchangeability of Gothic novel heroines. It is also likely that the exasperation of her tone stemmed from the discomfort she had been feeling all semester as we discussed whiteness and racism within Gothic literature. The comment came shortly after we had finished discussing the convoluted racial identities and racial uncertainty in Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood and were beginning to discuss the orientalism and racialization in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Hopkins’s novel can be especially discomforting for students because the characters’ racial identities continually shift throughout the novel as race is entirely unmoored from skin color. The novel requires students to engage in discussion about the ways in which “whiteness,” in order to function as an invisible norm, requires


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

the constant Othering of racial minorities. The novel also requires students to confront the history of endemic sexual abuse of African American women, and the silencing of that history in order to protect and uphold the “purity” of white women. Inevitably, discussions of this history bring up contemporary examples of similar abuse and hypersexualization of Black women. A common response from white students faced with their own racial privilege is to attempt to recenter themselves in the discussion, often by assuming the role of victim.11 By accusing her (white, female) teachers of being racist, this student cast herself in the role of victim—­in this case, a victim of the people who had been making her uncomfortable about racism and racial violence for the past eight weeks. In fact, within a few weeks, two students of color from a different section of this course sought a conference with Marcia during which they warned her that the “white girls” were saying that she was racist and threatening to complain. The women of color were worried that their peers’ complaints would force the professor to stop teaching race the way she did, because, as they told her, it was the best and most refreshing approach to race they had ever experienced. These students of color liked that race was discussed in ways that were discomforting yet powerful and allowed them to speak of their own experiences. After this interview, Marcia then sought out the other students of color in these sections and asked them what their experiences in class had been and if she had done or said anything that they found racially insensitive. The students expressed surprise but gratitude that the professor would inquire into their experiences, and most echoed the other students in that they found the class’s approach of critical race pedagogy refreshing and empowering. The professor asked that the students feel free to call her out if at any time she said something that they found racially insensitive, because she knew that these were difficult topics and that her position of power and privilege might blind her to the realities of others. Marcia expected scathing course evaluations, but she decided to let the matter drop. Unfortunately, the offended students had other plans, (mis)reporting exchanges with some of the women of color as having been racist. Marcia is sure that it was not the actual women of color who complained because they were identified as “Somali” in the EOAA report, and none of the reported incidences in question actually involved Somali students. It would seem that instead, the white students projected their own discomfort with talking about race onto the students of color and reacted with a paternalistic need to “protect”

Frangible Whiteness


them. As DiAngelo points out, “Whites have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is ‘wrong,’ and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort.”12 In this case, students blamed the instructor, Marcia, for triggering their discomfort. Our sometimes intense classroom discussions of race also seem to color students’ perceptions of the course as a whole. At the end of the term, we always ask students to write about which texts were their favorite and least favorite ones, as well as what they learned about the class topic. One semester, we had a white, male student in a class about literature and family write, “I noticed this class really never focused on ‘white families.’ ” However, the student’s perception of our course materials was not an accurate reflection of what we actually read. We spent the first three weeks of class reading poetry, and nine out of the fifteen poems we read were by and about white people. We spent an additional six weeks of the semester reading about white families in Stephen Crane’s Maggie and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. In fact, we spent nearly one-​third of the semester on Austen, which is more than any other text for that semester. Yet somehow, our student discounted the entire month we spent discussing the whitest of white people in Jane Austen’s privileged world and the weeks spent discussing a poor white family in the slums of New York. It is true that we spent the middle half of the semester talking about works by and about nonwhite families from diverse backgrounds, and for this student, this centering of people of color took precedence over the many weeks spent discussing white families. Patti Duncan describes a similar discomfort in her women’s studies course when she centers the class on women of color: “There are white students who inevitably seem threatened by the empowerment and centering of people of color.”13 The student’s own racial fragility made the weeks spent discussing works about people of color much more memorable and important than the time spent discussing white families. This problem might also intersect with our culture’s inherent gender bias, which defines white people primarily in terms of white males. Because both Sense and Sensibility and Maggie focus on white women, they may not have fully counted as novels about “white families” for our student. It is also interesting to note that most of the pushback, discomfort, and hostility from white students comes from discussions of race in the context of literature by and about Black people in the United States after slavery had ended. When we read works set during the period of


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

slavery such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass or short stories by Charles Chesnutt, students are rarely offended. They have likely encountered such stories in many American history classes and can weave these new stories into a larger redemptive story of white Americans fighting a devastating civil war to end slavery. As John Wills points out in his analysis of multicultural history curricula, “An unintended consequence of focusing on the experiences of slaves during the Civil War is that students’ historical understandings of the experiences of African Americans with regards to racism, discrimination, and injustice become anchored in slavery.”14 Wills’s analysis still rings true today. Our students have already been conditioned to think about the injustices of slavery and to see a clear ending to that injustice with the end of the Civil War. While the actual history is very complex, the textbook version of the American Civil War plays into narratives of the moral and intellectual superiority of Euro-​Americans who saw the error of their ways and fought a war to right an injustice. Thus, our white students do not feel threatened by Douglass’s autobiography or other narratives about slaves because they reinforce the narrative that racial injustices are long dead. While our students often respond positively to literature set just before or during the American Civil War, their discomfort grows when we ask them to read more contemporary works by African Americans. Sometimes their racial fragility manifests by displacing the narrative to the epoch of slavery even when it takes place much later. For example, we have had students write that everything from August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson to Langston Hughes’s “Cora Unashamed” and Claude McKay’s “Harlem Shadows” are about slavery. Pretty much every twentieth-​century text we read that is about the racial oppression of African Americans gets associated by students with slavery, even when the texts have cars and movie theaters and the like. This chronological displacement seems to take place because students cannot confront the continuance of systemic racism and oppression long after the official end of slavery in the United States. They don’t want to acknowledge more contemporary issues of racism and privilege because that might implicate them and destabilize their own racial identities. It also contradicts much of the history they may have learned as described by Wills, a history in which African American voices only and always speak about “the brutality and immorality of slavery” rather than about the full range of human thoughts, experiences, and desires.15 When white students do not displace Black literature to the antebellum period, they

Frangible Whiteness


instead often react defensively to any attempts to deconstruct whiteness and white privilege. They refuse to think about race and racism against African Americans in this country in any context outside of the Civil War. In contrast, our white students frequently express much more comfort and interest in an extensive unit on Native American literature than in our readings about African Americans. We think this is because students have grown up immersed in semi-​positive pop culture images of Native Americans as “noble savages” who are wise and close to nature. Pop culture also reinforces the old myth of the “vanishing Indian,” which portrays Native Americans as completely dying off and disappearing to make way for white, Euro-​American settlement. Both of these tropes seem to make discussions of Native American literature less fraught than similar discussions of African American literature. Furthermore, as Philip J. Deloria points out in his commentary about American Indian studies and the American Studies Association, demographically, American Indians make up only 1 percent of the U.S. population, and they have a very different historical position than African Americans.16 Native peoples have ongoing formal treaties with the federal government and different legal and political status than other minority groups in the United States. All of these factors seem to make students respond more positively to Native American literature. Students do not feel as personally implicated in the conversations about race, history, and privilege that arise. They do not seem to view Native Americans as close enough to them and their own lives to become defensive or hostile while discussing the texts, even when those texts are about contemporary racism faced by Native Americans. This complacency about Native American literature is a problem that we constantly try to disrupt by making it more contemporary. We teach stories by Sherman Alexie, watch the film Reel Injuns, and discuss current events such as the 2016 protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders and community against part of the North Dakota oil pipeline being built near tribal lands and under the main tribal water supply. Although students are more comfortable with Native American literature, those feelings need to be disrupted through not only references to the genocidal history of Native peoples in this country, but also through discussion of how many of those racist policies continue today. Native American literature in particular often serves as a powerful tool for fracturing whiteness. Because Native communities often deal with issues of membership, Native sovereignty, and American


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

citizenship that do not affect other racial categories in the United States, these questions can highlight the constructed nature of race itself. Moreover, students will frequently mention having Native American ancestry (as does one of the professors), which enables a discussion of the multiplicity of white ethnicities in the United States. All students can begin questioning just why it is that so many different ethnic backgrounds mingle in whiteness, and why whiteness frequently trumps certain ethnicities of color (at least after a generation or two), yet seldom trumps “blackness” and the pertinacity of the “one-​drop rule” in this country. The breaking of whiteness into its constituent ethnicities and the discussion of the historical exclusion or inclusion of certain European ethnicities in the category “white” enable students to begin to recognize that “white” as a claim to political and socioeconomic power always excludes those defined as Other. Such discussions are frequently uncomfortable and unsettling—­few white undergraduates have ever questioned their own racial identities before being asked to do so in our classes. Nevertheless, fracturing whiteness—­revealing the very fragility and frangibility of this seemingly impregnable, hegemonic monolith—­is a necessary step for any pedagogy that attends to racial injustice. As educators, we must fracture whiteness, we must make it visible, in order to have truly transformative discussions of race in a way that acknowledges and appreciates the often vexed experiences of our students of color. While we have encountered significant pushback against our use of a pedagogy of discomfort, we have also seen evidence of its transformative power both for students of color and for white students. As mentioned in our introduction, we often start our class about American literature with an in-​class writing assignment asking students to visualize and describe “An American.” One student’s very typical response was: “My view of an American is a male with blonde hair . . . and blue eyes.” The student went on to describe other attributes of the man’s work ethic and family status. Another student the same semester wrote, “The American that I imagined was about 6 ft tall and he had short brown hair. . . . He had brown eyes and a soft tanned coloring on his skin.” This student did not even consciously recognize the gendered nature of her description and instead jumped straight to male pronouns, and her description of tanned skin implies a white male even if she does not use the explicit language of race. Each semester that we do this activity, at least 70 percent of the responses similarly describe a white male, and of the other responses, many of them imply a race

Frangible Whiteness


and/​or gender. Despite their belief that we live in a “postracial” America, most of our students begin the term imagining “an American” as a white male, essentially whitewashing the identity of our increasingly diverse populace. However, by the end of the semester, after our intense discussions of whiteness, race, and privilege, we ask students to write about what they have learned about American identity. Their responses on the last day of class are much more nuanced than on the first. For example, the first student example in the above paragraph drastically had changed her thoughts on American identity by the last class period. When asked to write about what she had learned about Americanness, she wrote, “We, as Americans, like to believe that our way is the best. However, not all Americans see it this way, since minorities and other ethnic groups that don’t fit into the ‘white’ category are often made outsiders or persecuted for their beliefs. In that way, we are not the best and need to keep working towards equality.” The pedagogical discomfort that frank discussions of race and whiteness may have elicited also worked to make this student much more aware of issues of social and racial justice. Other responses to the final assignment include statements such as “I am still not clear on what exactly ‘American Identity’ is. However, I know that it is not just a white, muscular man in jeans and a T-​shirt,” and “I feel like it [American identity] doesn’t apply to just white Americans anymore.” When we compile the statistics about these final in-​class writings, about 70 percent of all students (both white and students of color) have had a transformative experience in the way they think about America and American identity. They recognize that before this class, they held implicit biases that unconsciously excluded people of other races, ethnicities, genders, and sexualities from being “American.” These 70 percent of students are the reason why we continue to use a pedagogy of discomfort to disrupt student complacency about race and to fracture whiteness. Transformations like this combat the demoralization that comes from the more serious pushback against our teaching of race in the form of small numbers of scathing course evaluations and official complaints. Literature is a powerful pedagogical tool in both content and form. Expanding the literary canon for our students to include works by African American and Native American authors as American literature helps our students overcome years of learning primarily about white, male authors. In addition to including these works in the canon, discussing their literariness also begins the work of dispelling myths about the


Marcia D. Nichols and Jennifer A. Wacek

superiority of white cultural production. Furthermore, fictional worlds force us to ask questions about ourselves, our history, and our own identities. We believe that discussing our own intersectional identities encourages students to begin to do the same difficult work themselves. Acknowledging our bodies as raced rather than allowing whiteness to remain invisible is necessary to get students to acknowledge their own raced bodies. These acknowledgments are vital to building a world in which we all recognize our privileges and the way those privileges often reside in our bodies—­in terms of race, gender, health status, class, and so on. As debates rage on university campuses about academic freedom and the role of safe spaces and trigger warnings, it is also important to remember that learning is frequently uncomfortable, especially when dealing with issues of personal identity. We need to find ways to create appropriate safe spaces for students, but also to make classrooms into spaces where pedagogical discomfort is not only tolerated but welcomed. Breaking apart whiteness unsettles students’ complacency by destabilizing their identities in ways that can be both liberating and terrifying. Questioning whiteness forces students to examine their own complicity in racial oppression. This is not comfortable. It is not easy. But it is crucially urgent work if we truly hope to move toward a world in which racial justice and equality are possible.

Notes 1. For accounts of such backlash, see Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no. 2 (2011): 54–­56; Patti Duncan, “Decentering Whiteness: Resisting Racism in the Women’s Student Classroom,” in Race in the College Classroom: Pedagogy and Politics, ed. Bonnie TuSmith and Maureen T. Reddy (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002): 40–­50; Julie Faulkner and Michael Crowhurst, “ ‘So Far Multicultural That She Is Racist to Australians’: Discomfort Pedagogy for Change,” Pedagogy, Culture & Society 22, no. 3 (2014): 389–­ 403; Brenda Leibowitz et al., “ ‘Ah, But the Whiteys Love to Talk about Themselves’: Discomfort as Pedagogy for Change,” Race Ethnicity and Education 13, no. 1 (2010): 83–­100; Karyn D. McKinney, “Whiteness on a White Canvas: Teaching Race in a Predominately White University,” in TuSmith and Reddy, Race in the College Classroom, 126–­39; Peter Kerry Powers, “A Ghost in the Collaborative Machine: The White Male Teacher in the Multicultural Classroom,” in TuSmith and Reddy, Race in the College Classroom, 28–­39; Maureen T. Reddy, “Smashing the Rules of Racial

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Standing,” in TuSmith and Reddy, Race in the College Classroom, 51–­61; and Bonnie TuSmith, “Out on a Limb: Race and the Evaluation of Frontline Teaching,” in TuSmith and Reddy, Race in the College Classroom, 112–­25. 2. DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” 57. 3. The consumer model of education has been frequently defined, criticized, and denied. See, for instance, George Cheney et al., “Should We Buy the ‘Student-as-Consumer’ Metaphor?” http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall1997​ /Cheney.html; Peter Katopes, “The ‘Business Model’ Is the Wrong Model,” Inside Higher Ed, February 16, 2009, https://www.insidehighered.com​ /views/2009/02/16/business-model-wrong-model; Miguel Martinez-​ Saenz and Steven Schoonover Jr., “Resisting the ‘Student-​ as-​ Consumer’ Metaphor,” Academe 100, no. 6 (2014): 44–­46; David Palfreyman and Ted Tapper, Reshaping the University: The Rise of the Regulated Market in Higher Education (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 119–­47; and Joanna Williams, Consumer Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 43–­65. 4. DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” 64. 5. Megan Boler and Michalinos Zembylas, “Discomforting Truths: The Emotional Terrain of Understanding Difference,” in Pedagogies of Difference: Rethinking Education for Social Change, ed. Peter Pericles Trifonas (New York: Routledge Falmer, 2003), 111. 6. See, for example, Leda Cooks, “Pedagogy, Performance, and Positionality: Teaching about Whiteness in Interracial Communication,” Communication Education 52, no. 2/​4 (2003): 246–­57; Duncan, “Decentering Whiteness,” 46–­ 48; Geert Kelchtermans, “Teachers’ Emotions in Educational Reforms: Self-​ Understanding, Vulnerable Commitment, and Micropolitical Literacy,” Teaching and Teacher Education 21, no. 8 (2005): 65–­ 82; Powers, “A Ghost,” 31–­ 32; and Reddy, “Smashing the Rules,” 55–­60. 7. Cooks, “Pedagogy,” 246. 8. Ricky Lee Allen, “Whiteness and Critical Pedagogy,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 36, no. 2 (2004): 128. 9. See, for example, Bonilla-​Silva’s Racism without Racists for a critique of “color-​blindness”: Eduardo Bonilla-​Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-​ Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). 10. Other scholars also mention that white instructors who attempt to teach race critically are often accused of racism. See DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” 63; and Faulkner and Crowhurst, “So Far Multicultural,” 392–­98.


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11. See, for example, Allen, “Whiteness,” 126–­27; DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” 64; Cheryl E. Matias and Michalinos Zembylas, “ ‘When Saying You Care Is Not Really Caring’: Emotions of Disgust, Whiteness Ideology, and Teacher Education,” Critical Studies in Education 55, no. 3 (2014): 328–­30; and Reddy, “Smashing the Rules,” 58. 12. DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” 60. 13. Duncan, “Decentering Whiteness,” 43. 14. John S. Wills, “Who Needs Multicultural Education? White Students, U.S. History, and the Construction of a Usable Past,” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 27, no. 3 (1996): 373. 15. Wills, “Who Needs Multicultural Education?” 381. 16. Philip J. Deloria, “American Indians, American Studies, and the ASA,” American Quarterly 55, no. 4 (2003).


Some of My Students Are Leprechauns (Or Why It Is Difficult for White College Students to Understand That Racism Is Still a Big Deal) Carmen R. Lugo-​Lugo

I am grateful to the women and men who dare to create theory from the location of pain and struggle, who courageously expose wounds to give us their experience to teach and guide as a means to chart new theoretical journeys. —­bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress The new world of monsters is where humanity has to grasp its future. —­Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude

Teaching about Racism I began an earlier version of this chapter by saying that although I generally appreciate surprises in life, I am not so fond of surprises in the classroom (I think I even went so far as to say that I “hate” surprises in the classroom).1 Of course, this is within the context of me, a Puerto Rican woman, teaching ethnic studies classes in a society which ferociously believes that race and racism are either no longer relevant realities, or conversely, are permanent and irrevocable idiosyncratic features of our 255


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lives and history. To illustrate the first camp, in June 2015, a Gallup poll showed that only 3 percent of Americans thought that race relations/​ racism was “the most important problem facing” the United States at the time, while dissatisfaction with government and Congress took the lead at 14 percent, and the economy came in second, with 13 percent of the population thinking that it was the most important problem.2 On the other hand, and to illustrate the second camp, in December 2014, a CNN/​ORC poll revealed that 46 percent of white Americans and 48 percent of nonwhite Americans thought “that race relations between blacks and whites will always be a problem for the United States.”3 As Howard Zinn tells us: “There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment we will continue to see.”4 Thus, those of us teaching ethnic studies are teaching at a historical moment when the state of race relations and racism are either overlooked or are seen as perpetual fixtures by the American public, neither of which is particularly conducive to a pedagogy of social transformation, or, to follow bell hooks in the opening epigraph, to chart new theoretical journeys. When I teach Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies, a service course our department does for the university, and in which I mostly (and heavily) lecture, I follow a simple rule (which is designed for lawyers in court) for when I stop talking at the students and engage them in the topic of the day. This self-​imposed rule, which I have modified for the purposes of classroom interaction, is the following: Do not ask a question for which you do not know what the answer will be. Thus, I only ask questions that, given the student population at our institution, will produce an expected response. To clarify, these are not questions about class content per se, but are mainly demographic, experiential, or attitudinal questions. They are questions for which the answers provided by the students in class will mostly illustrate or expand on a particular point made in the lecture or by the authors of the readings assigned. So this is not about students knowing the “correct” answer, but about me knowing the answers that students will give me beforehand because although I may not know each one personally, I have a certain general knowledge about who is in my classroom, and thus, some knowledge about who they are as a group, about their experiences, and about some of the ideas they may bring with them. And to reiterate, I only use this technique on that particular introductory course. In every other class I teach, I let discussion flow pretty leniently. For the most part. When asking the questions in Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies, I draw my general knowledge (of the responses they will give

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me) from my previous interactions with students in that class, of course, but also from “external” indicators (such as current events, popular culture happenings, etc.), and from my general knowledge of the topic at hand to anticipate their answers. While I do this, I pay attention to what Philathia Bolton calls “the narratives we proffer in the classroom” in her chapter in this collection titled “The Potential of a Moment.” To illustrate, here is an example: the first day I lecture in the Introduction class, I usually ask my students to stand up if they see themselves as white. I ask them to do this at a particular point in my lecture, when I’m discussing changing definitions of “whiteness” in U.S. history, and I want to illustrate contemporary notions of whiteness held by some white supremacists in the country. Before they actually stand up, I know that between 80–­85 percent of the approximately 100 students in the classroom will do so, because I know the student demographics at our institution, a simple “external” indicator (external to the classroom, that is) that helps me in developing my argument. For the purposes of the exercise, I begin to ask them to sit down if they possess a particular characteristic (usually related to eye color). Then I go down the line with their immediate relatives (i.e., parents, siblings, and grandparents). That is, I ask them to sit down if their relatives possess the characteristic in question. As I continue to ask them questions and to “sit down if . . .”, only about 20–­25 percent will remain standing at the end of the exercise. This is when I tell them that, according to certain white supremacist views, the remaining standing students are the only white students in the classroom. This usually comes as a surprise, especially to the students who see themselves as white but at some point during the exercise had to sit down. Here is another example: during a different lecture, when discussing predictable angles of certain “random populations,” I ask for the left-​handed students to raise their hands, and usually about 10 percent will do so because they mirror the general population, and the very point I am making by asking them to raise their hands is based on that precise fact. As a final example, during yet another lecture, I ask them to talk to me about their experiences with “diverse populations of students” at their high schools, and I know what they will tell me (that is, whether there were “lots of students of different backgrounds in their high schools” or whether they “hadn’t interacted much with students different from themselves until they set foot on our campus”), depending on what part of the state they went to school. Mainly, over the years, I have become accustomed to and very comfortable with always knowing (at least approximately) how many


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students will stand up, or raise their hands, or the verbal answers they will give me in response to a question I ask, because to me, when teaching ethnic studies (especially at the introductory level), surprises in the classroom can hopelessly derail an entire class period and even change the classroom dynamics for the rest of the semester. This is especially so in our current social and political environment in which someone’s opinions and feelings become their facts and reality, while simultaneously becoming the issues with which everyone else will have to contend or the issues we all have to manage (e.g., “I feel that Blacks aren’t as mistreated as they claim to be,” or “I believe that Blacks have an extra muscle in their calves, which is why they always win marathons,” or “I think that anyone can be racist, for example, a Black girl called me ‘toe head’ once,” or “Latinos are here illegally,” or “Asian girls always walk in packs on campus,” etc.). I know that professors and instructors who take the “students say the darndest things” approach, marveling at and thriving on what they see as students’ naiveté, and those who think that democratic classrooms are constitutive elements of effective pedagogies, may frown at my approach of only asking questions for which I know what the answer will be. But my experience in the classroom has taught me that these approaches to teaching have dangerous downsides when teaching ethnic studies. First, students have the ability to say hurtful and even harmful things about or to other students when talking about race and race relations. Second, I unapologetically believe that not all ideas voiced in the classroom (should) have equal weight. These two things become particularly relevant when I teach lower-​division courses in race and ethnicity, like the introductory class in question. Of course, I do leave room for students to talk and express themselves, ask questions, and provide their opinions on certain subjects. But this does not mean that every topic is up for debate or discussion, or that discussion will take place without the primer of a lecture and accompanying reading. But, as the rest of this chapter illustrates, things can go awry quickly, even with a good primer.

The Location of Pain and Struggle A few years back, I was lecturing my Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies students about the use of American Indians as mascots in sports teams, when I made two rather simple points: first, that the (ab)

Some of My Students Are Leprechauns


use of American Indians as mascots is tied to the (ab)use of American Indian cultures and peoples by mainstream American society, which has a long history going all the way back to Europeans settling in Indian territories; and second, that the practice must be terminated. I showed them horrifying visuals depicting these exploitative practices throughout the decades in different aspects of our society, including marketing and popular culture. As part of the lecture, I included pictures of sports teams using the American Indian mascots of other teams in violent, degrading ways. During this lecture, I lingered on a particular picture of a state college with a bull as a mascot portraying the American Indian mascot of its rival state school on its knees performing fellatio on their bull. I thought that as students at a state college with a rival state school, my students would be able to relate to the horror I was presenting to them. And to some extent they did, since they thought the picture was in bad taste. Of course, that is a good start, but I also asked them to think about the treatment of mascots in general, and whether it was fair to portray human beings in the same light, since by doing so, we are equating animals (like dogs, dolphins, cougars, etc.) and things (e.g., Western Kentucky University’s “Big Red,” or Stanford’s “Tree,” etc.) with humans. For instance, a tiger performing fellatio on a bulldog is still in “bad taste,” but the objections may end there. This was not the first time I had given this lecture, so I knew the point the students were going to raise in response, which they did: mainly, that American Indians are not the only human group or ethnicity portrayed as mascots, for we also have the “Vikings” and the “Fighting Irish.” I always take these questions very seriously. I understand that at times students may raise these questions as “challenges” to the points I am making. That is, they may suggest that my discussion is incomplete, or that I am leaving out other—­read “white”—­groups and focusing on American Indians. But regardless, I still always assume that the students are bringing up these examples in good faith, wanting to truly understand the difference between the treatment of a Native American mascot and that of the mascot for the Minnesota football team, for instance. I usually give them long, complicated answers, but on this particular occasion, my answers were straightforward and to the point: as a group of people, the Vikings (like the Trojans, and the ancient Greeks) are gone, while the American Indians are still very much with us. As for the Irish, I conceded that it is a good example, because the Irish, as a people, do exist (as an ethnic group in the United States, as a


Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo

nation with its own territory, and as an ethnic group within the United Kingdom). But, instead of going into all sorts of discussions (and reminding them) about the positionality of the Irish as an ethnic group within U.S. culture and history, which we had covered in class earlier in the semester, or their (often precarious) positionality within the United Kingdom, this time I decided to take a different route: I asked my students what the mascot of the Fighting Irish was (and as with every question I ask in that class, I knew the answer). They promptly and ceremoniously responded: “a leprechaun.” Then, with the picture of the bull and the American Indian on his knees still up, I asked my students to raise their hands if they had American Indian ancestry. I saw them hesitate, so I made it clear: raise your hand if either of your parents, grandparents, or great-​grandparents is or was American Indian. Around 30 percent of the students in the classroom raised their hands. This was the case regardless of how they identified racially or ethnically, which means that quite a few white-​, Black-​, and Latino/​a-​identified students raised their hands, in addition to the ones who identified as American Indian, Native American, or Indigenous.5 So, I said, that picture right there (pointing again to the Indian on his knees) is about your relatives, which is to say, it is about you. Now let me ask you this: How many of you have leprechaun relatives? A silly, playful question, meant as a joke for them to get the point. I was relying mostly on science here, and what I thought would be my students’ knowledge of human genealogy. Because, and I want to be perfectly clear, as science can tell us, no one has leprechaun relatives. In fact, science is pretty straightforward on this one: mainly due to the unarguable fact that leprechauns are exclusively a cultural construct, there is no real way for a human to have leprechaun relatives. I was counting on my students to know this. Thus, given that I thought I knew what the answer to the question would be, I expected no hands to go up when I casually (if admittedly flippantly) asked my students about their leprechaun relatives. Absolutely no hands. Not one hand was I expecting to go up. Zilch. But that’s the thing about surprises: they are unpredictable, and by definition, they appear when you are not expecting them. Thus, to my teeth-​grating surprise, at least three students raised their hands when I asked how many had leprechaun ancestors. I am hardly ever thrown off balance in my classes, but for surprises to be the force that they are, they have to be sudden, unexpected, and they have to be astounding. And “several students claiming to have leprechaun ancestors” is astounding.

Some of My Students Are Leprechauns


For a fraction of a second I was disarmed, unbalanced, and puzzled, until I sternly told those students to put their hands down because although I hated to break it to them, “leprechauns, just like unicorns and mermaids, do not exist.” It was like I was turning into some sort of mythical creature slayer, with my words turning into silver swords fighting down those hands and the surprising nonsense they represented. Reflecting on that moment, I’m reminded of bell hooks’s point that “all border crossings must be seen as valid and legitimate” in order to “create a cultural climate where biases can be challenged and changed.”6 The thing about pedagogy as border-​crossing (as with any crossing of any border), though, is that it is sometimes unclear as to who has both the ability and power to do the border-​crossing, and who has the ability and power to validate and legitimate particular border-​crossings. Also, some border crossings are infinitely more difficult than others. And finally (and perhaps most important of all), there are borders that may not be worth crossing. In this particular case, forced by my students, I crossed the border that stood between flesh-​and-​blood humans and mythical beings, between reality and fantasy, while trying to hold on and keep my students on “this side” of that border with the flesh-​and-​ blood human beings, and while trying to make a point about racism in U.S. society. Not a small feat, I must say, because there are few things more real and less mythical than racism in U.S. society.

Why Students Think They Are Leprechauns and Think That Racism Is Not a Big Deal Another point that can be made about border-​crossing and racial realities, and the challenging of racial biases through pedagogy, is that sometimes racial biases must be juxtaposed to the realities of mis-​and dis-​information about race and racism. Mainly, the fact that several students raised their hands when I asked who had leprechaun ancestors was indicative of one of the main issues with intellectual and pedagogical border-​crossing alluded to above: the territories that we cross into should be based on a modicum of truth or reality. But this generation of students is having a difficult time making a distinction between myth (e.g., leprechauns, Vikings, etc.) and reality (e.g., racism directed at American Indians or Black bodies, etc.), since they truly seem to lack an understanding of the historical impact and contemporary reverberations of racial formation and (systemic) racism.


Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo

We can make use of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s concept of racial formation as “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed.”7 Given how little we as a society discuss race and, more importantly, how we consistently fail to interrogate the contours of whiteness (and pretty much those of any racialized category), it becomes difficult for students to understand how the racial and ethnic categories with which they identify come to life (that is, how they are “created and inhabited”) and how they cease to exist (that is, how they are “transformed and destroyed”). For students to understand that, unless we go back many thousands of years, the ancestors of humans are also humans, and they are never mythical creatures no matter how far back we go, they would have to have a general knowledge about genetics, genealogy, and general science. They would also, in this case, have to possess a basic understanding of race as a social construction, that is to say, as something that is created by us through social interaction. And this is another understanding that seems to be missing. And we must be aware that this lack of understanding taps into Joe Feagin’s notion of systemic racism, that is to say, a racism that “has been manifested in all major societal institutions”8 because, in the end, that lack of understanding about genetics and about the social construction of race has been institutionalized. Thus, race is an omnipresent social construction carrying all sorts of misinformation and disinformation with it that is also integrated into a system that ultimately creates false epistemologies about (the existence of) race, while simultaneously producing lethal (but yet invisible) forms of racism, and racial inequality. It was through those false epistemologies and lack of understandings about race that my students were able to suggest that mythological leprechauns or extinct Vikings are as abused as flesh-​and-​blood American Indians. I am not arguing that the leprechauns or the Vikings themselves are the false epistemologies. Rather, I am arguing that enduring notions like the melting pot (which managed to strip most white Americans of their family histories and pre-​U.S. migration genealogies) and color-​blindness (which has consistently denied racial differences), along with rhetorical, aspirational myths claiming that all persons are created equal (which assume they are also treated equally), have produced a vacuum of truthful information addressing both the social construction of race and the materiality of race and ethnicity in our society. And the powerful thing about false epistemologies of race is that regardless of their actual disconnect from reality, they manage to create

Some of My Students Are Leprechauns


enduring narratives about race and ethnicity, encouraging all sorts of border-​crossings between reality and fantasy. But, as I stated above, the thing about race is that, although socially constructed, it carries tangible and measurable consequences. Or as Aureliano M. DeSoto explains, “race and ethnicity are still vibrant, ferociously unpredictable actors in the American condition.”9 That vibrant, ferocious unpredictability accounts for the fact that at least some of my students (all of them white-​identified, by the way) identified with the figure of the leprechaun by seeing themselves in that figure. This identification should be beyond comprehension, unless you understand this generation of students and the current false epistemologies about race that they hold as undeniable truths, that is. Let us address this generation first. This is the first generation of white Americans raised with a societal understanding that equality between the races has no contingencies, “buts,” or “ifs” and as a principle should not be disputed. Although previous generations also grew up with the “all men are created equal” foundational precept, they also grew up with the realities of either slavery or Jim Crow, which at the very least created a codified, legal dissonance between the idea and the reality of equality. Now let us address this generation’s undeniable truths. Our current laws and social institutions have scrubbed clean any semblance of dissonance between our ideals of equality and our reality. We no longer condone slavery in our legal code, nor do we legislate anymore where a person can get a drink of water in public facilities or where they can sit based on their ancestry. In addition, our society and the individuals in it are prohibited, by law, from blatantly discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity without repercussions. The rather recent legal codes and prohibitions are seen as both sufficient and undeniable proof that we do not discriminate, that (at least in the eyes of the law) we are all equal, receiving equal treatment, and provided with equal opportunities. For our newer generations, the “we are not allowed to discriminate” translates into “we do not discriminate.” In addition to the “we are not allowed to discriminate, therefore we do not discriminate” convenient understanding, this generation’s grasp of equality between the races has been intertwined with an equally convenient and blatant lie: mainly, that we have actually achieved equality (hence frequent talks about a supposed “level playing field”). This untruth has taken root because most white folks (regardless of the generation they grew up in) are eager to believe that this is true. But millennials have become an interesting cohort when it comes to


Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo

race relations, for although their generation is buffered by Generation X, which was born after segregation and other major forms of de jure discrimination were deemed unconstitutional, studies show that buffer notwithstanding, white millennials have not transcended the history of racism in this country. Thus, even though they take equality for granted, when it comes to expressing racism, millennials are sometimes no better than their parents or their grandparents.10 As Michael D. Smith argues, “the education [white millennials] have received has left them ill-​equipped to understand the nature of racism,” since they “have inherited a world in which the idea of ‘reverse racism’ has been legitimized.”11 Their “education” has taken place in a vacuum where discrimination against Black folks (which they equate exclusively with slavery and perhaps segregation), discrimination against Latinos (and they don’t even know what that looks like), and discrimination against American Indians (which they equate with the taking of lands, something remedied in their eyes by reservations) were things that happened in a long-​lost past, and are things that have no repercussions today because, as they’ve learned, we are now all treated equally, which is to say, we are now all equal. And that is the crux of the matter, for if, as they’ve been inculcated, we are all equal today, this means that we all have the same experiences. Thus, taking this idea to its logical conclusion, whites can experience anything that other racialized bodies do, and that includes racism and discrimination. In fact, from this perspective, whites can experience as much and as damaging discrimination as anybody else (hence the head-​ scratching notion of “reverse discrimination”). That is to say, Black folks, American Indians, and Latinas/​os may be having a hard time in our society, but (and let’s not forget) so are whites. This position is related to what Marcia Nichols and Jennifer Wacek call “white fragility” in the chapter of this collection titled “Frangible Whiteness.” White millennials’ understandings of race and racism have become another mythology, where their perceived oppression is equal to that of anyone else’s. And in their mythological views about race and racism, their nonhuman, monster-​like “leprechaun ancestors” are being abused by sport teams, just as are those of American Indians, and they are not complaining about it, so why are American Indians complaining? As unfathomable as this position may be, we (that is, college professors) must help our students understand their own positionality within historical and contemporary manifestations of racism. We must embed ourselves within the mythology and become adept border-​crossers and

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slayers of mythical creatures in what Hardt and Negri call the new world of monsters, which, irritatingly enough, seems to include quite a few surprises (you see, my students claiming leprechaun ancestry has not been my only surprising experience in the classroom—­just the one I chose to discuss here). In the eloquent and prescient words of my colleague Lisa Guerrero: Teachers of race . . . become adept at not just predicting pedagogical pitfalls, but also preventing them in some cases, and even using them productively in others. Of course there are others where we have to watch them explode, even after having taught through the same situation hundreds of times before. Familiarity breeds a heightened readiness, not an ability to perform miracles.12

Unfortunately, we have yet to develop the ability to perform miracles, but we must continue to try because trying is all we have. Also, as Zinn tells us, “we forget how often in this century we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts.”13 To invoke hooks one more time, I am convinced that “the classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility.”14 And given our current racial climate, it may very well be the most important bastion of possibility.

Notes 1. An earlier, shorter version of this chapter was published in the academic blog Latinx Talk in February 2016. 2. Rebecca Riffkin, “Racism Edges Up as Most Important Problem,” Gallup, July 16, 2015, http://www.gallup.com/poll/184193/racism-edges​ -again-important-problem.aspx?g_source=racism&g_medium=search&g​ _campaign=tiles. 3. PollingReport, “Race and Ethnicity,” December 21, 2014, http://www​ .pollingreport.com/race.htm. 4. Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (Boston: Beacon, 2005), 207 5. I understand that the claiming of American Indian ancestry among the U.S. white population rises to the level of mythmaking. But I firmly believe in never contesting anyone’s ancestry claims. Also, sometimes myths can be deployed helpfully. So, if anyone is wondering whether the


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seemingly white students who raised their hands when I asked whether they had American Indian ancestry actually had American Indian ancestry, my answer to them is that it doesn’t matter. What mattered to me at that point was that, through their claim, those students were able to put themselves in the scenario I was constructing for them. 6. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994), 131. 7. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formations in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994), 55. 8. Joe R. Feagin, Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression (New York: Routledge, 2006), 13. 9. Aureliano M. DeSoto, “The Strange Career of Ethnic Studies and Its Influences on the Teaching of Race and Ethnicity,” in Teaching Race in the 21st Century: College Teachers Talk about Their Fears, Risks, and Rewards, ed. Lisa Guerrero (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 205. 10. Scott Clement, “Millennials Are Just as Racist as Their Parents,” The Washington Post, April 7, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news​ /wonkblog/wp/2015/04/07/white-millennials-are-just-about-as-racist-as​ -their-parents/​. 11. Michael D. Smith, “Millennials Are Products of a Failed Lesson in Colorblindness,” PBS, March 26, 2015, http://www.pbs.org/newshour​ /updates/white-millennials-products-failed-lesson-colorblindness/​. 12. Lisa Guerrero, “Introduction: Pardon Me, but There Seems to Be Race in My Education,” in Teaching Race in the 21st Century: College Teachers Talk about Their Fears, Risks, and Rewards, ed. Lisa Guerrero (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 5. 13. Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, 207. 14. hooks, Teaching to Transgress, 207.


Exploring the Development of Immigrant Fiction The Pedagogy of Counter-​Narratives Umme Al-​wazedi

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. —­Walter Benjamin, Illuminations Living as we did—­on the edge—­we developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked both from the outside in and from the inside out. We focused our attention on the center as well as on the margin. We understood both. —­bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

My First Year Inquiry 102 class, titled “From Ellis Island to Post 9/​ 11: Exploring the Development of Immigrant Fiction,” looks at celebrated gateways such as Ellis Island, Angel Island, and other sites memorialized as points of entry to America, American citizenship, and the American dream. My goal in this class is to examine these popular spaces and ideas as zones of both inclusion and exclusion and incarceration. Often, these spaces that are symbols of freedom are reduced to “the tight secured circle” after a certain crisis has taken place, which in turn creates “new circles within: new fences, more checkpoints, security zones, gated communities.”1 Two of the four novels (located in different time periods) studied in the course center on the issue 267


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of exclusion and incarceration—­they were written during and after two of America’s most dramatic (and galvanizing) historical moments: the attack on Pearl Harbor (Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660) and the destruction of the Twin Towers (Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalism). Okubo’s Citizen 13660 (1983) is a memoir in graphic form depicted as a book educating Americans about Japanese Americans’ internment experience during World War II. Hamid’s (2007) realistic novel is often viewed as a criticism of Americans and the delusion of the American dream. Okubo protests against internments and warns readers against the future possibilities of arbitrary imprisonment. Interestingly, students don’t react negatively to Okubo’s narration, since they feel she is not aggressive; however, students find a kind of menace in Hamid’s main character, Changez. They see Okubo as a model citizen because she forgives America, but they show confusion or harbor a sense of hostility towards Hamid because he challenges the idea of race and ethnic relations through the development of his character Changez. While reading an essay by Jeanne Sokolowski, who refers to Okubo’s forgiveness as a form of “Divine Citizenship” which requires “a willingness to forgive the nation its errors: such generous attitude is essential to forging a new relationship,”2 students do see the difficulties of life in the Japanese American internment camp, but they are glad that Okubo is capable of such forgiveness. On the other hand, while referring to the hero of The Reluctant Fundamentalist interchangeably as Hamid or (his character) Changez, students conclude that “Changez/​Hamid is angry,” leaving no doubt that through The Reluctant Fundamentalist they see a counter-​narration of stories of immigrants, in particular Muslims, because negative characteristics—­ portrayed in films such as Zero Dark Thirty (2012) or American Sniper (2014)—­have already been printed deep in their imagination. They are often unsympathetic to Hamid’s challenge of the logic of the war on terror as his hero returns to Pakistan—­a world that is a war zone for many students, especially as it is portrayed through such news agencies as Fox News and even CNN. Since Citizen 13660 avoids encouraging identification with Okubo herself and the narrator goes back to her previous place for successful assimilation (integration in the mainstream society) in the future, students at first remain untouched by the events presented in the narrative. Hamid’s first-​person narration and his hero’s unsuccessful assimilation into and dissonance with American society and the American dream, however, immediately intimidate them. Although they

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treat Okubo, who is a U.S.-​born citizen, as an insider, they don’t necessarily see Changez in that light since he is perceived as an outsider (a non-​U.S. citizen). It is thus critical for me to use certain pedagogical strategies to teach the complex and real meanings of such texts as Citizen 13660 and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, since I would like my students to become informed and active citizens of the world. As such, this chapter extends one of the ideas that the editors of this collection talk about in the introduction: the “discourse of race in a particular cultural moment when the idea of postraciality and color-​blind logics make many people, students especially, resistant to discussing race in all its nuances.” Some of those pedagogical strategies involve providing students with specific critical essays (such as the one written by Sokolowski), screening propaganda cartoons, and watching humorous TV sitcoms that talk about the same issues and help lighten the atmosphere. These materials are important for critical pedagogy. Michael W. Apple stresses the importance of creating pedagogies “that are deeply connected to the daily realities of people’s lives and to struggles to overcome exploitation and dominance.”3 These cartoons and humorous sitcoms are based on some incidents from real life. These pedagogical strategies help me stress the fact that if we focus only on differences, we tend to neglect our shared realities. A strong foundation based on common ground lets us know that we need not fear conflict or strangeness; rather, it allows us to see that we can constructively handle whatever comes our way. At the end of the class, many students harbor conflicting feelings, but they ultimately see the tragedies in the lives of these characters. Also, in the classroom, my students challenge the power relations the writers themselves unfold as well as the narrative I have already planned for them; they negotiate their own biases too. They realize that there is more to life than ethnicity and the racialization of ethnicity. The central question that my FYI 102 class asks is “How does the past deepen our understanding of the human condition?” The goal of the class is to show the changes that have occurred from earlier periods to other more modern ones, which is why I use two novels focusing on two different time periods.4 Although I follow the particular goals of this sequence, I give more importance to what the students’ ultimate learning outcome will be—­they will become informed and active citizens through intercultural and interfaith dialogue on a liberal arts college campus. Nash et al. argue that “there is a need for a recommitment on the part of campus leaders to sustain ‘informed political and


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civil discourse’ during a time in our nation’s history when ‘the tone of academic debate has become increasingly polarized, and in some cases, we see attempts to silence individuals, faculty and students alike, with controversial views.’ ”5 They argue, furthermore, that the culture of discussing controversial issues in American college campuses tends “to foster a culture of contestation, not a culture of conversation,” and thus they advocate “a culture of moral conversation.”6 William Isaacs, in his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, writes that it is only through dialogue that people will find “creative intensity . . . that . . . lies dormant within and between us. It is an intensity that could revitalize our institutions, our relationships, and our selves.”7 For Paulo Freire, Dialogue is [thus] an existential necessity. And since dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and the action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s “depositing” ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be consumed by the discussants. Nor yet is it a hostile, polemical argument between those who are committed neither to the naming of the world, nor to the search for the truth, but rather to the imposition of their own truth.8

My intent in this class is to create dialogue—­keeping Freire in mind—­ between the students and the writers. This point about creating a dialogue proves helpful in understanding other classroom dynamics, as Carmen R. Lugo-​Lugo in her chapter “Some of My Students Are Leprechauns” in this collection contends. We both agree that we have to contend with “our current social and political environment,” as Lugo-​Lugo argues, “in which someone’s opinions and feelings become their facts and reality, while simultaneously becoming the issues with which everyone else will have to contend or the issues we all have to manage.” To make the process of dialogue successful, at the beginning of the course, I have my students read Emma Lazarus’s (1883) poem “The New Colossus” and then move onto two novels—­Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers (1925) and Willa Cather’s My Antonia (1918)—­which celebrate the hard work of early European pioneers. Then they move on to the next two novels, which present a counter-​narrative to the celebrated ones—­from the open gates they move to “the gate-​keeping ideology”9

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that has “characterized not only American immigration policy, but also its frequent practice of segregating citizens according to race.”10 Before students begin discussing Citizen 13660, I open the class by showing a Superman cartoon from 1942, episode 10 titled “Japoteurs” (changed from “saboteurs”), in which a Japanese man hijacks the largest plane. The Japanese man is racially portrayed with buck teeth and broken English. Ultimately, Superman saves the world by taking over the plane and landing it safely on the ground. The students are divided into two groups in their opinions—­one group celebrates the victory of Superman, whereas the other group sees the racial profiling of the Japanese man and is shocked to see the cartoon’s blatant anti-​Asian racism. Ultimately, through discussion, the latter group arrives at the realization that this cartoon is propaganda, and if America and Japan were at war, then this cartoon would jeopardize the positions of Japanese Americans. Laura L. Beadling argues that “Okubo’s style serves as a counter to caricatures of Japanese and Japanese Americans that appeared in both propaganda and in mainstream publications like LIFE and Time.”11 And rightly, many students then point to page 12 in Citizen 13660, where Okubo talks about her experience on the bus: “The people looked at all of us, both citizens and aliens, with suspicion and mistrust.” I take this moment to point out that Okubo “self-​consciously constructs herself as the object of a hostile White American gaze”12 because she rides the bus immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Creef sees Okubo as having “a double vision—­the ability to see herself as both Japanese and American, as citizen and an alien, and as subject and object,” which can be called the double consciousness that W. E. B. Du Bois articulated and which is true for people of color.13 Tension rises in the classroom at this point, since we have a writer who is a citizen but is also perceived as an alien. The students are again divided—­one group sees Okubo as a loyal citizen who is struggling for visibility, and another group is confused as to how they should react, since they see Japan as the enemy. I take this opportunity to ask three specific questions that Jessica Knight points out when teaching Citizen 13660 in a multicultural American literature class: “What do we expect an author or a literary work to make visible about history, or about the life of a social group? What is the relationship between literature and social identity? How can we read in order to avoid making problematic assumptions about these relationships?”14 Students immediately point to page 10, in which the character Okubo is staring right at the readers and behind her are captions such as “Sorry, No Japs,” “Don’t


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trust a Jap,” “We don’t want them,” “Dangerous criminals,” and so on. While many students are outraged about the racist comments in this image, most of them notice Okubo’s style of relating her experience to them—­they find her very objective, as if she is giving factual information, particularly when she tells the readers that she and her brother have to evacuate. However, students pick up some salient clues that tell them she is going through some sort of trauma; for example, students point to the image when she tells the readers they looked at their “happy home”15 for one last time. Yet what creates tension in me is that students accept Okubo’s situation at the end of the novel without any question; they don’t automatically locate the resistances—­for example, her juxtaposition of the word “citizen” and the number that marks their marginalization and dehumanization. They accept the fact that Okubo needed to learn how to assimilate with mainstream society once she gets out of the camp simply because she was a Japanese American: “I attended forums on ‘How to Make Friends’ and ‘How to Behave in the Outside World.’ ”16 The students never ask “Why shouldn’t the outside world learn to accept her as she is?” unless I point to this issue. So, to engage them further in critically reading the ending of the novel and to find the real meaning behind the conclusion, I ask them to read a selection from Sokolowski’s essay “Internment and Post-​War Japanese American Literature: Toward a Theory of Divine Citizenship.” Sokolowski argues that before Okubo left the camp, she had to struggle internally because “divine citizenship requires a capacity to acknowledge and explore feelings” of one’s own.17 Once Okubo was able to do that, it was easier for her to forgive the state, since “the performance of divine citizenship requires a willingness to forgive the nation its errors; such a generous attitude is essential to forging a new relationship. Without forgiveness, suspicion and hostility may destroy the fragile threads connecting individuals to one another and to their country.”18 So, assimilating perfectly to the society does not make Okubo’s journey great; rather, it’s her ability to forgive the country even though it has caused such pain to her. Students think positively about her change, since they have concluded that Okubo will be able to assimilate and make friends when she goes back to her community. None of them raise any objections to the fact that perhaps this assimilation is necessary so she doesn’t face hostility from mainstream society. None of them ask why Okubo, a Japanese American born in America who lost everything with nothing ever returned to her family, would even want to assimilate.

Exploring the Development of Immigrant Fiction


This is not quite the reception of The Reluctant Fundamentalist in my classroom. While teaching The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I have noticed that students focus on Changez and the change that comes to him. The students automatically pick up on the airport scene, since this scene is crucial to understanding the meaning of Hamid’s novel.19 Although The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a popular novel, at first Changez or Hamid is not celebrated by my students. One of the reasons for this is that they don’t see a divine forgiveness or an attempt at assimilating to American society at the end of the novel, although they do agree that Changez wanted to assimilate and make the American dream come true in his life. I would like to take a moment to walk through some of the tension I see in my students. One moment of tension for the students is when they find Changez talking to an American in Pakistan. The man could be a CIA officer or a killer. None of us know. Hamid himself tells us how the story unfolds: It is unclear why Changez is deciding to speak to this American or why the American is there, or what has brought them together. Is one a terrorist, a fundamentalist? Is the other a CIA agent, a killer? Are they both two random chaps who happen to be in the bazaar? We don’t know and that lack of knowledge and that half conversation does a few things, such as drawing attention to biases. So in non-​fiction accounts and narratives, such as the news on television, we tend to be told how things are and, of course, in being told, we are being given a whole string of biases; but the biases remain hidden. But when it is a conversation where one person is speaking and the other person isn’t, it is drawing attention to the fact that what you are about to get is very highly biased and manipulative. And you, the audience, are given the task of responding to this manipulation. So the character Changez is in the novel only half a character, and you, the reader, flesh out what that character is.20

Changez’s first encounter with the reality of his marginalized position takes place in the airport after 9/​11 when he reaches New York, the place he felt at home—­students realize this very early. He is escorted to a special room and is “made to strip down to [his] boxer shorts.”21 Again, as was the ritual in airports at that time, Changez is separated from his team at immigration: “They joined the queue for American citizens; I joined the one for foreigners.”22 He is asked, “What is the


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purpose of your trip to the United States?” Although he points out that he lives in New York, he is repeatedly asked why he is there. By the time Changez is finished going through the interrogations, his companions have left him. Readers can feel the loneliness of Changez at this time, as he feels that no one expresses compassion towards him. This non-​supportive attitude of his friends seems to have manifested in the public realm, too. Changez cannot ignore the rumors that hover over Pak-​Punjab Deli about how cab drivers had been beaten, how “the FBI [was] raiding mosques, shops, and even people’s houses; Muslim men were disappearing, perhaps into shadowy detention centers for questioning or worse.”23 Still, believing these stories were mostly untrue, Changez clad himself in an “armor of denial.”24 Students do notice that Changez also faces hatred in the street; he would often find the tires of his car punctured.25 These small incidents are not the only ones that force Changez to think about who he is and what America means to him. He is a man in crisis in a world that is itself in political crisis. Once, while walking to his car, he is confronted by a man in the parking lot: “He made a series of unintelligent noises—­ ‘akhala-​malakhala,’ perhaps or ‘khalapal-​khalapala.’ ”26 When Changez shows resistance to such behavior, the man shouts “Fucking Arab.”27 Of course, Changez is not an Arab, but the encounter shows that many mainstream Americans are unaware of his nationality (and so are my students). They presume that since he is a Muslim, then he must be an Arab—­a stereotypical idea that Changez reacts against. This is a teaching moment for me, since I can point out how often Sikhs who wear turbans have been thought of as Muslims and have had hate crimes committed against them. The next time the students ask about Changez’s change is when he decides to grow a beard, and they feel uncomfortable about what his next action will be. They point out that he shouldn’t have grown a beard, since it was obvious that in his own work space, his beard creates a certain kind of nervousness, to which Changez responds: “It was, perhaps, a form of protest on my part, a symbol of my identity, or perhaps I sought to remind myself of the reality I had just left behind.”28 He describes how a hairstyle changed how people perceived him, how it had a certain impact because of the color of his skin. He was subjected to verbal abuse in the subway, and at Underwood Samson he “seemed to become overnight a subject of whispers and stares.”29 Hence, I point out that Changez observes how the fairly cosmopolitan New York changed into a racialized city, and his position as a veritable

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James Bond (which he considers himself to be after he was hired by a large company) changed into a veritable terrorist because of his decision to grow a beard. Students are uneasy about this situation as they encounter Changez in the post-​9/​11 political reality. We take some time to go back to some of the other incidents that happened to some other people—­for example, the taxi drivers’ encounter with racism, or the FBI raiding of mosques, shops, and people’s houses.30 These other references help students to see Changez as part of a larger community which has been terrorized through racial comments. I underscore for my students the story’s revelation of the extent of discrimination faced by various members of the Muslim community, and I make a point about how this degree of “othering”—­the process by which difference is accentuated and people begin to feel dehumanized—­shows how the whole Muslim community can be pushed out of mainstream society and alienated. When this concept of “othering” is explained, some students see why Changez might act the way he does.31 However, there is also a certain uneasiness among my students that stems from witnessing Changez’s change and his reaction to the attack on the Twin Towers. Hamid describes Changez’s reaction: “I realized that it was not fiction but news. I stared as one—­and then the other—­of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.”32 After saying this, Changez tries to explain his behavior to the American CIA officer, saying he felt great that “some had so visibly brought America to her knees.”33 Max Cairnduff while reviewing the book writes that such a description brings out “a sense of foreboding, of threat. Changez makes a number of comments, seemingly innocent, but capable of menacing interpretation.”34 Changez tells the CIA officer what he thinks America’s problem is, offering an explanation that verges on being a threat. Changez blames the corporate world and global capitalism for this outcome. Magali Cornier Michael contends that for Changez, “Faith in the illusions of order, power and individualism crumble along with the towers, symbols of the financial wealth undergirding American society; the towers’ destruction removes the veil hiding from view the interconnections between the public and private realms as well as between American society, wealth, and global terrorism.”35 Hamid forces the readers to grapple with the complex and arguably unjust global economic systems that cannot be totally dissociated from the events of 9/​11. It takes some pausing from my side to point this out to the students. After the beard and the reaction to the


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Twin Towers, students are ready to draw the conclusion that Changez has “fundamentalist feelings.” By the time the students have neared the end of the novel, there is tension in the class—­how does one forgive a character who smiles at the destruction of the Twin Towers? So, to lessen the tension, I switch gears and introduce Zarqa Nawaz—­a Canadian writer and filmmaker. The first episode of her television series Little Mosque on the Prairie begins with some of the stereotypical ideas that mainstream North American society has about the Muslim community. For example, when all the Muslims are praying, a local white man sees them and immediately calls the Terrorist Hotline. Students laugh at this episode and realize the absurdity of this situation. They are interested and want to know more. So we focus on the next scene—­the airport scene. When Amaar, Nawaz’s hero and a Muslim imam, first travels to Mercy, the journey is not an easy one. In the airport, as he departs, Amaar communicates with his mother about his calling: “I have been planning for this for months. This is Allah’s plan for me. I am not throwing my life away. I am moving to the Prairies.” After listening to this, one of the passengers notifies the police, and Amaar is whisked away to an interrogation room. Once Amaar is in the police station, he asks, “What’s the charge? Flying while Muslim?” And then the police officer immediately replies, “You lived for a year in Afghanistan?” Amaar answers that it was for volunteer work. When asked why he left his father’s law firm, he says, “While I was in Egypt doing my Islamic studies, I found my true calling.” The police officer asks, “Explosives?” When Amaar agrees jokingly, the policeman thinks he is confessing the truth. However, the police cannot find any information to hold him for long, so Amaar arrives in Mercy only to be harassed by a journalist who tries to find his connection to al-​Qaeda. Finally he is saved by Yasir, a local Muslim contractor, but is featured as “Holy Terror: Transplanted Toronto Cleric ‘Lands’ in ‘Hot Water’ ” in the local newspaper.36 I see this episode as a parody of the scene that Hamid presents in The Reluctant Fundamentalist—­Changez’s experience in the New York airport. Franz Volker Greifenhagen argues that “this comic inversion de-​familiarizes the dominant community while normalizing the minority Muslim community.”37 I also want my students to normalize themselves so we can discuss the novel engagingly. Then we talk about the stereotyping of the Muslims, and some of the students open up about their Muslim friends. At the end of the novel, the students and I are still left with the crisis as to what we should do when we come face to face with

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“the unnamed source of America’s post-​9/​11 fear: the Islamist enemy within.”38 Here, I remind them of Nawaz’s philosophy, which envisions a world where human connections are needed to go beyond the suffering that each and every person witnessed during and after 9/​11. She provides us with a space that “allows us to laugh, not really at each other, but with each other across religious boundaries,” thus putting emphasis on convivencia or coexistence.39 Through my consideration of Nawaz’s comedy, I tell my students that she “strives to create an ethic for an age of terrorism, counterterrorism, and globalization. This ethic is also an aesthetic, an attempt to reconstruct the senses and to realign them with cognition in order to confront a world where distance has not been erased but where worlds crumble into each other nonetheless.”40 This episode from Little Mosque points to three things that humor lets us accomplish: it provides “an outlet for criticism without aggravating the initial conflict,” it lets us cope with “aggression and/​ or the pain of being considered inferior,” and it confirms “that ethnic tensions can hardly be maintained in the face of humour.” Although there is the risk of students not taking the sitcom seriously, I feel that the students’ experience was enhanced by watching the sitcom. They felt comfortable in making comments because they felt familiar with the sitcom’s spaces and its characters, such as the small town, the coffee shop, and the neighbors. They found the characters more relatable. Also, sitcoms are a quintessentially American cultural activity and are familiar to most Americans. And I saw hope that, instead of alienating each other, we will take risks and find common ground, speak multiple tongues, and move beyond. Although a sitcom and a substantial postcolonial novel are not the same media, the comparison is important. By treating them as comparable forms, I can more effectively argue that a popular culture such as a sitcom is capable of challenging the hegemonic presentation of Muslims as much as a novel can. I don’t want my students to leave the classroom thinking that Changez has turned into a fundamentalist, and derive from this a general conclusion about the Muslim community. Thus, I draw their attention to the love between Erica and Changez. Some students argue that Changez used Erica, and exploited her love for him. However, I challenge them to consider whether Erica could be the symbol of an older world—­the older world that Emma Lazarus painted in her poem “The New Colossus,” that America is a safe haven for the immigrants—­a veritable Statue of Liberty that could have saved Changez. I continue by explaining that the name “Chris” can be seen as symbolic;


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his name can mean Christianity, and we talk about the relationship between the Christians and Muslims. I point out that, unable to pierce through the love of Erica and Chris, Changez observes, “perhaps theirs was a past all the more potent for its being imaginary. I did not know whether I believed in the truth of their love; it was, after all, a religion that would not accept me as a convert.”41 Chris’s dying of cancer can be read as a disease that has seeped into American society—­the disease of neglecting the Other or other religions. I also add that Hamid may be pointing to a counter-​narrative that portrays images of negative interethnic romance and not as “stylized multiraciality” or “as an image of painless assimilation into a homogenous national culture.”42 How do I see the final outcome of this class? David Bromwich paradoxically said, “The good of conversation is not truth, or right, or anything else that may come out at the end of it, but the activity itself in its constant relation to life.”43 So one student concluded her essay on Muslim men and stereotyping (her title is “The Forgotten”) by writing: If most average Americans remember they were eating breakfast or getting ready for work when they found out what happened in New York City, I am more than positive Muslim men living in the United States know exactly what they were doing when they found out, because that is when their lives changed forever. So, on the next anniversary of 9/​11, remember not only the fallen victims and their families, but also remember the men who were stereotypes and how their lives changed overnight and not in a positive way.

Although I do want the students to come to the truth about such issues of race and discrimination, I am happy that they asked questions about issues—­issues that exist in real life. And because of that, I am able to teach the issues of the internment camp and Islamophobia not as if they happened somewhere else or some time in history. My hope is that my students will immediately react in an informed way to present situations; for example, to such critical incidents as the one created by the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s racial comments on Khizr Khan’s wife. Khan’s son, the Army captain Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq, but instead of viewing his mother as a mourning figure, Trump claimed that she didn’t speak because she was dominated by her husband. However, more importantly, the issues at hand are the following questions: Can a Muslim be a good citizen?

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How does he prove himself—­by enlisting in the army? The same questions were asked of the Japanese Americans in the post–­Pearl Harbor period. Many Japanese Americans proved their citizenship rights by enlisting in the army, proving their patriotism “honorably, irrefutably, with their blood, limbs and lives.”44 However, there were other Japanese Americans who questioned such encroachment on their rights to citizenship. Those who didn’t enlist were known as the “No-​No Boys.”45 Tilley and Taylor, while referring to such critical educators as Paulo Freire and P. H. Hinchey, point out that “enacting a critical pedagogy means critically exploring the ways dominant structural forces assign unfair privileges to some individuals while marginalizing others. However, this critical exploration often has to begin with teachers exploring how they ‘are privileged themselves, and . . . need first to develop an awareness of their own privilege.’ ”46 Considering this crucial issue about critical pedagogy, I teach with caution because I am an immigrant and a Muslim as well, and I need to control my desire to teach over the students, to impose my own ideas on them, or simply to justify a character’s action. However, if taught carefully with supporting materials and differing points of view, students can arrive at not just a simple conclusion but a complicated one, an argument that Philathia Bolton also brings up in her chapter in this book, “The Potential of a Moment: Race Literacy and Black American Literature.” Louise Rosenblatt argues that in this way the students “see how often they have been dominated by ideas only because they have heard them again and again.”47 Once more, the emphasis must be given to creating dialogues, as both William Isaacs and Freire assert. “Rather than attempt to fit the gestures of resistance seen in Citizen 13660,” writes Vivian Furniko Chin, “we can view Okubo’s (1983) memoir as evidences of a continuum of resistance that extends beyond an ‘optimistic’ versus ‘critical’ paradigm. Incorporating the negative and the positive, Citizen 13660” reveals realistic yet optimistic positioning.48 The same can be said of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Notes This chapter is dedicated to the faculty who teach FYI classes and the FYI committee, who work hard to make a difference and continue the conversation and dialogue on controversial issues as the world is getting more difficult day by day. I would also like to thank our librarians Donna Marie Hill and Sherrie H. Herbst of Augustana Tredway Library for getting books


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for me from the end of the world through interlibrary loan, and keeping track of them as well. 1. Ana Ma Manzanas and Jesus Benito, Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture: Static Heroes, Social Movements and Empowerments (New York: Routledge, 2014), 66. 2. Jeanne Sokolowski, “Interment and Post-​ War Japanese American Literature: Toward a Theory of Divine Citizenship,” MELUS 34, no. 1 (2009): 84. 3. Michael W. Apple, “Preface: The Freirian Legacy,” in The Freirean Legacy: Educating for Social Justice, ed. Judith J. Slater, Stephen M. Fain, and Cesar A. Rossatto (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), xi−xii. 4. At Augustana College, FYI 102 is a part of Augustana’s year-​long journey of academic discovery through writing, reading, inquiry, and speaking. Each of the sequences focuses on a central question. FYI 101 asks, “What does it mean to be a liberally educated person?” and includes readings about liberal arts education. FYI 103 asks, “How do we embrace the challenges of our diverse and changing world?” 5. Robert J. Nash, DeMethra Lasha Bradley, and Arthur W. Chickering, How to Talk about Hot Topics on Campus: From Polarization to Moral Conversation (San Francisco: Jossey-​Bass, 2008), ix. 6. Nash, Bradley, and Chickering, How to Talk about Hot Topics, 5. 7. William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 14. 8. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Continuum, 2000), 88–­89. 9. Erica Lee, “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882–­1924,” Journal of American Ethnic History 32, no. 3 (2002): 37. 10. Manzanas and Benito, Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture, 74. 11. Laura L. Beadling, “Imaging Internment: Teaching Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 as a Work of Comics in the Contact Zone,” Sequential Art Narrative in Education 1, no. 1 (2010): 4. 12. Elena Tajima Creef, Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 83. 13. Creef, Imaging Japanese America, 82–­83. 14. Jessica Knight, “Graphic Multiculturalism: Mine Okubo’s Citizen 13660 in the Literature Classroom,” in Teaching Comics and Graphic Narratives, ed. Lan Dong (North Carolina: McFarland, 2012), 98.

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15. Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983), 23. 16. Okubo, Citizen 13660, 207. 17. Sokolowski, “Interment and Post-​ War Japanese American Literature,” 83. 18. Sokolowski, “Interment and Post-​ War Japanese American Literature,” 84. 19. Part of the discussion here has been published in South Asian History and Culture. For more detail, see Umme Al-​wazedi, “Representing Diasporic Masculinities in Post-​9/​11 America: The Tragedy vs. the Comedy,” South Asian History and Culture 5, no. 4 (2014): 1–­17. 20. Mohsin Hamid, “Slaying Dragons: Mohsin Hamid Discusses The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” Psychoanalysis and History 11, no. 2 (2009): 225–­26. 21. Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (New York: Harcourt, 2007), 74. 22. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 75. 23. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 94. 24. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 95. 25. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 96. 26. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 117. 27. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 130. 28. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 120. 29. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 130. 30. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 94. 31. One of the students wrote a paper titled “The Other” in which she pointed out how the “Othering” happens in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. She concludes, “Hamid was correct in criticizing post 9/​11 reality. Sixteen years ago it happened, as well as now in the Trump Administration, there is extreme ‘Othering’ happening that brings along unfair racial profiling. What our society needs is to criticize the ‘Othering’ and to make changes.” 32. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 68, 72. 33. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 73. 34. Max Cairnduff, “Turn and Face the Strange,” August 17, 2012, http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com. 35. Magali Cornier Michael, “Don DeLillo’s Falling Man: Countering Post-​ 9/​ 11 Narratives of Heroic Masculinity,” in Portraying 9/​11: Essays on Representations in Comics, Literature, Film, and Theatre, ed. Veronique Bragard, Christophe Dony, and Warren Rosenberg (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011), 76–­77.


Umme Al-wazedi

36. Zarqa Nawaz, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Season 1, Episode 1, DVD, Canada CBC Home Video, 2006–­2010. 37. Franz Volker Greifenhagen, “ ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ and Modern Convivencia,” in On the Way to Muslim-​Christian Understanding, Augustana Distinguished Lectures (Alberta: Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, 2010), 24. 38. Anna Hartnell, “Violence and the Faithful in Post-​9/​11 America: Updike’s Terrorist, Islam, and the Specter of Exceptionalism,” Modern Fiction Studies 57, no. 3 (2011): 480. 39. Greifenhagen, “ ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ and Modern Convivencia,” 32. 40. Michael Rothberg, “Seeing Terror, Feeling Art: Public and Private in Post-​9/​11 Literature,” in Literature after 9/​11, ed. Ann Keniston and Jeanne Follansbee Quinn (New York: Routledge, 2008), 140. 41. Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 55. 42. Jeffery Santa Ana, “Affect-​Identity: The Emotions of Assimilation, Multiraciality, and Asian American Subjectivity,” in Asian North American Identities: Beyond the Hyphen, ed. Eleanor Try and Donald G. Goellnicht (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 16–­19. 43. David Bromwich, Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 131–­32. 44.  Brian Niiya, “No-No Boys,” Densho Encyclopedia, http://​ encyclopedia.densho.org/No-no%20boys/​. 45. The War Relocation Authority asked two controversial questions: Question number 27 asked if Nisei (second-​generation Japanese born in the United States) would serve directly in the army, and Question number 28 asked “if individuals would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear any form of allegiance to the Emperor of Japan” (Cherstin Lyon, “Questions 27 and 28,” Densho Encyclopedia, http://​ encyclopedia.densho.org/Questions%2027%20and%2028/​). 46. Susan Tilley and Leanne Taylor, “Understanding Curriculum as Lived: Teaching for Social Justice and Equity Goals,” Race Ethnicity and Education 16, no. 3 (2013): 409. 47. Louise Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (New York: Modern Language Association, 1995), 114. 48. Vivian Furniko Chin, “Gestures of Noncompliance: Resisting, Inventing, and Enduring in Citizen 13660,” Amerasia Journal 30, no. 2 (2004): 38.


The Potential of a Moment Race Literacy and Black American Literature Philathia Bolton

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise. Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.”1 With these words, Toni Morrison opens her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. She invites her audience to ponder the significance of language by first elucidating its primacy in our experiences of socialization. Language, for example, enshrouded in stories told to us by parents or other authorial figures, becomes a powerful guiding force that mediates how we see ourselves and the world. As Morrison continues with the story, we find that the woman has been sought by a group of young people. It was rumored that she had the gift of second sight, and they wanted to best her. They chose a bird for their mission and posed a question they believed the woman could not answer correctly: “Is the bird dead or alive?” They had determined to crush the bird in hand if the woman replied “Alive.” Had she said the bird was dead, they would open their hands to reveal that the bird was living. The woman, after a moment of silence, tells the youth, “ ‘I don’t know . . . I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands.’ ”2 Morrison follows this story by reflecting on the power of language to unify or divide, destroy or create. Language, in essence, is a dynamic, mediating force that exposes the nature of our relationships with each other. By extension, stories become the meta-​script from which we generate our beliefs, and it directs our actions. Morrison puts it this way: “We 283


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die. That may be the meaning of life. We do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”3 As professors and scholars of literature, we seize this paradigm of the power of language and stories most directly, particularly if we teach courses that involve the subject of race. When we engage our students through course objectives and materials, they commence the (un)conscious process of sizing up the narratives they anticipate obtaining from us with those given to them by people most familiar to them, and oftentimes, people whom they love and trust. This is where the tension arises. The narratives we proffer in our classrooms, both through primary texts and through lectures, can reinforce the stories they have heard. At other times, these narratives challenge those stories. Regardless of what the stories they receive from us “do,” if we teach with rigor and insight, particularly given our current sociopolitical climate, our narratives usually end up eliciting strong responses. As one who routinely teaches a course called Black American Literature, I am keenly aware of the invocative nature of literary works produced by people of African descent in the United States. I am also aware of the role I play in making apparent the continuing significance and relevance of these works for my students. I must cultivate a learning environment that is fertile for learning, but this objective of mine requires a certain willingness and participation from my students. Much like the woman featured in the allegory that Toni Morrison references, I confront a type of “blindness” when I start a section of Black American Literature that can present certain challenges. There are the conventional blind spots for which I can reasonably account, such as asking my students: “What brings you to this class, or why are you taking this course?” However, there are other blind spots that speak more centrally to the paradigm of narrative confrontations that cannot be efficiently, or even reliably, accessed for a literature course, questions such as: “What have you learned about race before taking this course? Do you believe African Americans enjoy the same civil and human rights as white Americans? Do you believe in the fundamental, intrinsic equality of all human beings, regardless of race?” The answers to questions like these would focus a worldview that could help me anticipate responses to certain course readings, and they might even guide my selection of texts. However, these kinds of questions typically resist an honest answer, particularly if they are not addressed under the veil of anonymity. They additionally risk heightening an awareness of a disconnect between me and my students, since questions like these also

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work from a presupposition of ignorance on the part of a predominately white audience, and they tend to be questions not asked of people of color. After all, I am an African American woman teaching a course on Black American literature. The impulse to ask these questions, nevertheless, speaks to a dynamic captured in the story featuring the old woman that Morrison uses to begin her lecture; it speaks to vulnerability. The silence, and then the “soft but stern”4 reply from the woman in response to the question about the bird, suggests her awareness of the youths’ intention, but it could also signal her hesitance to concede that something fruitful could evolve from an exchange initially designed for trickery. There is much she does not know. However, she does sense distance between herself and them, or perhaps between what she represents and has to offer and what they believe to be true about the world and her place in it. The old woman provides them with what they must have perceived as an unlikely response: “It is in your hands.”5 Her response paradoxically divests the youths of the power they seek to demonstrate in tricking someone considered wise while, at the same time, it confirms that they, indeed, do have power in that moment through their connection with the woman. There is potential in their meeting to create something, to find meaning. This chapter intends to build upon the metaphor of that encounter in ways that show the “unique” potential of Black American literature to build a type of race literacy through storytelling. In particular, I will argue that a direct approach to framing Black American literature as “American” literature not only effectively teaches students how to read and theorize about race, but also it does so in ways that can prove empowering for students who seek to locate themselves within a racialized America that is still vexed along the black-​white binary.

Narrative Confrontations A prevailing theme in Black American literature obviously is race, but I would argue more pointedly, it is race consciousness. Perhaps this observation is what makes courses like the one I teach an attractive option for diversity requirements that need to be met by certain majors. However, the assumed centrality of race is also what stymies other ways of reading Black American literature that can broaden discussions and in turn reorient, deepen, or otherwise nuance attention


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to the way Black writers handle the subject of race. I assume that my students subscribe to the narrative that Black American literature is only or primarily about race, so during the first week of class, I provide experiences intended to disrupt that narrative. The first activity I usually employ invites them to deconstruct the title of the course. I ask them to consciously consider the way that certain expectations for a course go hand-​in-​hand with an interpretation of its title. Picking up the chalk, I draw in large letters on the board, “Black American Literature,” and then I ask, “What is in a title? What do titles do?” I have received a number of similar responses to this question in the last three years or so when I have taught Black American Literature. Titles introduce the contents of something. Titles can be seen like labels; they are a description, a few of my students have said. Titles also set up certain expectations based on what people assume will come afterward.6 In the spring semester of 2017, however, I received a few responses that varied from those customarily offered. One of my students, a person of color, said that titles can convey ownership. When I pressed her, she explained that when one purchases a car, a title is issued to prove ownership of the vehicle. She applied this reading to certain politics that she anticipated would inform the way that Black American literature has been produced and received through the decades, and the ideas of ownership that inform subjects and themes taken up by writers. She also provided an additional contrasting view, which spoke to function and position. Titles, such as ones like “Mr., Dr., Bishop, Professor,” she explained, introduce function and placement within society. Unlike other semesters, I had my students work through this exercise after laying an initial foundation for new historicist readings of the literature we would study.7 There are no prerequisites for this course, so in order to help them responsibly interpret the material, I require them to watch excerpts from the documentary The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which I preface with a clip of Jesse Williams, an activist and an actor best known for his role on Grey’s Anatomy, talking about history.8 In the clip, Williams speaks to a crowd gathered to watch “What Holds the Future,” an outdoor reenactment at Colonial Williamsburg.9 Williams was their guest artist and had just received a question from the moderator on behalf of a Facebook fan. The person wanted to know how one might get students interested in history. Instead of answering directly, Williams broaches a response on

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the politics of representation, which incidentally provides a case for the importance of counter-​storytelling. Speaking primarily with students of color in mind, he argues: We teach who the heroes are. We teach the bullet points. I think to speak on kind of a thread that we’ve had going in terms of African American involvement here and just in general, we spend . . . the first 12 years of our school life, particularly in inner city, low-​income communities and school systems learning nothing about ourselves, and if you’re lucky enough to go to college or something, maybe you’ll take some cute African American Studies class in college or something. . . . It is very difficult as a student in school, as a student of color, to try to deal with the dichotomy, to try to juxtapose white heroes who had their boot on your neck. That is something to balance . . . and we can hide from it and only teach one half of it; that is a disservice to everybody that is involved. So once we start teaching the truth and what actually happened and let us just decide how we feel about it, instead of forcing it down people’s throat of who’s heroes and who’s not. That’s not really relevant. What happened, happened. Let’s learn about it and . . . that’s what made this country what it is. . . . There is nothing more important, I think, than education, and particularly for people in this country learning their actual history and the contributions they’ve made to all of their society and not just physical labor because that is not even an eighth of it. And that goes beyond this country and is also Africa and the rest of this world.10

Williams becomes an attractive option for setting up my students’ viewing experience of the documentary not just because he is a contemporary, mainstream figure who most of them will recognize—­building immediate ethos into the argument—­but also because he contributes a vital piece to my assumptions of a learning deficit they bring to the class. He talks about voids in the curriculum related to teaching American history and the concomitant emotional challenges associated with processing the more difficult aspects of that history that are often elided or omitted in history books. As this excerpt makes clear, Williams pulls together for contrast two competing narratives: one about American heroes and one that resists those judgments in favor of a more dynamic


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and representative narrative. The history provided in the documentary I show my students will intensify this contrast between narratives, and many of the works they will go on to study by Black writers will do the same. I wanted to openly acknowledge that fact and also what some might experience as dissonance, once the narratives they were raised with begin to chafe against those provided by Black writers and those that surface in discussions about their works. “Feel,” Williams urges the crowd. “Only teach[ing] one half [of our history does] a disservice to everybody that is involved . . . Let’s learn about it, [and] you can express yourself; you can put yourself at risk; you can expose yourself; you can feel guilty; you can feel embarrassed; you can feel furious. And you’re entitled to all of those things.” Williams provides my students with the language to process and to “feel.” Perhaps just as importantly, he serves as a sort of liaison, in the sense that he becomes the interlocutor who lays the groundwork for a conversation we will be having over the semester. By using his voice, I situate myself among my students as one who similarly has to navigate with deliberation and risk the same stories and histories they will encounter. Even as I maintain my authority as their professor, Williams speaks to us all; a “we” dynamic is created, which I believe—­as Paulo Freire argues in his oft-​referenced Pedagogy of the Oppressed—­proves most effective for learning. 11 Added to the Williams piece was a reflective exercise that I used to guide my students’ eventual viewing experience of excerpts from Many Rivers. The prompt had a series of questions they were to think through while watching the film, some of which I believe might have contributed to the insightful responses a couple of my students offered in response to “What is in a title?” which I briefly touched on previously in this chapter. One of the questions I provided also explicitly asked them to think about what Williams offers for consideration, as they watched the film.12 It is the last question, and it is one I ask them to work through after having watched both of the episodes I provide for consideration: In ways that connect with what Jesse Williams talks about in the Q&A session [the video clip shown in class], I want you to reflect on your experience encountering this aspect of American history. What types of emotions did you experience? What new or different knowledge did you obtain from the documentary? In what way(s) do you think this information will guide your study of literature produced by people of African descent?

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I should note that the students’ responses to this question were not evaluated for their grade but would be considered for extra credit points to be added to their midterm grade later in the semester. With these modest stakes, I received a gamut of responses from those who followed through and submitted their reflections. Some of my students provided substantive responses, and were apparently eager to share the way they were seeking to pull together knowledge and were earnest in their efforts to construct a framework for studying Black American literature. One of my students, I will refer to her as Hazel, said that she had wondered how she “would have been situated in this time,” as a white person. “It really helped me become more well-​rounded about history,” she argued. “It also makes you feel all kinds of emotions like shame, sadness, admiration, and that is what I believe the film wants you to feel. They want you to be moved and see that the fight for freedom was long and violent and defined our country in more ways than one.” What is interesting to note is her desire to connect with the history before turning to the last question. This response from Hazel was for a question on the perceived intended audience for the film and the kind of story entrusted to the audience. To that point, she identifies youth in grade school. “Going through school . . . we get bits and pieces of the [American history],” she explains. As she includes herself in that group, she goes on to mention some ways in which the film addresses certain gaps in knowledge and the emotions that she experienced. The film, for example, gave her a broader context for understanding slavery as a global phenomenon and as something that many African peoples did not anticipate being a reality that would pass from generation to generation by condition of birth. Encountering this history also reminded her of other potential audiences, for example, “people who believe they know everything about slavery but don’t.” In this moment, she appears to target a group resistant to narratives about the presence of slavery, its impact on this country, and perhaps its lingering effect on contemporary society. Hazel says, “Obviously you cannot believe you know exactly how [slavery] played out or who it affected. This documentary shows a wide range of people who uniquely show us the internal fight to gain equality and freedom. It can truly open people’s eyes, people who make broad generalizations or are stubborn in the face of truth.” Her commentary demonstrates counter-​narratives in practice. It also shows her awareness of narrative confrontations, which is to say that certain stories about the founding of this country that are dismissed


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or glossed over in mainstream historical accounts chafe against stories provided that address those absences. So inscribed and reinforced can these stories be that, when counter-​stories become engaged, an instinct to push back surfaces. Hazel wanted to acknowledge this in her response, and she did so in ways that connect emotion to the tension between competing or countering stories that struggle to be assimilated. Her thoughts here could be applied to white people who believe that slavery was a mutually agreed-​upon system of labor that afforded certain people from Africa a better way of life. Her comment could also be in direct reference to what Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes in the film as certain Black people’s resistance to ideas about African peoples willingly selling other African people into slavery. Regardless of what specifically informs Hazel’s response about audience, she insinuates a certain emotional investment in adhering to a particular narrative that has to be reckoned with when seeking to understand more fully the historical context of Black American literature. Hazel’s eventual response to the question about emotion, which I will include in part here, reiterates what she talked about previously when reflecting on encountering certain aspects of American history. She, however, extends the conversation to discuss the ways in which these emotions have gone on to play a role in her study of works by Black writers: When watching this [sic] I experienced many emotions like I mentioned in a previous answer like shame, sadness, and more. I was ashamed that the people of our country would support this or treat African Americans how they did. It always is tough to see. It also reiterated to me that America is not the same for everybody. We all have experiences that define what America is to us or what is American. Slavery really adds to how I view the country as I am sure it does for a lot of people. . . . I learned things that will stick with me, not like the information I learned in high school about slavery which I already forgot. It was like skimming the surface. This gets into the deep realms of [the experience of] slavery and we all need to see it as American citizens or we are shaded from a big part of our history and that itself is a major loss. This film informs the writers I read about in Black American literature to a greater extent and makes the words jump off the page more than they already do, due to the raw emotion behind it.

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Even though my students watched parts of the documentary film during the first week of the course, they did not have to submit their responses until mid-​semester. Hazel’s final response about the way the film factored into her studies could have been informed by a conscious decision to answer the question with particular reading experiences and class discussions in mind.13 Nevertheless, her reflection underscores an important point about what is at stake when studying Black American literature. It also highlights the ways in which focusing a new historicist attention when approaching works by Black writers not only invites discussions about race but also about the politics involved in qualifying what constitutes American literature.

Black American Literature “America is not the same for everybody  .  .  .  ,” argues my student. Although this claim may resonate with many, what it suggests does not seem to easily transfer to discussions about canonization and representation. U.S. society is now more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been, yet standard courses in American literature are still overwhelmingly white and male in constitution. The center holds as white, and continues to reify “American” as white, with each course in American literature that bears a modifier. “American,” therefore, intentionally or not—­from a rhetorical standpoint—­translates as “white.” One of the challenges of teaching Black American literature, then, is to introduce the subject matter in a way that exposes the politics behind this marginalization, to invite attention to a metanarrative about our stories, what they look like, who they represent, and why. Who gets to be universal, and by extension, whose story is treated that way? Who can claim Americanness without resistance and why? These unspoken questions undergird the larger one that I ask about what is in the title Black American Literature. They give me insight into what my students initially see when they approach the course. Do they see Black experiences? . . . American experiences? . . . Both? Thus, when I return to what one of my students said about the ways titles can be seen as reflecting ideas of ownership, provocative possibilities manifest about shifts in authority related to who can direct conversations about American stories. Ownership becomes a conversation not just about Black American literary production, Black writers’ claiming a presence, and the process of procuring stories about people


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of African descent. Conversations about ownership also become ones about Black American literature being configured in national terms. “Our stories,” which is to say American stories, encourages a perspective that focuses attention to intersections of race and American identity. Works by Black writers invite a way of seeing America through the lens of race that actually teaches us how to recognize race and also the ways in which way race functions within America. In essence, this orientation situates Black American literature as a path to take towards race literacy, which can contribute to a more expansive, dynamic view of America through storytelling. Although scholarship exists on the significance of racial representation in literature for students of color in particular, and the ways in which courses like these have a positive impact on a developing sense of a racial self,14 very little has been written about what these stories mean for non-​Black students. Even fewer studies exist about this relationship between race consciousness and literature for students at the collegiate level. And yet, “our” stories hold much potential to build race literacy. From a sociological perspective, racial literacy can be seen as becoming cognizant of the way racism operates within society and then developing strategies to guard against or otherwise navigate through these experiences. France Winddance Twine coined the term “racial literacy.” In the context of its original usage, Twine employs it to describe the efforts of primarily white parents to become knowledgeable about ways to help their children of African descent navigate an often racist society.15 This term does not speak precisely to what I see Black American literature doing; however, it proffers an idea about learning how to recognize and “read” race. I appropriate a derivative of the concept—­ race literacy—­to talk about the ways in which studying the storytelling process of Black American literature makes race visible in ways that inform how race is perceived and how it functions within the larger story of our country. Reba Chaisson in “A Crack in the Door: Critical Race Theory in Practice at a Predominantly White Institution”16 argues that race is not always visible to those of the dominant culture. If, for example, “white” is not perceived as race or racial, but instead registers as neutral, and “black” is constantly viewed as a type of metonym for race, then race is not fully or accurately perceived. Chaisson addresses this conundrum in her courses on race and ethnicity, and she uses critical race theory to do it. “Terms like ‘social construction of race,’ ‘whiteness,’ and ‘privilege’ are introduced into the classroom,” she says, “to engage students

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in a discourse that problematizes both the concept of race and the meanings associated with it.”17 She goes on to suggest that learning to deconstruct and trace the meanings of race is an acquired skill. Speaking primarily of white students who rarely encounter people of different races and ethnicities, she contends, “Unless the students are trained in an awareness of the forces that inform their subjectivities, their ability to recognize [the] relations [behind these subjectivities] is inhibited.”18 In essence, Chaisson rejects the merits of race neutrality or color-​blindness for race visibility, particularly as it is tied to whiteness. “Students often complained about being forced to take a course in which they had no interest,”19 reflects Chaisson. “The fact that white students would otherwise not take a course on race speaks to how Whites do not see themselves as raced.”20 Toni Morrison, whose short story “Recitatif” we read in my Black American Literature course, makes a similar point in a 1998 interview with Charlie Rose. She makes this point in response to Rose’s question about when Morrison will stop writing about race, which she interprets to mean about “black people.” She attempts to make evident the racist nature of the question by drawing attention to how it assumes that white people are not raced. If she were to write stories about white people, explains Morrison, those stories, too, would also be about race; we are all raced. What is it like, then, to take a class entitled Black American Literature and learn that it is as much about whiteness as it is about blackness? When asking my students to consider the title Black American Literature, I ask them how its titling might guide their interpretation of the literature they will read. Many of my students in the past have gravitated to “Black” in the title, focusing primarily on authorship and assumed topics of interest. When thinking about “American” in the title, they comment on the ways in which the literature will reveal what it is like to be Black in America. Race, in this context, seems fixed as “black,” and “whiteness” plays in the background as an invisible actor of sorts. This initial orientation towards the literature makes it seem as if our study will be more of a voyeuristic experience for some of my white students who are assumedly removed from the subject matter. However, as Morrison maintains, to be raced is not unique to the Black experience, and the process of becoming raced in America involves more than just people of African descent. In the same interview with Rose, Morrison talks about a writer’s recognition of audience as integral to narrative formation and the ways in which she has striven as a writer to eschew the white gaze. The


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politics of literary production involving race for Morrison appears to have more to do with expectations and demands placed on writers by mainstream audiences than about subject matter. She argues for a type of sovereignty as a writer, one that is akin to the freedoms of artistic creation enjoyed by her white counterparts. This sovereignty will allow her to write whatever she would like, from her vantage point, as a racialized person. Since she is also American, Morrison insists that this work also be seen as such. I would like to highlight here two points of consideration Morrison offers in the interview that are in conversation with race literacy and that have been of consequence for the Black American Literature courses I teach. The first one is that race literacy involves politicizing an otherwise “neutralized” whiteness. It addresses the assumed absence of whiteness in conversations about race, particularly when considering nonfiction works by people of African descent. Many of these pieces often expose the ways in which “American” has often translated, sociopolitically and economically, as “white,” from the antebellum period all the way through the Jim Crow era. When one looks at the course title Black American Literature, again, “whiteness” becomes visible through “American[ness],”21 and students begin to read with attention to this fact.22 The second point that Morrison offers deals with the rhetorical context of narrative production: Who funds? Who reads? And for what purpose? These questions often result in significant conversations about types of audiences, primarily white, and the ways in which audience impacts the kind of stories that Black writers tell. In what ways do certain stories vary in content, style, and construction when a Black audience is envisioned, as reflected, for example, in stories “written” in the vernacular tradition, such as folktales and certain works from the Black Arts era? How does this compare to stories written by Black writers in the protest tradition that cater to a white audience, from slave narratives, speeches, and poems from the antebellum period to Richard Wright’s touchstone work Native Son, which James Baldwin critiques in Notes of a Native Son? Race literacy factors in when considering audience because students start to become aware of the power dynamics involved in creating and sustaining discourse. Race emerges as a mediating factor in the control and production of cultural narratives and not just as a reality related to identity. Through classroom conversations and online discussions, I began to see the ways in which my students started “reading race” and the personal journey many of them took in the process while doing so. In

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one case, a biracial student of mine shared with our class the way she identified with being caught between two worlds, and how W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept of double c​onsciousness provided a language for understanding the situation. For this student, who I shall call Latrese,23 Black American Literature became a “gateway” course that ushered her into other learning experiences that involved identity interrogations. Such was the case for another student of color who, in reflecting on her experience taking the class, said, “It was almost embarrassing that I, a person of color, was so ignorant of the literature that discusses so extensively interpretations of what it means to be Black in America. I have since taken five more classes that revolve around literature produced by Black Americans and have yet to be disappointed or grow tired of studying these works. I credit Black American Literature for putting me on to pro-​black sensibilities,” she goes on to confirm, “and [for] influencing my decision to pursue [graduate degrees] in Black American Literature. This class changed the way that I see the world and more specifically America, history, and Black people’s place in all of this.” For Latrese, the connections related to identity were a bit different, perhaps because of how she is racially situated. Before graduating from the university, Latrese took a few other courses with me. In these courses, she would make comments and raise questions about nuances related to race that indicated a strengthening race literacy. Such was the case when she talked about the physical characterization of the female protagonist in Du Bois’s novel Dark Princess. She read the iteration of “whiteness” in the way the character was portrayed both in physical appearance and behavior. She saw this construction of race as influenced by class and went on to ask what this particular version of blackness contributed to an understanding of how race is constructed, since the dark princess was not a Black person from the United States. This study of race as a social construction instigated in readings of Black American literature has heightened attention to the spatial, situational component of race formation, for many of my students. These types of connections often begin, and not surprisingly, persist during conversations about passing narratives of the Harlem Renaissance. One could argue that class weighs in as a significant component in discussions about race when it comes to passing, particularly when observing certain characters’ initial understandings of the way they are raced. Many illuminate this self-​discovery, but one work that I turn to often is James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-​Colored


Philathia Bolton

Man. This book works well on the heels of studying the slave narrative genre because, as some of my students embarrassingly admit, it reads like a nonfiction piece for those who neglect to pay attention to the background information on its creation. It also dramatizes the “invisibility” of whiteness for the focal character who assumed he was white before discovering his blackness and the connection between this lack of, or muted, race consciousness and location. The unnamed character moves to the North as a young boy and attends school in a mixed-​race setting. He talks about the time the principal asks all of the white students to stand. When he rises with his peers, he is asked to sit. Publicly “outed” as one of African descent, he races home to interrogate his mother about his race. But instead of asking her if he is a Negro, he asks her if he is a “nigger.” This becomes a watershed moment that exposes the ways in which race is classed. “Nigger” carries a certain class connotation that “Negro” doesn’t, and when confronted with race, based on assumptions about his own class positioning, the young boy sees the class that is coded in race. I ask my students, why did this person who was never told he was white or Black assume he was white? They initially struggle to make connections beyond the fact that he is described as looking physically white. I follow up, then, with general questions about characterization. “What do we know about his home life,” I ask, “that might give us a sense about how he identifies?” My students then point out how he describes himself as a “perfect little aristocrat,” the fact that his mom is a seamstress, he dresses well, lives in a cottage, positions himself as a smart student who helps struggling students, and so on. When one considers these features and others, with which group would he identify? The light bulbs then go on. My students begin to see that he would perceive himself as white not just because of how he looks, but also because of how he experiences life, that whiteness carries with it a certain economic and social capital that is not typically enjoyed by people of color. He was “white,” then, until society informed him he was not. This realization became a powerful statement about the ways in which race is socially constructed. A student from a section I taught in the fall of 2015 argued that based on the protagonist’s experiences, the novel could have aptly been titled The Autobiography of an Ex-​White Man. I and her classmates found this insight valid, and her point illuminates, again, the ways in which Black American literature serves to make race visible in ways that show how race functions within a larger story about

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our country. The synergy between blackness and whiteness, and what is at stake when petitioning to be seen a particular way, is of great significance for a country invested in race due to the legacy of slavery. This point about identity often becomes a significant theme pulled through conversations about Black American literature that we continue to have over the course of the semester. How does one claim agency to define self against the ways in which one is socially constructed by society? We have often revisited this point when studying works from the Harlem Renaissance period, notably Hughes’s suggestion that there is such a thing as a Negro poet (i.e., race is fixed) in “Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” and Zora Neale Hurston’s meditation on the paradox of race in her essay “How it Feels to Be Colored Me.” I ask students to consider Hurston’s possible play on words with the use of “colored.” Reading it as both an adjective and verb illustrates the tension between the stubborn way race insists on being a fixed reality and the ways in which race is also very much a social construct.

The Potential of a Moment For many of my students, once race literacy is acquired, they become eager to share and continue conversations outside of class about how they are “reading race.” Students from my spring 2016 class stand out as the strongest example of the ways in which their time with me studying Black American literature became of consequence for their interactions outside of the classroom. That year, I was in the enviable position of having a relatively small-​sized class for a survey course, which gave it the feel of a seminar. Our conversations were in-​depth, and many of the students were able to voice their thoughts consistently, each class period, throughout the term. At the end of the semester, I received a card from my class thanking me for the experience. Scribbled inside along with their signatures were comments like “Not just some cute little African American course,” “Booker T. Washington = Olivia Pope,”24 and “From January to now we had ‘many rivers to cross,’ thank you for guiding along the way.” I followed up with a “thank you” email to the class, shared in part, here: “Thank you so much for the lovely card,” I wrote. “Truly, the dynamic set between the professor and students will only be as strong and as meaningful as the people involved. You all made this experience what it was. Please know that you have not only honored me in your contributions to this course, but


Philathia Bolton

also, you have honored the people we have studied, their lives, their stories . . . from all the way back to Wheatley and Douglass. . . . Share your brilliance!. . . . Put your ear to the page and find the music in the lines that bring us together, even in and through our differences. I will strive to do the same.” That evening, I received a response from one of my students who “logged on to [her] email for the purpose of emailing [me].” The semester had officially ended, but what our conversations sparked continue to be of consequence for this student’s encounters outside of the classroom. In her email to me, she states: I wanted to write you because today, my mom and I were watching last night’s episode of Scandal. I’m not sure if you’re keeping up with it, but currently on the show, the primary elections are coming up and all the candidates are racing to win. One of the candidates, Edison, happens to be black, and in the episode from last night, he went on and on about how race is a SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION! I was like, oh my gosh, I just wrote an essay on that today!25 Anyway, just wanted to let you about this little coincidence. Without you, I never would have been able to understand what he meant by race being a social construction.

Another student, a young white woman, informed me that taking the course, along with Ethnic Women in Literature, had sharpened her perception of race and other issues. She pulled me to the side after class to tell me about connections she had been making while watching a documentary on O. J. Simpson. She saw him as a modern-​day example of a passing figure because of his “admittance” into white culture and his resolute denial of blackness. She argued that he was able to use his athletic abilities and personal connections to distance himself from his blackness. O.J. or “the Juice” as he was lovingly called by friends and admirers, made a point to associate with a predominantly white crowd. O.J was a football star, and his ability as an athlete and the opportunities that came from that fame, allowed him to transcend his racial identity. He stayed above racial politics, and refused to classify himself as black by saying “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” O.J’s second wife, Nichole Brown Simpson was a white woman, and their union further perpetuated O.J.’s non-​racial identity.

The Potential of a Moment


What I find revelatory about these responses are the ways they resist employing Black American literature to reaffirm simplistic understandings of race. Instead, knowledge acquired by plumbing the depths of works by Black writers ends up contributing to a budding race literacy for the students, and it does so without sacrificing a developing appreciation for the artistic merit and enduring legacy of these works. Ellie,26 who submitted reflections anonymously to be included in this chapter, states it best in her response to the question “What did you find surprising about your experience taking Black American Literature?” She states, “I found almost all of this course surprising, but number one was how much I enjoyed the literature.” She goes on to say that “I didn’t expect to start off with the oral tradition, or to find out that literature, in the vernacular tradition, could be portrayed in more than just printed stories, but also in music.  .  .  . This aspect of [literature] made it very interesting and intriguing.” In another question posed about whether or not the course has “influenced the way you see race, American identity, history, or literature?” Ellie offers the following: ABSOLUTELY. I have always tried to be a person who could be seen as not having a racist bone in my body. I was taught to be loving and appreciative of all people by my grandma. However, I realized that I was missing key concepts when thinking about race in a modern sense. For a current example, looking at “Black Lives Matter” and saying “All Lives Matter.” I was really trying to say that I appreciate and love everyone, including Black Americans, but I realized that Black Lives Matter meant more than what it was saying. It meant . . . LOOK . . . look that black lives don’t really matter to EVERYONE the way they should. This is just one example, but in looking at slavery, and the civil rights movements, I feel that I have a better understanding of why movements such as “Black Lives Matter” are so important today, as well as why they exist today. I feel like I understand the struggles that different races are going through better, because I am able to look at them through a different, more educated and informed, lens. This makes me feel like a better person.

Ellie’s response illustrates her process of coming into race literacy through studying Black American literature. Her reflection also points


Philathia Bolton

to the ways in which the meeting of potentially competing narratives, a point I discussed earlier in this chapter, can be successfully navigated. However, this is not always the case. There are students who walk away from the course further entrenched in their beliefs about race, this country, and Black Americans. Most of the time, their silence is broken in the form of student evaluations that come at the end of each course. In the open-​ended comment section, a student wrote: “This was one of the worst classes I have ever had. I didn’t learn anything at all, I don’t feel like I was properly educated on the subject, and I feel like there was/​is a general bias within the class itself. . . . If I wanted to learn something, I would do it on my own time. I wish I would have taken a different class, because this class completely wasted my time.” Of course, anyone who teaches at the collegiate level knows that student evaluations can vary greatly in the assessment of both a course and the instructor. In the same course, another student said, “This class was very informative and interesting. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Black American Lit[erature], as this university needs more classes on literature outside of the Western literary canon.” The student goes on to say that the “reading selections were interesting and entertaining, as well as offering cultural and historic information and context.” A final thought from my students comes from another anonymous, volunteer participant in the writing of this chapter who I will call Mary. She took the same course that elicited these polarizing responses and had the following to say, in response to a question I posed about what she thought I did most effectively in creating an environment for the study of Black American literature. Mary says, “My professor was open and focused, felt comfortable talking about race, and patiently listened to everyone’s opinions in the class. Even when people were confused or even sensitive, Dr. Bolton handled the class with grace and intelligence.” Mary, who self-​identifies as a cis-​gender female and white, follows up this observation with another one towards the end of her reflection. My final question to the student participants was: “Is there anything else you want to say about having taken Black American Literature? If so, note it here.” Mary writes, “Something I noticed about the class was that many white students sometimes felt the need to prove their selves, and others were confused because they hadn’t encountered terms like ‘White Privilege.’ Students seemed to struggle with the idea that they wouldn’t always identify with what they were reading.” What Mary points out is quite significant because it reiterates the ongoing challenge of making whiteness

The Potential of a Moment


visible in discussions of race when studying Black American literature, not just because of how race has been culturally treated, as discussed earlier, but also because of the emotional work that often is required of white students when they confront the ways in which they are raced. This point, as highlighted earlier, is ingeniously made by James Weldon Johnson in his novel. Some of the white students who take Black American Literature with me—­and my classes are predominately white in composition—­end up grasping the concept. Others walk away from our encounter never having ventured to take hold of it. In the span of a lifetime, a semester spent taking a course on Black American literature can feel like a fleeting exchange. However, as my students’ and my own reflections suggest, the potential of a moment can extend beyond the classroom in significant ways. Race literacy can become a powerful tool for comprehending what happens in our culture, and it can help us see ourselves in more nuanced ways. I continue to find much potential in “the moment,” even as I still struggle with a certain blindness in my efforts to engage those who I teach. This is pretty much all we can do as educators: we can stay open and available. We engage and we wait. We wait in the moment, instead of conceding it to our worst fears.

Notes This chapter owes a thanks to Nadine Dolby and Ruha Benjamin for their influences on teaching ethnicity and race. 1. Toni Morrison, What Moves at the Margins: Selected Nonfiction (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008), 198. 2. Morrison, What Moves at the Margins, 199. 3. Morrison, What Moves at the Margins, 203. 4. Morrison, What Moves at the Margins, 199. 5. Morrison, What Moves at the Margins, 199. 6. This before-​and-​after technique of setting up learning experiences that emphasize the contrast between prior knowledge and the insight to be gained in the course is one that Carmen Lugo-​Lugo speaks of employing in a non-​literature course, as described in this volume. She provides clear, incisive examples on different exercises she used to guide her students’ examination of subjects involving race in her Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies course. 7. Throughout the years, I have used various editions of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. It includes a copious amount of


Philathia Bolton

historical and biographical information, so much of the context my students need is built into the text. 8. Phil Bertelsen et al., The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (Arlington, Va.: Public Broadcasting Service, 2013). 9. Colonial Williamsburg, https://ww.w.colonialwilliamsburg.com. 10. Jessie Williams, “Importance of History,” YouTube, September 29, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpbxeRamTy8. 11. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), 75. 12. I privilege histories related to America during British colonial rule, the distinction of American slavery among other versions of slavery throughout history and across the globe that made race concrete and consequential, and the various, continual legal adjustments that were made to sustain slavery in response to continual and fervent resistance from people of African descent. Episodes 1 and 2 of the documentary series cover these histories. 13. For example, when studying poetry, speeches, and narratives from the “Literature of Slavery and Freedom,” we talked about differences in attention to themes by women and men writers. We also talked about the ways in which intersections of race and class vary the experiences and rhetorical aims reflected, for example, in works by Frances Harper and Sojourner Truth, or how gender emerges as a social construction when examining different expectations for adherence to the cult of true womanhood when race was concerned. 14. Wanda Brooks’s (2006) “Reading Representations of Themselves: Urban Youth Use Culture and African American Textual Features to Develop Literary Understandings” in Reading Research Quarterly and Marta Collier’s (2000) “Through the Looking Glass: Harnessing the Power of African American Children’s Literature” in The Journal of Negro Education are two examples. 15. France Winddance Twine, “Bearing Blackness in Britain: The Meaning of Racial Difference for White Birth Mothers of African-​Descent Children,” Social Identities: Journal of Race, Nation, and Culture 5, no. 2 (1999): 185–­210. 16. Reba Chaisson, “A Crack in the Door: Critical Race Theory in Practice at a Predominantly White Institution,” Teaching Sociology 32, no. 4 (2004): 347–­57. 17. Chaisson, “Crack in the Door,” 345. 18. Chaisson, “Crack in the Door,” 346. 19. Chaisson, “Crack in the Door,” 346.

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20. Chaisson, “Crack in the Door,” 346. 21. George Lipsitz, a pioneer in whiteness studies, makes this connection in his now-​classic text The Possessive Investment in Whiteness. In the titular chapter, he references Richard Wright’s challenging a reporter’s question about the “Negro problem.” Lipsitz argues that Wright “called attention to [the question’s] hidden assumptions—­ that racial polarization comes from the existence of blacks rather than from the behavior of whites, that black people are a ‘problem’ for whites rather than fellow citizens entitled to justice, and that, unless otherwise specified ‘Americans’ means ‘whites.’ ” 22. George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006), 1. 23. Name changed to protect the identity of the student. 24. In the minutes leading up to the start of class, a couple of my students who routinely watch Scandal were making connections between the course’s content and the character Olivia Pope. The students were of different races and genders but were fascinated by the show. The young man, in particular, told me that our readings and class discussions were helping him to understand so much about certain racial and power dynamics in the show’s storylines. 25. I required them as part of their final examination to choose from a series of questions on which to base a short essay. This student chose to reflect on the ways in which certain works by Black writers contribute to understanding the ways in which race is a social construction. 26. Name changed to protect identity of the student.


Teaching Asian American Literature in the Urban Multicultural Classroom Reflexive Practice, Cultural Politics, and the Problem of Identity within a Transnational Framework Jungah Kim

The much larger question that is lurking behind multiculturalism remains, finally, that of the relation between culture and power, between representation and social equality. —­Rey Chow

This chapter represents part of the ongoing journey of an educator whose primary focus is on the gaps between academic theories and educational practices, as well as on those between academic and popular notions of culture and the lived experiences of individuals. It is, as the reader will find, an impossible chapter—­though it is not, I hope, particularly difficult to read, nor do I claim to engage in more complex theoretical debates than those broached by my colleagues. Nonetheless, the theme is precisely that the affiliations, allegiances, and experiences which construct various modes of reading, both within the multicultural classroom and within the individual, are complex, overlapping, and ultimately irreducible. On a positive note, we can reflect 305


Jungah Kim

that this multifarious construction is part of what we celebrate in the name of diversity. But if the overlapping circles that structure my historical, cultural, and racial consciousness compel me to read a text in a manner diametrically opposed to a proffered one, as a reflexive practitioner committed to student-​centered learning, when do I share this experience with my students, and when do I keep silent? One thing I know for certain is that I will not always make the “right” decision. As the example discussed in this chapter suggests, however, perhaps all we can ultimately do is to embrace awareness of the forces structuring our readings, as well as those of others, and let ethical consciousness be our guide. Put differently: when learning about diversity, culture, and heritage, students and teachers often confront what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak calls “question[s] of representation, self-​representation, [and] representing others.”1 Especially in the urban multicultural classroom setting, teaching and learning Asian American literature, for example, involves coming to grips with the complex and sometimes conflicting ways in which culture and identity produce both assimilation and differentiation. While each student or teacher brings a living sense of a particular national, ethnic, gender, and racial identity to the multicultural classroom, geographical regions, names, or constructs associated with terms like “Korea” and “Japan” loom large over our individual and classroom experience, threatening to overwhelm even as they construct our sense of group and of self. In my case, teaching Asian American literature as an ethnic “Korean” with both Asian and Asian American cultural experiences, I am often reminded that I am positioned as a doubly authoritative subject, a fact that adds new pressures for the educator who is uncomfortable with invoking authority to essentialize individual notions of meaning or of cultural “authenticity.” In this context, the silences of my “Asian” students speak volumes, suggesting a reluctance to engage with monolithic notions like the Western construct signified by “Chinese”—­a fear of being rejected as “inauthentic” or of losing face by contradicting the doubly authoritative pedagogue. Conversely, there is even more than usual uncertainty, in the multicultural classroom context, over whether the discursive perspectives that we adopt are our own or belong to some essentialized cultural construct—­as when the occasional student, possibly “Japanese,” possibly “male,” disavows the references in a work of Asian American literature to the systematic rape of Korean “comfort women” during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea, and “I,” as a Korean female instructor,

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feel compelled to profess the “truth” of what (my/​our) history records as “fact.” Although such examples are important and necessary, and inevitably occupy disproportionate space in chapters like this one, it is my goal both in classroom practice and as a researcher-​writer not to become overly involved in specific dialectical engagements, but to focus on and continually expand (my) understanding of how we are constituted by the tensions and contradictions associated with cultural differences and cultural heritages, as well as by our chosen and imposed roles. From this standpoint, I should begin by noting that, as Lisa Lowe keenly observed in her 1996 study Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics, Asian American literary practice “contains a spectrum of positions that includes, at one end, the desire for a cultural identity represented by a fixed profile of traits and, at the other, challenges to the notion of singularity and conceptions of race.”2 In other words, it is provisional to speak of Asian American literature as if it were one thing, and, within this spectrum, even notions of (ethnically, culturally, biologically determined) race are ultimately constructs—­which, as we will see, are not impervious to manipulation. Thus, what David Palumbo-​Liu refers to as the “impossibility of the actualization and stabilization of ‘Asian American’ ” identity is a given.3 Nonetheless, certain works and experiences are more likely than others to expose ruptures within the Asian American “spectrum,” and perhaps they should be valued (or at least appreciated) precisely for this impact. One such work is the Japanese American writer Yoko Kawashima Watkins’s 1986 novel So Far from the Bamboo Grove. Initially lauded as a humanistic work of adolescent antiwar literature, this novel eventually became a focal point for deep-​seated racial tensions between the Japanese and Korean (American) communities. In this chapter, I discuss this work and the canonical controversy that it spawned both in the context of the teaching of literature in the multicultural classroom and against the backdrop of the Japanese imperialist construction of “race” in East Asia during the colonial period. This postcolonial aspect of Watkins’s novel, as far as I am aware, has not been widely addressed, at least in Western discussions of the work, perhaps because, in this context, “racism” is habitually conceived in terms of a “West on non-​West” praxis. Ultimately, however, I argue that Watkins’s depiction of Japanese colonial settlers in Korea is, in terms of imperialist ideological production, fully complicit with the former Japanese empire-​ building ambition, and that this aspect of the work played an important role in prompting


Jungah Kim

Korean American communities to protest against its use as a text in U.S. schools.

Aesthetics and the Politics of Representation Set in 1945, when Japan had just surrendered to the United States and ended its 35-​year colonization of Korea, So Far from the Bamboo Grove tells the story of the flight from the Korean peninsula of the novel’s eleven-​year-​old Japanese protagonist, Yoko, and her family.4 Born and raised in this occupied land, Yoko must now endure the dangerous journey “back” to a Japan she has never known. Along the way, she and her family face the menace of newly liberated Koreans, who are depicted as crazed with their desire for revenge. The narrative of this struggle to escape from violence culminates in a horrific interracial sexual crime: Korean-​on-​Japanese, male-​on-​female rape. From our current perspective—­and admittedly helped by the context already constructed here—­it is easy to see that So Far from the Bamboo Grove is at least as shocking for its overturning of the historical, metonymic directionality of colonizer-​on-​colonized violence and sexual victimization as it is for the acts that “Yoko” describes. Nonetheless, for several decades after its publication in 1986—­that is, before consciousness of the historical plight of Korean “comfort women” and their systematic abuse by Japanese soldiers during World War II became widespread outside Korea—­the work was broadly praised for its pathos and humanity, and it was held in high esteem as an example of firsthand-​perspective adolescent antiwar literature. Thus, the children’s author and scholar Jennifer M. Brabander, in her article entitled “Japanese-​American Children’s Books” in the 1995 compendium Children’s Books and Their Creators, describes Watkins’s novel as “a moving account of the Japanese author’s childhood escape from war-​ torn northern Korea to Japan.”5 Similarly, in their 1993 book Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults, Ginny Moore Kruse and Kathleen T. Horning—­both multicultural educators at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center—­describe So Far from the Bamboo Grove as a veritable ready-​made middle school curriculum, embedded with American notions of democratic individualism and characterized by a truly humanistic social outlook. For these authors, Watkins’s autobiographical story constitutes (or appeared at the time to constitute) “a gripping first novel” depicting “the aftermath of war as a time when society’s

Teaching Asian American Literature


rules and conventions have deteriorated,” a context that exposed “individual acts of honor and dishonor” as crucial to the course of human survival and dignity.6 Watkins, who is an antiwar activist, received several awards, including the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey Foundation and the Literary Lights for Children Award from the Associates of the Boston Public Library in 1998. Meanwhile, her novel became widely read in U.S. classrooms, and this remained the case until 2006, when Korean immigrant parents protested its use as a required text in the sixth-​ grade English curriculum in schools in New England, citing “what they viewed as distorted representations of Japanese colonial history in Korea and the harmful effects of such content on both the cultural identities of their children and the perceptions of other children in the school about Korean culture and history.”7 Debates and protests regarding the novel and its use in schools subsequently spread not only throughout Korean communities across the United States, but throughout the Korean diaspora and to South Korea and Japan as well. In the United States, the net result was that many schools decided to ban So Far from the Bamboo Grove from curricular use, despite allegations that doing so amounted to censorship and wrongly infringed the artistic autonomy of a celebrated author.8 Without rehearsing the entire history of the Watkins controversy, we can note that academics, including sixth-​grade English teachers and teacher educators, were not, broadly speaking, in the long run receptive to the allegations of censorship mentioned above. As far as I am aware, this had little to do with perceptions of the “value” of Watkins’s writing or with a general lack of sensitivity to infringements on freedom of expression. Rather, the problem that many educators have with this line of thinking resides in the political, social, cultural, and pedagogical implications of allowing freedom of artistic representation to be exploited in order to perpetuate certain structures of power and their attendant ideologies. In this regard, the material selected for classroom use in a given society enjoys a remarkably privileged position, and this privilege should not be accepted uncritically, especially by so-​ called minority ethnic and cultural groups, whose gains in status are rarely rapid or easy. In the present case, it should be noted that growing American consciousness of such historical events as the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II and the horrors unleashed by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—­sufferings that reached widespread public awareness


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long before the term “comfort women” became common currency—­ probably played a key role in the selection of So Far from the Bamboo Grove as a representative piece of Asian American young adult literature. Yet there is a very real danger of the constructed image of the Japanese as victims becoming the institutional master narrative in the representation of “Asian Americans” in the United States. Stephen Murphy-​ Shigematsu, a sociologist whose introspective examination of Japan-​U.S. relations illuminates this danger, argues that the existing Japanese national narrative of victimization “dangerously induces amnesia of Japanese aggression in Asia and the suffering it caused.”9 In a similar vein, Stephan Walach, who teaches sixth-​grade English at the Friends Academy in New York, calls our attention to the complex relationships that exist among culture, knowledge, and power. According to Walach, although So Far from the Bamboo Grove is “a compelling read” that carries an overall antiwar, anti-​violence message, Watkins’s representation of Koreans as perpetrators following thirty-​five years of colonization is clearly subject to interpretation as an erasure of Japan’s colonial violence.10 This absence of historical context in the novel, as the literary critic Sung-​Ae Lee asserts, invites a reading position that emphasizes the “possible implications of [Japan’s] social superiority, and its propensity to draw its villains from the erstwhile colonized [Korean] people.”11 In particular, Lee points to the novel’s explicit depiction of a scene in which Korean men rape Japanese women as evidence of how the work serves to obliterate “the much more sustained crime against humanity . . . committed by the Japanese Empire against many thousands of young Korean women (amongst others) during World War II.”12

Rethinking “Race-​Thinking” The foregoing discussion provides a glimpse of how, as the teacher educators KaaVonia Hinton and Yonghee Suh put it, “our cultural memberships and status of insider/​outsider of the culture portrayed in the book . . . affect the way we read the multicultural text.”13 Also in evidence in the Watkins example, however, is what Walach refers to as the “multicultural trap,” in which Anglo-​American ethnocentrism often relegates “other,” non-​Western forms of knowing to the margins of historical knowledge.14 Thus, Western multicultural educators may have (initially) felt comfortable embracing Watkins’s novel as Asian American

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adolescent literature because the perspective that allows one to see the work as operating in the service of imperialism lurked outside the main frame of their awareness. Part of the mechanism responsible for this effect, I believe, is that the celebration of cultural diversity that we call multiculturalism tends to obscure differential aspects of Asian American experience—­in this case by obliterating the genealogy of the idea of ethnic hierarchy throughout the representational terrain of Asian American literature. This negligent inattention to difference—­which is, after all, the root of diversity—­is embedded in our understanding of the Asian American condition, which is based on the assumption of a bond among Asian American cultural units and which narrowly circumscribes the varieties of Asian American consciousness. Indeed, the idea of “Asian America” is the principal expression of this assumption, and acknowledging the genealogy of racial hierarchy places a dynamic strain on our ability to maintain such a construct. Ultimately, however, although it is the depiction of race in Watkins’s novel that has reminded us of this historical tension within the even less comfortable construct “Asian,” the use of this depiction to mask (and hence reveal) Japanese imperialist ambitions and atrocities is a signifier of “ideological diversity” rather than of ethnic or racial diversity.15 In a 1944 essay entitled “Race-​Thinking before Racism,” Hannah Arendt examines the connection between imperialism and racism.16 Tracing German race-​ thinking back to Romanticism, Arendt notes that German intellectuals associated with this movement objectified and idolized the Aryans. Their romanticized and fetishized conception of Aryanism, Arendt argues, “prepared the way intellectually for race-​ thinking in Germany” and ultimately for the use of German racism “as a weapon of internal national unity.”17 Racism, Arendt further alleges, has since functioned as “the main ideological weapon of imperialist policies”—­and it would be naive to assume that Japan is an exception to this rule simply because the Japanese colonized (and developed an ideology to “primitivize”) others within their broad racial group.18 Indeed, in his exploration of the modern Japanese empire’s widely circulated declaration of its vision for a new order in East Asia, which focuses on the transnational scientific exchanges among German and Japanese doctors as the modern empire was emerging, the historian Hoi-​Eun Kim argues that race thinking in Japan “developed in the context of Japan’s search for [its] place in the greater scheme of a global racial hierarchy in the evolving age of empires.”19 Kim’s study shows how Japanese anthropologists were deliberately settled in colonial Korea in


Jungah Kim

order to observe Korean “racial traits” and establish a correlation with the nation’s “primitive level of culture and civilization.”20 In a similar vein, as the East Asian studies scholar Takashi Fujutani claims, Japanese writers and journalists “helped sustain such treatment of Koreans by producing a discourse on them as uncivilized, backward, unclean, and generally lacking in a modern work ethic.”21 In the absence of visible, external markers to distinguish the Japanese from their colonial subjects in Korea—­markers that typically characterize American and European encounters with the “Other,” according to the historian Louise Young, Japan’s “colonial policy and colonial theory reinforced Japanese conceptualisations of racial difference between themselves and other Asians in terms of ‘levels of civilisation,’ providing the context for [the] Japanese to continually reaffirm their cultural advance against the putative backwardness of their colonial subjects.”22 In this respect, as Peter Duus puts it, “Japanese images of Korea resembled those constructed by European colonizers of their subject people.”23 It is not, then, race in the common (pseudo-​biological) sense that defines the tension between the Japanese and Korean (American) communities, but rather the fact that we can trace “race” as a social or ideological construct—­which is precisely what the acceptance of So Far from the Bamboo Grove as “model” Asian American literature effectively denied. To dismiss the postcolonial quality of the novel, however, is to fail to acknowledge that “race” is embedded as a specific ideological artifact (here, of Japanese imperialism), one that permeates the systems of signs habitually mobilized within the multicultural pedagogical setting.

Race, Rape, and the Return of the Repressed In the beginning of So Far from the Bamboo Grove, Yoko describes her family as oppressed war refugees, a perspective that dilutes the impact of the imperialist narrativization of history just as it problematizes, from the outset, the issue of representing colonized Korea and its people: “Though we lived in northern Korea, we were Japanese. My country, Japan, which I had never seen, had been fighting America and Britain for four years. Because Father was a Japanese government official, working in Manchuria, I had grown up in this ancient town.”24 The town may be “ancient,” but Yoko—­who, like her creator, is a writer—­erases colonial Korea and its forgotten past, rendering

Teaching Asian American Literature


instead the present of the war in the Pacific. If it serves any function in the novel, the Japanese colonization of Korea actually enables Yoko to represent herself as dispossessed and, effectively, as power-​less: “The Koreans were part of the Japanese empire but they hated the Japanese and were not happy about the war.”25 Yoko’s means to moral power lies in her representational positioning as a war refugee, cut off from the center of Japanese imperialist power by “America and Britain” and left at the mercy of hostile Koreans. This isolation sets the stage for victimization—­perhaps, ironically, the source of the novel’s perceived political righteousness—­through which Yoko’s narrative becomes a revision of Japanese imperialism, with its cruelty and violence foisted onto the nameless and voiceless other. In this problematic setting, readers become complicit with the persuasive ideology of Japanese imperialism as a “social mission” to civilize the less civilized—­that is, the Korean people. Thus, the novel paints a picture of the exodus from newly liberated Korea as a process of evading hostile Koreans, who seek to take advantage of Japanese refugees. In this transformation of (Japanese) powerlessness into the “truth” of victimhood, Korean men are depicted as vile sexual criminals who target Japanese women for rape as revenge and wartime reward: “We had been in Seoul for five weeks when one day Ko brought a warning. ‘We must get out of Seoul. I saw several Korean men dragging girls to the thicket and I saw one [Korean] man raping a young [Japanese] girl.’ Ko was shivering. ‘The girls were screaming for help in Japanese. Will you shave my hair again now?’ ”26 The hostile, predatory behavior of Korean men necessitates the effacement of Japanese femininity as a measure of self-​protection. Yoko’s sister, Ko, escapes violation through such a masculine disguise, with her hair shaved and her breasts tightly bound. Others, however, are either less resourceful or less fortunate: That day was a nightmare. Drunken Koreans, celebrating their independence, were all around us. One who swayed back and forth demanded of Ko, “Are you a boy or a girl?” “A boy,” she answered. “You sound like a girl. Let me feel.” “Go ahead,” Ko said. How I prayed someone would come to rescue us. No one was trying to help young women, for they knew that if they made the Koreans even angrier they might burn down this warehouse and the people in it. The Koreans were free of the Japanese Empire after all those years. The drunken man put


Jungah Kim his large hand on Ko’s chest. “Flat,” he said. “Boys are no fun.” The group of men left us but they staggered among the people, hunting maidens for their pleasure, and whenever they found one they dragged her outside. Women’s shrieks echoed.27

Let us pause for a moment and be clear about one thing: whether in literature or in life, even when embedded in signifying structures and/​ or political conflicts, rape is a horrific act of physical and personal violation. In other words, the act cries out for recognition as evil, both as an individual crime and as a signifier of the whole ancient history of sexual violence—­one that has typically victimized women and girls and, indeed, has often been racially or politically charged. In this sense, the rape of Japanese women in So Far from the Bamboo Grove can and should be reckoned as part of a pattern associated with the violent exploitation of women during military conflict that calls our attention to crimes against humanity. As such, this element reaches out to the moral sensibilities of young readers, who cannot but feel for the vulnerability and suffering of the novel’s victims and whose righteous indignation forms a kind of ethical contract with the narrative and its autobiographical protagonist. Covertly, however, because the “sequence is structured by counterpointing independence and rape,” the liberation of the colonized itself becomes an act of ravishment.28 The victimizers become the victimized, and the novel’s “contract” with its readers is transformed into a pact with the aggressive and self-​serving agenda of imperialism. On a personal note, I hope that this reading does not appear insensitive to the plight of anyone who has suffered in circumstances similar to those depicted in Watkins’s novel, or to that of victims of sexual violence who may have been Japanese or whose violators may have been Korean. Indeed, I wholeheartedly include myself—­a Korean female—­ when I assert that something would be wrong if our (my) feelings of empathy and righteous indignation were not elicited by Yoko’s “memory” of Korean men raping Japanese women. But what is at stake is this: to take recourse in the claim that So Far from the Bamboo Grove is “not a work of history” and to allege therefore that its apparent antiwar, anti-​violence message can be received as wholly objective and benign is to go too far in the defense of “aesthetic autonomy.”29 In fact, taking such a position, in such a case, denies the reality of history and the significance of discursive power relations—­not to mention the humanity of those who cannot separate their response to such a work from their

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constructed identities or from their knowledge that the systematic and institutionalized rape of Korean women during World War II was and remains inextricably linked to the power and violence of racial domination. In other words, the net flow of violence and exploitation is with, not against, the grain of power in the colonizer-​colonized relationship. Representations that run contrary to this reality not only offend the sensibilities of individual (possibly Korean, possibly female) readers, but they serve the turn of imperialism by promulgating its ahistorical, racist dogmas. Yoko’s claim on our ethical engagement, moreover, derives precisely from such an inverted power relation—­from an oppressed status that she, the colonizer, appropriates from the actual, historical victims, in the process furthering imperialism’s “social mission” in Asia by constructing Koreans as primitive barbarians and sexual sadists. This motif of Korean hostility and barbarism, moreover, is not incidental to the novel, but is the essential structuring device of its plot and theme. Fundamental to both the action and the pathos of the story is the fact that Yoko and her family are depicted as survivors who strive against great odds in their repeated encounters with Korean aggressors. The impression thus created is one in which the Japanese (colonial overlords) uphold humanity and civilization against the forces of (colonized) barbarism. This may, of course, reflect (post-​)colonial Korea as Watkins experienced it, and this “authenticity” may account somewhat for the moral weight (once) associated with her narrative. Nonetheless, Watkins’s narrative rendering of Koreans “precludes critical examination of the workings of the [imperialist] ideological system itself, its categories of representation . . . its premises about what these categories mean and how they operate, and . . . its notions of subjects, origin, and cause.”30 This erasure of the inversion on which the narrative is based is at once a stark reminder of the manner in which homogenized Asian American identity reproduces intrinsically functioning racial hierarchies and is a clue to understanding the strong reaction ultimately provoked by this work. Absent such a critical examination—­ wherever it might originate—­ young Korean American readers of Watkins’s novel may experience more than mere righteous indignation. The experience of being colonized, as Edward Said argues, signifies a great deal to those so affected, whose embodied experience as subjects of the imperialist ideology becomes an ongoing aspect of their group and individual discourse with dominant structures of power.31 In Freudian terms, the subjected reader, in our scenario, experiences the return of her repressed colonial identity: here, in Yoko’s “nightmare,”


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the barbaric, primitive, uncivilized (inferior, racialized) thing that she never was comes back to haunt the reader in her waking dreams.32

From Ethical Reading to Teaching: So Far from the Bamboo Grove The foregoing analysis of Watkins’s novel and the surrounding controversy is intended to draw attention to ways of thinking about one’s cultural identity that are either taken for granted or systematically repressed. In this regard, it is important to remember that although a Korean American reader of So Far from the Bamboo Grove may encounter an internalized, colonialized racial hierarchy, her response to the text operates not only within the discursive trap of Japanese imperialist race-​thinking, but also within a Korean nationalist construction of cultural identity. In other words, my identity, as an individual Asian American, is sustained by symbolic ties to “Korea,” whether or not this collective “home” is one that I have ever seen. Thus, layer upon layer, we see the pull that Yoko’s narrative of exile, oppression, and return exerts upon its audience, and, in our own analysis, we see Watkins’s text “expand the frontiers of the politics of reading.”33 Spivak suggests that humanities education needs to be “a setting-​to-​ work” that will enable us “to imagine the other who does not resemble the self.”34 When it is set to work, the literary text in particular provides us with a space in which to learn “the experience of the impossible.”35 In this case, the controversy surrounding Watkins’s novel provides opportunities to address the systematic inequalities built into Asian American cultural institutions while rearticulating Asian American cultural productions “as a site for alternative histories and memories that provide the grounds to imagine subject, community, and practice in new ways.”36 As the cultural critic Ien Ang puts it, diasporas are “transnational, spatially and temporally sprawling sociocultural formations of people, creating imagined communities whose blurred and fluctuating boundaries are sustained by real and/​or symbolic ties to some original ‘homeland.’ ”37 From this perspective, it is easy to see why discussions of literary representations of Asian American experience so often reveal dilemmas and challenges associated with notions of identity—­that is, with what it means to be “Asian” and to be living in America. And if my reading of So Far from the Bamboo Grove has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that although such constructs as Asian (Korean, Japanese, etc.) and Asian American are deeply intertwined with historical

Teaching Asian American Literature


struggles and with collective notions of identity, Asian American cultural identity is neither static nor immutable, nor is it built on a determinant set of experiences. When teaching Asian American literature to diverse groups of students in the urban multicultural classroom, instructors often find themselves in the position of reinforcing Asian American cultural heritages through literary representations. However, the moment we claim that Asian American cultural heritage is represented in literature, we are homogenizing cultural experiences rather than problematizing the labels and constructs associated with them. Thus, even while we emphasize cultural differences and celebrate diversity in teaching Asian American literature, we are guilty of essentializing individual differences under the hegemonic rubric of “cultural authenticity,” the assignment of which status represents yet another manifestation of (institutional, discursive, cultural) power. For decades, educators (let us for the moment call them “progressive” educators) have sought to unsettle the dynamics of classroom power and authority, which once flowed almost exclusively from the dual fountainhead of teacher and text. In my case, teaching in a multicultural college setting, my students, with their diverse perspectives and experiences, provide a built-​in resource with which to offset the residual tendency to allow meaning to be controlled from the podium. As for the text, that, too, I believe, is most readily deconstructed through diversity: by admitting other narratives and other media as equal partners in our classroom discourse. With respect to a multifaceted, historically and culturally embedded text like So Far from the Bamboo Grove, incorporating other accounts and other media—­such as watching a documentary film about Japanese imperialism and its influence on neighboring countries—­can help to fill gaps in the awareness of students who, for example, may have had little exposure to the history of modern Asia. In any case, counter-​narratives often provide students with opportunities to reflect on people or cultures whose voices may have been silenced in the textual representation, and this, in turn, expands their latitude to formulate questions and perspectives of their own. With the market for discursive authority thus opened up, however, there remains an important role for the pedagogue as a regulator or facilitator. In my case, I draw attention to gaps, contradictions, and paradoxes in ways that foster creative tension, which I find inspires students to explore and learn. In other words, I deliberately highlight the tensions within the existing, polarized frame (e.g.,


Jungah Kim

between text and documentary), which I believe helps students learn to interrogate material and develop informed critical insight. Typically, moreover, I then employ a free writing exercise, which I find helps to broaden active participation to include students who might need time and solitary effort to digest perceived tensions, analyze contradictions, and experiment with possible “solutions.” When the students exchange their opinions in class based on their free writing, I, as facilitator, make it my task to foster opportunities for students to rethink oversimplified concepts and unvoiced assumptions, as well as to look further, both into contradictions within and among the discussion’s multiple “frame” texts and into connections that go beyond the frame, to issues in the big, broad world that surrounds us and, equally importantly, within the deep, complex well of experiences and interconnections that we each know as “self.” My teaching, after all, can never totalize the meaning conveyed by literary representations of (in this case) Asian and Asian American experiences. Indeed, learning in a tension-​fraught world is largely a process of embracing the contradictions associated with our overlapping individual differences and diverse cultural heritages. Thus, as an educator, my greatest resources are the diverse voices that are raised in my classroom and the multiple ways in which we use our mutual input to further our efforts to perceive ourselves, each other, and the world. Learning in this fashion often reveals unresolved questions, but these only spur us to further explore and think through confusion and complexity. Thus, when students leave a class session brimming over with questions, I take it as a sign that real education is happening in my classroom. The questions that our discussions inspire, moreover, shift the ground of our educational scene from multicultural to transnational: from celebrating cultural heritage to recognizing the problems and contradictions that inhabit its representation. Nevertheless, when we admit these tensions and paradoxes as fundamental to our acts of reading, the transnational classroom can emerge as a place where change becomes possible through the critical examination of hegemonic representations of identity—­in literature and beyond.

Notes The author gratefully acknowledges the receipt of a Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) Faculty Development Grant for 2016–­ 2017, which provided vital support for the development of this chapter. In

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addition, I would like to thank the project directors, faculty, and fellow participants at the City University of New York (CUNY) Faculty Development Summer Institute’s 2016 project “Building Asian American Studies across the Community College Classroom”—­funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and hosted by the Center for Ethnic Studies at BMCC, CUNY—­for their many insightful discussions, which were also instrumental in the development of this work. Chapter epigraph: Rey Chow, Ethics after Idealism: Theory-​ Culture-​ Ethnicity-​Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 11. 1. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Questions of Multiculturalism,” in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (New York: Routledge, 1993), 198. 2. Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996), 64. 3. David Palumbo-​ Liu, “Modelling the Nation: The Asian/​ American Split,” in Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora, ed. Kandice Chuh and Karen Shimakawa (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001), 213. 4. Yoko Kawashima Watkins, So Far from the Bamboo Grove (New York: Beech Tree Books, 1986). 5. Jennifer M. Brabander, “Japanese-​ American Children’s Books,” in Children’s Books and Their Creators, ed. Anita Silvey (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995), 351. 6. Kathleen T. Horning and Ginny Moore Kruse, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults (Madison: Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 1993), 54. 7. Peter Kiang and Shirley Tang, “Transnational Dimensions of Community Empowerment: The Victories of Chanrithy Uong and Sam Yoon,” in The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, ed. Christian Collet and Pet-​ Te Lien (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 89. 8. On banning So Far from the Bamboo Grove from curricular use in New England middle schools, see Lisa Kocian, “Ban Book from Class, Panel Says: Wartime Memoir Called Too Explicit for 6th Grade,” The Boston Globe, November 12, 2006, https://archive.boston.com/news/local​ /articles/2006/11/12/ban_book_from_class_panel_says/​. On defending the artistic autonomy of a celebrated author like Yoko Kawashima Watkins, see National Coalition Against Censorship, “Joint Letter to Dover-​Sherborn School Committee about Challenges to So Far from the Bamboo Grove,” December 22, 2006, http://ncac.org/update/joint-letter-to-dover-sherborn​ -school-committee-about-challenges-to-so-far-from-the-bamboo-grove.


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9.  Stephen Murphy-​Shigematsu, When Half Is Whole: Multiethnic Asian American Identities (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2012), 68. 10. Stephen Walach, “So Far from the Bamboo Grove: Multiculturalism, Historical Context, and Close Reading,” English Journal 97, no. 3 (January 2008): 17. 11. Sung-​Ae Lee, “Remembering or Misremembering? Historicity and the Case of So Far from the Bamboo Grove,” Children’s Literature in Education 39 (2008): 92. 12. Lee, “Remembering or Misremembering?” 92. 13. KaaVonia Hinton and Yonghee Suh, “Mirroring Ourselves: Teacher Educators of Color Reading Multicultural Texts,” Teacher Education 24, no. 2 (fall 2015): 26. 14. Walach, “Multiculturalism,” 18. Awareness of this pitfall can be helpful in understanding a variety of classroom dynamics; see Umme Al-​ wazedi’s chapter in this volume entitled “Exploring the Development of Immigrant Fiction: The Pedagogy of Counter-​Narratives.” 15. Viet Thanh Nguyen, Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 8. 16. Hannah Arendt, “Race-​Thinking before Racism,” The Review of Politics 6, no. 1 (January 1944): 36–­73. 17. Arendt, “Race-​Thinking,” 54, 50. 18. Arendt, “Race-​Thinking,” 41. 19. Hoi-​Eun Kim, “Anatomically Speaking: The Kubo Incident and the Paradox of Race in Colonial Korea,” in Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Construction, ed. Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel (Boston: Brill, 2014), 430. 20. Kim, “Anatomically Speaking,” 422. 21. Takashi Fujitani, Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 22. 22. Louise Young, “Rethinking Race for Manchukuo: Self and Other in the Colonial Context,” in Race, Ethnicity and Migration in Modern Japan, ed. Michael Weiner (New York: Routledge, 2004), 282. 23. Peter Duus, The Abacus and the Sword (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 399. 24. Watkins, So Far from the Bamboo Grove, 2. 25. Watkins, So Far from the Bamboo Grove, 9. 26. Watkins, So Far from the Bamboo Grove, 82. 27. Watkins, So Far from the Bamboo Grove, 87. 28. Lee, “Remembering or Misremembering?” 92.

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29. See National Coalition Against Censorship, “Joint Letter to Dover-​ Sherborn School Committee.” 30. Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (summer 1991): 778. 31. Said, Reflections, 294. 32. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1955), 17: 225–­41. 33. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 (autumn 1985): 259. 34. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching,” Diacritics 32, no. 3/​4 (2002): 23. 35. Spivak, “Ethics and Politics,” 23. 36. Lowe, Immigrant Acts, 96. 37. Ien Ang, On Not Speaking Chinese: Living between Asian and the West (New York: Routledge, 2001), 25.


Back to the Classroom Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

For educators who have taught courses addressing race in college classrooms, the following anecdote might feel familiar. It is the middle of March and spring looms. The sun’s rays pierce through the multistoried windows in a hotel lobby in the late afternoon. You emerge from a frigid and windowless conference room where you have been attending panel sessions all day listening to presentations about teaching and new approaches in the field. So, you thaw out in the sunshine streaming in through the windows of the lobby. Just when you settle into a quiet, warm corner, a colleague approaches you. You haven’t seen each other in years; it is customary during conferences to reconnect with old friends and classmates. You pat the leather seat cushion next to you; she sits down. The two of you catch up, trading stories about your personal lives and current writing projects. The conversation soon turns to current events—­pop culture, politics—­and segues into teaching. Your colleague explains the difficulties she encountered from the previous semester when teaching a sociology course about race and gentrification. This was an upper-​level honors course, she explained, which means the twenty students enrolled were among the smartest in the nation and were there to learn how to conduct research and prepare for graduate-​level work. Throughout the term, her students struggled to maintain focus. They appeared recalcitrant, timid, and even a bit resentful about the course readings and assignments. At first, as your colleague explains it, she thought the students’ demeanors were the product of fatigue or burnout. It wasn’t until she confronted them seven weeks into a sixteen-​week semester that she discovered the source of their attitudes. What she interpreted as antipathy was 323


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

actually moroseness. Her students, many of whom were racial and ethnic minorities, felt bombarded by news coverage of the murders of transgender people, the treatment of Black children as adults within U.S. school systems and prisons, and the indiscriminate deportation of Latina/​o immigrants. One student proclaimed in despair, “How am I supposed to be motivated to write papers when they are killing us in the streets?” To the student’s question, your colleague had no good answer—­because really there isn’t one. The current political climate was taking a toll on her students and, by extension, the classroom dynamic, which presented challenges to teaching that semester. She concedes to you that learning objectives stalled as a result, and she asks for advice on how to channel student angst into classroom scholarship in the future. You don’t have answers. You have stories of your own. Inasmuch as Teaching with Tension intends to spark dialogues like the one above, it also has endeavored to provide ways forward when educators become paralyzed by similar circumstances. The chapters in this volume are not only theoretical and pedagogical, but also anecdotal. We hope that the chapters, then, make apparent to readers the ways they are located within discussions on teaching race and the avenues they can take to strengthen their teaching efforts. Our writers have offered much for consideration in terms of theorizing about race in the classroom and how it relates to practical strategies one can implement to reach certain learning objectives. As we reflect on the conversations had in sum, we draw a few important conclusions. One of these is that this project focuses on the uniqueness of the current sociopolitical moment that coalesces around several factors, reflecting Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality.1 Crenshaw discusses specifically gender and race as co-​determinant, constitutive factors that define Black women’s subjectivity; we understand the current moment as the product of a similar intersectionality—­marked by tenets of neoliberalism, a push for multiculturalism in education, and the election of two presidents who brought into the White House opposing messages about racial diversity. Perhaps the most prominent of all these factors is the still elusive idea of a postracial America. Yet postraciality works in concert with the others to inform how race and racism are treated as subjects. This interworking produces unique challenges in the classroom. For example, a student might feel empowered to disengage—­or turn hostile—­during a classroom discussion about race on the grounds that racism is no longer a problem, with the election of our first Black

Back to the Classroom


president, and because that same student is part of a neoliberal institution that treats her as a customer who can have her education served to her in ways that suit her predispositions. This student’s response presents serious challenges to productive discussions involving race in the classroom and ironically under the pretense of racial progress. In this book’s introduction, we argue that there have been moments throughout U.S. history that suggest racial advancement as it concerns civil rights and economic equality. However, we took serious pause to think about whether or not the word “postracial” had ever been used with such conviction to talk about racial progress in this country. Black writers of the Harlem Renaissance certainly toyed with race in the abstract in many passing narratives, and W. E. B. Du Bois argued its primacy as a mediating, cultural force in The Souls of Black Folk. However, race in the United States—­even in its tenuousness, even as it was traversed—­was accepted as fixed in the decades leading up to Jim Crow and under its auspices. The stigma of race informed by the various ways it has functioned in this country became an easy castoff, and the accompanying postracial narrative became an attractive one because it denied the recognition and consequence of white supremacy. For white people who see no culpability for the ramifications of slavery and other forms of systemic oppression, a Black man holding the highest office in the United States seemed to cement their absolution; the playing field is now level. For certain Black people and other racialized “others,” a Black man becoming president was Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream realized. Here was a living example of a person being judged “not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.” These two prevailing narratives were fed by one overarching assumption: if the majority of the people of this country elected a Black man as president, surely we were beyond race, right? This idea of being “beyond race” seemed like a real possibility. However, what the writers of our volume make clear is that theorizing about race demands a return to its meaning, that is, what people hold to be true about race. The very catalytic moment that invited conversations about postraciality (i.e., the United States acquiring its first Black president) requires this attention. At second glance, it too proves fraught with an irony many of our writers acknowledge when talking about teaching something that is an abstraction (i.e., a social construct) but also a tangible reality (i.e., socially, legally consequential). For instance, the validity of former President Obama’s being a postracial catalyst lies


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

in whether or not one sees him as a Black man or a “black” man. He is, after all, the son of an interracial couple. For him to symbolize postraciality, in effect, required that we “fix” his race as Black and ignore his whiteness. At a minimum, for postracial to register, we had to concede to a Jim Crow–­era dictate which argued that one drop of Black blood determines race, or that to be discernibly black—­or known to be black—­is to be Black. What all of this ultimately means for those of us who teach race is that, inasmuch as color-​blindness has long been rejected, so must the idea of postraciality be rejected, and perhaps most importantly, its impulse. As we teach subjects that will involve race, we must anticipate the various iterations of race. A way forward is to simply anticipate that race matters. It matters significantly. Race must be consciously seen and seen again, directly negotiated, and factored into coursework in ways that reflect a proactive consideration, instead of a reactive one. To this end, Teaching with Tension offers tools to help teachers facilitate classroom discussions and nuance their subject-​positions on race. Teaching about race, ethnicity, and systemic inequality offers both unique challenges and critical opportunities in the college classroom. Perhaps one of the most immediate challenges can be developing a common critical lexicon as we seek to explore terms, concepts, and modes of analysis with students of various backgrounds doing race work. As the editors of this volume, we experienced this firsthand and unexpectedly. When we began developing this project, we discovered that we each held divergent perspectives on race in the United States and disparate ways of articulating how we see the world. We were three college professors trained in race and ethnic studies, who deploy literary and historical methods, gathering over internet video chats to have well-​reasoned, circuitous, productive, and yes, tense conversations on the basic precepts of our fields. Some points of conversation: Where does one draw the distinction between race and ethnicity? How have they changed over time? How have they remained the same? What is the role of racial binaries in understanding and contesting the workings of power? After hours of conversation, these questions, which initially seemed simple, were rendered thorny and unresolvable yet wonderfully fruitful. Our various positions and the emergent dialogue were shaped by our personal experiences, our research backgrounds, our political visions, and a host of other complexities. Why is it important to recognize the unresolved and productive tension among three scholar-​friends? This glimpse offers an imperfect lens through which

Back to the Classroom


to understand the classroom dynamic. If seemingly simple concepts are unresolvable by experts, consider what we are asking of our students. Since we first conceived of this volume in 2015, the sociopolitical landscape of the United States has shifted in ways we could not have anticipated even with the most potent clairvoyant powers. We thought originally that this would be a volume interrogating the pedagogical struggles of teaching students amid the identity politics of a mythical “postracial” era. We evoked the names of Raven-​Symone and Pharrell Williams, who both in public interviews in 2014 articulated themselves in terms more national than racial. They are, to use Williams’s term, “New Blacks,” who engage American culture without acknowledging the exigencies of racial difference. Indeed, from their perspective, to recognize racial nuance is tantamount to self-​sabotage.2 We saw this kind of postracial thinking increasingly appearing in the classroom discussions and assignments of our students. What then, we asked in 2015, is the value of studying and teaching about race as historical and present imperatives to students who no longer believe that race is a thing? As the chapters collected in this book all illustrate, a lot changed as we moved toward the final product you now hold. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement emerged. We saw several high-​profile incidents involving the killing of racial and ethnic minorities by white vigilantes and police and the equally disturbing and racially motivated killings of five police officers in downtown Dallas in 2016. Stories emerged about college faculty facing death threats as a result of teaching and delivering talks about racial topics. Indeed, two of those faculty have related their experiences in this volume.3 What is more, the election of President Donald Trump at the end of 2016 seemed to validate a bent of ultra-​conservative politics that advocated for an essentialist America that was both white and male-​centered. Trump’s election provided the exclamation point for those who had been emphatically insisting that America had not yet arrived in a state of postracial nirvana. So, a volume about teaching in a “postracial” America seemed outdated by the end of 2016. Indeed, the term “postracial” has all but faded from the cultural landscape. However, the tension surrounding discussions of race has become even more pronounced, and Teaching with Tension has endeavored to discuss how those tensions manifest in the college classroom. Here, let us explicitly state what might be obvious to some: the classroom is not a hermetically sealed entity. Despite claims of an isolated


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

ivory tower intellectualism or assertions of a town-​gown divide that splits colleges from their communities, teachers and students alike have lives beyond the university. We are shaped by those experiences, and we carry those lives into the classroom with us. In the current sociopolitical moment that we have outlined throughout this volume, the classroom functions as a site of resistance that registers all the anxieties, the instabilities, and the schizophrenic racial impulses that drive us to see America as both racially progressive and regressive. In other words, external factors have a bearing on the internal spaces of higher education, namely the classroom, and they should consciously inform our approach to race and students’ reaction to it. This sentiment is confirmed in many of the chapters of this volume. It is also evident, for example, in the evolution of this book project, which began with a very narrow focus on black-​white racial dynamics in the classroom. The final product complicates that simplified binary by illustrating the multiple ways in which students’ understanding of race is informed by national discourses about ethnicity, immigration, religion, and citizenship that all mark the rhetorical boundaries of human difference—­the us versus them. Consequently, classroom discussions and lesson plans must attend to race in all its nuanced forms. As some of our writers make apparent, this attending to race carries with it risk. Getting “stuck” or feeling paralyzed is not always about the unanswered questions that students pose. It is not even about certain pedagogical challenges. Whether or not one moves forward, and how, stems from assessing the real personal risks taken when deciding to teach race with depth and nuance, particularly when one finds oneself in unreceptive or hostile environments. A few of our writers speak to those challenges explicitly and offer practical strategies to move forward. Tension for them clarifies certain political forces at play within and outside of academia that work to nullify race and ethnic studies programs. Attending to this tension equips professors with the necessary information to protect and sustain these programs. By counting the cost, and registering the significance of the work, they invite our readers to do the same. They also compel us to revisit, once more, the ways that tension can be productive. We first talk about this idea in the introduction, as we posit the potentially transformative nature of tension. We add, here, the way tension can be the actual fulcrum that supports and directs race work. If one accepts that tension is the product of opposing forces at play, then tension becomes a clarifying, essential feature in

Back to the Classroom


teaching race. Tension makes evident what those competing forces are and provides guidance on how to engineer a learning environment that thoughtfully and intentionally engages them. We feel certain that if it were not for the presence of tension, the kind of work that we do could not be done as effectively and with clarity. Audre Lorde, in fact, invoked the idea of tension when talking about social justice work and diversity in a commemorative speech given at Harvard University in 1982.4 In “Learning from the 60s,” she reflects on Malcolm X’s influence on her life, along with lessons she gained from considering certain interracial and intra-​racial dynamics of that decade. A key lesson she proffers deals with the dangers of “oversimplifying  .  .  . any struggle for self-​ awareness and liberation” when confronting “multidimensional threats to [one’s] survival.”5 She argues: Unity implies the coming together of elements which are, to begin with, varied and diverse in their particular natures. Our persistence in examining the tensions within diversity encourages growth toward our common goal. . . . We forget that the necessary ingredient needed to make the past work for the future is our energy in the present, metabolizing one into the other. Continuity does not happen automatically, nor is it a passive process.6

We draw similar conclusions. To teach race, for us, is not just an intellectual exercise. It is one grounded in understanding the larger sociopolitical and historical context that shapes who we are, and it critically informs how we will function in each “current” moment we face moving forward. Drawing on David. W. Noble, George Lipsitz has argued that moments of danger are simultaneously moments of creativity and opportunity.9 If we accept Lipsitz’s premise, then this moment is one of tremendous opportunity. And if we view education as a lever to enact social transformation, then tension is the critical fulcrum that makes the lever work. Ultimately, this volume could be viewed as an instruction manual of sorts to help effect that change. Inviting tension proves productive, and as we anticipate new directions for thinking about this type of work, we consider the potential of the classroom to influence the outside world. How might the consequence of “teaching with tension” yield results that show positive change beyond the halls of academia? In what ways are students taking what they have learned about race to do the work of social justice,


Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout

strengthen empathy within their respective communities, and teach others about the complicated ways in which we are all located? How, in essence, are they—­themselves—­teaching with tension? And so, the work continues . . .

Notes 1. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991) 1241–­99. 2. We can add to this list of celebrities who seek to elide racial difference, the R & B singer Keysha Cole, who sparked controversy in 2012 when she implied that her biraciality meant she wouldn’t be a good fit for the BET television special Black Girls Rock. See Liane Membis, “Keysha Cole Shuts Down Racial Denial Claims,” Clutch, June 14, 2017, http://​ www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/11/keyshia-cole-shuts-down-race-denial​ -claims/​. Perhaps Tiger Woods is the most infamous example of this racial “obfuscation.” For years, he has maintained that he isn’t a Black golfer. He cobbled together his own racial descriptor—­Cablanasian—­to encompass all his racial and ethnic diversity. 3. Recently, Turning Point USA developed a “Professor Watchlist” website which aggregated stories that targeted “liberal” professors who work on issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class. 4. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkeley, Calif.: Crossing, 2007), 134–­44. 5. Lorde, Sister Outsider, 138. 6. Lorde, Sister Outsider, 136. 7. Lorde, Sister Outsider, 138. 8. Lorde, Sister Outsider, 141. 9. George Lipsitz, American Studies in a Moment of Danger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 29.


Umme Al-​wazedi is an associate professor of postcolonial literature in the Department of English and co-​program director of women’s and gender studies at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. Her research interests encompass (Muslim) women writers of South Asia and the South Asian diaspora, Muslim feminism, and postcolonial disability studies. She has published in South Asian Review and South Asian History and Culture. She also coedited a special issue of South Asian Review titled “Nation and Its Discontents” with Madhurima Chakraborty. Her coedited book Postcolonial Urban Outcasts: City Margins in South Asian Literature was published in 2016. Magdalena L. Barrera is an associate professor of Mexican American studies at San José State University (SJSU), where she teaches Chicana/​o literature and film, and leads workshops for students and faculty on navigating higher education and best practices for diversifying the academy. Her primary research is on how Mexican Americans are represented in early twentieth-​century literature, music, photography, and government documents. In addition, inspired by the resilient Latina/​o students of SJSU, she has a second research area on the teaching and mentoring of historically underrepresented students in higher education. Her work has appeared in California History, Journal of Latinos and Education, Aztlan, Bilingual Review, Latina/​o Literature in the Classroom, Sexualities in History, Inside Higher Ed, and Ms. magazine. Lee Bebout, a faculty member at Arizona State University (ASU), teaches on and researches in the areas of race, social justice, and political culture. Earning his Ph.D. from Purdue University’s program in American studies, Bebout is an associate professor of English at ASU, where he is an affiliate faculty member with the school of transborder studies and the program in American studies. His articles have appeared in Aztlán, MELUS, Latino Studies, and other scholarly journals. His book Mythohistorical Interventions: The Chicano Movement and Its Legacies (2011) examines how narratives of myth and history were deployed to articulate political identity in the Chicano movement and post-​movement 331



era. His second book, Whiteness on the Border: Mapping the U.S. Racial Imagination in Brown and White (2016), examines how representations of Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans have been used to foster whiteness and Americanness, or more accurately whiteness as Americanness. Philathia Bolton is an assistant professor of English at the University of Akron (Ohio), where she serves on the advisory committee for the Pan-​ African studies program and is joint-​affiliated with the women studies program. She received her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and her Ph.D. in American studies from Purdue University. At the University of Akron, she teaches undergraduate and graduate literature courses that center on black American experiences from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her research interests involve women writers, the U.S. civil rights movement, and critical race studies. She has published in these areas and is currently working on a monograph titled Confronting Death among the Living: Black Women Writers on the Problem of the American Dream. Dan Colson is an associate professor of English at Emporia State University in Kansas. He is interested primarily in the politics of higher education in all its forms. Thus, his research focuses on politics in American literature (especially the role of anarchism in pre-​World War II texts); the politics of teaching race, class, and gender in conservative spaces; and the politics of academic freedom in the contemporary neoliberal university. His work has appeared in American Quarterly, American Studies, Radical Teacher, and the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, among other journals. Travis Franks is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Arizona State University. In 2017 he completed a Fulbright postgraduate fellowship in Queensland, Australia. He has served as the critical nonfiction editor for RED INK since 2014. He is currently at work on a dissertation titled “Settler Nativism: The Colonial Origins of Anti-​Immigrant Sentiment in the U.S. and Australia,” which frames twenty-​first-​century anti-​immigrant nativism as a direct result of ongoing dispossessions of Indigenous peoples. Anita Huizar-​Hernández is an assistant professor of border studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Arizona. She received her Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of California at San Diego, where she specialized in literatures and cultures of the U.S.-​ Mexico borderlands. Her research examines how narratives, both real and imagined, have shaped the political, economic, and



cultural landscape of the Southwestern borderlands in general, and Arizona in particular. Her work has appeared in MELUS, Aztlán, SAIL, and English Language Notes. Her book Forging Arizona: A History of the Peralta Land Grant and Racial Identity in the West (2019) examines how one man’s attempt to invent and claim a fake Spanish land grant provides a window into the short and long-​term consequences of U.S. westward expansion, especially as they relate to racial identity. Jungah Kim is an assistant professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY). Her teaching includes Asian American literature, postcolonial literature, and world literature. Her work and her publications in such journals as Postcolonial Text, Life Writing, Law and Literature, and International Journal of Science in Society focus on issues of representation and transnational identity. In 2011–­12, she served as a postdoctoral visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where she developed a transdisciplinary honors colloquium and contributed a chapter on this subject to the book Transdisciplinary Higher Education (2017). Currently, she is working on aesthetics and the politics of representation in Asian diasporic literature, for which she received a CUNY Book Completion Award. Drew Lopenzina is an associate professor at Old Dominion University and teaches in the intersections of early American and Native American literatures. His book Through an Indian’s Looking Glass is a cultural biography of the nineteenth-​century Pequot activist and minister William Apess. He is also the author of Red Ink: Native Americans Picking up the Pen in the Colonial Period. His essays appear in the journals Native American and Indigenous Studies, American Literature, American Quarterly, Studies in American Indian Literature, American Indian Quarterly, and others. Carmen R. Lugo-​Lugo is a professor of comparative ethnic studies and director of the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race at Washington State University. Her books Feminism after 9/​11: Women’s Bodies as Cultural and Political Threat, Project(ing) 9/​11: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in Recent Hollywood Films, and Containing (Un)American Bodies: Race, Sexuality, and Post-​9/​11 Constructions of Citizenship were coauthored with Mary K. Bloodsworth-​ Lugo. Her collection A New Kind of Containment: “The War on Terror,” Race, and Sexuality was also coedited with Mary K. Bloodsworth-​Lugo, and her book Animating Difference: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Films for Children was coauthored with C. Richard King and Mary K. Bloodsworth-​Lugo.



Lugo-​Lugo has also published numerous articles and book chapters on cultural productions of 9/​11 and cultural constructions of race, culture, citizenship, immigration, and gender, as well as on Latinas/​os in U.S. popular culture. Kyle Mitchell is a Diné (Navajo) storyteller, educator, and veteran. He grew up on the reservation with his grandparents, where he learned the family’s work ethic along with Navajo oral traditions. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served two tours of duty—­one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. After his discharge from the military, he decided to pursue his higher education at South Mountain Community College and later at Arizona State University. Mitchell is currently the coordinator for South Mountain Community College’s American Indian Intercultural Center and an adjunct faculty member of the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College. Marcia D. Nichols is an associate professor in the Center for Learning Innovation at the University of Minnesota at Rochester, where she teaches literature and medical humanities and engages in learning research. In addition to work on pedagogy, she has published on Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, early modern erotica, and eighteenth-​and nineteenth-​century medicine and midwifery. Her current book project analyzes the constructions of gender, sexuality, and masculine identity in midwifery manuals and other medical texts in the long eighteenth century. Stuart Rhoden is an instructor at Arizona State University. He earned his Ph.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia. He has been an educator in both secondary and higher education for over fifteen years. His research interests are interdisciplinary, focusing on the issues of academic success, culture, and diversity, as well as on the sociology of education, education policy and reform, and the bridge between secondary and postsecondary education. His first book, Building Trust and Resilience among Black Male High School Students, was published in 2018. Cassander L. Smith is an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama. Her research addresses the development of racial ideologies ranging from fifteenth-​century West Africa to twenty-​first-​century United States. Her first monograph, Black Africans in the British Imagination: English Narratives of the Early Atlantic World, was published in 2016. She is coeditor of the forthcoming volume Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies, which stages a conversation between the fields of



black studies (i.e., the present-​day concerns of black Africans across the globe) and early modern studies (i.e., the study of western European culture between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries). Her current work in progress includes a second monograph, tentatively titled Race, Class, Emancipation and a Politics of Respectability in Early Atlantic Literature, which examines the ways in which issues of race and class merge in the emancipation rhetoric of an early modern black Atlantic. John Streamas graduated from Syracuse University’s program in creative writing, where his advisors were George P. Elliott and Raymond Carver; he has since published fiction, poetry, and personal essays. An Asian American immigrant and first-​generation college student, he has researched the histories and cultures of Japanese American incarceration and of American communities of color. He has published on racial politics in film and literature, and his special interest in the politics of racialized time has generated articles on nonlinear temporalities in narratives by writers of color. His two manuscripts in progress focus on Japanese Americans and on the failed promise of higher education to people of color. Currently, he is an associate professor of comparative ethnic studies at Washington State University. Jennifer A. Wacek is a senior lecturer in the Center for Learning Innovation at the University of Minnesota at Rochester. She teaches literature courses and a community engagement course. She completed her Ph.D. in comparative literature in 2015 and is currently working on turning her dissertation into a book manuscript. Her research focuses on conceptions of community and issues of gender in the modern novel in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Briana Whiteside is an assistant professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her research interests include science fiction, popular culture, natural hair, and black women’s narratives. She is particularly interested in the ways in which black women have endeavored to heal from physical and psychological traumas, as well as in how African American literature by women has represented this struggle. Her work also explores the ways in which notions of imprisonment have shaped understandings of the prison system—­an interest resulting from her experience teaching within both medium-​and maximum-​security prisons. As evidence of her commitment to fostering intellectual growth within the prison classroom, she created a library within a maximum-​ security prison in Alabama. Her work has been published in several edited volumes and journals, including the College Language Association Journal.



Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson is an assistant professor of human development at Binghamton University. She completed her Ph.D. in education at the University of California, Davis, in 2012. She is an anthropologist of education whose research agenda focuses on ethnographically understanding and transforming the cultural conditions in schools that produce racially inequitable outcomes. Wilson’s research seeks to understand the (re)production of both educational privilege and disenfranchisement, with a focus on how whiteness functions in education. Wilson teaches courses in gender studies, whiteness studies, childhood and developmental theory, and qualitative research methods. Corinne Wohlford holds an M.F.A. in writing from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.A. and Ph.D. in American studies from Saint Louis University. Her dissertation, exploring U.S. Americans’ racialized sentimental responses to the natural disasters in Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011 and their implications for neoliberal governance, won the Matthew J. Mancini Prize for an outstanding dissertation in American studies. She serves as associate vice president for academic affairs at Fontbonne University (near St. Louis), where she also teaches American history, literature, and culture studies. Wohlford is currently working on a curriculum related to memory and American identity.


academic freedom, 154, 169–­70, 252 Alexander, Michelle, 19, 90, 98 alt-­right (alternative right), 50, 164–­65, 176, 223 American identity, 65, 251, 292, 299 Asian American literary practice, 307 black·ish (TV series), 52, 55–­57, 59, 62–­63 Black Lives Matter, 7, 10, 21, 22, 24, 32, 191, 200, 210, 299, 327 Brothers and Keepers (J. Edgar Wideman), 89, 92–­98 Brown, Michael, 19, 22–­23, 33 Campus Reform (website), 143–­ 45, 153, 155, 157, 163, 167 Castile, Philando, 4 censorship, 309, 319, 321 citizenship, 41–­44, 267–­68, 279–­ 80; divine, 272 Citizen 13660 (Miné Okubo), 268–­ 69, 271–72, 280–­82 color-­blindness, 10–­11, 21, 64, 74, 112, 180, 189–­93, 228, 262, 293, 326 counter-­narratives, 13, 317

Crenshaw, Kimberlé, 88, 324 critical lexicon, 326 culture wars, 51, 65n6, 158, 167, 170 decolonization, 105, 133 differential racialization, 5 distance education, 202, 204–­6, 211–­12 Du Bois, W. E. B., 21, 25, 27, 32, 271, 295, 325; Du Boisian double consciousness, 25, 295 Emdin, Christopher, 73–­74 emotion, 12, 78, 89, 95, 96, 103–­ 4, 115, 225; as counter space, 105–­11; as pedagogy, 115–­19 enunciation, 58 Feagin, Joe, 184, 262 Ferguson, Missouri, 19–­26, 147 Ferguson, Roderick, 7, 167 Fox News, 145, 159, 167, 169 Freire, Paulo, 7, 99, 149, 181–­82, 270, 279, 288 Gaines, Korryn, 3–­4 Goldberg, Elizabeth Swanson, 58 Haltinner, Kristen, 7, 180, 183 Hammon, Briton, 55, 57–­63 337

338 HB 2281 (Arizona ethnic studies ban), 35–­39, 42, 44, 51, 172 historical trauma, 128, 131–­33 hooks, bell, 7, 99, 181–­83, 186, 189, 255–­56, 261, 265, 267 hush harbor rhetoric, 91–­92 imperialism, 311–­17, 321 imprisonment, 89, 93, 268, 337 Indigenous education: colonial and assimilationist forms of, 126–­30, 132, 134, 206–­8; Native-­centered forms of, 128, 134–­35 intersectionality, 5–­6, 9, 88, 107, 114, 119, 240, 242, 252, 324 Kelley, Robin D. G., 23, 147–­52, 158–­59 Ladson-­Billings, Gloria, 7, 73 literacy, 53, 96, 98, 135, 207; cultural, 56; media, 82; race, 13, 156, 279, 285, 292, 294–­ 95, 297, 299, 301 Little Mosque on the Prairie (TV series), 276 Lomawaima, K. Tsianina, 128, 133–­34, 136 Lorde, Audre, 329 majority-­minority classroom, 103–­ 5, 107, 114, 118–­19 Martin, Trayvon, 21, 54, 92, 191 Melamed, Jodi, 7, 167 mental health, 131, 136, 224–­25, 227 Morrison, Toni, 93, 166, 243–­45, 283–­85, 293–­94

index National Youth Front (Identity Evropa), 164, 167–­68, 170–­72, 176 Native Son (Richard Wright), 89–­ 92, 294 neoliberalism, 5, 8, 11–­12, 14, 127, 129–­30, 133, 147, 149–­ 52, 159, 164, 171, 176, 187, 218, 227–­28, 232–­33, 324–­25 neoliberal university, 8, 12, 130, 150–­52, 171, 176, 218, 227, 233, 240 Obama, Barack, 4, 8–­10, 13, 22, 51, 56, 164–­65, 182–­83, 191, 193, 325 online education, 14, 179–­80, 185–­92. See also distance education Our Nig (Harriet Wilson), 188 Passing (Nella Larsen), 179 pedagogy: critical pedagogy, 190, 269, 279; culturally relevant pedagogy, 7, 73; of discomfort, 164, 175, 192, 198, 201, 210, 218, 221, 241; of niceness, 221–­23, 231; of practice, 69; of presence, 197–­98, 201–­2, 205, 208–­12; reality pedagogy, 73, 84, 269; of social transformation, 256 positionality, 78, 218, 221, 232, 264 postracial, 3–­4, 7–­9, 11, 14, 50, 52–­54, 57, 59, 62–­65, 91, 112, 149, 164–­65, 180, 182–­85, 187, 189, 190, 192–­93, 195, 223, 240, 251, 269, 324–­27

index Pratt, Richard Henry, 129, 140, 206, 214 pre-­service teacher, 70, 80 pre-­service training, 72 privilege, 202, 205, 251–­52, 279, 309; class (socioeconomic status) forms of, 56; educational forms of, 338; gender and race-­based forms of, 7, 239; legal citizenship forms of, 42; race and class-­ based, 23, 114, 188, 219, 239–­41, 243, 245–­48; white fragility-­informed or emotion-­ based, 12 racial formation, 5; Michael Omi and Howard Winant, 262 racial literacy, 156, 292 Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid), 268–­69, 273 resistance of color, 28, 111 respectability politics, 21–­25, 28–­ 34, 92 reverse racism, 163, 223, 264 SB 1070 (Arizona), 36–­39, 44–­ 46. See also Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act school pushout, 130–­31, 140 settler colonialism, 6, 128, 131–­ 33, 141, 167 Smith, Andrea, 5, 140–­41 So Far from the Bamboo Grove (Yoko Kawashima Watkins), 307–18 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 306, 316

339 storytelling, 126, 137–­38, 285, 287, 292, 336 student teaching, 70 Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, 36 Symoné, Raven, 9, 327 tension: creative, 317–­18; emotional, 12; ethnic, 277; historical, 40–­41, 311–­12; political, 36, 41, 147–­49; racial, 9, 44, 56–­57, 312; theorization of, 11–­14, 329–­30; student and teacher, 88–­89 Trump, Donald J., 9–­10, 50, 153, 159, 164–­65, 278, 327; administration or presidency of, 51, 176, 281; age of, 153 undercommons (Stefano Harney and Fred Moten), 151, 159–­60 Warren, Kenneth, 53, 65 Wheatley, Phillis, 53, 55, 60, 63, 66 white fragility, 12, 219, 221, 222, 226, 240, 245; confessions of, 231–32; defense mechanisms of, 242; strategies of, 227; teaching when confronted with, 243; as used by Robin DiAngelo, 29, 167, 175, 217, 239–40, 264 white panics (media panic), 167–­68 white privilege, 31, 104, 118, 144, 159, 166, 201, 212, 217, 221–­23, 232–­34, 240–­ 42, 249, 300 whiteness, 22, 32, 92, 245, 297

340 whiteness confession, 222, 231 whiteness studies, 157, 164–­65, 170, 173–­75, 217, 303, 338 Wideman, J. Edgar, 89, 92, 101 Wildcat, Daniel, 208, 214 Williams, Pharrell, 327

index Winfrey, Oprah, 9 Wright, Richard, 89, 165, 294, 303 Yancy, George, 7 Zinn, Howard, 256, 265