Thursday, February 28, 2008

Deconstructing whiteness

Following along with our discussion of race and how it relates to education, I just read an article called Deconstructing Whiteness as a Part of a Multicultural Framework (Rhoads & Ortiz, 2000). This was a fascinating article in that it looked at how we as educators on a university level should approach multicultural education. The authors challenge the "universalization of whiteness" and propose a framework where "deconstruction" of whiteness is important when taking a multicultural approach.

One of the main claims of the article is that "whiteness" is often overlooked as a race or ethnic identity, and that we don't talk about the social construction of the white race. The authors propose that in order to effectively engage in discourse about race and truly enable multicultural education in classrooms that there must be a discussion about white race as well as other racial and ethnic identities. In addition, there must be a critical evaluation of how whiteness has been socially constructed and become seen as the "dominant" race and associated with power and privilege. Finally, they propose a multistep process to deconstruct whiteness and implement a multicultural educational plan into college campuses.

I found this article fascinating and important because the white race is often "universalized", or seen as the norm, while not ever really being talked about. White people in America are not normally thought of as having race and the authors assert that this reinforces whiteness as the dominant culture. I agree that these issues must be addressed, in particular in college classrooms as they suggest in the article.



Tran said...

Interesting post Jimmy. Often times it seems "multiculturalism" is used to described only non-whites. We speak negatively of those who lump all Hispanics/Latinos or all Asian Americans together yet we generally don't give it a second thought in lumping all the folks in the "white" category. Thinking back to my undergraduate days, my classes on race/ethnicity really did not talk much about the social construction of "whiteness" but rather just a mention of how it is the race of power and privilege, as you wrote in your blog. I agree with Rhoads & Ortiz (2000) that we should move the discourse to another level for a more meaningful discussion of race relations.

On a personal note, my husband is half Portuguese (dad's side) and the rest a mix of Dutch-French-German (mom's side), and I tell you, visiting each side of the in-laws (ex. his aunts) results in a very different cultural experience yet they would all mark "white" to the race/ethnicity question on any form.
Tran Dang, ED261

Anonymous said...

Interesting point to bring up Jimmy and Tran. In fact, until recently, I believe that Persians and Turkish individuals were also lumped into the "White/Caucasian" category. I find the politically incorrectness of the white privilege fascinating. Ortiz and Rhodes considered it "problematic" to initiate the discussion of "white privilege" and inequities of education.
Assumptions are constantly made about intellectual ability, about their family support, simply on the basis of skin color. However, being African from Nigeria and African American are not the same, just as being "white"
from Turkey or Denmark (or even South African white) and a White American are not the same although their skin color might be. As particularly the case in places like California where the diversity pool varies greatly; again I ask, should the educational debate continue to focus on race inequality or should it be more of a discussion of socioeconomic history?
Considering the diverse makeup of current multi-cultural society, I wonder if the pendulum will shift.

Irene said...

I agree with most that has been said in response to Jimmy's post. I do believe that the silence about white racial identity has prevented us from discussing its history and social construction. This silence wrongly legitimizes the 'universalization of whiteness' as a natural standard. However, in response to Anonymous comment on 3/9, I don't think we should "shift" our focus from race to SES. Rather, I think we should include SES/class in our conversations about race. Although examining the intersection of race, class, and gender is a very difficult task--it is at these junctures that the most interest social phenomena emerge.