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Coloring in the White Spaces

Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools


Ann Milne

This book examines the struggle against racial and cultural inequity in educational systems, presenting the case study of a New Zealand school and its community’s determination to resist alienating environments. If we look at an untouched child’s coloring book, for instance, we think of the pages as blank. But they’re not actually blank – each page is uniformly white, with lines established to dictate where color is allowed to go. Children by this are taught about the place of color and the importance of staying within pre-determined boundaries and expectations, reinforcing a system where the white background is considered the norm. To challenge such whitestreaming, this book offers the example of a community that defied and rejected this environment in favor of a culturally-located, bilingual learning model of education based on secure cultural identity, stable positive relationships, and aroha (authentic caring and love). This journey is juxtaposed against pervasive deficit-driven, whitestream explanations of inequity and purported «achievement gaps» of indigenous Māori and Pasifika students. This story chronicles the efforts of the Kia Aroha College community on its quest to step outside education’s «White spaces» to create a new space for learning and to reclaim educational sovereignty – where individuals have the absolute right to «be Māori,» to be who they are, in school.

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Chapter 2. Naming the White Spaces


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Naming the White spaces in our schools is important in progressing understanding of the realities for students of color. Fitzsimons and Smith (2000) explain the importance of naming from a Māori perspective:

Since naming the world is an exercise in power relations, interpretation by Māori is an exercise of power. For Māori … partnership in terms of the Treaty of Waitangi implies power sharing and involvement at all levels of policy development, application and evaluation (that is, to also reserve the right to determine what counts as success). The control of the evaluation and assessment factors to evaluate services for Māori is critical; it is a means for Māori to name their world. Naming is employed in the sense of using language to control conditions of existence through cultural definitions of the world. (p. 39)

Gillborn (2005) uses this quote from bell hooks (1989) to illustrate his gradual realisation of the role of education policy in the active structuring of racial inequity:

As I write, I try to remember when the word racism ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of black people and other people of color in this society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was white supremacy. (hooks, 1989, p. 112) ← 27 | 28 →

Gillborn (2005) points out that a critique of Whiteness is “not...

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