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‘You’ve got to teach people that racism is wrong and then they won’t be racist’: Curricular representations and young people’s understandings of ‘race’ and racism

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This paper critically examines the discursive (mis) representation of ‘race’ and racism in the formal curriculum. Combining qualitative data derived from interviews with 35 young people who were enrolled in a Dublin-based, ethnically diverse secondary school, with a critical discursive analysis of 20 textbooks, the paper explores parallels between young people’s understandings of ‘race’ and racism and curricular representations of these constructs. It is argued that the formal education system reinforces, rather than challenges, popular theories of racism, and endorses the ideological framework of colour-blind racism by providing definitions and explanations which individualize, minimize, and naturalize racism. The analysis centres on four major inter-related themes: (1) the individualization of racism; (2) the attribution of racism to difference; (3) the role of narratives of denial and redemption in the construction of an ‘anti-racist’ state; and (4) the reification of ‘race’. The final section of the paper seeks to synthesize some of the broader political and ethical consequences and ideological effects of dominant discourses on ‘race’ and racism, and offers some concrete illustrations of how ‘race’ and racism could be re-narrativized in schools.

Keywords: anti-racism; curriculum; discourse analysis; racism; youth

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2012

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