Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Space, Place and the Problematic of Race: Black Adolescent Discourse as Mediated Action

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Space, Place and the Problematic of Race: Black Adolescent Discourse as Mediated Action

Article excerpt

This article examines Black adolescence and schooling within the conceptual framework of mediated action theory. It analyzes the discourses of six Black high school students that connect the concepts of "space," relating to the physical body, and "place," defining the arrangement of public institutions, to relations of domination and subjugation, or the political construction of "race." The article highlights the resources that mediate Black adolescent development, placing emphasis on those that underlie Black adolescent resistance to White supremacy. The article concludes by exploring implications for developing pedagogy that is considerate of youth members of subjugated cultures in United States society.

INTRODUCTION

Scholarly and popular conventions view race affirmation among Black adolescents and their academic achievement in public schools as conflicting, if not mutually exclusive, phenomena. On the one hand, the literature in the social and behavioral sciences is abundant with studies that link academic achievement among Black students to "acting White" (Fordham, 1988; Ogbu, 1992). On the other hand, the general public attitude in the United States in recent years has ranged from denial of to hostility toward the issue of race, especially as it relates to schooling. Nowhere is this more blatant than in California, the flashpoint of anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative action legislation. In that state, social and political dynamics that condemn working and unemployed low-income families to schools with inadequate services and that privilege middle- and high-income families with disproportionately greater resources underlie schooling inequalities. Furthermore, the consistent refusal of predominantly White electorates to pass tax levies and bond issues to support schools within their cities where youth whom Delpit (1995) has dubbed "other people's children" attend maintains these unequal power relations.

The parallels between public opinion and scholarship on race and schooling are not merely coincidental. Both scientific and literary scholarship contribute widely to the construction of public and private reality, and the relationship is neither one-way nor mechanical. Rather, it is an extremely complex one in which "legitimate" knowledge is held as such partly because it tends to resonate with the deeply held beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions of the wider, dominant culture about the character and nature of United States society. These beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions shape and constrain-and indeed, are shaped and constrained by-considerations of what it means to be human and what it is to know something-the same considerations that inform research and scholarship.

This article is an effort to press these constraints by approaching race and schooling from the perspectives of Black adolescents who elude conflicts in school that lead to their rejection of or from schools and who eschew racelessness as a strategy for academic achievement. Specifically, it examines the views of Black high school students who connect the concepts of "space," relating to the physical body, and "place," defining the arrangement of public institutions, to relations of domination and subjugation, or the political construction of "race." In other words, this article describes and analyzes the capacity of Black adolescents to name and resist racism, both as a conceptual force that circumscribes how they perceive reality and as a material force that constrains their conduct in the social and physical world.

The larger project from which the data in this study derive began as an attempt to develop theory to account for the presence of race-affirming, academically achieving Black adolescents that I had met and befriended over a 12-year period both as a public school teacher and as a teacher educator in southern California. These experiences indicated to me that there were gaps in the literature on African American youth that portrayed successful students as downplaying the significance of race and students for whom race is salient as underachievers. …

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