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 K–12 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 K–12 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 K–12 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 K–12 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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