Critical Whiteness Studies


Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) seeks to address the alleged invisibility of whiteness in racial discourse. Proponents of CWS stress the need for white people to examine and challenge their own racial identity, regarding the notion of whiteness as a socially constructed ‘fiction’ (Jay, 2005), designed to perpetuate white privilege and inequality.  Jay (2005) suggests that white privilege is often unacknowledged or silenced, and views the role of CWS as exposing and making visible the history and practices of white supremacy as evidenced across all facets of society. CWS identifies the need to move away from the quintessential focus on the ‘racial other’ and examine instead the institutionalization of whiteness and the systemic factors that underscore its continued dominance  (Solomon et al, 2005 p147).

Closely associated with Critical Race Theory, CWS appears predominantly in US and Canadian discussions of ‘race’ although Gillborn (2005) has recently highlighted its potential as a critical framework for use within a UK education context.


CWS is not meant as an attack on white people, but rather seeks to disrupt white discourses and to explore and problematise the impact of whiteness on people’s day to day lives. McIntosh (1990) wrote of whiteness as an ‘invisible knapsack’, within which can be found a range unearned privileges associated with being white. She also suggested that white people are taught, albeit sometimes in a subconscious way, not to recognise white privilege, which corresponds to the discourse of denial  identified by Solomon et al. (2005) which can underpin this area.

Within the field of education, there have been calls for CWS to be implemented in order to address forms of white racism. More specifically within ITE, Marx (2004) argues for the need for attention to be given to the cultural, racial and linguistic positionalities of teachers, and for white teachers in particular to be guided in an exploration of their own whiteness in order to become effective practitioners with all pupils. She cites Tatum (1999) to reinforce this point:
..our education system perpetuates the pervasiveness of whiteness and the passivity of white racism by failing to challenge, and by reproducing this pervasiveness and passivity  (Tatum, 1999 in Marx, 2004).

Many commentators regard CWS, and indeed CRT as being instrumental in exposing and challenging racism, prejudice and inequality.


Gillborn, D. (2005) Education policy as an act of white supremacy : whiteness, critical race theory and education reform Journal of Education Policy Vol 20 No 4 p485-505

Jay, G. (2005) Introduction to Whiteness Studies Available online: (accessed 15.4.06)

Marx, S. (2004) Regarding Whiteness: Exploring and Intervening in the Effects of White Racism in Teacher Education  Equity and Excellence in Education Vol 37 p31-43

McIntosh, P. (1990) White Privilege : Unpacking the invisible knapsack Independent School, Vol 49 No 2 p 31-36

Solomon, R. P, Portelli, J, Daniel, B-J, Campbell, A (2005) The discourse of denial:how white teacher candidates construct race, racism and ‘white privilege’ Race Ethnicity and Education Vol 8 No 2, pp 147-169

Tatum, B. D. (1999) ‘Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?  And other conversations about race New York: Basic in Marx, S. (2004) Regarding Whiteness: Exploring and Intervening in the Effects of White Racism in Teacher Education  Equity and Excellence in Education Vol 37 p31-43

Find out more

Bonnett, A. (1997) Constructions of whiteness in European and American anti-racism in Werbner, P. & Modood, T. (Eds) Debating cultural hybridity : multicultural identities and the politics of anti-racism London: Zed Books

Gaine, C. (2000) Anti-Racist Education in ‘White’ Areas: The Limits and Possibilities of Change Race Ethnicity and Education, Vol 3 p 65–81

Giroux, Henry A. (1997) Rewriting the Discourse of Racial Identity: Towards a Pedagogy and Politics of Whiteness. Harvard Educational Review 67 p 285–320.

Salgado, R & Stefancic, J (1997) (Eds) Critical White Studies: Looking behind the mirror  Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Leonardo, Z. (2002) The Souls of White Folk: Critical Pedagogy, whiteness studies and globalization discourse Race Ethnicity and Education Vol 5 (1) p 29-50

McCarthy, C. (2003) Contradictions of power and identity:whiteness studies and  the call of teacher education Qualitative Studies in Education Vol 16 No 1 p 127-133

McIntyre, A. (2002)  Exploring Whiteness and Multicultural Education with Prospective Teachers  Curriculum Inquiry Vol 32 p31–49

Sleeter, C. E. ( 1993) How White Teachers Construct Race in McCarthy, C & Crichlow, W. (Eds) (1993) Race, Identity, and Representation in EducationNew York: Routledge


Article published to :

Topic Area

2. Theoretical background, 3. Contemporary debates

Type of Resource


Authors :

Jane Davies University of Sunderland

Article Id :


Date Posted: