On the Meaning and Necessity of a White-Anti-racist Identity


On the Meaning and Necessity of a White-Anti-racist Identity


Excerpts from the article:

In this essay we argue not only that a positive, white anti-racist identity is possible, but also that it is fundamental to the success of any social justice
educational initiative. Central to our analysis is a discussion of the perspective of the Deconstructionists (also referred to as New Abolitionists). These theorists, who call for the abolition of white identity, conflate “whiteness” as a system of dominance and oppression with “whiteness” as an individual identity. On the basis of this conceptualization, they conclude that the eradication of white dominance requires the deconstruction of white identity. This conceptual flaw compromises the feasibility of the proposals generated for anti-racist education from within this framework and ignores important questions of agency. Nevertheless, we contend that the Deconstructionists’ position offers tremendous educational insights. When whiteness as a system of dominance is theoretically distinguished from whiteness as white identity, the complex relationship between these two concepts is illuminated and the positive educational implications of some of the Deconstructionists’ recommendations are brought to light. ...

In this essay, we have attempted to show that when whiteness as a system of dominance is theoretically separated from whiteness as white identity, important questions about agency and racial identity are clarified and the constructive educational insights offered by the Deconstructionists become known. Only when whiteness and white identity are clearly distinguished so that the complex relationship between them is exposed can we appreciate what white, anti-racists can do and the role that a positive white identity plays in overthrowing white hegemony.
Moreover, these distinctions not only delineate what a positive, anti-racist identity might look like but also powerfully explicate why such an identity is fundamental to the success of any anti-racist, anti-bias educational initiative.

Yet as educators, we must not let our concern with our white students eclipse the needs and interests of our non-white students. Regarding the field of white studies, Maulana Karenga cautions white people to be open and reflective about its intent, methodology and effect. Similarly, social justice educators must make certain that the focus on white identity does not make other voices peripheral or overshadow the political, economic and cultural suffering of non-white people and the ways in which their freedom and dignity are constrained by dominance. To make white people the center of attention for even well-intended reasons is to reaffirm the importance of white people and to reinscribe white hegemony.

Given these qualifications, the importance of reconstructing white identity must not be underestimated. To teach our students how to avoid enacting privilege evasive white scripts is only a first, albeit significant, move that anti-racist educators must encourage. Reconstructing a positive, anti-racist white identity that actively struggles against injustice is also important. Even as we work together towards the aim of dismantling whiteness, this will take a long time. It is mistaken to think that by destroying white identity we will bring about the destruction of whiteness. On the contrary, only when whiteness is destroyed will white identity lose its meaning. Until that day, those of us who are white must always remember that we remain white although we can be white and yet committed to the obliteration of whiteness.


Racial Justice


Barbara Applebaum
Erin Stoik


Philosophy of Education Archive, ISSN: 8756-6575http://ojs.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/pes/issue/view/18








United States





Barbara Applebaum and Erin Stoik, “On the Meaning and Necessity of a White-Anti-racist Identity,” Antiracism Digital Library, accessed June 25, 2024, https://sacred.omeka.net/items/show/226.