White Fatigue

Rethinking Resistance for Social Justice

by Joseph E. Flynn, Jr. (Author)
©2018 Textbook XX, 178 Pages


White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance for Social Justice explores how, despite the pleas and research of critical scholars, what passes for multicultural education in schools is often promotion of human relations and tolerance rather than a sustained critical examination of how race and racism shape social, political, economic, and educational opportunities for various groups, both historically and currently. Simultaneously, our nation’s social mores have changed over time and millions of White Americans find racism morally reprehensible. This book illustrates that despite that shift, it is not uncommon to experience White Americans—in classrooms and other spaces—struggling to understand how racism functions. This struggle is often talked about as White resistance, White guilt, and White fragility. White fatigue is an idea that helps explain and differentiate this struggle for better understanding among White folks who feel racism is wrong but do not yet have an understanding of how racism functions. White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance for Social Justice ultimately argues that if we are to advance our national conversation on race, educators must be willing to define reactions to conversations about race with more nuances, lest we alienate potential allies, accomplices, and leaders in the fight against racial injustice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for White Fatigue
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword (Leslie David Burns)
  • Introduction: Notes on My Relationship With White Folks
  • Beginnings
  • The Move
  • Idyllic?
  • Formative Years in Black and White
  • Turning Point
  • Launch
  • Confrontation and Self-Proclamation
  • Transition: Today’s Issues and A System of Advantage
  • Purpose: Considerations of Privilege, Resistance, and the Preparation of Teachers
  • White Folks: Possibilities of Allies, Accomplices, and Leaders for Social and Racial Justice
  • Allies, Accomplices, and Leaders
  • A Road Needing to Be Traveled
  • Note
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter One: On Talking and Learning About Race and Racism in the Obama Era and After
  • Accidental Racist: Accidentally Displaying White Fatigue
  • The Resistant, the Believers, and the Quiet: Considering Our Students in the Process of Learning About Race in Classrooms
  • The Resisters
  • The True Believers
  • The Quiet and the Challenge in Their Presence
  • Introducing White Fatigue: A Guiding Set of Assumptions
  • The Relationship Between Anti-Oppression and Teacher Education
  • (Thumbs Up) or (Thumbs Down) Considerations From Our Current Sociopolitical Context
  • Multicultural Education: Intensions of Teaching More Than Tolerance
  • A Dangerous Intersection: Facebook, Wine, and Social Justice
  • Hurdles to Learning About Racism: Constructs, Attitudes, and Language
  • The Vanguard of Footsoldiers: White Fatigue and the Preparation of Teachers in the Age of Obama … but Definitely Not the Post-Racial Age
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter Two: White Fatigue: Naming the Challenge in Moving From an Individual to a Systemic Understanding of Racism
  • A Slap to the Face? Or a Sentiment of Frustration? A Vignette of White Fatigue
  • A Struggle of the Mind and Spirit: Defining and Differentiating White Fatigue, White Guilt, White Fragility, and Resistance
  • White Fatigue, Racial Battle Fatigue, White People Fatigue Syndrome: Divergent Trajectories
  • Mapping the Location of White Fatigue: White Racial Identity Development and Recasting Stereotype Threat
  • Racism: A Complex Phenomenon to Learn
  • Stereotyped Into Silence: Stereotype Threat and White Fatigue
  • Systems, Humanity, and Love: Choosing a Different Path
  • Segue: Introducing the Man Who Couldn’t Walk on Water, the Man Who Uncovered Our Derision, and the Most Misrepresented Movement
  • Note
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter Three: From Obama to Trump: Tripping Over Post-Racial America’s Intentions
  • Damned If You Do; Damned If You Don’t: The Challenge of Being the First Black President Talking About Race
  • Pardon Me Mr. President, But Please Allow Me to Be Critical …
  • The Myth of a Post-Racial America and the Sting of the Backlash
  • A Different Sort of Backlash
  • Selective Chastisement and the President’s Limited Privilege
  • Bridge to Retrenchment: Police Brutality, #BlackLivesMatter, and White Allies
  • Back to Square One?: White Fatigue, the End of the Obama Era, and the Rise of Trump
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter Four: The Miseducation of White Folks: The Success and Failure of the Multicultural Education Movement
  • Multicultural Education: The Struggle to Name Others in the American Curriculum
  • Backlash: The Eventual Rise of the Anti-Multiculturalists
  • To Critique but Not Criticize nor Essentialize: Missed Lessons on Whiteness
  • What Is Multicultural Education and Why Does It Need to Be “Critical?”: Issues of Discourse, Pedagogy, and Practice
  • Drifting From the Point: Silences and Misrepresentation in Multicultural Curriculum
  • Advancing the Struggle Against Oppression: Considerations on Social Justice Education
  • The New Frontier: The Rise of Social Justice Education in Teacher Education
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter Five: Breaking Bad Habit(u)s: Considerations on the Reproduction of Worldviews
  • Breaking and Racializing Habitus: Considering Bourdieu’s Vague Idea
  • Field
  • Cultural Capital
  • Habitus
  • Structure With Agency: Habitus and the Individual
  • Using Habitus to Explore Race and Racism
  • From Habitus to Hegemony: Privileging Whiteness in Schools
  • Speaking Fatigue: Considerations of Discourse, Language, and Habitus in Classrooms
  • Sometimes Teachers Have No Clue: Learning and Acquiring Habitus
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter Six: Concluding Thoughts: Promoting Racial Literacy, Standards, and Reconstructing White Folks for Social Justice
  • Encouraging Racial Literacy
  • The Hope of Anti-Racism and Curriculum and Professional Teaching Standards
  • Curbing the Demonization of White Folks
  • Epilogue: A Final Note on Reaching the Promised Land, by Any Means Necessary …
  • Note
  • Bibliography
  • Afterword (Edward Moore JR.)
  • Series index

| ix →


Writing a book is an intense labor of love (and sometimes hate) that takes a considerable amount of time, energy, sacrifice, and sanity. Equally important is the amount of collaboration that happens, even for a solo-authored project such as this. Although I can probably never name all the people that have some fingerprint on this project there are a few I must name.

The first person I must thank is my colleague and friend, Dr. Leslie David Burns, co-editor of this series. Les and I have been talking about the ideas of race and racism since our days in graduate school back at Michigan State University. Over the years those conversations have been a strange mixture of freewheeling, critical, emotional, considerate, challenging, and always punctuated with humor. Through the drafting of this document Les was always there to help me tackle problems, offering a source, turn-of-phrase, or just an ear that unstuck me in that moment. His support of this project was crucial and his friendship is indispensible.

I also wish to thank the scores of theorists and researchers that literally changed the way I see the world. Some of these folks I know, and some I do not. Some made their marks in academic disciplines and some from outside academia. Some are here, and some are here in spirit. In no specific order, the roll call: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King; the Honorable Minister Malcolm X; Barack Obama; W.E.B. DuBois; Carter G. Woodson; Don Moore; David Lustick; Paulo Freire; Gloria Ladson-Bilings; James Banks; Christine Sleeter; Geneva Gay; Sonia Nieto; Lisa ← ix | x → Delpit; James Baldwin; Eddie Moore, Jr., Tim Wise; Gary Howard; Stan Howard; Peggy McIntosh; Kevin Kumishiro; Cleo Cherryholmes; Lynn Fendler; Dorinda Carter; Chris Wheeler; Jay MacLeod; Kimberlé Crenshaw; Derek Bell; Ta’Nehisi Coates; Ernest Morrell; Henry Giroux; Franz Fanon; Pauline Lipman; Stephen Haymes; Sandra Jackson; Amira Proweller; Chuck D; Barbara Sizemore; Chris Dunbar; Jean Anyon; K. Wayne Yang; Zeus Leonardo; David Kirkland; sj Miller; Gil Scott-Heron; Bob Dylan; William Ayers; David Stovall; Cornell West; Spike Lee; Hunter S. Thompson; Michael Eric Dyson; David Simon; Kendrick Lamar; George Carlin; and Richard Pryor.

I must also extend thanks to my colleagues at my home university, Northern Illinois University. Although I have had many conversations about this book with colleagues, there are a few that I must recognize for their ears and advice: Patrick Roberts; Amy Stich; Rebecca Hunt; Michael Manderino; James Cohen; Patricia Kee; Amelia Gould; Kerry Burch; Sarah Militz-Frielink; and LaVonne Neal.

Occasionally any one of us can get the chance to be plugged into a community that invigorates and pushes your thinking. The American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) has been such a community for me. There are so many people in AATC to thank, but there are a few member, friends, that are crucial: Drew Kemp; Michelle Tenam-Zemach; William White; Bradley Conrad; Richard Biffle; Pamela Thompson; Chara Bohan; Ruben Garza; Shelley Harris; Christy McConnell; Derek Gottlieb; Kate Kauper; John Pecore; Matt Spurlin; David Flinders; and Dan Conn. Thank you all for your friendship, ideas, and support.

I also wish thank my students. Everyday I teach I realize something new that makes me a better teacher and that is a direct result of their questions, discussions, and after class conversations. I have been lucky that many of my students—especially my doctoral candidates and students—have been interested in both my opinions about racial issues in education, society, and popular culture and the development of this book. Those conversations and concerns directly influenced this project.

In full truth though, this book would not exist had it not been for the development of friendships that are now more than twenty-five years old. I have sat with these guys for countless hours talking about the spectrum of life, and race was/is a recurrent topic: Ronnie Herman; Lance Hochmuth; Christopher Conrad Legan; John Brillhart; Todd Utz; and Brent Goers. No matter how near or far, each of you will be an eternal influence in my life.

I must also thank my folks: Julius, Lisa, Dad, and Mom. Their support and encouragement of me throughout my life has been indispensible and their understanding, open ears through the process of writing this book has been a true ← x | xi → blessing. Julius’ daring spirit and the stories of his travels around the globe helped me consider the meaning of diversity and a beloved world. Lisa’s steadfastness and quiet intellect was always an inspiration. Dad’s lust for life and work ethic showed me how to struggle through and get it done, come what may. And with that, Mom is my original teacher. She taught me to always remember my faith and Creator. Moreover, she taught me what a life of selflessness looks like. These four people … I love and thank them.

No disrespect is intended to any of my extended family members, but the role of my aunt, Shirley Bradley, is paramount. Aunt Shirley exposed me to a world of art, music, and literature, unlike any other person, and she not only planted the seeds but also nurtured my intellectual curiosity. When I was young on our annual trips down to Memphis, she took me to colleges and universities; she took me to libraries; she shared with me her music collection (that any DJ would die for); she suggested books for me to read; she encouraged me to look at art; she created a space for me to explore and I will be eternally grateful for that. Much love, Aunt Shirley.

Last and most definitely not least I must express my sincerest love and appreciation to Jacob and Gena, my son and wife. This book was also inspired by watching Jacob grow and begin to develop his own ideas about justice, friendship, and love. He is a role model to me and I hope this work makes him proud. And finally, to Gena, my beautiful and brilliant wife and partner. For twenty years, she has been by my side, offering support, guidance, encouragement, time, patience, an ear, and so much more. My respect for her required me to do the best work I could, for her acumen and prowess never cease to amaze and inspire me. This achievement is not solely mine, but ours. We have been talking about these ideas in various permutations since we were back in Dr. Howard’s class (she knows what that means), and we have developed a community of friends—our “chosen” family—that reflects the kind of world I have always wanted for my family: intelligent, critical, diverse, and understanding. There are no words to fully capture my respect, gratitude, and affection for her. G, I love and thank you, for everything. This work would have been impossible without you.

| xiii →



It is a rare and exhilarating experience to see a scholar produce new knowledge. It is intellectually thrilling to be in dialogue with a scholar and witness the conception, development, and realization of a crucial pedagogical construct that has such potential to advance the project of teaching for social justice across diverse contexts. It is an honor to work closely with a public intellectual who has shed new light on a problem that has rightly troubled our profession from its inception in U.S. society. This has been my experience serving as editor for Dr. Joseph Flynn’s first solo-authored book, White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance for Social Justice. Using theories and research from Multicultural Education, Critical Studies, Critical Race Theory, and Second Wave Whiteness Studies, Dr. Flynn has done nothing short of identifying what may be one of the most confounding challenges to anti-racist education today: White fatigue.

In this book, Dr. Flynn illustrates that racism is, fundamentally, a structural and institutionalized system that instigates, exacerbates, normalizes, and perpetuates hegemonic systems of practice and power relations. By design, racism often renders its most insidious manifestations as twisted caricatures of a “common sense” that attains the level of habitus. In other words, systemic and institutional practices tend to create norms that become hardwired in our collective consciousness, rarely to be questioned or critiqued. In this state of being and perception, social structures and elements of power, discourse, and social interaction ← xiii | xiv → become assumed to the point of invisibility. In the unquestioned state of habitus (fully explained by Dr. Flynn in Chapter 5 of this book), racist systems, structures, instruments, practices, and behaviors can not only manifest but thrive based on the false presumption that they are simply “the way things are” rather than “the way we have constructed things to be.” In such a context wherein systemic racism is too often invisible or unremarked, the capacities for individuals to recognize, identify, and respond in just and inclusive ways are too often constrained by their personal psychological dispositions and experiences. While they are able to recognize and acknowledge many racist attitudes, acts, and behaviors, they are less able to identify the deeper systems and structures from which those more overt racist elements manifest, knowledge essential for anti-racist theorizing, action, and reform. As a result, many people learning about racism (let alone considering how to acknowledge, resist, and eliminate it) find such learning difficult at least. This is acutely the case for those who benefit most from racist systems, White people.


XX, 178
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 178 pp.

Biographical notes

Joseph E. Flynn, Jr. (Author)

Joseph E. Flynn, Jr. is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Northern Illinois University, and his work centers on the intersection of race, curriculum, and social justice. Previously he co-edited Rubric Nation: Critical Inquiries on the Impact of Rubrics in Education.


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