Acquiring Double Images: White Preservice Teachers Locating Themselves in a Raced World

Winter, 2011

Source: Harvard Educational Review, Volume 81, No. 4, Winter 2011, p. 687-709.
(Reviewed by the Portal team)

In this article, the authors focus on the White teacher education students in their development of what they call a double image.
A double image provides White people with insight into the images they project in cross-raced encounters, allowing them to anticipate the ways in which People of Color might perceive some of their behaviors, responses, and beliefs and to understand the emotions these might raise.
The authors believe that double image is an important aspect of developing a mature antiracist identity for Whites.

The authors draw on narrative data gathered over eight years of inquiry in a cross-cultural internship that was part of a partnership between Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, a predominantly African American church community, and an Early and Elementary Childhood Masters in Education (MEd) program at The Ohio State University (OSU).

The authors use these stories to investigate some of the common beliefs that White teacher education students bring to antiracist, cross-raced work and the way in which these beliefs interfere with the development of more mature double images and more sophisticated perceptions of race, racism, and race relations.
The authors situate these common challenges within pedagogical strategies they have found useful in supporting student growth.

Am I Supposed to Be Thinking and Feeling This Way?

The authors claim that many Whites are socialized into the belief that a color-blind ideology is the correct moral stance.
Therefore, the MEd students' ability to openly recognize race as a factor in relationships and to have conversations about these thoughts and feelings is limited, and teaching with them must address these issues directly.

Exploitation, Guilty Consciences, and Do-Gooders: Problematic White Identities

The authors argue that many White people who move into antiracist work believe they are doing something good or even altruistic and can be surprised when they find that their presence is considered suspect and/or unwanted.
It is important to talk with students about the problems arising in White involvement in predominantly Black communities so that they can interpret different reactions and not necessarily personalize them.
The authors discuss the way in which a history of White exploitation of Black communities - a history of appropriating culture, voyeuristic expeditions, and self-serving savioristic attempts to bolster ego or exorcise guilty consciences - makes it hard to trust that Whites will bring sincerity, genuineness, or integrity to cross-raced work.

Making concrete the many ways that Communities of Color have been marginalized by White-dominant institutions allows the students to understand some of the reasons why Whites are not always welcome in Black contexts.

It Is Not Fair to Judge Me Before You Know Me: I Am Not a Racist
Like many Whites, the MEd students often struggle with what they perceive as a universal belief that it is wrong to judge someone before getting to know them.
It is important that the MEd students consider the image they project when they make these claims in cross-raced contexts.

But That's Prejudiced!

After the MEd students have gotten used to the kind of discomfort they feel knowing that they may be seen or judged on the basis of Whiteness, they sometimes think they are finished developing their double image.
The vast majority of their experiences within Mt. Olivet have made them feel welcomed and valued.

The authors argue that whites with an immature double image will profess to understand the dynamics of race relations but be shocked and morally indignant when they are excluded, disliked, or mistrusted simply because they are White.
Hence, it is important that the MEd students understand the justifiable anger that this attitude might produce within communities that bear the scars of a history of legalized and ongoing prejudice and racism.

Why Are You So Angry?
Understanding the context in which pain and anger are experienced and expressed allows Whites to depersonalize them when they experience them in crossraced interactions.
Being able to consider the impact of racism over time on the Black community does not eliminate the discomfort White people experience in encounters where tension, mistrust, dislike, or anger are evident, but an interpretation contextualized within a history of overt racism and ongoing contemporary racism does help one move through such encounters and resist overpersonalizing them.

But That Is Not Racism: It Happens to Me Too
Many White people have been taught to explain these behaviors, policies, and experiences differently.
Furthermore, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a set of interactions as racist when one feels that he or she has experienced similar interactions as a White person.

However, continually denying the presence of racism is one of the more inflammatory practices on the part of Whites and one that will almost certainly project an image of ignorance or privilege and is a hallmark of an immature double image.


A mature double image allows White teachers to grow in their abilities to work across raced lines. The authors believe that acquiring a mature and productive double image is critical for all Whites, and especially for those who are committed to working across raced lines and toward antiracist commitments.

Updated: Aug. 20, 2013