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At the Interstices: Engaging Postcolonial and Feminist Perspectives for a Multicultural Education Pedagogy in the South

by Nina Asher - 2005

This article argues for a decolonizing multicultural education pedagogy, which engages the interstices—in-between, hybrid spaces—that emerge at the intersections of different cultures, histories, and locations. It also examines how those who work for social transformation are implicated in the very systems and structures they are attempting to deconstruct. The author draws on postcolonial and feminist theories, her own border crossings, and her reflections on her multicultural education pedagogy to discuss how she engages the particular interstitial identifications of her Southern students. A critical analysis of White students' autobiographies reveals the complex ways in which issues of race and racial difference intersect with their lives. Implications in terms of rethinking multiculturalism as relevant to all—White students and those of color—are discussed.

This article argues for a decolonizing multicultural education pedagogy, which engages the interstices—in-between, hybrid spaces—that emerge at the intersections of different cultures, histories, and locations. It also examines how those who work for social transformation are implicated in the very systems and structures they are attempting to deconstruct. The author draws on postcolonial and feminist theories, her own border crossings, and her reflections on her multicultural education pedagogy to discuss how she engages the particular interstitial identifications of her Southern students. A critical analysis of White students’ autobiographies reveals the complex ways in which issues of race and racial difference intersect with their lives. Implications in terms of rethinking multiculturalism as relevant to all—White students and those of color—are discussed.

To Lynne, the black people of the South were Art. This she begged forgiveness for and tried to hide, but it was no use. To her eyes, used to Northern suburbs where every house looked sterile and identical even before it was completely built, where even the flowers were uniform and their nicknames were already in dictionaries, the shrubs incapable of strong odor or surprise of shape . . .; to her, nestled in a big oak chair made of white oak strips, under a quilt called The Turkey Walk, from Attapulsa, Georgia, in a little wooden Mississippi sharecropper bungalow that had never known paint, the South—and the black people living there—was Art. The songs, the dances, the food, the speech.

—Alice Walker, Meridian, p. 130

In Alice Walker’s wonderful Civil Rights–era novel, Meridian, Lynne is a White, progressive, Jewish, Northern Civil Rights worker who is deeply committed to the work she is doing in the segregated South. An activist and a border crosser, she is situated at multiple interstices—in-between, hybrid spaces, emerging at the intersections of different cultures, histories, and locations (see Bhabha, 1994). For instance, in the above passage, Lynne is sharply aware of the contrasts she perceives between the “sterility” of the North and the richness of life and culture in the segregated South. She also recognizes contradictions within herself and experiences conflict. Despite her genuine commitment to social justice and transformation, Lynne realizes that she exoticizes and, in effect, “others” the Black people of the South. Indeed, she recognizes—and is troubled by—her own inability to let go of her exoticizing perspective. Like Anzaldua’s (1987) mestiza, a border crosser who is implicated in the very structures and practices she is trying to deconstruct, Lynne is on “both shores at once” (p. 78).

Postcolonial and feminist theories present useful analyses of these two issues—interstitiality and implicatedness—which emerge in cross-cultural endeavors, particularly in the present-day, global contexts of school and society. A number of theorists (see, for example, Chow, 2002; Fanon, 1967; hooks, 1990; Lorde, 1984; Trinh, 1989; Weedon, 1999) have analyzed the tensions and contradictions inherent in the relationship between colonizer and colonized, oppressor and oppressed. In particular, they discuss how the colonized/oppressed internalize the ways and language of the colonizer/ oppressor, in order to survive within extant social structures. For instance, Trinh Minh-ha (1989) has discussed the “triple bind” (p. 6) facing women writers of color who find themselves having to choose or prioritize among the “conflicting identities” of being a writer of color, a woman writer, and a woman of color. On the one hand, women writers are implicated in the authority and use of language, which “partakes in the white-male-is-norm ideology and is used predominantly as a vehicle to circulate established power relations” (Trinh, 1989, p. 6). And yet, on the other, they “cannot address questions of difference and change . . . without reflecting and working on language” (p. 44). Decolonization and social transformation, then, are necessarily self-reflexive processes, requiring the deconstruction of not only the colonizer and external oppressive structures, but also one’s own internalization of and participation in the same.

I believe that, like other (multi)cultural workers, educators can arrive at effective decolonizing pedagogies by working the hyphens (Fine, 1994) and examining the particular interstices at which they and their students are situated and within which they work. To that end, teachers and teacher educators would need to consider the intersections of history, geography, language, class, and culture as dynamic, context-specific markers of identity as they create curricular spaces for “students to present their own stories on their own terms” (Asher & Crocco, 2001, p. 135). As educators develop pedagogical practices that attend consciously to the different stories that they and their students bring to the multicultural classroom, they create a site for engaging hybrid identities and cultures via critical, self-reflexive analyses on the part of both teacher and student.

I now draw on both theory and practice to develop this vision. My effort is to interrogate the implications for a context-specific, decolonizing multicultural education pedagogy—specifically via a critical, self-reflexive analysis of the issues that emerge in my teacher education classes. In the first part of the article, I engage postcolonial and feminist theory to “unpack” the contradictions encountered in multicultural work and my own situatedness as a postcolonial border crosser. In the second part, I reflect critically on my own teaching practice in the South. Of course, I recognize that the South is no more homogenous than, say, the Midwest, and, at the same time, there are certain distinct historical, geographical, racial, and class markers that are typically used to characterize the “backwardness” of the South in contrast to the more “progressive” North. Indeed, as a number of scholars have argued, the North has “othered” and exploited the South for its own economic gains while denying its own racism and regional prejudices (see, for instance, J. D. Anderson, 1988; Bankston & Caldas, 2002; Pinar, 1993, 2001). Bearing this in mind, I discuss, briefly, the context of education in the South and, more specifically, in Louisiana. I then offer an overview of my multicultural teacher education pedagogy and my methodological approach in analyzing students’ narratives.

Having developed the above theoretical, geographic, and historical frame, I present, in the third part, an in-depth analysis of the narratives and perspectives of my Southern students, with regard to issues of race, that emerge in these classes. I interrogate how a multicultural teacher education pedagogy that engages the “self,” rather than only the “other,” reveals that each one of us is located at her or his particular “interstices.” In the fourth, and concluding, section, I examine the implications for multicultural pedagogy and research, which engage encounters with difference in productive ways for moving beyond fixed identifications and toward envisioning classrooms as sites of interstitiality in which hybrid identities and cultures can emerge.


Postcolonial theorists (for instance, Asher, 1997; Bhabha, 1994; Lowe, 1996) have drawn on the concepts of hybridity and in-betweenness to interrogate fluid identities, cultures, and locations. For instance, according to Homi Bhabha (1994), the “interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (p. 4). In other words, individuals who find themselves located at the interstices often experience multiple, contrasting identifications and struggle to arrive at meaningful syntheses across differences.

Postcolonial feminist writings, in particular, also engage the emotional/ affective/psychic struggles involved in such a process (see Asher, 2002, for an in-depth discussion). For instance, Gloria Anzaldua (1987) discusses the choque, the “cultural collision” (p. 78), arising out of the intersections of the patriarchal, White culture with the Mexican and of both of these with the indigenous. The conflicts—the clash of cultures, voices, ways—that one encounters at such intersections result in a tug of war, an ambivalence, creating “emotional states of perplexity” and a “psychic restlessness” (p. 78). In order for these struggles to open up new possibilities, Anzaldua asserts that one needs to act rather than simply react. That is, instead of reactively assuming a “counterstance” (p. 78) to oppressive forces, one needs to move beyond the split between oppressor and oppressed, “so that we are on both shores at once” (p. 78). The awareness that emerges in this process may be construed as a mestiza consciousness—a consciousness of one’s own particular “borderlands.” Thus, integrating—rather than resisting/distancing —one’s encounters with difference into one’s consciousness is a productive process that deconstructs the binary of self and other. I turn, now, to Sanjoy’s narrative to illustrate the above discussion.

Sanjoy, an Indian American (his parents were immigrants from India) high school student in New York City whom I interviewed for a study, had this to say about the differences he encountered between the worlds of home and school:

When you come into school, totally different type of life. Clash of two very distinctly different cultures . . .. And when direct, direct contradiction comes in you have to, I mean you can’t retain your Indian values. You have to give them up to fit in with everyone else in this society . . . .

Once we’re in school, . . . I mean I’ve even heard a kid, . . . when we had this discussion about being hyphenated Americans, like, Indian-American, “Why do you have to say that? Why can’t you just say American?” And you can’t bring out the argument that I am half Indian. I am not a whole American. And there’s this thing that you should embrace American culture, which is in essence European culture. That’s not realized by many people. The fact that a lot of people believe that America has a distinct culture that everyone can embrace. And a thing with diversity in terms of how you should be . . .. I don’t think that’s advocated by anyone—that . . . you should have diverse influences in how you lead your life. I think that homogeneous, homogeneity is something that everyone likes, conformity. Something everyone likes ‘cuz that’s where people get security from. If everyone looks the same as you, you don’t have that much to worry about. (Asher, 1999, pp. 65–66)

Imagine then a multiculturalism that engages the “possibility of a cultural hybridity” and recognizes identities and cultures as fluid, dynamic, negotiated at the intersections of race-class-gender-culture. Imagine then students and teachers in teacher education and in K–12 classrooms participating in critical, self-reflexive, pedagogical processes that go beyond essentialized representations of diverse “others” toward engaging the interstices at which self and other are located.


In his classic, Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon reminds us, “The Negro is not. Anymore than the white man” (1967, p. 231). According to Fanon, it is the colonizing gaze of the White man that objectifies the Black man. This, combined with the Black man’s acceptance and internalization of his objectification, results in—or realizes—”the fact of blackness” (p. 109). Thus, the colonizer creates the other—the fact of “otherness”—by invading and occupying the space of the colonized, consuming their material resources, and also penetrating and controlling their psychic/internal realms.

As noted earlier, a number of postcolonial theorists have argued that the processes of decolonization and social transformation are necessarily self-reflexive, requiring not only the deconstruction of the colonizer and external oppressive structures, but also working through one’s own internalization of and participation in the same. Again, witness Walker’s Lynne, the White, progressive Northerner who comes to the segregated South to engage in liberating Civil Rights work, and yet cannot help othering the South, its Black people, and its customs. Evident here is the insidiousness of deeply entrenched, patronizing messages of “othering.” Even those of us who construe ourselves as well-meaning, progressive people, committed to decolonization and a more just society, may have so internalized such splits as superior/inferior and progressive/backward that we may continue to perpetuate them in spite of ourselves. Similarly, in terms of the limitations of progressive discourses, witness the critiques of “White, Western” feminism by women scholars of color (see, for instance, Collins, 1991; hooks, 1984; Lorde, 1984), “Eastern” feminists and “Third World” women scholars (see, for instance, Mohanty, 1991; U. Narayan, 1997; Trinh, 1989). They point out that the voices of Western women of color and women from other parts of the world remained marginalized even in the liberating discourse of feminism (see Asher, 2003a, and Weedon, 1999, for an expanded discussion). Once again, in practice and in theory, it becomes necessary to examine the interstices at which are located not only the colonized, but also the “agents” who are engaged in the work of transformation.

As I have argued elsewhere, “a hybrid consciousness which requires us to examine our own implicatedness in the very systems/structures we are trying to change allows us to locate both self and other within the discourse of multiculturalism” (Asher, 2002, p. 89). This analysis is relevant not only to women and persons of color, but also to “that conglomerate category termed ‘white men,’ “ given that we “are all incipiently bi- (or multi-) cultural” (K. Narayan, 1993, p. 681). Therefore, for instance, White teachers and students would examine their own situatednesses and cultures even as they learn about different “others.” And teachers and students of color would recognize that the work of intervention and transformation should happen in relation not only to the dominant, Eurocentric culture but also their particular communities (see, for instance, hooks, 1990).


It is within this frame that I argue for a multiculturalism that locates itself at the interstices and self-consciously engages encounters with difference at both the intellectual and the emotional levels. Such multicultural theory and practice can be effective in deconstructing othering by allowing us to “work the hyphens” (Fine, 1994) and understand the “other” in relation to—rather than apart from—oneself and vice versa. Ultimately, the engagement of one’s self in relation to one’s difference—what one is not—allows one to have fuller, more complete access to the past and the present (Pinar, 1993).

It is by doing the “nuanced work” of examining one’s own “implicatedness in contradictory and overlapping systems of oppression” that one can open “multicultural discourse to new possibilities” (Asher, 2002, p. 89). Such reflexive work also entails making conscious and processing one’s emotional struggles as one experiences both loss and gain in traveling through interstitial passages to arrive at new locations. For instance, in her emotionally and intellectually powerful essay, “Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart,” Minnie Bruce Pratt (1984), writing as a White, Southern, Christian lesbian, has discussed how, in negotiating her own identity and coming out, she found herself becoming increasingly conscious of the oppressions that were present in her seemingly safe hometown. Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty (1986) highlight Pratt’s efforts to work through the oppressions she encountered as she tried to arrive at a new home space as “an enactment of careful and constant differentiations which refuses the all-too-easy polemic that opposes victims to perpetrators” (p. 209).

Therefore, rather than silencing or dismissing such contradictory tensions, a critical, self-reflexive, multicultural education pedagogy would engage and build on them to recognize new, hybrid identifications. Such multicultural practice does not simply “accommodate” the marginalized other; rather, it also pertains to the self at the “center.” For instance, in his excellent, self-reflexive article, high school teacher Stan Karp rethinks his own practice in order to support his Bangladeshi American students in their struggle to arrive at a middle ground between the different cultural expectations they encounter at home and school. In particular, Karp recognizes that the effort to craft an effective, multicultural pedagogy not only requires his students to negotiate different cultures but also leads him to rethink his own apparent open-mindedness and progressiveness as a White male (Karp, 1996–1997). Following the above line of argument, I now present a critical, self-reflexive analysis of my own situatedness as a multicultural educator.


Like Lynne, I am a newcomer to the South. Unlike Lynne, I am not originally from the North, in fact, I am “foreign born.” I grew up in India, did my doctoral work in curriculum and teaching in the Northeastern United States, and began teaching multicultural education courses there. I moved to the South in 1999 to teach at Louisiana State University (LSU). When I first visited LSU, as a candidate, I fell in love with Louisiana. It was warm, beautiful, and lush green. The campus was lovely—with its majestic old live oaks and the azaleas in bloom. And the air smelled like home, sweet, rich, fragrant, reminding me of India. The spell Louisiana’s beauty cast over me only got stronger during my house-hunting trip that summer. The sugarcane, the lush foliage, the steaming warmth, the bungalows with their windows that could be left open allowing homes to breathe, the porches with their swing seats and ceiling fans, the buzz of insects all so evoked home. And so, I came to Louisiana, to teach courses in multiculturalism at LSU. Don’t I sound a lot like Lynne?

And then, even as I type these words, immediately, perhaps defensively, I find myself thinking, “Relatives and friends of South Asian descent who have visited me here have, inevitably, felt the same way.” They, too, have experienced and spoken to that tug of “home.” And yet, I know that for me, living and teaching in Louisiana, there is a deep, visceral sense of both home and outsiderness. Once again, the interstices . . . .

It is through crossing geographic, discursive, and personal borders that I have arrived at new homes, homes in hybrid locations. For instance, as I have discussed elsewhere (Asher, 2001, 2003a), it was in New York that I first recognized that here, in the United States, I was a “person of color,” a racial “minority,” an “other.” Again, it is through reflecting on these once-new lived experiences within and without the academy that, drawing on Bhabha (1986), I recognized myself as a (post)colonial hybrid who is “academic Self–woman of color Other” (Asher, 2001). These new, mestiza locations emerge out of the work of “healing the split” (Anzaldua, 1987, p. 80) between East and West, self and other, home as I have known it and home as I am creating it. As a postcolonial, I find that crossing borders helps me come home, return to myself through the self-reflexive praxis of being and becoming in the world. As an academic, drawing on bell hooks’s (1994) concept of “engaged pedagogy,” I find that doing my own integrity work is a process of conscientization for me, making me aware of my own personal, professional, intellectual, and emotional locations.

Even as I left the comfort zone of the Northeast and crossed borders from New York City to Baton Rouge, from the North to the South, I had asked myself what it would be like to teach multiculturalism in the South. I had wondered how my students would perceive me—I was neither Black nor White, and from what I knew then (and, of course, it has been confirmed since), race relations in the South were largely construed in terms of Black-and-White. I had wondered how the postcolonial and feminist perspectives informing my scholarly work would relate to my teaching. I had wondered how this new journey would bring me home again and at the same time contribute meaningfully to the particular journeys of my Southern students.

The question that I, therefore, ask myself is: How can I be sure that I will not make the mistake of being a present-day, academic version of Walker’s Lynne? I, the well-meaning, “enlightened” teacher of multiculturalism, armed with a doctorate earned in that bastion of bewildering difference—New York City—come to the South to teach. How can I ensure that I do not other/colonize my students? I know that I want to be open to and engage my students’ particular stories and contexts, and at the same time, avoid the pitfall of slipping into a seemingly benign cultural relativism. How can I work the hyphens between self-and-other and foster the emergence of a hybrid consciousness for each? How can I follow the recommendation that Margaret Crocco and I (Asher & Crocco, 2001) have offered—to create a multicultural teacher education pedagogy that offers curricular spaces for “students to present their own stories on their own terms” (p. 135)—even as I work with my Southern students to deconstruct histories and practices of racism and prejudice?

In answer to these questions, I work to recognize—in theory and in practice—that my students and I are located at the interstices. Specifically, I recognize that our distinct identities, emerging from our particular social, cultural, historical, and political contexts, come together in the in-between space of the multicultural teacher education classroom. And that in order for each of us to benefit from the pedagogical process and our dialogical exchange, each of us—student and teacher—needs to do her ongoing, self-reflexive border work. To that end, I strive to acknowledge and work through both my students’ struggles with issues of race-class-gender and my own emotional responses to histories of racism and prejudice (see Asher, 2003b). I find that such “ ‘engaged theorizing’ frees me, leading me to understand the roots of my own pain and desire for change in relation to the work I do and meet my students on their own journeys of conscientization and growth” (Asher, 2003b, p. 246).

I turn now to discussing the issues relevant to crafting a context-specific, decolonizing multicultural teacher education pedagogy by reflecting on my particular experience in the South.


The impact of a history of slavery and racial segregation, in terms of the political, economic, and educational marginalization of Southern Blacks, has been well documented (see, for instance, M. Anderson, 1966; J. D. Anderson, 1988; Bankston & Caldas, 2002). For instance, Margaret Anderson (1966), a high school teacher at the time of desegregation, noted that Negro children of the South internalized feelings of inferiority in relation to White children, hiding “their feelings or accomplishments under a mask” (p. 36). Paralleling Fanon’s (1967) analysis of the predicament of the colonized Black man, M. Anderson notes that the Negro child “comes to believe that he is just what the people around him think he is” and that extricating oneself from this frame is a difficult challenge (1966, p. 36). And yet, as she notes:

The South is the home of the Negro. His roots are here. He is part of the green hills and the black earth, the fabulous and leisurely living, the bloodshed, of the old days . . . . The folk songs, stories, art, even the dialect of the American Negro are deeply engrained in our way of life. (p. 198)

“Yes,” I think. This echoes Lynne’s perceptions and also my own early impressions. It validates, and it troubles.


A number of scholars have focused specifically on Louisiana. Bankston and Caldas (2002) have argued that the study of race and desegregation in Louisiana is particularly important, given its large Black population and its historical and present-day context of racism (witness the support former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke received for his gubernatorial campaign). In Baton Rouge, the conservative capital of Louisiana, the split along racial lines is evident in the presence of LSU’s flagship campus, which has been, historically, predominantly White, and Southern University—a historically Black university.1 Vincent (1981, p. 113) highlights, as an instance of racial discrimination, the historical disparity between the salaries of the presidents of Southern University and LSU, with the salary of the former being considerably lower than that of the latter well into the first quarter of the 20th century.

With regard to K–12 education in Louisiana, Vincent (1981) has noted the historical inequities in funding and resources allocated to Black schools as compared to White schools, which contributed to high illiteracy among Blacks. Furthermore, the East Baton Rouge Parish school district had been embroiled for over 4 decades in a deeply embattled mandate to desegregate. Bankston and Caldas (2002) note that under the desegregation mandate, there was a White exodus from public schools to nonpublic schools in the district and into the school systems of nearby parishes. “By the late 1990s, nearly two-thirds of the students in the public schools of Baton Rouge were minority students and the trend seemed to be continuing—and accelerating” (Bankston & Caldas, 2002, p. 17). They bear out the present-day relevance of M. Anderson’s (1966) argument when they state that in Louisiana, “Students in today’s majority-black schools . . . are isolated in institutions where most of the other children are poor, where many of the other children do not have role models who promote success, where the habits and means of self-presentation conducive to upward mobility seem unfamiliar and out of place” (Bankston & Caldas, 2002, pp. 205–206).


In terms of the undergraduate student population at LSU, where I teach, although the racial demographics have been moving gradually toward greater diversity, the campus remains predominantly White. In 1980, Black students constituted 6.09% of the total undergraduate student population at LSU and White students constituted 87.42%. In 1990, Black students constituted 7.86% and White students 85.28% of the undergraduate population. In 2000, Black undergraduate enrollments were up to 9.74%, and White undergraduates constituted 78.80%.2

In the elementary education program, most of the students who enroll in the required undergraduate course on multiculturalism are young, White women who, typically, see their lives as beyond the pale of multiculturalism. For most of these students the world just explodes into kaleidoscopic diversity when they come to LSU. Often it is a shock. They find themselves part of a campus population that may be larger than that of their hometown. As if that is not enough, it represents very many different racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, even though nearly 80% of the undergraduate student population is White. For instance, one student mentioned that until she came to LSU, she had never met anyone who was not a Catholic. Although many of the students express their initial shock, some also talk of learning from this diversity, expanding their horizons. Furthermore, when the students go, for their fieldwork, into the East Baton Rouge public schools—which have a predominantly African American student population—the shock is further intensified. It is in this context that I teach courses in multiculturalism to my students.


As Gee (1999) has noted, “Any method always goes with a theory. Method and theory cannot be separated” (p. 5). In keeping with my theoretical vision, I work to craft a pedagogy that fosters self-reflexivity and dialogue in the multicultural education classroom, so that students and teacher can engage differences as well as interrogate their particular interstitial locations. Rather than making the fatal mistake of focusing my multicultural pedagogy on foods-fests-artifacts, I work to create in my students the awareness that as future teachers, they need to consider the intersecting issues of race-class-gender to engage the dynamic identities and contexts of their own students. I find myself faced with the challenge of maintaining the rigor of this critical approach and, at the same time, working with the students where they are. Following Asher and Crocco’s (2001) recommendation, I work to address issues related to multiculturalism without denying the histories, realities, and concerns of my students. Therefore, even as I require my students to engage with the critical perspectives presented in course texts (such as Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice, Volume 2; Bigelow, Harvey, Karp, & Miller, 2001), I also create spaces for their particular voices and stories to emerge. Engaging the other does not cancel out engaging the self.

Following such scholars as Grumet (1988), Miller (1998), and Pinar (1994), I use autobiography to foster in my students a more complex awareness of their particular situatednesses, as future multicultural teachers. For instance, Miller (1998) notes, “By encouraging an educator to examine disjunctures, ruptures, break-ups, and fractures in . . . her own and others’ educational practices, autobiography can function to ‘queer’ or to make theory, practice, and the self unfamiliar” (p. 370). Further, such a pedagogy allows us to recognize and engage our own implicatedness in terms of “our desires for and enactments of, as well as in our fears and revulsions toward, those identities and practices that exceed the ‘norm’ “ (Miller, 1998, p. 371). I find that such a pedagogy, which requires the emotional and intellectual effort of working through one’s story to cross cultural borders, reveals the particular interstices at which each one of us is located.

I give my students guidelines for writing their autobiographies through the lens of multiculturalism (see the Appendix for an abbreviated version). I ask them to consider differences (of race, class, culture, gender) that they have encountered at home, across generations within their families, within their communities, and at school. With each group, I inevitably encounter at least one student who articulates her anxiety that she will have nothing to write, because her life is “not multicultural.” I consistently remind my students that multiculturalism is relevant to all, that each of us brings differences to the classroom. I ask them to interview their parents, grandparents, other family members, friends, and neighbors to explore their own pasts and histories. I also ask them to engage in “archival research” by examining photographs, yearbooks, and so on.

In addition to such work with the self, I require students to work also with the other. For instance, my students write reflective journal responses, throughout the semester, to Vivian Paley’s (1979) White Teacher. This exercise allows them to engage with the critical, self-reflexive analysis of a teacher who assumed responsibility for interrogating and developing her own multicultural pedagogy. Thus the students learn to “work the hyphens” (Fine, 1994) as they proceed toward conducting observations of and writing analyses regarding the multicultural contexts of schools in the area.

I am very aware that for many of my students, this particular course may be the first time that they are being asked to focus on, analyze, and rethink their experiences with regard to race-class-gender. It is the first time that they are being asked to read and discuss, week after week, writings that reflect the perspectives of teachers, scholars, and activists who have engaged with histories of oppression and injustice and addressed them through their curriculum and teaching practices. For many of the students, this is daunting. Not surprisingly, I encounter a number of different responses from them, ranging from a sense of a new/developing awareness, to openness to rethinking issues of race-class-gender, to resistance, to rage and denial, to pain and defensiveness (see Asher, 2003b, for a fuller discussion). I make it a point, therefore, to focus my assessment on the students’ engagement with these self-reflexive exercises and their assumption of responsibility for their own “conscientization” (Freire, 1982), rather than simply on the content of their assignments. I also offer detailed feedback on written work and encouragement during class discussions, asking students to explore further their insights and questions regarding their own historical and present-day encounters with difference. I believe that this approach makes it “safe” for the students to grapple with their pasts as well as their internalized struggles with issues of race-class-gender. Thus, such a multicultural pedagogy begins with the transformation of the self, not just the other. It is in this context that the students’ narratives and perspectives in relation to multicultural issues emerge.


I gathered data when I taught three sections of this required, undergraduate multicultural education course in the 2001–02 academic year. Before doing so, I obtained, in writing, official permission through LSU’s Institutional Review Board and then the informed consent of my students. I informed the students that I was interested in studying issues related to teaching multiculturalism to future teachers such as themselves. I informed them that their participation was voluntary, that they had the option of withdrawing at any time, and that their decision would have no bearing on either content or structure or assessment for the course. And of course, I assured them that I would maintain confidentiality at all times. To that end, I have used pseudonyms for all students in this article.

I gathered demographic data via a questionnaire that I administered to the students in each of the three sections. I obtained data pertaining to each student’s age group, gender, racial/ethnic identification, place of birth, length of time in Louisiana, and K–12 educational history (e.g., attendance at public, private, or parochial schools and composition of each school’s student and teacher population in terms of race, gender, and class). Of the 59 students, 52 were White. Only five were African American (4 female students and 1 male student), 1 was a Latina, and 1 female student was a Greek American. Fifty-seven of the 59 were women. All except 3, who were older, were between the ages of 20 and 25. At least half had attended parochial/private schools for part—if not all—of their K–12 education. Several grew up in small towns in Louisiana.

In terms of students’ narratives and perspectives regarding multiculturalism, I focused on two sets of assignments that the students wrote for this course—their autobiographies (the first assignment I regularly assign for the course) as well as their journal responses to White Teacher. Although I draw mainly on the students’ autobiographical narratives for this article, the multiple data sources allow for triangulation and contextualization of the same.


Aligning data analysis with theory and pedagogy, I drew on qualitative research methods (Constas, 1992; Glesne & Peshkin, 1992) and critical discourse analysis (Gee, 1999; Mathison, 1998; Wodak, 1997). For instance, I found Wodak’s (1997) interrogation of issues of gender and discourse useful in framing my analysis of my students’ multicultural narratives. Arguing for a context-sensitive approach to gender as a social construct, Wodak recommends that the analysis take into consideration such factors as sociocultural and ethnic background and socioeconomic status, as well as affective relations and power dynamics. Indeed, she states, “Critical discourse analysis in my view, is an instrument whose purpose is precisely to expose power structures and ‘disorders of discourse’ “ (p. 7).

As I read the students’ autobiographies during the course of the year, I found that struggles with race emerged as a common issue. Therefore, following Wodak’s (1997) recommendation to “expose power structures and ‘disorders of discourse’ “ (p. 7), I focused on analyzing the narratives of the 52 White students. I engaged in a two-step process. First, I began coding (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992) words pertaining to race—for instance, “race,” “racism,” “racist,” “Black,” and “White.” I also highlighted words that indicated the context. Although students are not required to follow the guidelines for the autobiography assignment (see Appendix) to the letter, they do draw on them. And therefore, students’ multicultural autobiographical reflections typically focus on both home and school contexts. For instance, typically, references to specific family members indicated the context of the home or community, and references to classmates and peers indicated the context of the school. Finally, although the guidelines I hand out do not specifically mention religion, I found references to it in the students’ narratives. Therefore, with regard to religion, I coded such words as “faith,” “God,” and “Jesus.” Thus, I found that the overarching theme of race played out in three major areas in the students’ narratives—race in the context of home/family and community, race in the context of the school, and the intersection of race and religion.

The second level of analysis entailed categorizing data to identify specific “subthemes” in relation to the above areas (see, for instance, Constas, 1992). Therefore, for instance, students’ reflections on dialogues with parents or grandparents about race yielded the subtheme of “generationality” in the context of the home. Similarly, when students recalled their own interracial experiences at school, the subtheme of “personal encounters” emerged. At the same time, when a student narrated an experience that deviated from a theme, or in some way reflected a disjuncture, I addressed it in my analysis. For instance, when White students wrote about their experiences of being in the minority in public school settings, I included the same under the subtheme of “personal encounters.” This allowed for a more complete analysis of the data and a fuller representation of the students’ particular interstitial experiences.

In the process of categorizing data, I identified examples, from the students’ autobiographies, that were particularly telling. As is typical for any group, different students had developed their narratives in varying breadth and depth. I focused on narratives that spoke to the above themes and subthemes in some depth and offered critical insights. Following Mathison (1998), I examined the “commentary” individual students had developed on a particular issue and the “kind of support” (p. 256) they had provided for the same. For instance, a student’s autobiography may either present an engaged, critical reflection on issue of race, class, gender, and culture, or, alternatively, it may merely offer a polite nod to the matter, as a “requirement” for the assignment. Similarly, a student may either substantiate the reflection with relevant anecdotal evidence or analysis or simply articulate uncorroborated perspectives and opinions. In identifying illustrative excerpts, in order to develop my discussion of the themes that emerged, I focused on the narratives of those students who had developed engaged, critical reflections and substantiated them with specific anecdotal evidence and analyses.

Specifically, my analysis of data reveals how even White students, who see themselves as outside of multiculturalism, do have histories of relating across differences. When they attend closely to their own stories, White students, too, can identify their particular interstitial locations and their connections with difference. Furthermore, the narratives reveal both the emotional and intellectual struggles students encounter as they work, self-reflexively, through complex issues of race and culture.

In next major section, I focus on analyzing the autobiographies of White students to deconstruct the notion that they are situated outside the discourse of multiculturalism; emphasize that, like the other, they too are located at the interstices; and identify ways in which they may “work the hyphens” to develop a hybrid consciousness. Below, I highlight illustrative excerpts from the narratives of 11 of the White students to develop a detailed discussion of the above themes and subthemes.


As my students engage multiculturalism in a critical, self-reflexive manner via readings, class discussions, and written assignments, they begin seeing how their own lives are, indeed, connected to difference. This new awareness, this shift in consciousness, often gives rise to confusion/conflict within them, making them rethink their own histories and future work as teachers. Not surprisingly, race—typically construed in terms of White and Black—is the most common theme that emerges as the students interrogate the presence (or apparent absence) of difference in their lives. The students’ discussions of race revolve around three areas of their lives—race in the context of home/family and community, race in the context of the school, and the intersection of race and religion.


With regard to race in the context of the home/family and community, three interrelated subthemes emerge. Typically, the students acknowledge the presence of prejudice/racism in their lives and speak to their struggles not to participate in it. Their stories also reflect the absence/avoidance of interracial relationships/dialogues among the preceding generations. And at times, they interrogate their own internalization of racism/prejudice as young children.

For instance, in terms of race and intergenerationality, Jodie narrates how her parents “managed to pull some strings and break the rule that all freshmen have to live in the dorm,” when her younger sister went away to college. They did not want her “to live in the dorm because they had a bad reputation because of all the Black people that live there.” However, they were comfortable with the fact that their younger daughter was sharing an apartment with a Black friend, whom she had known since middle school. Thus, although Jodie’s parents’ did not extend their racial prejudice to a known entity, they did their best to minimize their younger daughter’s contact with African Americans at college. However, for Jodie, the bigger shock was her grandmother, in whom she encountered a “new racist force.” According to Jodie, her grandmother

said, “You better not bring home a nigger boyfriend. If God had intended on blacks and whites mating you would see doves and crows mating!” I was amazed at the words of hate that came out of my sweet grandmother’s mouth. My sister and I left the house to flee the hostile situation and avoid further arguments. That day I realized that this was an issue with my family and me.

Thus, as Jodie developed her own self-reflexive, multicultural awareness, she found herself grappling with the shock of recognizing that a loved family member had differing and troubling perspectives on race relations.

Another student, Leslie, wrote:

I was curious about my grandmother’s and mother’s experience with multiculturalism. My grandmother went to a public school in Newport, Rhode Island. She did go to school with Blacks back then but she said they did not communicate with each other . . . . When she was in seventh grade her mom made a Black girl walk her to school. My grandmother made the girl walk behind her . . . . Although when she got older one day she had to go to detention and when she got to the detention table there was a Black boy sitting at one end and she refused to sit down . . . . Her family did not like that she went to school with Blacks so she thinks this influenced her decisions, as she got older. My mom went to a private school her whole life and did not go to school with someone who wasn’t White until college.

Leslie’s narrative reflects how the absence of interracial encounters—at least ones that represent equality—is transmitted from one generation to another, contributing to the history of the split between White and Black, oppressor and oppressed. It is also a reflection of the presence of racism in the North and the South, belying the purported split between the “progressive” North and the “backward” South. Thus, via the process of critical self-reflection, the students recognize that multiculturalism and race are not just remote issues, or mere textbook knowledge, but rather that they are linked to their lives.

Speaking insightfully to the issue of internalization of racism/prejudice, Rita noted that when she was a first grader, her parents one day “told her a little secret” about one of her playmates:

My parents informed me that Glenn was Black. They made it sound like it was a bad thing so for a while there I quit playing with Glenn . . . . Glenn denied he was Black and asked his parents who also denied it to Glenn. The thing I know now is that Glenn is Creole, which means he has a mixture of Black in his parents. The point to this is that everyone perceived that being Black was a bad thing even Glenn himself. It amazes me that children just pick up these attitudes from their parents and peers.

Similarly, speaking to the messages regarding race absorbed within the context of the community, Jodie, who grew up in Central, a town not far from Baton Rouge, wrote candidly:

In this community, there has never been much of a mix of different racial or ethnic representation in the populations. As a child I generally did not recognize that any other races existed other than Black and White. I was raised to believe that Black is not as good as White, no matter how you look at it!

As Jodie concluded her narrative she acknowledged, “Even though I spent most of my life blind to multiculturalism I think I have come a long way. I do realize that I have a lot to learn in this area.”

Another student, Jackie, whose hometown is not far from Baton Rouge, writes, “The White people and the Black people rarely associate with one another.” Discussing the prejudice each community directs toward the other, she recognizes her own internalization of the same messages:

Although the word “nigger” was never accepted into my household, it was very accepted into my community by white people. The attitude that my community possessed, affected my attitude more than I realized. I would always try to overlook ignorance but after hearing it over and over I began to believe some of the prejudices that people possessed.

Like Jodie, as she concludes, Jackie recognizes how her views are shifting. She reflects:

Analyzing my past has allowed me to realize the steps of progress that I have made in multiculturalism. In my household, I was taught to conceal differences in order to protect feelings. I have learned that hiding differences causes more pain than recognizing them.

Again, we see here, the students’ own awareness of both that they absorbed racist messages growing up and that they need to work to unlearn them.


The students also discuss issues around race that emerged in the context of the school. Typically, these fall into the areas of personal encounters related to race, the general climate of interracial tension and segregation at school, and their own roles as future teachers.

As students reflected on personal encounters related to race during their own K–12 school years, they identified patterns and shifts in their own relationships with friends from different racial backgrounds. For instance, Jodie recalls, “between the girls at my [elementary] school the biggest insult you could throw at them was, ‘Darnell is your boyfriend,’ “ because he was Black and not accepted very well. Further, she recognizes that her middle school pictures reveal that all of her friends were White.

In another instance, Leslie, who grew up in a mixed-race (Black and White) neighborhood, noted that in high school, unlike in her earlier years, her friends were “white, middle to upper class.” She describes the following encounter, as a high school student, that conveys not only the presence of interracial tension but also her own effort to “unpack” and understand the how and why of racist language she may have internalized as a child.

One day these two Black girls, Nicole and Brandi walked up to me at school. Nicole said in a real sharp voice, “Do you remember what you used to call us when we were little?” I wanted to run away. Her voice sounded very mean and since we hadn’t talked in about eight years I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t remember what I had called them and I was praying that it wasn’t anything horrible. She started to smile when she saw the fear in my eyes and said in a nice voice, “Girl, you called us Chocolate and Brownie.” I immediately apologized for calling them that . . . . I don’t know why I don’t remember calling them that but I guess I just forgot.

Like with Walker’s Lynne, Leslie’s words reflect a glimmering of consciousness that she had, perhaps unintentionally, othered her fellow schoolmates by using racist language and then conveniently forgetting it. Although the language she used as a young child did not hold any particular significance for her—it was something she “just forgot” as she got older—her African American schoolmates had distinct and unpleasant memories of it.

Although generally, the students’ stories recount instances of racial prejudice directed by Whites toward Blacks, individual students also talked about their experiences being in the minority in public school settings. Theresa, one of the few students who went to Head Start and had an African American teacher early in her schooling, continued on to an “all White Catholic school.” She reflects on the occasions when her school played basketball against a public school:

[The public school] consisted of almost all African Americans, they usually won because we were afraid of them. They were a very aggressive team, and they were a different race. Although we had always been taught to “love they neighbor as thyself,” we had never been taught how to interact in multicultural environments.

When, in eighth grade, Theresa switched to a public school, on the first day, she was in “complete culture shock” and had to get “used to the idea of having African Americans in my class.” Eventually, when Theresa signed up for the basketball team, she encountered resistance. “All of the other girls on the team were African American and were not very receptive to the idea of a ‘Catholic school priss’ joining their team.” As the team bonded over practice sessions, she notes, “We became good friends and learned from each other about our different cultures.”

Similarly Rita noted that at the public magnet middle school she attended in Baton Rouge, the Black girls often bullied her. “They were not scared to tell me to my face that I was ugly.” Thus, not only do White students struggle with interracial encounters when they enter different contexts, but also, at times, they encounter prejudice themselves, as they attempt to cross racial borders.

Another theme that emerges within the school context is that the students experience a climate of interracial tension and segregation and recognize how it shapes their own attitudes and perceptions. Allie attended a public middle school in Baton Rouge in which, she notes, “there were at least six fights a day (I am not over-exaggerating). Ninety-nine percent of these fights included African Americans, so my outlook towards them went down dramatically, and it stayed that way until high school.”

With regard to high school, Jodie writes:

We had about fifty Black students in the entire school. We had classes with these people, of course, but they generally did not hang out with us at school, after school, or on the weekends. I did not consider race to be an issue at this point in my life because I had managed to keep my distance from it all together.

Negative images of African American peers, including such troubling categorizations of them as “these people,” and distancing oneself from/avoiding interracial interactions characterize these students’ “multicultural” experiences in school. Furthermore, the students’ narratives consistently fall short of examining the extant relations of power that lead to and maintain such divides between Black and White students. Indeed, Jodie’s statement that she kept her distance from the issue of race reflects the White privilege underlying her assumption of her own “racelessness.”

However, like Theresa, Jodie notes that sports at her high school allowed for interracial encounters. According to Jodie, athletics was “the only way that Central High School [was] completely colorblind,” and this allowed her to build her first interracial friendships. However, when Jodie invited a Black friend home, “My mother was extremely angry. She told me that I better watch what I do or I am going to ruin my reputation.” Indeed, Jodie notes with some irony, “Very few of my friends’ parents wholeheartedly approved of their sweet, White children associating with two Black guys.”

Reflecting a somewhat more sophisticated analysis, Janice and her friends who attended a public middle school in a town not far from Baton Rouge came up with a creative solution to address the issues of race and gender. “We, along with others, had formed a group of friends and called ourselves ‘Purple People.’ We were ‘Purple’ because we were ignoring race and we were ‘People’ because we were ignoring gender.” However, Janice recalls that their efforts boomeranged painfully when other students felt excluded and reported the group to the counselors at a summer camp they were attending.

Janice also tried to analyze interracial tension at school in terms of the complexities of the processes of inclusion and exclusion among various groups at school. She recalls discussing with a Black friend at her high school how White students organized to have dances away from school and would not attend dances at school. And that the school’s Debutante Ball, held for senior girls every year, “no White students had ever been invited to attend.” She elaborates:

We realized that we were looking at the same type of occasions from two different angles. We agreed that while sometimes we do not like to be excluded from others’ activities, we may also want to do something apart from others occasionally. That is an important lesson for us all.

Although this insight is certainly more advanced than those the other students articulate, it hovers on the edge of cultural relativism. It falls short of contextualizing racial segregation in relation to histories of oppression, colonization, and current relations of power within the larger social context.

Finally, in light of their exposure to multicultural knowledge and contexts at LSU, the students also interrogate their own roles as future teachers. Again, for many of the students, going into the predominantly African American, low-socioeconomic-status East Baton Rouge public schools for their field placements is a shock. Emma notes:

I was placed in an all Black, low-class school in Baton Rouge. The children themselves were precious, but the situation was somewhat awkward from the beginning. My partner and myself were amazed at the things that the children were exposed to, the language that they used, the beliefs that they held, as well as the things that they had not been exposed to . . . . Not only was their race a factor, but their poverty level also had to be addressed. Some of the children came to school without eating and still others had no bed to call their own causing them to receive only a few hours of sleep. To my partner and me this was all new, something we never had to deal with before. These children were “different” from us, and at times we did not know how to handle it. It made me realize all of the things I do not understand and that I need to address before I get my own classroom.

Emma’s words above reflect a dawning awareness of the complexities of the lives of the students at her school. We see her recognizing that in order for her to be an effective teacher, she was going to have to continue building on her new awareness and gaining knowledge about her “different” students.

And as Rita notes:

I feel that the only way you can change these racist attitudes is by learning others’ lifestyles and in turn you will begin to respect their differences. I believe that this is something everyone needs to work on and as a teacher I will strive to open my students’ eyes to what it might be like to live as someone else.


A number of students discuss their faith—almost always Christianity (often Catholicism, specifically)—in their autobiographies. Not only is religion an important identification for many students, but also attending church and relating to one’s particular church community are critical aspects of life in Louisiana. As noted earlier, several of the students attended parochial schools for part, if not all, of their K–12 schooling. In many instances, it was seen as one way for White families to get past the still-contentious desegregation mandate. For instance, Allie had to attend an inner-city elementary school that she was “required to go to after a desegregation plan.” Therefore, she switched to a private, Catholic elementary school.

Abbey, who attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, noted that her school contexts were “predominantly white.” With regard to her high school, she noted,

Although the school itself was integrated, within the school grounds it was somewhat segregated. By this I mean that all of the Black girls in the school would talk to and do things with the Black girls [and it was the] same with the Asian girls and the White girls.

For some students, religion is linked to their decision to teach. As Lyn wrote,

I wagered my future career on an answer from a prayer to Jesus. I had been an interior design major, but I wanted to be where God would use me most, so I waited for his answer. My first day of my junior year I changed my major to special education with His answer fresh on my heart.

Further, Lisa analyzes her belief in Christianity in relation to her views on multiculturalism:

My serious dedication to my relationship with Jesus Christ deepens my curiosity about other religions. If I am not aware of other beliefs then [sic] I have nothing to compare the truth and love of Christ to and what his death and resurrection actually accomplished . . . . Persecution and alienation often come along with my diligent efforts to live the life God has created me to live . . . . Because of this, I believe I can relate to those who travel to distant lands and are determined to stay in touch with their heritage. This has quite possibly been the most influential realization in my sensitivity and empathy for those who are struggling to be who they are in a land that wants nothing but change for them.

Thus the students attempt to bring their particular racial and religious experiences and identifications to bear on their understanding of multicultural education.


Audre Lorde (1984) has noted that “we have all been programmed to respond to human differences between us with fear and loathing” (p. 115). Lorde argues that it is not the differences (age, race, class, gender) per se that divide; rather it is the refusal to recognize them and “examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior” (p. 115). In this article, I have attempted to examine the distortions resulting from histories of racial, ethnic, and regional prejudice, with specific reference to the context of education in the South, to inform multicultural education discourse and practice.

Analyzing curriculum as a racial text, Pinar (1993) has suggested a social psychoanalytic curriculum of Southern studies that “supports Southerners in understanding and living through exactly who they are . . . [that they] might finally return home” (p. 66). I believe that this is possible and, in fact, necessary as part of a decolonizing, multicultural education pedagogy located at the interstices. Allowing complex and troubled histories around race and culture the room for expression eliminates the need to repress them. Critical, self-reflexive interrogation is a key aspect of deconstructing internalized oppression. In keeping with my own pedagogical belief that one needs to begin where the students are, I have worked to invite in and engage the particular stories and experiences of my Southern students. I believe that beginning with autobiography makes it possible for White students to recognize that “their experience is inseparable from that of Southern African Americans” (Pinar, 1993, p. 66) and begin “working the hyphens” (Fine, 1994) between themselves and their encounters with difference. Furthermore, such a process entails working through—rather than avoiding—emotional struggles related to engaging the difficult contradictions experienced within and without. Witness the painful coming-to-awareness on the part of Jodie, Jackie, and Janice of the racism present at home and at school, among beloved family members and friends. As Fecho (2001, pp. 10–11) has argued, a pedagogy that requires an engagement with “world realities” and presents the “threat” of unsettling student and teacher from their particular comfort zones is necessary in enabling them to rethink their own beliefs.

Indeed, the process of critical, self-reflexive interrogation allows White students to locate themselves at the interstices and begin understanding themselves and their stories in relation to—instead of outside of—multicultural education discourse. Otherwise, how will other students like Jodie recognize that they have been “blind to multiculturalism”? Or how will others like Emma foster their own growing awareness of the complexities they need to consider as future teachers in multicultural contexts? Such a multicultural teacher education classroom offers a safe space for students to articulate where they are coming from as well as where they are at present and to include these aspects in the process of transformation.

Kumashiro (2000) suggests that in crafting antioppressive pedagogies “educators need to acknowledge and affirm differences and tailor their teaching to the specifics of their student population” (p. 29). However, as he acknowledges, although such pedagogies can open up new perspectives for students and offer them opportunities to rethink their beliefs, they cannot predict or control the directions in which the students will then progress. Practitioners and theorists need to recognize that “anti-oppressive pedagogy should aim for effect by having students engage with relevant aspects of critical theory and extend its terms of analysis to their own lives, but then critique it for what it overlooks . . . what it says . . . as well as what it leaves unsaid” (p. 39). I recognize, therefore, that a multicultural education pedagogy that engages the interstices is no guarantee that students will necessarily rethink their histories and beliefs. At the same time, such a pedagogy at least introduces them to critical, self-reflexive ways of thinking about issues of race-class-gender-culture. This can serve as the initial step for future teachers—White and those of color—toward recognizing the ways in which their lives and histories are linked to those of others. Only then will they be able to relate to their different students and colleagues in meaningful ways. As Tatum (1994) asserts, a multicultural teacher education pedagogy that invites in the lives of all students makes it possible for them to “identify what their own sphere of influence is (however large or small) and to consider how it might be used to interrupt the cycle of racism” (p. 465).

Furthermore, as my discussion of my own journeying reveals, I, too, am engaged in examining my particular situatedness—my connection and my difference—in relation to my students and my teaching context. Not only does such a pedagogy foster self-reflectiveness in both student and teacher, but also it lets each examine her co-optedness as “colonizer/colonized” (Villenas, 1996). Indeed, Hoffman (1996) has recommended that teacher education itself should model a critical, self-reflexive multiculturalism that draws, for instance, on in-depth work with case studies and ethnographies, rather than relying on “hallway multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism, then, is not simply a discourse about “diverse others,” but rather is a practice that engages both self and other, students and teacher in rethinking constructions of identity, culture, representation, and power.

As Pinar (1993) has noted, we need to examine what we know about ourselves and how we know it because “if what we know about ourselves—our history, our culture, our national identity—is deformed by absences, denials, and incompleteness, then our identity . . . is fragmented” (p. 61). In contrast, by “(en)gendering a hybrid consciousness” (Asher, 2002), we succeed in seeing our selves fully, not only because we see ourselves in relation to multiculturalism and the other, but also because we are able to synthesize our intellectual and affective responses to our social/cultural/educational contexts. A multiculturalism that allows us to engage the interstices in productive ways offers the room for both students and teachers—from different racial, gendered, class, cultural, linguistic, and geographic backgrounds—to validate their particular histories/life stories and at the same time to rethink relations of oppression in order that all might find themselves able to “return home” (Pinar, 1993, p. 66).

To that end, educational research can focus on addressing issues of difference in teaching and learning. Educators at all levels can examine, for example, how differences of race-class-gender-culture intersect in their particular classrooms and in the lives of their students. Like Fecho (2001) and Karp (1996–1997), they may examine ways of engaging these differences to inform their practice and address various forms of prejudice. Bearing in mind that conscientization begins with the self, teachers and teacher educators can document both their successes and their particular struggles in engaging multicultural discourse and practice and analyze them in relation to their specific geographical and academic context. And finally, they can engage in a critical, self-reflexive interrogation of their own life narratives as well as their multicultural endeavors, in order to develop a fuller awareness of how their own interstitial locations—personal and professional—inform their work in the classroom.



As students in this class on multiculturalism in education, you will encounter knowledge, ideas and questions that may be new to you and/or present you with different ways of thinking about issues of diversity—in terms of race, class, gender, culture, language—in school and society. You will grapple with understanding multicultural education in terms of the roles and responsibilities of teachers in working with different students, and building community across differences in the classroom. As future teachers, you will consider ways of inviting the lives of your students into the classroom. Your autobiography then is one way to bring your lives into our classroom even as we begin exploring the complexities of multicultural theory and practice in education.

Write a 4–5-page typewritten, double-spaced essay using the following questions as a guide to your own thinking.

(a) What are some of your earliest memories as a learner: as someone curious about the world? How was that curiosity cherished, channeled, and/or blocked through home and/or schooling experiences?

(b) Growing up, what and who around you seemed “different” from you, your life? In what ways? As an undergraduate student and a teacher “in process,” how do you understand and interpret your encounters with different others?

(c) In what ways might such factors such as social class, race and/or ethnicity, gender, culture, and language have influenced your development as a child and a student?

You are asked to gather data (seek information) from parents, grandparents, your former teachers, neighbors; such records of your life as school and family photographs, school events, yearbooks; and so on, to illuminate your past experiences and incorporate them as examples in your autobiography.

I thank Janet Miller, Nancy Nelson, Michelle Haj-Broussard, and the anonymous reviewers at Teachers College Record for their thoughtful engagement with and feedback on earlier versions of this article.


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NINA ASHER is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and in Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. She is an affiliate of the department’s Curriculum Theory Project. Her scholarship focuses on postcolonial and feminist theory in education, critical perspectives on multiculturalism, and Asian American education. Her recent publications include an article, “Engaging Difference: Towards a Pedagogy of Interbeing” (in Teaching Education) and a chapter (coauthored with Michelle Haj-Broussard), “It Is Not Resolved Yet: When a Louisiana French Immersion Activist Engages Postcolonial, Feminist Theory (or Vice Versa)” (in Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise, edited by R. A. Gaztambide-Fernandez & J. T. Sears).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 5, 2005, p. 1079-1106
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11851, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 11:57:55 AM

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  • Nina Asher
    Louisiana State University
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    NINA ASHER is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and in Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. She is an affiliate of the department’s Curriculum Theory Project. Her scholarship focuses on postcolonial and feminist theory in education, critical perspectives on multiculturalism, and Asian American education. Her recent publications include an article, “Engaging Difference: Towards a Pedagogy of Interbeing” (in Teaching Education) and a chapter (coauthored with Michelle Haj-Broussard), “It Is Not Resolved Yet: When a Louisiana French Immersion Activist Engages Postcolonial, Feminist Theory (or Vice Versa)” (in Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise, edited by R. A. Gaztambide-Fernandez & J. T. Sears).
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