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Racial Literacy Discourse in a Campaign for Ethnic Studies

Mon, April 20, 4:05 to 5:35pm, Virtual Room


Racial neoliberalism undermines education equity efforts by animating race as a threat to nation (Apple, 2005; Gillborn, 2005) and bolstering whites’ investment in a capitalist economy. While this investment highlights interest convergence among poor/working class whites and white elites, Bell’s interest divergence concept is also relevant as it draws attention to racism’s function in class oppression. These power dynamics account for the unsteady support of ethnic studies (Delgado, 2013; Wanberg, 2013), which has proven valuable in activating equitable academic outcomes through the pedagogical and curricular decentering of whiteness (Cabrera, Milem, Jaquette & Marx, 2014; Cammarota & Romero, 2009; McCarty, 1993).

The racial neoliberal era requires citizens to acquire a racial literacy or “the capacity to decipher the durable racial grammar that structures racialized hierarchies and frames the narrative of our republic” (Guinier, 2004, p. 100). Drawing attention to the potential of progressive movements emerging from students of color, this paper examines discourses in successful campaign for the adoption of ethnic studies in the Portland Public Schools District. Findings illustrate how students of color contest an educational focus on racial neoliberalism and counter the idea that critical race-conscious education diverge from the interests of whites collectively. Indeed, the fashioning of whiteness has historically served the interest of capital through the maintenance of class and race division. Racial neoliberalism in education, therefore, is site where poor/working class have limited convergence with white elites. Such counterstories offer a place of connection among racially and economically marginalized communities necessary for safeguarding race-conscious education policy, which has eroded under racial neoliberal reforms (Apple, 2005; Gilborn, 2005; Giroux, 2008).