Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education

By Vanessa Sheared; Peggy A. Sissel et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Talking about Whiteness: “Adult Learning Principles” and the Invisible Norm

Sue Shore

I am waiting for them to stop talking about the Other, to stop even describing how important it is to be able to speak about difference…. Often their speech about the Other is a mask, an oppressive talk hiding gaps, absences, that space where our words would be if we were speaking. Often this speech about the Other annihilates, erases: No need to hear your voice when we can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority, I am still the coloniser, the speaking subject, and you are now at the centre of my talk, Stop.

—bell hooks (1990), 151–152


INTRODUCTION

It is well-known that adult education programs operate in the teeth of a system for whom racism and sexism are primary, established, necessary props of profit (Audre Lorde, cited in Thompson 1983, 133). 1 In this chapter, rather than explicate the effects of this system on the Other, I examine how the notion of Whiteness 2 is central to, and embedded in, the discursive and material practices of this system. Yet talking about Whiteness is risky business, theoretically, politically, and practically. It runs the risk of reifying and privileging the (White) self at the very same time when social theorizing promotes understandings of identity as complex, historical, contingent, and located. It also runs the risk of maintaining a hold on that public space where other stories could be (hooks, 1990). However, I think explicit discussions of Whiteness are necessary to foreground the paradoxes of Whiteness described as everything and nothing, literally

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