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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 5 Elaine



The fear in Elaine’s eyes seemed to magnify their whites, yet there was a perpetual smile on her lips as she sat in the chair next to my desk in the privacy of my office. She clearly did not want to alienate me with her harsh words but she seemed oblivious to the presence of an African American administrative assistant sitting just outside the door. She seemed to feel driven to make her point; I wasn’t understanding her life experience. She conjured pictures of the idyllic farm and small-town high school within an hour of our urban institution. She laughed deprecatingly but also lovingly about “tractor day” just before prom when the boys wore their big buckled belts, jeans, and cowboy shirts while the girls rode at their sides, parading their fathers’ farm machinery around the school parking lot and into town. She wanted to know, what did any of this talk about racism have to do with the essays we were writing in our first-year composition class? Why couldn’t we all just get along and stop talking about race? It only made things worse between the “colored” people and the rest of us. She also told of the fear she felt on the city bus that she ←105 | 106→perceived as filled with Black people who regarded her and her boyfriend with fear and suspicion as she clutched his arm.

Where does this fear come from? How does it work? What could I understand...

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