Cultivating Racial Literacy in White, Segregated Settings: Emotions as Site of Ethical Engagement and Inquiry

Jun. 10, 2010

Source: Curriculum Inquiry, Volume 40, Issue 3, pages 475–491, (June 2010).

Drawing on writing from a first-year composition class, this paper examines how White students approach racial literacy in a segregated, rural college setting in the United States.

The author argues for the importance of understanding how emotions inform and propel students' responses to what the author believes needs to be understood as the ethical challenge of racial literacy.

White students who defended a color-blind stance of ethical judgment seemed to accept the emotional schooling, the accompanying beliefs, and innocent identities linked to their home communities. In contrast, other White students, adopting a stance of ethical awareness, engaged critically with their emotions so that emotions functioned as a site of ethical inquiry.
Rather than defending a stable innocent identity, they began to interrogate an implicated, unstable, racialized identity within the context of their relationships with other Whites.

In contrast to research that understands White students' emotions primarily as a manifestation of resistance, the author’s approach uses critical emotion studies to consider how emotions might function as a site of engagement and possibility. The author concludes that we should develop a critical vocabulary for analyzing emotions in our classrooms and that we need to develop new strategies for addressing the embodied nature of emotion and belief.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2010