English, Department of


Date of this Version

January 1999


Published in Race, Rhetoric, and Composition, edited by Keith Gilyard (Portsmouth NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1999), pp. 67–86. In the series: Cross-Currents, series editor Charles I. Schuster. Copyright © 1999 Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc. Used by permission.


In this essay, I examine several spheres of “race construction” and the ethical implications of these constructions for how I—as a white composition teacher/researcher—named, described, and interpreted student response in a dissertation chapter I wrote on a student discussion of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye within a writing course focused on “difference.” This essay describes my own process of coming to understand the ways that my readings of classroom events were/are shaped by my position as a white teacher/researcher and the implications for understanding what naming these moments might mean for others engaged in composition research. In particular, I examine three different contexts in which my racial position informed (or remained invisible in) my analysis of these classroom scenes. First, I describe how I collected data on the initial class discussion of The Bluest Eye and why I selected this class room moment as significant within the context of my research about multicultural writing classrooms. Second, I examine the taxonomy that I used to situate several different students’ written and oral responses to this discussion and the ways that this construct diverted attention from the importance of race, as well as veiled my own position as a white interpreter of these responses. And third, I examine the implications for the ways that this research was disseminated and received within the composition community as I engaged in my job search.

Rereading the various spheres of race construction embedded within these scenes highlights the complexities inherent in studying and writing about how students respond to issues of diff erence, like race, within writing classrooms. By reflecting on some of the difficulties, however, I hope to raise consciousness about the privilege of white researchers within composition studies’ accounts of writing classrooms, as well as to begin to suggest how this awareness might change how we discuss and write about issues of difference in ways that do not appropriate or co-opt “others.” Ultimately, then, this essay aims to suggest strategic interventions for how constructs of race can be described and theorized within composition studies research.