Reading, Writing, and the Rhetorics of Whiteness

Reading, Writing, and the Rhetorics of Whiteness

Reading, Writing, and the Rhetorics of Whiteness

Reading, Writing, and the Rhetorics of Whiteness

Synopsis

In this volume, Ryden and Marshall bring together the field of composition and rhetoric with critical whiteness studies to show that in our "post race" era whiteness and racism not only survive but actually thrive in higher education. As they examine the effects of racism on contemporary literacy practices and the rhetoric by which white privilege maintains and reproduces itself, Ryden and Marshall consider topics ranging from the emotional investment in whiteness to the role of personal narrative in reconstituting racist identities to critiques of the foundational premises of writing programs steeped in repudiation of despised discourses. Marshall and Ryden alternate chapters to sustain a multi-layered dialogue that traces the rhetorical complexities and contradictions of teaching English and writing in a university setting. Their lived experiences as faculty and administrators serve to underscore the complex code of whiteness even as they push to decode it and demonstrate how their own pedagogical practices are raced and racialized in multiple ways. Collectively, the essays ask instructors and administrators to consider more carefully the pernicious nature of whiteness in their professional activities and how it informs our practices.

Excerpt

In his examination of impoverished urban schools in Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Jonathan Kozol sadly concludes, with respect to integration, that he “cannot discern the slightest hint that any vestige of the legal victory embodied in Brown vs. Board of Education or the moral mandate that a generation of unselfish activists and young idealists lived and sometimes died for has survived within these schools and neighborhoods. I simply never see white children” (10). Kozol cites statistics for urban schools showing upwards of eighty percent of the student population as black or Hispanic with the poorest areas showing well into the upper ninetieth percentiles. Indeed, he tells of a Bronx high school population where “a mere five tenths of 1 percent were white” and anecdotally includes a South Bronx teacher’s testimony as she muses over the presence of a white student in her class: “I’ve been at this school for 18 years…. This is the first white student I have ever taught” (9).

Kozol’s description of urban public schools squares with Matthew Bettinger’s claim that in New Jersey half of all minority students attend schools where they are the majority. This bleak portrait of de facto segregation conflicts starkly with America’s ostensible disavowal of the last century’s Jim Crow racism (Bonilla-Silva 25). With the exception of white supremacists, most white-identified Americans when pressed in a public way will say they are not racist, so successful has Civil Rights rhetoric and multiculturalism been in influencing the shape of the American discourse on race. In the classrooms of those of us still old-fashioned and impolitic enough to bring up the issue, we frequently encounter this profession of antiracism from students resistant to such discussions as they impatiently parrot mainstream color-blind rhetoric about racism’s demise or irrelevance. But what do we make of this seeming contradiction between people’s expressed ideology and the material reality? How can the early twenty-first century boast more segregated demographics than a pre-Civil Rights era of legalized segregation? And how can so many (white) people assert, with a straight face, that racism and discrimination are things of the past?

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