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Indy Study: Background

One of the requirements of my student teaching program was to complete a Personal Inquiry Project, which combined research with observation of my classroom. I asked the question, “How Should I Approach Sensitive Multicultural Issues in a Homogeneous Environment?” I did my student teaching at a small public school in the richest town in Rhode Island that was over 95% white. For my purposes here, the key conclusions were:

  • Students must learn to see themselves as whites and understand the accompanying privilege
  • Students cannot just study “Others” but also must do extensive self reflection and analysis in terms of their own identity, therefore developing the ability to see their selves through different mirrors.
  • This cannot happen through doing “token” classes on current issues. This must be done repeatedly and it must be a foundation for the curriculum.
Research and personnel experience suggests that the racial identity of most white suburban students is either normative and/or invisible. That is, most white students do not identify as “white” in any meaningful way. They do not, for the most part, incorporate as part of their identity their whiteness or the extensive privilege that this whiteness carries (for further explanation, see Peggy McIntosh’s invaluable essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”). Because of this, most white people do not recognize that others see them and their whiteness is different ways.

It is my hypothesis that one curricular method for rectifying this problem is to use materials in this classroom that reveal the viewpoints of non-whites towards white people. Teaching these pieces to students would be like holding up new mirrors to students who are only used to looking at themselves in a very certain way as racial beings. As the study of perceptions of whites by non-whites has received scant scholarly attention, this independent study is an attempt to investigate sources of writing that reveal some of the attitudes and perceptions of white people by black people in the United States.

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