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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nice to Whom?: How Midwestern Niceness Undermines Educational Equity


While U.S. schools grapple with persistent racial inequities, we argue that niceness, a socioemotional way of being that privileges whiteness, regularly impedes “equity” and “diversity” efforts in K-12 and teacher education settings. In the Midwest, niceness is uniquely rooted in a historical “obsession with public civility” (Cayton & Gray, 2002) that advances whiteness through a “demure white supremacy” (Cleveland, 2021), particularly in education. Here, the authors theorize Midwestern educational niceness, a regionally produced and enacted phenomenon “nicely” instantiated by the predominantly overwhelmingly white, Midwestern teacher workforce that actually stymies equity efforts. The authors conceptualize the ways whiteness through niceness works through a number of other phenomena including color evasiveness (Annamma et al., 2017; Bonilla-Silva, 2003), white fragility (DiAngelo, 2018), and emotionalities of whiteness (Matias, 2016). Countering the insidiousness of Midwestern educational niceness will require a recognition that this regional form of niceness and equity are incommensurate.

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