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Teaching and Race

How to Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk


Irene Murphy Lietz

Teaching and Race: How To Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk provides an in-depth interdisciplinary analysis of some common student talk about race, its flavor, character, rhetorical, sociological, psychological and educational development sources, and manageable tools for responding to students. The book recommends an accessible two-step, compassionate listening followed by critical challenges, to make the transformative connection between emotion and evidence. The book helps teachers embrace the moments of difficult conversation, confront student denial (as well as their own), and take advantage of the unique opportunity the classroom provides to advance the students’ anti-racist identity development. Teaching and Race narrates common, sometimes offensive, language in four student interviews that are tied to strong feelings of confusion, denial, guilt, resistance and more. The student interviews help college teachers name and analyze loaded racial discussion so that they can thoughtfully address it in the classroom, rather than feel their only choices are explosive confrontation, gloss-overs or redirection. The book empowers teachers to shift potentially confrontational race talk to open-minded race dialogues that ultimately defuse the shock, sting, alarm and confusion of race talk by well-intentioned but unpracticed voices. The book creates a compassionate but informed moment for teachers, preparing them to confidently raise a critical challenge to misinformation at the moment it arises, and providing a beginning response for the teacher.

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Chapter 1 How to Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk



In her incisive, insightful book, Rethinking Racism: Emotion, Persuasion, and Literacy in an All-White High School, Jennifer Trainor’s introduction to her argument forecasts the structure of this first chapter. Speaking of White student racism, she says it

… does not necessarily arise from a need or desire to protect White privilege, from ignorance of oppression, or from lack of exposure to difference. As long as the origins of racism are seen in these terms, curricular and pedagogical responses aimed at ameliorating racism—everything from multicultural exposure to difference to critical interrogations of Whiteness and privilege—will be ineffective … [R];emedying [student racism] requires attention to the private, idiosyncratic, associative meanings of race for students, to the institutional contexts of schooling that inadvertently provide emotional scaffolding for racist discourses, and to the relationship between these two as they come together in the classroom. (3–4)

Trainor, an associate professor of composition studies, lays out the three-part focus of her call for change and now mine: students, teachers, and the schools. As the student interviews in this book illustrate, students in our high school, college, and university classes across the disciplines are struggling to make sense of the racism that they have come to see on our campuses, in society, and in themselves. Until this encounter with new information and ←15 | 16→experience, they have been unaware of the White racial frame, to use sociologist Joe Feagin’s term,...

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