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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 4 Roberta



Critical compositionists have long struggled with the difficult dance between challenging students to growth and learning and scaring them into retreat, even resistance, to their curriculum. This delicate balance is particularly true when the curriculum involves themes related to identity-threatening issues such as race and racism, particularly for White students who, as mentioned earlier, may feel threatened, guilty, or in denial (Tatum 106). As the pedagogy has matured, critique and discussion of its goals and strategies has shifted from defense against charges of politics in the classroom (Hairston 698) and willful ignorance of students’ pragmatic goals (Durst 111) to closer study of aspects of critical pedagogy in rhetoric. Key among these are feminist rhetorician Krista Ratcliffe’s seminal analysis that essentially asks what resistance looks like in the classroom, generating a list of eight kinds of resistances that, she argued, students could learn to recognize in their responses so that they could get past them (138–139). A little later, Jennifer Seibol Trainor’s composition study provided rich description of predominantly White suburban high school students resisting critical pedagogy to challenge the field to consider the role of ←83 | 84→their “emotioned” attachment to and investment in color-blindness and other aspects of the citizenship curriculum that is the cultural norm. Trainor uses the term “emotioned” to describe beliefs “that are not necessarily about race, per se …” but are persuasive to students and people in general because of their integration in “routines and culture of schooling”; these beliefs are not...

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