Ambivalent white racial identities: Fear and an elusive innocence

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This article examines the complex social production of white racial identity. Specifically, the author theorizes white people's fear of people of color and make a case for conceiving of white racial identities as profoundly ambivalent. Drawing from a larger ethnographic interview study conducted in a small, rural, white community in the Midwest of the United States, and grounded in critical whiteness studies, this article explores how Delores, an elementary school teacher, experienced being white, and how being white for Delores was very much intertwined with ways of thinking and feeling that she had learned growing up in this rural community. The purpose is to describe and theorize white identity and whiteness in ways that avoid essentializing them, but that also keep in view white privilege and a larger white supremacist context. A growing number of researchers and educators argue that our previous conceptions of white identity have too often hurt rather than helped our critical pedagogies with white students. This article, then, contributes to a more nuanced and helpful portrait of white racial identity that we might draw on in our social justice efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-172
Number of pages14
JournalRace Ethnicity and Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • White fear
  • White racial identity
  • Whiteness


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