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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 6 Madeline



Madeline could talk an arm off the Venus de Milo. A student who identified as Middle Eastern but appeared White, due to her Irish heritage, she loved the opportunity to “finally” talk about race, racism, and White privilege in America, particularly in our city and our university. Her experience had been, as women’s studies professor Patti Duncan describes, full of racist insults of students of color, including “invisibility, erasure, stereotyping, violence, economic disenfranchisement, and other forms of racism and oppression” (45). Madeline heard peers reject with disbelief and repugnance what she experienced and passionately believed. Teachers mocked her political stances as naive and biased toward people of color and limited her time to talk in class. It seemed everyone at school and in Pittsburgh lived in a different world that didn’t see or “get” what she thought was obvious, common sense; she was out of place, out of sync, and alone, and no one would listen to her protest about this situation. She found herself, as Duncan describes, generally “misrepresented or completely excluded from the curriculum,” with “few people like themselves … [as] role models, mentors, and even friends with whom to share common experiences, often resulting in a profound sense of isolation” (45). As a result, she loved the platform our class on racism and writing provided and was nearly giddy to talk to me about it.

As the only student of color in this project and one of few in the class itself, Madeline’s...

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