WWW.DISSERTATION.XLIBX.INFO
FREE ELECTRONIC LIBRARY - Dissertations, online materials
 
<< HOME
CONTACTS



Pages:   || 2 | 3 | 4 |

«GENERAL THEMES Laughing White Men TIMOTHY J. LENSMIRE University of Minnesota OVELIST AND ESSAYIST RALPH ELLISON thought that at the heart of white ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

GENERAL THEMES

Laughing White Men

TIMOTHY J. LENSMIRE

University of Minnesota

OVELIST AND ESSAYIST RALPH ELLISON thought that at the heart of white racial

identity is a joke. A wretched one. The joke is that white Americans—in their break from

Europe and its high culture, in their pursuit of the ideal of equality rather than hierarchy—end up fearing that they are inferior. This fear leads to scapegoating rituals and stereotypes, in which white Americans project their fear onto people of color, imagine them to be inferior, and reassert social hierarchy.

Ellison scrutinized various scapegoating rites, from ones where the scapegoat was literally sacrificed, as in lynching, to ones where the victim was sacrificed, symbolically, with stereotypes, as in blackface minstrelsy and racist humor. Ellison believed that white people desperately needed stereotypes, needed them continuously. Why? Ellison (1953/1995) thought that these stereotypes were much more than “simple racial clichés introduced into society by a ruling class to control political and economic realities” (p. 28). He thought that these clichés were certainly manipulated to that end, but that their significance went deeper. For Ellison, Whatever else the Negro stereotype might be as a social instrumentality, it is also a key figure in a magic rite by which the white American seeks to resolve the dilemma arising between his democratic beliefs and certain antidemocratic practices, between his acceptance of the sacred democratic belief that all men are created equal and his treatment of every tenth man as though he were not... Perhaps the object of the stereotype is not so much to crush the Negro as to console the white man. (pp. 28, 41) In other words, as white people, we need stereotypes of people of color to give us relief from the strain of participating in and benefiting from a society that at every moment disregards a founding principle—that all people are created equal. Stated differently, racial stereotypes enable white people to continue believing in democracy even as they betray it. Thus, for Ellison, at the core of white racial identities is a dilemma, a conflict, ambivalence—a belief in, a desire for, equality in America, poised against the evidence, all around us, of massive inequality.

The complex social production of white racial identity is the focus of my article. The joke— the large American version articulated by Ellison, as well as its small, everyday manifestations in Journal of Curriculum Theorizing ♦ Volume 27, Number 3, 2011 102 Lensmire ♦ Laughing the lives of white people—provides the occasion for exploring some of the conflicts and complexities of white racial identity.

Drawing from a larger ethnographic interview study conducted in a small, rural, white community in the Midwest of the United States, I examine how Frank, a high school teacher, experienced being white. I pay particular attention to Frank’s descriptions of two white spaces or cultures in which he said he participated: one that he called a “basement culture” or “subculture,” characterized by laughter and racist and sexist humor, and another that he described as more formal and “politically-correct.” Despite significant differences between these two spaces, for Frank, neither provided a place for the honest expression and exploration of what white people thought and felt about race.

If, as a growing number of scholars and activists argue (Conklin, 2008; Jupp & Slattery, 2010; Lowenstein, 2009; Thandeka, 2001; Trainor, 2002; Winans, 2005), our previous conceptions of white identity have too often hurt rather than helped in our critical and anti-racist pedagogies with white people, then my work contributes to a more nuanced and helpful portrait of whiteness and white racial identity that we might draw on in our social justice efforts. My purpose in this article, then, is to describe and theorize white identity in ways that avoid essentializing it, but that at the same time never lose sight of white privilege and a larger white supremacist context.

Methodological and Theoretical Background

Frank was part of a larger ethnographic interview study of race and whiteness in a rural community in Wisconsin (see Lensmire, 2010a; 2010b). The study involved open-ended, indepth interviews with participants who ranged in age from 18 to 83 years of age and included people pursuing (and retired from) a range of occupations, including farmer, factory and office worker, nurse, student, and educator. In the larger study, data analysis in relation to Frank focused on how being white for Frank was very much intertwined with ways of thinking and feeling that he had learned growing up in rural Wisconsin.

I interviewed Frank twice, for a total of more than four hours. My interviews with Frank and other participants began with questions about experiences with (or stories that they had heard about) early conflicts between the German and Polish immigrants who first settled this community (informed by Matthew Jacobson’s [1998] historical account of the hierarchies and struggles among different white ethnic groups, well into the early 20th century, as to who were the good white people and who were not). Then, inspired by Thandeka’s (2001) work, I asked participants to try to remember the first time that they noticed they were white, or that being white somehow mattered or was important. From there, we moved on to explorations of how they and their community had interacted with or responded to people of color in various situations and across different historical events, including 1) hiring recent Hmong and Mexican immigrants to work on local farms and 2) the controversy surrounding Ojibwe efforts in the 1970s to claim their fishing rights, guaranteed by 19th century treaties with the US government, on nearby lakes and rivers (Loew, 2001).





Challenging large-scale surveys that indicate that white people’s attitudes toward people of color have changed, for the better, since the civil rights era, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2001, 2003;

Bonilla-Silva & Forman, 2000) argues, instead, that a rather racist and recalcitrant ideology still characterizes white people’s thinking and feeling. What has changed, according to Bonilla-Silva Journal of Curriculum Theorizing ♦ Volume 27, Number 3, 2011 103 Lensmire ♦ Laughing (2003), is white discourse about race. White people have taken on a new style of talk, a “language of color blindness” which “avoids racist terminology and preserves its mythological nonracialism through semantic moves such as ‘I am not racist, but,’ ‘Some of my best friends are...,’ ‘I am not black, but,’ ‘Yes and no,’ or ‘Anything but race’” (p. 70).

I am persuaded by Bonilla-Silva’s argument that a colorblind racism is the current racial ideology that sustains racial inequality in the United States. I also believe that Bonilla-Silva’s interview studies (along with the work of Ruth Frankenberg [1993]) are among the most important empirical research we have for making sense of whiteness and race in the United States. However, I do want to mark a difference in perspective, in assumptions, between my and Bonilla-Silva’s works.

Bonilla-Silva (2003) interprets “incoherent talk,” long pauses, contradictions, digressions, as evidence of an underlying racism. Such an interpretation seems, at times, quite reasonable. At other times, it seems that his interviews may have tapped into a deeper ambivalence that needs to be theorized and understood. In other words, I argue that surface contradictions and ambiguity might be less a weak cover for an underlying, straightforward racism in need of hiding, and more the expression of a deeply conflicted, ambivalent white racial self (Lensmire, 2008; Lensmire & Snaza, 2010).

My theoretical framework is grounded in critical whiteness studies (Delgado & Stefancic, 1997; Du Bois, 1935/1992; Dyer, 1997; Lipsitz, 1995; Lott, 1995; Morrison, 1992; Roediger, 1991; Rogin, 1992). Robyn Wiegman (1999) identifies three “schools” that represent different “trajectories of inquiry” within critical whiteness studies: the race traitor school, the white trash school, and the class solidarity school. My own work has been most influenced by the writings of labor historians and cultural critics in Wiegman’s last school, which she reads as attempting to rethink the “history of working-class struggle as the preamble to forging new cross-racial alliances” (p. 121). For me, the significance of this work lies in its ability to help us understand the historical changeability and contingencies of whiteness, even as it keeps a steady eye on racial power relations and hierarchies (Jacobson, 1998).

My work is motivated by the demands of pedagogy and politics, by the press of the question of what is to be done to work more effectively with white people in anti-racist and social justice efforts. US society remains white-supremacist in its structures and practices, notwithstanding the election of our first black president. Individual white racism flourishes, whatever the new, colorblind racetalk that grew up in response to the civil rights movement (and that Bonilla-Silva so ably documents). My attention to complexity and ambivalence at the core of white racial selves is not meant to distract from these realities.

However, my worry is that, within anti-racist pedagogies and research, white people have too often been positioned, have been addressed—in Elizabeth Ellsworth’s (1997) sense of ‘Who does this pedagogy think you are?’—as nothing but the smooth embodiment of racism and white privilege. And that this positioning, this address, in turn, leads to more resistance by white people to our anti-racist efforts.

I am not alone in this worry. Hilary Conklin (2008) and Karen Lowenstein (2009), for example, have raised concerns about how research on white future teachers tends to essentialize whiteness and white racial identity. Thandeka (2001) and Amy Winans (2005) have noted how the angry and resistant white person has become, in Jennifer Trainor’s (2002) words, a “familiar figure” in anti-racist and critical pedagogy literatures—a figure that, for Trainor, implies a “troubling disdain for students that is anathema to critical pedagogical goals and to the respect for students that has been a core tenet” of critical teachers (p. 632).

Journal of Curriculum Theorizing ♦ Volume 27, Number 3, 2011 104 Lensmire ♦ Laughing Maurice Berger (1999) suggests that the temptation to essentialize white racial identities is not just a problem in research and writing on race in education, but an ever-present danger in the larger field of whiteness studies. For Berger, the challenge is “how to advocate the idea of whiteness as a useful classification for examining white power and prestige without ignoring its limitation in defining and describing its subjects” (p. 206).

Cameron McCarthy (2003) sums up my worries about past work and my hopes for my own.

He notes that educational research has represented whiteness as a sort of “deposit, a stable cultural and biological sediment that separates whites from blacks and other minorities” (p. 131).

And he has called on educational theorists and researchers to conceptualize whiteness and race as

historically and socially variable:

You cannot understand the social, cultural, or political behavior of any group by looking at their putative racial location to the exclusion of a more complex examination of their social biographies and the complex and constantly changing social context of the modern world in which we live. (p. 132) I turn, now, to Frank and the social contexts within which he grew up, learned, lived, worked, and struggled; within which he created (and had created for him) his white racial identity.

–  –  –

Two White Spaces Much of Frank’s talk about white people and white selves was organized in terms of up and down. For Frank, white people seemed to talk and move in two primary realms or spaces: a high space in which you needed to be “politically-correct” and a low space in which, as Frank put it, things took on “a whole different tone.” The relationship of these two spaces, for Frank, was such that things not allowed in the high space got pushed down into the low one.

As Frank discussed the protests against proposed immigration laws that occurred across the US on May 1, 2006, as well as conversations about these protests within his high school, he

characterized the high space this way:

You have to be politically-correct about everything. My goodness, if I say the wrong thing or have a thought out loud... you’re not allowed to, out loud, question, have a conversation because everyone—‘My God, I might get sued, I might lose my job.’ You would think that people in a break room would be able to have a comfortable conversation about—‘This is why I really feel that they’re actual, illegal aliens. I feel good calling them illegal aliens because they are breaking the law and there should be a consequence. I don’t get to break the law’—but you can’t have that conversation if you’re a white person because people might think I’m a racist. You can see these guys on TV. They’re being so cautious about the way they talk because one slip is going to be used against them forever. Everything will come tumbling down so that—the person may not actually be racist. They may just be trying to work through their thoughts but they are not allowed to do that in public.

Journal of Curriculum Theorizing ♦ Volume 27, Number 3, 2011 105 Lensmire ♦ Laughing For Frank, the high space restricts honest exchange. It precludes him from having conversations in which different positions would be expressed and sorted through. The threat of being labeled a racist stifles not just racist talk, but other talk that might not be racist, but could be labeled that way.



Pages:   || 2 | 3 | 4 |


Similar works:

«240 A~D CLIMBS REGIONAL ?\OTES North America Summary, 1968. Climbing activity in both Alaska and Canada subsided markedly from the peak in 1967 when both regions were celebrating their centennials. The lessened activity seems also to have spread to other sections too for new routes and first ascents were considerably fewer. In Alaska probably the outstanding climb from the standpoint of difficulty was the fourth ascent of Mount Foraker, where a four-man party (Warren Bleser, Alex Birtulis, Hans...»

«Mojca Puncer Zgodba o laseh »Ko je ječarka prišla v celico, da bi jo pripravila za šesti spopad s hudičem, jo je našla v postelji mrtvo. Lasje so vreli kakor mehurčki po obriti lobanji in rasli vsem na očeh.« (G. G. Márquez) Časopisna senzacija je pod umetnikovim peresom prerasla v drobno mojstrovino, ki nam razpre zgodbo o prelestni dvanajstletni markizi, ki so jo po ugrizu steklega psa v skladu z lokalnimi običaji izpostavili nečloveškemu ritualu zdravljenja. Vire zanjo je...»

«SENIOR SCHOOL HANDBOOK 2012-2013 School Contact Details St Gabriel’s Sandleford Priory Newbury Berkshire RG20 9BD Main School Office: 01635 555680 Fax: 01635 555698 Email: info@stgabriels.co.uk Website: www.stgabriels.co.uk The Executive Alun Jones, Principal head@stgabriels.co.uk Cath Sams, Vice-Principal cath@stgabriels.co.uk Noel Erskine, Bursar bursar@stgabriels.co.uk Management Team Wendy Rumbol, Director of Studies wrumbol@stgabriels.co.uk Jo Cameron, Challenge & Extension...»

«Review of the Administrative Infrastructure for Research at New York University Richard Seligman, Chair Associate Vice President for Research Administration California Institute of Technology Michele Codd Assistant Director, Institute for Software Integrated Systems Vanderbilt University Robert Barbret Director of Sponsored Programs University of Michigan May 27, 2009 1 Contents 1. Executive Summary 2. Introduction and Background 3. Summary of on-site activities 4. Response to Provost...»

«BANGKHEN WATER TREATMENT PLANT BACKGROUND In the last century, there were only about 330,000 people in Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East because there are many canals constructed to connect with the Chao Phraya River, the main river of the city. As a result, Bangkok residents consume canal water and rain water for all daily-life activities. However, water problems usually occurred in dry season due to canal water became salty, dirty and unsafe for...»

«DUTIES AS ASSIGNED: HOW PRINCIPALS’ LEADERSHIP PRACTICES INFLUENCE THEIR VICE-PRINCIPALS’ LEADERSHIP SELF-EFFICACY By Gary Joseph Swain A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education, Department of Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto © Copyright by Gary Joseph Swain (2016) DUTIES AS ASSIGNED: HOW PRINCIPALS’ LEADERSHIP PRACTICES INFLUENCE THEIR VICE-PRINCIPALS’ LEADERSHIP...»

«AUTO/MOTORCYCLES MODIFIED SILENCERS (No. B/634) Mr A. Ameer Meea (First Member for Port Louis Maritime & Port Louis East) asked the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Home Affairs and External Communications, Minister for Rodrigues whether, in regard to the auto-cycles and motorcycles, he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain from the Commissioner of Police, information as to the number thereof which have been checked, in the Metropolitan (North) Division, over the past two years,...»

«SANDIA REPORT SAND2010-6309 Unlimited Release Printed September, 2010 A Computational Study of Nodal-Based Tetrahedral Element Behavior Arne Gullerud Prepared by Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185 and Livermore, California 94550 Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory managed and operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under...»

«Human Security Perspectives Volume 10 (2014), Issue 1 Offenlegung gem. §25 österreichischem Mediengesetz/Impressum: Herausgeber der Human Security Perspectives: Markus Möstl und Matthias C. Kettemann, für das Europäische Trainingsund Forschungszentrum für Menschenrechte und Demokratie (ETC) Eigentümer und Verleger (100%): Europäisches Trainingsund Forschungszentrum für Menschenrechte und Demokratie (ETC) Herausgeber dieser Sondernummer: Reinmar Nindler (verantwortlich), Wolfgang...»

«Testimonials from Inmates Incarcerated at Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina Inmate #1 states she was housed in Templeman IV during Hurricane Katrina. She says she had been incarcerated in OPP for four months prior to Hurricane Katrina. When the hurricane hit, Inmate #1 says her dorm quickly filled with chest high water. She states she was next moved to a smoke-filled dorm where she was housed with male prisoners. She says that the deputies locked her and the other prisoners inside...»

«The Best of All I wanted to speak about CAT Version 2.1 2010 Edition By PaGaLGuY.com (Version November 7, 2010) Compiled from the posts of successful MBA students and PaGaLGuY.com users from the discussion thread ‘All I Wanted to speak about CAT’ on www.pagalguy.com/allaboutcat Special copy prepared exclusively for Sam Moi (This is the 19,408th copy of the book) 2 The Best Of All I wanted to Speak About CAT Version 2.1 2010 Edition Copyright © 2004-2010, PaGaLGuY.com, All rights reserved....»

«Translation and Inter-Cultural Dialogue Dr. Abdul-Fattah Al-Jabr (Associate Professor of Linguistics & Translation) Department of English Language & Literature College of Arts University of Bahrain 35 ‫ﻣﺴﺘﺨﻠﺺ‬.‫ﺗﻬﺪف هﺬﻩ اﻟﻤﺒﺎﺣﺜﺔ اﻟﻰ اﻟﻘﺎء ﺑﻌﺾ اﻟﻀﻮء ﻋﻠﻰ دور اﻟﺘﺮﺟﻤﺔ ﻓﻲ ﺣﻮار اﻟﺜﻘﺎﻓﺎت واﻟﺤﻀﺎرات‬ ‫وﻟﻬﺬﻩ اﻟﻐﺎﻳﺔ، ﺗﺴﺘﻌﺮض...»





 
<<  HOME   |    CONTACTS
2016 www.dissertation.xlibx.info - Dissertations, online materials

Materials of this site are available for review, all rights belong to their respective owners.
If you do not agree with the fact that your material is placed on this site, please, email us, we will within 1-2 business days delete him.