Equality after Brown v. Board of Education
Whether we like it or not, culturally, biologically, and otherwise every
white person is a little bit Negro and every Negro is a little bit white.
Our language, our music, our material prosperity and even our food are
an amalgam of black and white.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
I do not believe my teacher education students are unusual in their
tendency to suture race to culture and then struggle to disentangle
On the brink of a terrifying and highly racialized world war in the late 1930s, activist anthropologists believed they could combat racism and fortify democracy by insisting on a more scientifically informed and reflexive way of thinking, speaking, and teaching about “racial” others in American classrooms. Working with teachers, anthropologists crafted an antiracist pedagogy that combined a study of the biological facts of human race with a social critique of American culture, a strategy that Ruth Benedict, among others, believed would illuminate structural inequalities of American society. In classrooms, teachers drew on decades of experience teaching about racial others in terms of cultural gifts to design antiprejudice lessons that tied racial identity to a cultural attribute, such as lessons on “Negro” literature, American Indian artwork, and Chinese food. Teachers believed that highlighting the positive attributes of racial minorities in terms of their distinctive culture would mitigate racial prejudice by whites and increase the self-esteem of nonwhites. In the process, teachers came to speak of racial minorities as cultural minorities.
This construction of race-as-culture, although directly influenced by anthropologists, did not embody the antiracist pedagogy designed by scholars like