University of Utah
Office: 308C MBH
Office Hours:
Tu 12:00-4:30, W 2:00-4:00
and by appt. 587-7814

Whiteness in Cross-Race Classroom Relationships

Audrey Thompson
ECS 6628-001
meets W 4:35-7:35 p.m.
in 229 OSH
Spring 2008
mailbox in 307 MBH
voicemail: 587-7803


The difficulties of cross-race relationships between people of color and white people have received a great deal of attention in educational research and other work, but little attention has been paid to how whiteness organizes cross-race relationships between people of color. Most discussions, moreover, focus on teacher-student relationships and not student-student (let alone teacher-teacher) relationships. Often, we ignore student-student relationships altogether on the assumption that such relationships are not the teacher’s business. Yet we know that classroom relationships are vital to the classroom experience. This course examines the ways in which whiteness shapes all the relationships in a classroom, including black-brown/brown-black, white-white, brown-brown, and black-black, as well as white-black/brown relationships.

Because there is little literature that speaks directly to this topic, and no one has any “answers” that go beyond cultural sensitivity, the focus of this course is not on moving inexorably to some reliable set of cross-race classroom principles but rather on studying the context in which cross-race relationships must be understood. The focus of the course, therefore, is on studying phenomenological cross-race and intra-race patterns and asking questions about whiteness as an organizing structure. The course will seek to unsettle familiar ideas about the relational qualities that count as organic, comfortable, natural, or appropriate in the classroom. Much but not all of the course will focus on white students in relation with students of color.

For many well-meaning whites, what is hardest to call into question in our relationships with people of color is our sense of what it means to be a good white person. Our views of virtue and justice, our sense of what it means to be fair, to be a good person, to listen, and to make sense, are all bound up with our sense of integrity — but also with our investments in whiteness. Ironically, therefore, what many whites assume to be an unproblematic and universal moral stance may itself present an obstacle to cross-race relations. Addressing some of the political and personal issues that are at stake in anti-racist cross-race relationships — whether between friends, fellow students, colleagues, teachers and parents, fellow members of a faith, relatives, neighbors, fellow activists, or fellow citizens — this course considers the limitations and possibilities of some of the ways of listening and responding that whites learn in different social settings.

In order to understand the possibilities and limitations of cross-race relationships, we need to be aware of the asymmetry in the situations of whites and people of color. Accordingly, in addition to drawing on materials specifically addressed to listening and responding in cross-race relations, this course draws on research regarding the differing material and discursive situations of people of color and whites. A central theoretical framework in the course will be whiteness theory, which is intended to make white cultural and political assumptions and privileges visible so that whites do not assume that their own position is neutral or normal. Although in many ways consistent with the aims of multicultural theory, whiteness theory is also distinct from mainstream multiculturalism. Mainstream multicultural theory usually seeks to foster an appreciation of cultures other than the dominant culture; in its more radical forms, multiculturalism also involves problematizing the assumptions of the dominant culture. But because such approaches are primarily concerned with developing a more pluralistic approach to understanding non-dominant cultures, they usually do not concentrate on how white power operates to foster and maintain white privilege. Whiteness theory focuses specifically on whiteness as a political and cultural position — a position and an identity that, to a considerable extent, are gained at the expense of people of color.

In a racist society, all relations are organized by the dominant racial hierarchy, and no one is innocent of racial assumptions or investments (although people will be very differently affected). Because whiteness is symbolic rather than literal, it need not be a property of a relation to organize the relation. Some of the hardest questions that need to be asked, therefore, include how whiteness organizes relations that might not literally include whites (for example, relations between Mexican Americans and Cuban Americans, or relations between African Americans and Asian Americans). This course does not claim to offer definitive answers, but it does try to ask the hard questions.


The class will meet once a week, each time discussing the readings on the syllabus. To participate actively in class, it is essential that you read carefully, prepare questions, and jot down any issues you wish to discuss. I will make short presentations to provide necessary background information. My primary role, however, will be to ask questions, clarify points raised in our discussions, and summarize the important issues that we discuss.


Course Requirements

In addition to the assigned reading, regular attendance, and participation grounded in the readings, course requirements include several journal entries (2-3 pages each), one midterm project/paper (8-10 pages), and a longer final paper (10-12 pages). There is no final exam.

Participation and attendance: 15% of grade
Journals: 15% of grade
Oral presentation: 5% of grade
Project/paper: 30% of grade
Final paper: 35% of grade

You are asked to prepare four journal assignments of approximately two pages each, to be completed in advance of the assigned class periods. In taking up the assigned questions, your journal entries do not need to include every reading for that class session, but they should grapple with and be importantly informed by at least one of the readings. The journal entries should not be primarily expository but should serve as a response to the reading(s) in light of the assigned question. The journal entries should be typed (double-spaced) and are to be turned in for comments. Make your journal entries as useful as possible: be specific about your ideas and questions (and about the readings) so that if you draw upon them for the final paper, for example, you will find them interesting and helpful. The entries do not have to be highly crafted, but they should not be sloppy. Use complete sentences, proofread your entries, and write in language that is vivid and specific enough to invite further exploration.

The midterm project/paper will require independent research on your part. This project (borrowed from Dr. Rebecca Aanerud of the University of Washington), entitled “The Politics of Place,” involves examining the racial/ethnic context of one of your childhood homes by studying census data, maps, newspaper archives, and books or articles. (You will choose a particular time period on which to focus — it could be during the time of your childhood, earlier, or later.) Katherine Holvoet, a librarian at the Marriott Library, will be helping our class with the project. (See handouts on grading criteria and resources.) The paper is to be 8-10 pages long and may be primarily descriptive. You also will be asked to give a preliminary oral report on your project.

The final paper is to be 10-12 pages long and should 1) provide an analysis of cross-race relationships in a particular setting, using whiteness theory as a lens or 2) provide an analysis regarding some aspect of how cross-race relationships in particular institutions are framed asymmetrically. It should be distinctively a paper for this course, not a paper from another course that you have tweaked or padded with references to the course readings. The final paper must be centrally informed by the course readings, lectures, and discussions.

 Clarifications, Cautions, and Ground Rules

This course will ask you to look at how whiteness and cross-race asymmetries affect various relationships and situations. Whiteness has an enormous organizing effect on other forms of power and privilege. Accordingly, we will be talking about how race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and other positionalities interlock to create, maintain, and support white privilege. You will be asked to look at the nuances of relationships, at various privileging mechanisms, and at specific racialized patterns; it will not be enough to talk about privilege in sweeping or absolute terms. Thus, we will not be ranking the various kinds of privilege and oppression but will be talking about white privilege in context. (If you are homeless, it is not much consolation if you are a member of the elite category of straight white males. Yet your whiteness might be relevant to the chances of your avoiding arrest, for example.) We will be looking at ways to problematize and interrupt privilege and ways to reconsider listening and responsiveness in asymmetrical relations.

Whiteness theory does not address whiteness as a question of racial guilt or innocence based on skin color but as a system of dominance and privilege that is maintained discursively, institutionally, and materially (as well as in other ways). What this means is that all of us are likely to participate in maintaining the codes of whiteness in various ways. Even challenging others to be anti-racist, depending on how it’s done, can be a way of “proving” our own superiority and thus suggesting (for example) that we (those of us who are white and progressive) are “good whites.” Be prepared to rethink some of the values and practices you think of as anti-racist.

For many whites, whiteness as privilege is a new idea and it is difficult to avoid being defensive. If you are new to the idea of white privilege, try to monitor your defensiveness about whiteness; on the other hand, if you are comfortable with talk about race privilege, remember how complex a process the development of that awareness is and how problematic your or anyone’s current understanding is likely to be. Also remember that no one in academia, regardless of color, escapes whiteness altogether: many of the values and privileges of whiteness are built into academic discourse. If you have made it this far, you are participating in some of the privileges of whiteness, even if you are a person of color.

I will be asking everyone to think like educators: if you feel that you have a better or different understanding of particular materials than do others in the class, see if you can make that understanding available to others without lecturing them. If you feel threatened by particular people in the class, think about how to address them so as to get past the impasse: how can you teach them how you would like to learn from them? Thinking as educators means attending to the conditions of learning as well as to whether everyone is learning. This doesn’t mean that no one can ever get angry or that everyone should always be “nice,” but it does mean showing respect.

Regardless of your situation, it is likely that you will at times find yourself uncomfortable with the arguments and analyses you encounter in a course such as this, and in some cases you may find the theories intimidating. Not only are such experiences unavoidable but they are desirable insofar as they are part of unsettling what we think we know about ourselves and others. It takes time and study to move beyond anxious discomfort. While the course will not attempt to eliminate discomfort, it will try to make your discomfort interesting.

Schedule of Class Topics and Reading

Wed. 9 January                                                        Introduction: Race Relationships

Wed. 16 Jan.                                                             “Inclusion” and Self-Segregation

Group activity: Guidelines for Cross-Race Relationships in the Classroom worksheet

Wed. 23 Jan.                                                             Languages of Race

Journal assignment: How do you think you have learned to code issues of race? In what contexts have you done so or been expected to do so, and what do you think was at stake?

Wed. 30 Jan.                                                               Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict

Wed. 6 Feb.                                                                 Race and Place

Electronic handout summarizing whiteness theory frameworks.

Wed. 13 Feb.                                                                 Storying Race

Journal assignment: What stories about race (including your own) were told in the place you remember best from your childhood? Why do you think that you remember these particular stories (since presumably there are some you do not remember or did not understand)?

Wed. 20 Feb.                                                                 Oppression, Privilege, and Back-up for White Agency

Wed. 27 Feb                                                                 Home Race Relations

Each student is to have completed basic research for the midterm project by this date, and to have prepared a 5-7 minute oral report for today’s class.

Recommended Reading:

Project/papers due Monday 3 March

Wed. 5 March                                                             Schooled in Whiteness, Policing Authenticity

Wed. 12 March                                                             Innocence as Etiquette

Journal assignment: Analyze a situation in which you have found yourself participating in the “race to innocence.”

Wed. 19 March                                                             Spring Break: No Class

Wed. 26 March                                                             Listening across Race and Culture

Wed. 2 April                                                                 Cross-Race and Intra-Race Work

Wed. 9 April                                                                 Cross-Race Relationships
Guest Speaker: Dr. David Quijada

Wed. 16 April                                                             Changing Cross-Race Relationships in the Classroom

Journal assignment: Describe one specific and practical change you have made to your approach to cross-race relationships either as a student or in teaching. What did you assume in making this change, and what do you think have been the results?

Wed. 23 April                                                             Forming Alliances

Wed. 30 April                                                             No class; final papers due by 4:30 p.m.

Course Bibliography

Alison Bailey, “Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye’s ‘Oppression’,” Journal of Social Philosophy 29, no. 3 (Winter 1998): 104-19.

Ann Berlak and Sekani Moyenda, Taking It Personally: Racism in the Classroom from Kindergarten to College (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Tyrone A. Forman, “‘I’ m Not a Racist but . . . ’: Mapping White College Students’ Racial Ideology in the U.S.A.,” Discourse and Society 11, no. 1 (January 2000): 50-85.

Sterling A. Brown, “Count Us In,” in What the Negro Wants, ed. Rayford W. Logan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944), 308-44.

Lorna Dee Cervantes, “Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person, Could Believe in the War between the Races,” in Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color, ed. Gloria Anzaldúa (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990), 4-5.

Virginia Chalmers, “White Out: Multicultural Performances in a Progressive School,” in Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society, ed. Michelle Fine, Lois Weis, Linda C. Powell, and L. Mun Wong (New York: Routledge, 1997), 66-78.

Catherine Clinton, “Sex and the Sectional Conflict,” in Taking off the White Gloves: Southern Women and Women Historians, ed. Michele Gillespie and Catherine Clinton (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 43-63.

Jody Cohen, “Constructing Race at an Urban High School: In Their Minds, Their Mouths, Their Hearts,” in Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools, ed. Lois Weis and Michelle Fine (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 289-308.

Ralph Cooley, “Spokes in a Wheel: A Linguistic and Rhetorical Analysis of Native American Public Discourse,” in Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (Berkeley, CA: The Berkeley Linguistics Society, 1979): 552-57.

Mary Louise Fellows and Sherene Razack, “The Race to Innocence: Confronting Hierarchical Relations among Women,” Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 1, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 335-52.

Stephen M. Fishman and Lucille McCarthy, “Talk about Race: When Student Stories and Multicultural Curricula Are Not Enough,” Race Ethnicity and Education 8, no. 4 (December 2005): 347-64.

Michèle Foster, Jeffrey Lewis, and Laura Onafowora, “Grooming Great Urban Teachers,” Educational Leadership 62, no. 6 (March 2005): 28-32.

David M. P. Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1983), 1-16.

Jackie Huggins and bell hooks, “Are All the Women White?” in Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian Jackie Huggins, by Jackie Huggins (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1998), 58-70.

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, “Jews, Class, Color, and the Cost of Whiteness,” in The Issue Is Power: Essays on Women, Jews, Violence and Resistance (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1992), 139-49.

AnnLouise Keating, “Interrogating ‘Whiteness,’ (De)Constructing ’Race,’” College English 57, no. 8 (December 1995): 901-18.

AnaLouise Keating, “Reading ‘Whiteness,’ Unreading ‘Race’: (De)Racialized Reading Tactics in the Classroom,” in Reading Sites: Social Difference and Reader Response, ed. Patrocinio P. Schweickart and Elizabeth A. Flynn (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2004), 314-43.

Noel Jacob Kent, “The New Campus Racism: What’s Going on?” Thought and Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal 12, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 45-57.

Thomas Kochman, “Classroom Modalities,” in Black and Whites Styles in Conflict (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 16-42.

Lee Maracle, “Ramparts Hanging in the Air,” in Telling It: Women and Language across Cultures, ed. Sky Lee, Lee Maracle, Daphne Marlatt, and Betsy Warland (Vancouver: Press Gang, 1990), 161-72.

Ana M. Martínez Alemán, “Race Talks: Undergraduate Women of Color and Female Friendships,” The Review of Higher Education 23, no. 2 (Winter 2000): 133-52.

Cris Mayo, “Certain Privilege: Rethinking White Agency,” in Philosophy of Education 2004, ed. Chris Higgins (Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society, 2005), 308-16.

Sarah Michaels, “‘Sharing Time’: Children’s Narrative Styles and Differential Access to Literacy,” Language in Society 10, no. 3 (December 1981): 423-42.

Dreama Moon, “White Enculturation and Bourgeois Ideology: The Discursive Production of ‘Good (White) Girls’,” in Whiteness: The Communication of Social Identity, ed. Thomas K. Nakayama and Judith N. Martin (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pub., 1999), 177-97.

Toni Morrison, “Recitatif,” in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, ed. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Amina Baraka (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1983), 243-61.

Uma Narayan, “Working together across Differences: Some Considerations on Emotions and Political Practice,” Hypatia 3, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 31-47.

Jennifer E. Obidah and Karen Manheim Teel, Because of the Kids: Facing Racial and Cultural Differences in Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 2001).

Retha Powers, “Overhand and Underhand,” in Skin Deep: Black Women and White Women Write about Race, ed. Marita Golden and Susan Richards Shreve (New York: Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, 1995), 47-59.

Adrienne Rich, “Notes toward a Politics of Location,” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986), 210-31. [orig.1984]

Greg Sarris, “Storytelling in the Classroom: Crossing Vexed Chasms,” in Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 149-68.

Barbara Schneider, “Uncommon Ground: Narcissistic Reading and Material Racism,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 5, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 195-212.

Ofelia Schutte, “Cultural Alterity: Cross-Cultural Communication and Feminist Theory in North-South Contexts,” Hypatia 13, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 53-72.

Shizue Seigel, “Helen Ely (Brill): ’They’re Going up to a Place Called Manzanar, and I Want to Go with Them,’” in In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans during the Internment (San Mateo, CA: AACP. 2006), 93-108.

Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton, Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006).

Lillian Smith, “Addressed to White Liberals,” The New Republic 111, no. 12 (Monday, September 18, 1944): 331-33.

Lillian Smith, “The Winner Names the Age,” in The Winner Names the Age, ed. Michelle Cliff (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978), 111-20. [Commencement address at Atlanta University, June 3, 1957]

Sharon Stockton, “‘Blacks vs. Browns’: Questioning the White Ground,” College English 57, no. 2 (February 1995): 166-81.

Audrey Thompson, “White Alibis in Academe,” invited address for Teachers College, Columbia University (New York:  October, 2007).

Cooper Thompson, Emmett Schaefer, and Harry Brod, “Chip Berlet,” in White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 90-98.

Cooper Thompson, Emmett Schaefer, and Harry Brod, “Rick Whaley,” in White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 280-88.

Edén E. Torres, “The Virtues of Conflict: Challenging Dominant Culture and White Feminist Theory,” in Chicana without Apology/Chicana sin vergüenza: The New Chicana Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 2003), 129-44.

Yoshiko Uchida, Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).

Lynet Uttal, “Nods that Silence,” in Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color, ed. Gloria Anzaldúa (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990), 317-20.

Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

Merle Woo, “Letter to Ma,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1981/1983), 140-47.

Count by Muhammad Muquit

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