Beyond white defensiveness: White self doubt in a white teacher affinity group

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Pamperin, Sarah
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Swalwell, Katy M
Richardson Bruna, Katherine
Bowman, Michael
Doran, Erin
Naseem Rodriguez, Noreen
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Education, School of
This dissertation attempts to model how white educators can critically examine their attempts and missed attempts to dismantle racist policies and practices by looking inwards at themselves to deeply analyze what they are doing to help/hinder anti-racist efforts. It also considers how self-identifying anti-racist educators navigate power dynamics within the group, questioning whether or not a formal facilitator is a necessary component in anti-racist work. How does white supremacy play out in spaces where participants are presumably aware of their whiteness and are actively attempting to challenge it and dismantle it? A critical case study examined the Green Bay, Wisconsin chapter of Building Anti-Racist White Educators (BARWE) as a case of how self-identifying anti-racist white educators continue to maintain as well as dismantle white supremacy culture in an affinity group created specifically for educators wanting to learn more about anti-racist teaching using Jones & Okun’s characteristics of white supremacy as a framework. In this case, an always becoming anti-racist educator is defined as a critical activist and community worker that makes an active effort to be anti-racist in their practice and the policies they decide to follow. Findings show that, despite committing to anti-racism, participants still employed the following elements of white supremacy culture: individualism, progress is better/more, and paternalism. Conversely, they utilized right to comfort, fear of open conflict, and paternalism to dismantle white supremacy. Even with participants’ attempts to dismantle it, white supremacy was a powerful force within the group. The implications of this study are that Jones and Okun’s characteristics must include an additional characteristic—self doubt (in the form of shame and/or vulnerability). Self-doubt (shame) needs to be pushed into Transformational Doubt (using vulnerability) in order to dismantle white supremacy. This can be done in white anti-racist teacher affinity groups by ensuring that Teacher Facilitators are prepared to address self-doubt as it appears. Teacher Facilitators also must add Metacognitive Reflexive Practice at the tail end of each meeting in order to process where white supremacy showed up in the meeting and how it was addressed in order to dismantle it more often than it is maintained. This case suggests the importance of a skilled facilitator to safeguard against participants maintaining white supremacy. In particular, metacognitive reflexive practice post-meeting may help participants recognize how they are maintaining and disrupting white supremacy with the goal being to always-be-disrupting white supremacy culture.
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