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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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10. Imaging Whiteness Hegemony in the Classroom: Undoing Oppressive Practice and Inspiring Social Justice Activism (Virginia Lea / Erma Jean Sims)

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Chapter 10

Imaging Whiteness Hegemony in the Classroom*

Undoing Oppressive Practice and Inspiring Social Justice Activism

Virginia Lea and Erma Jean Sims

Why is it so hard to undo the hegemony of whiteness? By the hegemony of whiteness we mean the economic, social, cultural, and symbolic practices by which white, upper middle-class people, who are mostly men, continue to hold, disproportionately to their actual numbers, the power and privilege in the dominant institutions in the United States, Europe, and the world (Lewis, 2003). Not only are these practices most obviously represented by racism, but whiteness also includes all of those practices and policies that interlock to maintain the existing socioeconomic, political, racial-ethnic, class, and gender hierarchy (Featherston & Ishibashi, 2004).

In comparing how racism is currently practiced in the United States as compared with before the civil rights era, Edward Bonilla-Silva (2006) writes,

Compared to Jim Crow racism, the ideology of color blindness seems like “racism lite.” Instead of relying on name calling (niggers, Spics, Chinks), color-blind racism otherizes softly (“these people are human, too”); instead of proclaiming God placed minorities in the world in a servile position, it suggests that they are behind because they do not work hard enough … Yet this new ideology has become a formidable political tool for the maintenance of the social order. Much as Jim Crow racism served as the glue for defending a brutal and overt system of racial oppression in...

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