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Black Achievers’ Experiences With Racial Spotlighting and Ignoring in a Predominantly White High School


by Dorinda J. Carter Andrews — 2012

Background/Context: Despite a history of racial oppression and degradation in U.S. schools, African Americans have responded to racism and discrimination in ways that promote educational attainment and school success. Many Black adolescents have been empowered to succeed academically partly because of their awareness of racist practices in education and society. This empowerment to succeed in the face of racism is also seen as resiliency. A growing body of research suggests that despite experiencing racism in schools, many African Americans possess an achievement ethos that demands a commitment to excellence; despite experiencing racism as a stressor, these students develop resilient strategies for resisting racism in the school context.

Purpose/Objective/Focus of Study: The purpose of this study was to understand the adaptive behaviors that high-achieving Black students employed in a predominantly White high school to maintain school success and a positive racial self-definition. The focus of this article is to examine how these students describe, understand, and respond to experiencing racial microaggressions in classroom, social, and extracurricular domains within their school.

Research Design: The article includes data from a yearlong qualitative investigation of high-achieving Black students in a predominantly White high school. The author analyzed interview data, participant observations, and field notes and used a grounded theory approach to analyzing the data to arrive at an understanding of how students perceived experiences with racial microaggressions in their school.

Findings/Results: Findings indicate that students experienced racial microaggressions in the form of sometimes being spotlighted because of their race (i.e., racial spotlighting) and sometimes being ignored because of their race (i.e., racial ignoring). Students managed these experiences by utilizing a variety of resilient strategies that represent varying degrees of resistance. The use of these behavioral strategies demonstrates their resilience not only to racism but also to a school climate in which racism acts as a structural barrier to potentially constrain or impede achievement. These strategies allow students to effectively navigate within and across classroom and nonclassroom domains despite experiencing racial discrimination and to acquire and maintain school success without rejecting their racial identity.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes with implications for teacher education and creating culturally inclusive school and classroom environments. The article challenges educators to critically examine the relationships between race, racism, Whiteness, and teaching and learning. Specifically, recommendations are offered for preservice teacher preparation and in-service teacher professional development.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 10, 2012, p. 1-46
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16780, Date Accessed: 7/23/2014 9:57:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Dorinda Carter Andrews
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    DORINDA CARTER ANDREWS is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Her research interests include race and equity in education, Black student achievement, and urban teacher preparation. Her recent publications include “The Construction of Black High-Achiever Identities in a Predominantly White High School” (2009) in Anthropology and Education Quarterly and “‘Black Males in Middle School: Third Class Citizens in a First Class Society” (in press). She is an editor (with F. Tuitt) of Contesting the Myth of a “Post-Racial Era”: The Continued Significance of Race in U.S. Education (forthcoming).
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