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Open Access Publications from the University of California

(En)Gendering Whiteness: A Historical Analysis of White Womanhood, Colonial Anxieties, and “Tender Violence” in US Schools

  • Author(s): Bauer, Natalee Kehaulani
  • Advisor(s): García Bedolla, Lisa
  • et al.

Within educational research, the over-disciplining of Black

and Brown students is most often presented as a problem located

within pathologized or misunderstood communities. That is,

theories and proposed solutions tend toward those that ask how

we can make students of color more suited to US educational

standards rather than questioning the racist roots of those

standards. This dissertation takes as a provocation this

“discipline gap,” in exploring a thus far unconsidered stance

and asking how white women (the majority of US teachers) have

historically understood their roles in the disciplining of

nonwhite student bodies, and how and why their role has been

constructed over time and space in service to the white colonial

State. Toward this end, I take a genealogical approach in making

sense of a contemporary phenomenon by asking, “How and why has

the persona of the benevolent white female teacher been put into

discourse during the foundational period in public schools’

history, and how has it been reproduced over time, specifically

in relation to students of color?” With this perspective, my

project helps to fill a much-overlooked void in the contemporary

conversation on raced and gendered student-teacher interactions

in schools.

This project employs two main methodologies: (1) close

readings informed by literary theory, and (2) Foucauldian

discourse analysis, which I use in constructing a genealogy of

heroic white womanhood (what I am calling “benevolent

whiteness”). Using these methods I analyze the archival writings

of and about white missionary women in the 19th century to

explain how the collective acceptance of and participation in

the discursive construction of heroic white womanhood has been

the normative underpinnings of US educational and disciplinary

practice for nearly two hundred years. Toward this end, this

project serves to refocus whiteness within current debates on

the over-disciplining of students of color toward a historical

and structural analysis with a goal of understanding, refusing,

and reimagining the roles of white female teachers.

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