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Why Can’t We All Just Be Individuals?: Countering the Discourse of Individualism in Anti-racist Education


Over many years as a white person co-facilitating anti-racism courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels and in the workplace for majority white participants, I have come to believe that the Discourse of Individualism is one of the primary barriers preventing well-meaning (and other) white people from understanding racism. Individualism is so deeply held in dominant society that it is virtually immovable without sustained effort. This article challenges the Discourse of Individualism by addressing eight key dynamics of racism that it obscures. I posit that the Discourse of Individualism functions to: deny the significance of race and the advantages of being white; hide the accumulation of wealth over generations; deny social and historical context; prevent a macro analysis of the institutional and structural dimensions of social life; deny collective socialization and the power of dominant culture (media, education, religion, etc.) to shape our perspectives and ideology; function as neo-colorblindness and reproduce the myth of meritocracy; and make collective action difficult. Further, being viewed as an individual is a privilege only available to the dominant group. I explicate each of these discursive effects and argue that while we may be considered individuals in general, white insistence on Individualism in discussions of racism in particular functions to obscure and maintain racism.

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