Sociolinguistics Reading



Journal: Journal of Classroom Interaction*

Article Title: "Reading All that White Crazy Stuff:" Black Young Women Unpacking Whiteness in a High School British Literature Classroom 

Author: Stephanie Power Carter


*The presented writing is direct quotations from the scholarly article.  Quotations are being used to establish the type of language and writing that is used in scholarly research articles.


The article uses sociolinguistic and ethnographic methods and Black feminist theory to explore the classroom interactions of Pam and Natonya, two Black young females, during one event in a required high school British literature classroom. The event is presented as a telling case to explore gendered and racial complexities facing young Black female students in a British literature class, dominated by literature written from a Eurocentric perspective, primarily by White males. The telling case was analyzed to explore how Whiteness functioned within the British literature curriculum and classroom interactions and how the two Black young women were negatively positioned as a result of classroom interactions around the curriculum. The analysis made visible how Pam and Natonya were constantly negotiating whiteness within the British Literature curriculum. Their experiences are important as they afford educators and educational researchers the opportunity to see some of the challenges faced by historically underrepresented students who may have been marginalized by Whiteness within the curriculum (Carter, p. 42).


Drawing on Black feminist theory and the scholarship of Maher & Tetreault (1997), I explore the patterns of classroom interaction through the theoretical argument that notions of Whiteness influence how people construct knowledge and learn (Maher & Tetreault, 1997).  They argue that, “Whiteness is the often silent and invisible basis against which other racial and cultural identities are named as “other” and are measured and marginalized” (p. 324) (Carter, p. 43).

Focus:  I present a telling case, one in which, as Mitchell (1984) argues, particular circumstances serve to make “previously obscure theoretical relationships suddenly apparent” (p. 239). To make visible the relationships between Whiteness, fixedness of race, and the British literature curriculum, I brought together two research perspectives: Black feminist theory (the focus on Whiteness, fixedness of race, patriarchy, and gender) and sociolinguistic ethnography (the focus on interaction and enacted curriculum) (Carter, p. 44).

Conceptual Framework

The concept of the fixedness of race is central to the study of classroom interactions.  Ladson-Billings (1996) argue that the concept of race has become fixed and is now embedded in a coded language, one in which constructions of racial denotations are submerged and hidden in ways that are offensive without directly identifying the actors by racial category.  This language represents more than stereotypes (Carter, p. 44).  The conceptual framework for this research is Black Feminist Theory and Sociolinguistic Ethnography.


An event I call My Mistress’ Eyes presents a telling case of curriculum construction and the positioning of “Whiteness” in text and talk. During this curricular activity, students were dived into groups and given an assignment to explicate poems written by Shakespeare, Browning, and other British poets for a poetry unit. This approach is purposeful, in that it permits the reader to gain a sense of the continuous construction of race, “Whiteness,” and ultimately identity (Carter, p. 46).


In line 56, although the teacher is attempting to problematize the attributes in the poem, she is also creating tension as “White” layered with meaning in this context.  Not only have the young women been marginalized due to the lack of Black images in the sonnet, but also their Black identity continues to be marginalized, as they are not part of the “some” in class who are White and are now being asked to engage in a conversation about what is White. This discussion about what counts as White still excludes the Black identity of Pam and Natonya (Carter, p. 49).


The articles discussion is a conversation that takes place between the author and two female African American students (Natonya and Pam) who are in the high school British literature class.

Natonya: Right it- it makes you feel like okay- are they- she making it be seeming like they’re the only people that are beautiful –you got blonde hair (Carter, p. 50).

The authors discussion: Schools of education and educators must continue to engage ourselves, our students, and those around us more deeply in the issues of fixedness, Whiteness, invisibility and visibility.  Equally important, we all must become more comfortable with tensions (Carter, p. 52).

Reading Article Definitions

*These definitions are directly quoted from the listed websites 

Ethnography: The study of human races and cultures (From Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Fixedness (Pertaining to Race): The state of continuing without change (From Merriam-Webster Dictionary). 

Culturally relevant teaching: Is a term created by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) to describe “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (From Learn NC).

Inclusion: The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure (From Google Definitions). 

Eurocentric Education: An education that focuses on European culture or history to the exclusion of a wider view of the world; implicitly regarding European culture as preeminent (From Google Definitions). 

Afrocentric: regarding African or black culture as preeminent (From Google Definitions).

Heuristic: Enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves (From Google Definitions).

Black Feminist Theory:  Black Females use their cultured ways of knowing and engaging in social relationships to understand curriculum activities and tasks. Black feminist theory suggests that Black females have a distinct view on the contradictions between dominant groups’ actions and ideologies and their own experiences (Definition from the Black Young Women Unpacking Whiteness Article; Stephanie Power Carter).   

Whiteness:  Whiteness studies is an interdisciplinary arena of academic inquiry that has developed beginning in the United States, particularly since the late 20th century, and is focused on what proponents describe as the cultural, historical and sociological aspects of people identified as white, and the social construction of whiteness as an ideology tied to social status (From Wikipedia).

Coded Language (Pertaining to Curriculum): If someone is using coded language, they are expressing their opinion in an indirect way, usually because that opinion is likely to offend people (From English Dictionary for Learners).

Canonical Literature: Literature in a curriculum that is seen as authorized, recognized, and accepted.  Literature written by a white European male (From

Ideology: A system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy (From Google Definitions). 

Register: A variety or level of language used in a specific social setting: speaking in an informal register; writing in a scientific register (From the Free Dictionary).

Curriculum as Conversation: Theory created by Arthur Applebee. Applebee believes in order for curricula to enable students to make transformations through school work, students need to enter and take part in disciplinary practices through appropriate activity, particularly the conversation through which disciplinary practices are developed. Applebee thus sees schooling as a process that should take place through participation in genres of activity (From The Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition). 

Hidden curriculum: Refers to the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school. The hidden curriculum consists of the unspoken academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students while they are in school (From the Glossary of Education Reform).