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In Event: 18.041 - Critical Becky Studies: Critical Explorations of Gender, Race, and the Pedagogies of Whiteness
Purpose: In his well-known book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, Bell (1992) depicts two white women characters, Sheila and Erika, who are anti-racist and revolutionary in different ways. Sheila is a doctor and lawyer that Jason, the Black leader of a revolutionary Black organization, falls in love with, compromising his position as “the last Black hero.” Erika, also a lawyer, is the white leader of a white group committed to Black survival, setting up a modern day underground railroad for when other whites begin a racial massacre of Black people. The purpose of this paper seeks to continue our understanding of Sheila and Erika’s character through a critical race lens.
Perspectives: In this fan fiction counternarrative (Preston, 2014). Sheila finds herself back in the same Oregon forest where Erika is running counter-operations. Sheila and Jason, although married, have recently separated, so she has walked into the forest for some solitude and a chance to think. Erika comes upon an emotional Sheila and the two strike up a conversation about racism and whiteness and their own anti-racist work in different organizations. Their conversation centers around their racial justice work, where Sheila has worked within the Black community as a part of Jason’s organization, Erika has been working solely with anti-racist white people in her organization. The two discuss how whiteness seeps into each woman’s very different work, including how each woman’s leadership is problematic as it distracts from Women of Color who should be at the helm of these movements. Yet, as the two discuss, white women, generally, have a hard time listening, even to ‘woke’ white women, much less Women of Color, so how to maneuver this?
Methods: This paper uses Critical Race Theoretical methods, including fan fiction (Preston, 2014) and Bell’s conversation-style counternarratives (1992), where fictional characters meet and discuss theory and application. It will also be a Critical Whiteness Studies continuation of Bell’s characters, Sheila and Erika. The two characters will share stories and reflections, question their own and each others’ narratives, critiquing whiteness, patriarchy, classism, and other systems of oppression.
Findings: Although both Sheila and Erika slip into different whiteness performances during their conversation, including passive aggressiveness and tone policing (Cooper, 2018), white innocence (Guttierez, 2006), and white saviority (Vera & Gordon, 2011), they check each other and delve into how they each have and are employing whiteness, despite their desires to rid themselves of whiteness, albeit through different means. They discuss their performances of whiteness as iterations of being Becky, each woman’s work to transform, and wondering about their own transformative potential, as well as that of other white women.
Significance: This paper offers this additional insight into how Bell’s (1992) white women characters, noted for their critical consciousness, tarry (Yancy, 2015) with their own whiteness and their ongoing work to resist it and push toward racial justice (Applebaum, 2010).