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Critical Multicultural Perspectives on Whiteness

Views from the Past and Present

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Edited By Virginia Lea, Darren E. Lund and Paul R. Carr

Whiteness is a narrative. It is the privileged dimension of the complex story of "race" that was, and continues to be, seminal in shaping the socio-economic structure and cultural climate of the United States and other Western nations. Without acknowledging this story, it is impossible to understand fully the current political and social contexts in which we live. Critical Multicultural Perspectives on Whiteness explores multiple analyses of whiteness, drawing on both past and current key sources to tell the story in a more comprehensive way. This book features both iconic essays that address the social construction of whiteness and critical resistance as well as excellent new critical perspectives.

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8. Deconstructing Whiteness: Discovering the Water (Kelly E. Maxwell)

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Chapter 8

Deconstructing Whiteness*

Discovering the Water

Kelly E. Maxwell

“The fish would be the last creature to discover water.” This quote by Clyde Kluckhohn in Frederick Erickson’s (1986) chapter on qualitative research methods is a metaphor that continues to resonate with me. Erickson is making reference to qualitative research as a vehicle for understanding the meaning in a particular situation. But it is also an appropriate metaphor for whiteness.

A colleague of mine, a longtime educator and professor once referenced this metaphor in relation to her students. She said that the goal of her classes is for “[students to] begin to see what this water looks like, they’re the fish. You don’t know that you’re in this particular water, and I make them examine the water that they’re in.” The water is whiteness. It is all around yet is elusive. It is only when my colleague begins challenging her students to think about “the water” that they are pulled out of it and given the opportunity to look at it differently. While acknowledging that some will be confused, some will actively resist, and others will embrace this new challenge, this has become my classroom task as well.

However, it has taken time for me to get to this place. When I was twenty years old, I was “in the water.” Like many of my white students, I could not have described what it means to be white...

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