Understanding the "New" Racism through an Urban Charter School

By Hatt-Echeverria, Beth; Jo, Ji-Yeon | Educational Foundations, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Understanding the "New" Racism through an Urban Charter School


Hatt-Echeverria, Beth, Jo, Ji-Yeon, Educational Foundations


"There is a charming story by Dr. Seuss ... In a society of beings called sneetches, there were plain and star-bellied sneetches. The star-bellied sneetches were the 'best' and dominated the plain-bellied folks. Recognizing the injustice of the situation, the oppressed sneetches decided to paint stars on their own bellies. Now there was equality! But not for long. The original star-bellied sneetches had their stars painfully removed and claimed, of course, that plain bellies were now marks of superiority. Power structures do not crumble easily." (Noddings, 1992, p. 32)

Introduction

Lipsitz (1995) states, "Even though there has always been racism in American history, it has not always been the same racism. Political and cultural struggles over power shape the contours and dimensions of racism in any era" (p. 371). The "contours and dimensions of racism" change as if dancing with civil rights to ensure that White privilege remains the lead dancer. As legislation and policies occur to provide opportunities for people of color, Whiteness shifts to make certain White privilege remains dominant. Giroux (1999) claims that the new shape of racism is a White, conservative backlash to racial minority rights and changing demographics of U.S. cities such as increases in the U.S. Latino population. Giroux (1999) states:

   As race became paramount in shaping U.S. politics and everyday life
   from the 1980's on, racial prejudice in its overt forms was
   considered a taboo. While the old racism maintained some cachet
   among the more vulgar, right-wing conservatives, a new racist
   discourse emerged in the United States. The new racism was coded in
   the language of 'welfare reform,' 'neighborhood schools,'
   'toughness on crime,' and 'illegitimate births.' Cleverly designed
   to mobilize White fears while relieving Whites of any semblance of
   social responsibility and commitment, the new racism served to
   rewrite the politics of Whiteness as a 'besieged' racial identity.
   (p. 286)

One of the ways that racism transforms and shifts to maintain White privilege is through the (re)defining of Whiteness as what is "moral" and "normal" in such a way that Whites, especially the upper middle class, benefit.

The purpose of this paper is to deconstruct the new racist discourse within an urban charter school. We especially want to focus upon how the new racist discourse as according above to Giroux (1999) relieves Whites, "of any semblance of social responsibility and commitment." As multiculturalism and political correctness are being taught and encouraged in our society to work against inequality, they are simultaneously being used by some Whites, particularly the middle and upper classes, to separate themselves from the "bad" Whites, whom are largely framed as the working-class and poor. As a result, a White liberal rhetoric has been developed that talks about "diversity" and "democracy" but does not address power and current racial inequities. Consequently, racism becomes defined as an individual act rather than being attributed to institutional policies and structural issues of privilege in our society. Whites who adopt a pseudo-liberal rhetoric of promoting diversity without pushing for the change of institutional or structural issues then define themselves as "innocent" and absolved of their participation in reproducing racial inequities. For example, often racist attitudes and behaviors get attributed to ignorance, which implies that the people did not really know any better. On the contrary, Whites do know about racism in society and are often choosing carelessly to reproduce it rather than work against it (Groves, 2002; Otto, 2002). By claiming ignorance and/or innocence, White ways of being in the world, values, and beliefs are left unquestioned and without critique.

Our data arises from fieldwork we (the authors) conducted at Eagles Landing Charter School as members of separate evaluation teams and during different, but consecutive, years.

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