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White Men’s Racial Others


by Timothy J. Lensmire — 2014

Background/Context: Increasingly, researchers and educators have argued that alternative conceptions of Whiteness and White racial identity are needed because current conceptions have undermined, rather than strengthened, our critical pedagogies with White people. Grounded in critical Whiteness studies, and drawing especially on the writings of Ralph Ellison and Leslie Fiedler on what it means to be a White American, this article describes and theorizes White racial identity in ways that avoid oversimplification, but that at the same time never lose sight of White privilege and a larger White supremacist context.

Focus of Study: The research focused on the social production of racial identity for four White men and explored how their racial identities were dependent on relations with real and imagined racial others.

Research Design: The four men were part of a larger study that investigated race and Whiteness in a rural community in Wisconsin. The study, employing an interpretive methodology, included open-ended, in-depth interviews. Initial interviews lasted one to three hours; follow-up interviews were one to two hours long. The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Transcripts were analyzed using inductive methods. Analysis for this article focused on their discussions of racial others and their experiences with them.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The theoretical and empirical work in this article makes three primary contributions. First, this work demonstrates the significance of people of color to the ongoing social production of White racial identities. These men used people of color, imagined and real, to understand themselves and their powers. Second, this research illuminates the persistence, functions, and effects of racial stereotyping and scapegoating, including the emotional costs associated with what Ellison saw as White people’s continual need for reassurance of their own superiority. A final contribution of this work is that it complicates and deepens our understanding of why White people take up a colorblind discourse when talking about race. In addition to hiding an underlying racism, colorblind discourse may serve to minimize or manage conflict among White people who disagree about race.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 3, 2014, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17357, Date Accessed: 10/18/2017 7:13:12 AM

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About the Author
  • Timothy Lensmire
    University of Minnesota
    E-mail Author
    TIMOTHY J. LENSMIRE is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota. His research interests include the promise and perils of critical pedagogies and describing and theorizing Whiteness and White racial identity. Recent publications include “Too Serious: Learning, Schools, and Bakhtin’s Carnival” in Bakhtinian pedagogy: Opportunities and challenges for research, policy and practice in education across the globe and, with Nathan Snaza, “What teacher education can learn from blackface minstrelsy” in Educational Researcher.
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