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Rethinking Racism

Emotion, Persuasion, and Literacy Education in an All-White High School

Jennifer Seibel Trainor

Publication Year: 2008

In Rethinking Racism: Emotion, Persuasion, and Literacy Education in an All-White High School, Jennifer Seibel Trainor proposes a new understanding of the roots of racism, one that is based on attention to the role of emotion and the dynamics of persuasion. This one-year ethnographic study argues against previous assumptions about racism, demonstrating instead how rhetoric and emotion, as well as the processes and culture of schools, are involved in the formation of racist beliefs.

Telling the story of a year spent in an all-white high school, Trainor suggests that contrary to prevailing opinion, racism often does not stem from ignorance, a lack of exposure to other cultures, or the desire to protect white privilege. Rather, the causes of racism are frequently found in the realms of emotion and language, as opposed to rational calculations of privilege or political ideologies. Trainor maintains that racist assertions often originate not from prejudiced attitudes or beliefs but from metaphorical connections between racist ideas and nonracist values. These values are reinforced, even promoted by schooling via "emotioned rules" in place in classrooms: in tacit, unexamined lessons, rituals, and practices that exert a powerful—though largely unacknowledged—persuasive force on student feelings and beliefs about race.

Through in-depth analysis of established anti-racist pedagogies, student behavior, and racial discourses, Trainor illustrates the manner in which racist ideas are subtly upheld through social and literacy education in the classroom—and are thus embedded in the infrastructures of schools themselves. It is the emotional and rhetorical framework of the classroom that lends racism its compelling power in the minds of students, even as teachers endeavor to address the issue of cultural discrimination. This effort is continually hindered by an incomplete understanding of the function of emotions in relation to antiracist persuasion and cannot be remedied until the root of the problem is addressed.

Rethinking Racism calls for a fresh approach to understanding racism and its causes, offering crucial insight into the formative role of schooling in the perpetuation of discriminatory beliefs. In addition, this highly readable narrative draws from white students' own stories about the meanings of race in their learning and their lives. It thus provides new ways of thinking about how researchers and teachers rep- resent whiteness. Blending narrative with more traditional forms of ethnographic analysis, Rethinking Racism uncovers the ways in which constructions of racism originate in literacy research and in our classrooms—and how these constructions themselves can limit the rhetorical positions students enact.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-9

I am grateful to many colleagues and friends who aided me as I wrote this book. Among them are the following colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh who enlivened me with conversation and friendship, and whose confidence in me helped more than they know: Kathryn Flannery, Marah Gubar, Paul Kameen, Kellie Robertson, and Jim Seitz. I thank especially ...

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pp. 1-15

It is raining, and class hasn’t started. Students are chattering and laughing as they weave in between the hastily arranged clusters of desks. They seem more animated than usual, as if in protest against the muffling dampness outside. Chris slides into his desk and dumps his notebook down, a Sports Illustrated magazine on top. It’s the one with Charles Barkley on the cover; ...

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1. Racism, Persuasion, and Emotion

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pp. 16-37

Throughout my year in Elizabeth’s classroom, I was captivated by the drama of her struggles to enact a critical pedagogy in a public school that served a conservative, homogenous community. Daily I learned from Elizabeth the complexities involved in these struggles, which mirrored my own as a like-minded college professor but were different too. The difficulties in ...

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2. Class Beginnings

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pp. 38-74

... We went to my mom’s family reunion. . . . We had driven four straight hours each way to get there. I remember this so well, the whole day. It really stands out to me. I remember my dad said, it’s summer solstice, the hottest, longest day of the year. And I remember, I played with my cousins all day, in this big park with a pond you could swim in. I had such a good day. I was 11 years old, still young and innocent—ha! That ...

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3. Emotioned Rules Taught in School and the Persuasive Power of Racism

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pp. 75-102

There were times in Angelstown when I did fieldwork with people who seemed difficult and not very likeable. What was I to make of values and beliefs that seemed to run contrary to my own? It seemed to me that as long as I could summon a certain generosity, fieldwork could continue, but there were times when I came very close to stopping the pretense of generosity and walking ...

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4. When to Break the Rules

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pp. 103-124

An easy pitfall in ethnographic writing about education is the construction of teacher-heroes or teacher-scapegoats, characterizations of teachers as the source of or the solution to problems such as those we have seen in chapter 3. In struggling to avoid this pitfall, I have come to see the importance of blurring the usual lines separating the teacher from the researcher or from the audience, lines that position Elizabeth as the subject of analysis while ...

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5. Beyond White Privilege

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pp. 125-143

In Literacy and Racial Justice: The Politics of Learning after Brown v. Board of Education, Catherine Prendergast (2003) extends one of the most generative and pervasive metaphors for whiteness—that of whiteness as property—to the arena of literacy. Prendergast argues that throughout American history literacy education has been “managed and controlled in myriad ways to rationalize and ensure ...


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pp. 147-148

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 149-154


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pp. 155-159

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Author Bio

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p. 169-169

Jennifer Seibel Trainor is an associate professor of English at San Francisco State University, where she teaches in the graduate program in composition studies. She is a recipient of the NCTE’s Promising Researcher Award and a member of the National Writing Project. She has published ...

Back Cover

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p. 170-170

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387243
E-ISBN-10: 0809387247
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328734
Print-ISBN-10: 0809387247

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2008