My Skin, My Eyes: Re-reading Racial Identity Using White Privilege and White Racial Shame Frameworks

  • Elise Toedt University of Minnesota
Keywords: second-wave white identity studies, teacher education, anti-racist


The purpose of this paper is to consider how white identity is maintained, in part, by the way itsm eaning is interpreted, and to explore how different frameworks for discussing the influence of whiteness affect the ways white teachers might take up their white identities. I argue that using a feminist poststructural approach (Butler, 1993; Davies, 2003; Kumashiro, 2002; St. Pierre, 2000), by re-reading one’s stories of racial identity, can mobilize white teachers for anti-racist action in a contextualized manner, situating identity as both made by and making larger social discourses about whiteness. I share the poem “Bule”, published in Infinite Rust, where I write about my white identity in the context of living outside of Jakarta, Indonesia for two years. I model the re-reading process by critically interpreting “Bule” using two frameworks for understanding whiteness: the white privilege framework, popularized by Peggy McIntosh (1988),and the white racial shame framework, created by Reverend Thandeka (1999). I chose to re-read a poem about identity because by virtue of its form, a poem can reveal knowledge as partial andidentity as shifting. This allows me to think about racial identity as a performance that protects and maintains white supremacy, and also a performance I have agency to disrupt. While I take both frameworks and their implications seriously, I conclude by discussing how Thandeka’s framework allows for a more nuanced, situated interpretation of whiteness. I hope that my example of writing and re-reading an autobiographical account of white identity contributes to second wave white teacher identity study's goal to avoid essentializing whiteness in order to understand it with complexity as it functions psychologically and sociopolitically (Jupp & Lensmire, 2016; Jupp, Berry & Lensmire, 2016; Lensmire, 2013; Tanner, 2018).

Author Biography

Elise Toedt, University of Minnesota

Elise Toedt is a PhD student at the University of Minnesota in the field of Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Literacy Education: Literacy, Language and Culture. In her poetry and in her research, Elise is interested in who and what silence protects in communal and institutional spaces. Related to this, she is interested in how teachers embody their intersectional identities, and in the possibilities and limitations of critical creative writing practices in 5-12 English classrooms. Prior to pursuing her PhD, Elise taught secondary English for eight years in urban schools and at an international school in Java, Indonesia.

Theoretical Analyses