Inside White Fragility takes a critical look at the effects whiteness studies is having on education.
Although advocates of whiteness studies may genuinely strive for equity and social justice, the reality is that the discipline — in addition to bringing awareness to structural inequality — is having some unintended side-effects on schools in America. These side-effects manifest in three ways.
First, research shows that anti-bias trainings aimed at bringing equality can hurt morale in schools. Besides the fact that these trainings are based on flawed implicit bias research, there is limited evidence that they have any lasting effect on discriminatory behavior, and in some cases, may even provoke resentment among participants. The recent actions of New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is a case in point. His use of anti-bias training to dismantle what he called “White Supremacy Culture” in schools has sparked a major backlash, prompting administrators, teachers, and parents to call the workshops “ugly and divisive.”
Second, the dualistic concepts at the root of whiteness studies — which view whites and people of color as oppressors/oppressed and privileged/disadvantaged — can also have a negative impact on success in the classroom. As shown through the phenomenon known as stereotype threat, the mere mention of race can directly affect academic achievement and standardized test scores. Specifically, research has indicated that black students perform worse than whites on tests when race is emphasized. When race is not emphasized, black students perform the same or better than whites.
This suggests that academic performance can be harmed by the awareness that one’s behavior might be viewed through the lens of race — and the bigger the focus on the identity group, the more vulnerable the students are to stereotype threat. This is especially concerning when it comes to whiteness studies and antiracist education, being that they are hyper-focused on race and group identity; the Pygmalion Effect, and how teacher expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, is also at play with the constant labeling of groups as oppressors/oppressed and privileged/disadvantaged.
Third, race-based discipline approaches — which employ the antiracist concepts at the core of whiteness studies — have negatively impacted classroom management across America. In particular, the 2014 discipline guidelines put in place by the U.S. Department of Education and Justice Department, which mandated that public schools limit suspensions and expulsions of black students, had numerous drawbacks. A recent Fordham Institute study titled “Discipline Reform Through the Eyes of Teachers” revealed that educators in high-poverty schools reported “higher rates of verbal disrespect, physical fighting, and assault,” and said a disorderly or unsafe environment made learning difficult. They also stated that discipline was inconsistent or inadequate, and that the recent decline in suspensions was at least partly explained by higher tolerance for misbehavior or increased underreporting. In short, the teachers surveyed — many of whom were people of color — felt that race-based discipline wasn’t working, and actually made it harder for their students to learn.
Inside White Fragility takes a critical look at such issues, as healthy debate and rigorous critique are the heart of the scientific method and the only path to true wisdom.