Guilty Displeasures: White Resistance in the Social Justice Classroom
(2014) 37 Dalhousie Law Journal 815.
34 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2015 Last revised: 2 Dec 2015
Date Written: July 17, 2015
In this article, the author reflects on the challenges of teaching white law students about racism and white privilege as a racialized professor. To situate her experiences and to better understand the obstacles that professors who teach critically about race and racism confront, she draws from theories of racial identity development and research on student evaluations to contextualize student responses to anti-racist pedagogy. Grappling with racism in a meaningful way leaves many white students feeling distraught, angry and guilty, among other unpleasant emotions. Professors who initiate these discussions become the natural targets of criticism and blame as students struggle with their discomfort. The hostility of resistant white students can be interpreted as racial microaggressions that compromise the psychological well-being and deplete the emotional and physical resources of racialized professors. However, understanding negative student reactions in the context of structural racism and embracing students’ sense of disequilibrium as a necessary part of social transformation enable professors to reconceptualize personal attacks as something more constructive. The author concludes that teaching about racism and white privilege in a critical way, an obligation shared by all educators, offers personal and collective rewards that outweigh any costs.
Keywords: Racism, Pedagogy, White Privilege, Legal Education, Anti-Racism, Social Justice, Law School, Racial Identity Development, Student Evaluations
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