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Strange Fruit Indeed: Interrogating Contemporary Textbook Representations of Racial Violence Toward African Americans


by Anthony L. Brown & Keffrelyn D. Brown 2010

Background/Context: Recent racial incidents on college and high school campuses throughout the United States have catalyzed a growing conversation around issues of race and racism. These conversations exist alongside ongoing concerns about the lack of attention given to race and racism in the official school curriculum. Given that the field of education is generally located as a space to interrogate why these difficult issues of race in schools and society still persist, this study illustrates how contemporary official school knowledge addresses historical and contemporary issues of race and racism. To do this, we examine how historic acts of racial violence directed toward African Americans are rendered in K12 school textbooks. Using the theoretical lenses of critical race theory and cultural memory, we explicate how historic acts of racial violence toward African Americans receives minimal and/or distorted attention in most K12 texts.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We examined the knowledge constructed about racial violence and African Americans in the United States. Using the theoretical lenses of critical race theory and cultural memory, we show how the topic of historic acts of racial violence toward African Americans receives minimal and/or distorted attention in most K12 texts. The purpose of this study is to illustrate that although accounts of racial violence that historically have been excluded from textbooks are now being included, this inclusion matters little if it is presented in a manner that disavows material implications of racial violence on sustained White privilege and entrenched African American inequities.

Research Design: The findings from this study come from a textbook analysis of 19 recent U.S. history social studies textbooks adopted by the state of Texas. Drawing from the tradition of recent critical textbook studies, this study used a literary analysis methodology.

Findings/Results: In this study, we found that although narratives of racial violence were present throughout the texts, they often rendered acts of violence as the immorality of single actors or bad men doing bad things. Additionally, these presentations portray violence as disconnected from the institutional and structural ties that supported and benefited from such acts.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings from this study illustrate the limited historical and sociocultural knowledge about race and racism provided to teachers and students through K12 social studies textbooks. These findings have direct implications for how teachers and students conceptualize and grapple with real issues of race and racism in schools and society. We suggest that the knowledge contained in school texts must go beyond simply representing acts of racism, situating such acts of racism within the discursive and material realities that have shaped the lives of African Americans in the United States.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 1, 2010, p. 31-67
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15592, Date Accessed: 10/16/2017 8:28:42 PM

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About the Author
  • Anthony Brown
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    ANTHONY L. BROWN is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and affiliated faculty at the John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and Cultural Studies in Education (CSE) at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a former classroom teacher and school administrator whose scholarly interests focus on the educational experiences of African American males as well as how African American history is constructed in K12 social studies curricula and within the larger societal discourses. Anthonys work has recently been published in the Handbook of Research on Teacher Education: Enduring Issues in Changing Contexts and the American Behavioral Scientist.
  • Keffrelyn Brown
    University of Texas at Austin
    KEFFRELYN D. BROWN is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and affiliated faculty at the John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a former classroom teacher, school administrator, and curriculum developer/consultant whose research interests focus on understanding how preservice teachers and in-service teachers understand and draw from sociocultural knowledge. She is also interested in the knowledge constructed about and the educational experiences of African American students. Her recent work has been published in the Sage Handbook of Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Researcher, and the Journal of Research on Science Teaching.
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