Let's Talk about Race, Baby: How a White Professor Teaches White Students about White Privilege & Racism

By Heinze, Peter | Multicultural Education, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview
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Let's Talk about Race, Baby: How a White Professor Teaches White Students about White Privilege & Racism


Heinze, Peter, Multicultural Education


Accounts of teaching themes of White privilege and racism to college students have been presented by Tatum (1992, 1994), Gillespie, Ashbaugh and DeFiore (2002), and Rich and Cargile (2004). Tatum described her experience as an African-American woman teaching both White students and students of color, albeit in predominantly White settings, illustrating their growing awareness of racism. Tatum framed this change in students' self-awareness within Helms' (1993) model of racial identity development. Gillespie, et al. depicted being White women teaching a class comprised predominantly of White, middle-class women, noting that the suburban college setting allowed for a particular focus on the resistance to these topics that is typically encountered when teaching White students. The authors utilized a four phase model which resulted in "a set of more purposeful strategies for teaching about Whiteness and privilege" (p. 239). Rich and Cargile used "social drama" (Turner, as cited in Rich & Cargile, 2004) as a powerful mechanism for learning. However, this learning was also made possible with a diverse classroom in which over half the class was comprised of students of color.

Similar to Tatum (1994) and Gillespie, et al. (2002), I have taught classes primarily comprised of White, middle-class women in a suburban college setting. However, some differences do exist. First, I am a White, heterosexual male, so my own history, personal experience, and the way in which I am experienced by others is different from that of both Tatum and Gillespie, et al. Second, I present themes of White privilege and racism within the context of teaching a multicultural psychology course, emphasizing that students must first learn that there is such a thing as White culture which influences their understanding of other cultures (Katz, 1999; Hitchcock, 2002). Third, having been trained as a clinical psychologist, a number of the teaching methods I use differ from those detailed by some authors, although there is an appreciation of Helms' racial identity model which Tatum (1992), also a clinical psychologist, endorses.

Finally, being psychoanalytically oriented, I interpret certain dynamics within the classroom from this perspective, with a particular focus on unconscious processes on both the individual and group level. This article will present the teaching methods I employ, addressing a number of the aforementioned factors, with the hope that these are additional tools which can be utilized in this critically important field of White privilege and anti-racism pedagogy.

Racism as a Continuum

Prior to discussing my approach to teaching about White privilege and racism, it is worthwhile to address how I conceptualize the way in which White people learn about their racial identity. As mentioned, Tatum (1992, 1994) depicts how Helms' (1993) model of racial identity frames the progression of her students' level of racial awareness, ranging from obliviousness to racism (Contact stage) to reduced guilt, an awareness of one's role in perpetuating racism and a desire to abandon entitlement (Autonomy stage). Similarly, Hitchcock (2002) applies Helms' model to his own experience as a White male, describing his gradual progression from lower to higher stages of racial awareness. In contrast, Rich & Cargile's (2004) discussion of the transformation of racial awareness that occurs among students suggests that it is not as linear as Helms' model would suggest, but rather a "sometimes confused and ongoing change that continually affects." (p. 362) This latter conceptualization suggests that one might waver in their sense of racial awareness, shifting from enlightenment at one moment then back to denial, the next.

Regardless of whether one accepts a paradigm of racial awareness that's linear (such as Helms' stage model) or one which is fluid, both suggest a sense of gradual change that is not immediate. Amenable to both perspectives is the idea that a White person's level of racism is best depicted as sitting somewhere along a continuum.

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Let's Talk about Race, Baby: How a White Professor Teaches White Students about White Privilege & Racism
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