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Teaching What You're Not

Teaching What You're Not: Identity Politics in Higher Education

EDITED BY Katherine J. Mayberry
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 371
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  • Book Info
    Teaching What You're Not
    Book Description:

    Can whites teach African-American literature effectively and legitimately? What is at issue when a man teaches a women's studies course? How effectively can a straight woman educate students about gay and lesbian history? What are the political implications of the study of the colonizers by the colonized? More generally, how does the identity of an educator affect his or her credibility with students and with other educators? In incident after well-publicized incident, these abstract questions have turned up in America's classrooms and in national media, often trivialized as the latest example of PC excess. Going beyond simplistic headlines, Teaching What You're Not broaches these and many other difficult questions. With contributions from scholars in a variety of disciplines, the book examines the ways in which historical, cultural, and personal identities impact on pedagogy and scholarship. Essays cover such topics as the outsider's gaze as it applies to the study of non-white literature; an able-bodied woman's reflections on teaching literature by disabled women; and the challenges of teaching the Western canon at an African American college.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6317-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: Identity Politics in the College Classroom, or Whose Issue Is This, Anyway?
    (pp. 1-20)

    This collection is poised between a revolution and a counterrevolution. It emerges at a critical moment in American higher education—when the momentum of liberalization that transformed higher education in the second half of this century is decelerating in the face of conservative forces seeking their own brand of transformation by the opening of the next century. The story of the revolution begins fifty years ago, with VJ Day and the return of hundreds of thousands of GIs eager to receive their due and enter the elitist club of American higher education. Their example was followed in the 1950s, 1960s,...

  5. PART I Multiculturalist Pedagogies

    • 2 Redefining America: Literature, Multiculturalism, Pedagogy
      (pp. 23-46)

      InTeaching to Transgress(1994), bell hooks tries to stake out some middle ground on the issue of whether or not a teacher’s identity ideally ought to correspond to the “identity” of a given subject or text. She writes,

      Though opposed to any essentialist practice that constructs identity in a monolithic, exclusionary way, I do not want to relinquish the power of experience as a standpoint on which to base analysis or formulate theory. For example, I am disturbed when all the courses on black history or literature at some colleges and universities are taught solely by white people, not...

    • 3 Straight Teacher/Queer Classroom: Teaching as an Ally
      (pp. 47-69)

      In the 1970s and 1980s, many female women’s studies teachers assumed that they had more in common than not with the women students who made up the majority in their classrooms. Their assumption was in part a result both of a politics that claimed a universalistic female identity based on the oppression of women and an optimistic confusion between women’s standpoint and feminist conclusions. Scholars of feminist pedagogy, grappling with the authority conveyed by their institutional positions, attempted to relocate their leadership on more legitimate, because feminist, grounds. They did this by emphasizing their shared experience of oppression with women...

    • 4 The Outsider’s Gaze
      (pp. 70-84)

      As we in women’s studies struggle with the Insider/Outsider concept in attempting to teach multicultural literature and theory, we can’t help but notice that we are experiencing a pervasive postcolonial crisis of authority, a crisis felt most strongly perhaps by formerly hegemonic Western discourses.¹ Yet the problems we face and the questions they raise are of global significance. We have witnessed in academe such a scramble to recognize and celebrate the other that reactionary attitudes have emerged in resistance. In addition, the Insider/Outsider question has arisen: who in fact should teach multicultural literature and theory? Twenty years ago, I found...

    • 5 No Middle Ground? Men Teaching Feminism
      (pp. 85-104)

      “What does it matter who is teaching feminist political theory? What does it matter who is teaching?” This is how we four responded to the question whether one of us (Johnson) should or should not be teaching a course in which the other three were enrolled. But answering a question with a question is not particularly satisfying, nor were we content with the responses we received from our peers. When we presented a talk to faculty on teaching about gender and the relation of gender to the content of a course on the classics of political theory and a course...

  6. PART II The Class Roster

    • 6 The Discipline of History and the Demands of Identity Politics
      (pp. 107-130)

      “When Christie Pope [Farnham] entered the room, there was immediate whispering and shock. One question that quickly entered everyone’s mind was, How could a white professor teach black students about African-American history?” This quote from the April 1991 newsletter of the Black Cultural Center at Iowa State University posits the problem of identity politics in a nutshell. It raises questions of both authenticity and authority, not out of concern for some philosophical abstraction, but out of the increasing anger and alienation that characterize so many African American youth on today’s college campuses. They feel that, historically, the treatment of African...

    • 7 Teaching What I’m Not: An Abie-Bodied Woman Teaches Literature by Women with Disabilities
      (pp. 131-154)

      I had no awareness of disability issues when I saw a sign at a busy intersection of carpeted footpaths at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1985: “Be aware of slow-moving Amazons.” This sign made me look at my surroundings in a different way. When I did, I realized that women with many kinds of disabilities were participating fully in the festival, and that I wasn’t used to seeing these women in my daily life. Yet I knew instantly that they were there; it was my awareness that had changed. Since inclusiveness was one of my goals as a feminist...

    • 8 Theory, Practice, and the Battered (Woman) Teacher
      (pp. 155-174)

      Pedagogy—understood as the formal theorization of teaching practices—has become increasingly fashionable of late. This trend was led by the elite private schools, but even the major state-supported research institutions have recently become enamored of the concept of “teaching as scholarship.” A wide variety of factors have produced this trend, including intensified competition for student enrollments, pressure from state legislatures, and authentic feminist concerns that we attend to teaching (perceived as a nurturing practice) over research (perceived as a status practice).

      Whatever the causes of this trend, one of its characteristic features is the argument that teaching practices need...

  7. PART III Professorial Identities

    • 9 Teaching What the Truth Compels You to Teach: A Historian’s View
      (pp. 177-194)

      A few years ago I delivered a lecture on Toni Morrison’s novelBelovedto an audience of college students in New York City. After the talk, two undergraduates approached me and initiated a conversation.

      They had recently read my book on the history of black working women,Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow,and, they confessed, they were surprised to see that I was white. They had assumed I was an African American, but instead... The young women were too polite to say so, but I realized they had hoped to meet a tall, proud sister rather than a short...

    • 10 Pro/(Con)fessing Otherness: Trans(cending)national Identities in the English Classroom
      (pp. 195-214)

      Professing “otherness” can, in contemporary literary criticism, privilege critics, allowing them privilege even while decrying it;¹ this is clearly manifest in the case of the multicultural “holy trinity,” who have in the last decade been canonized and institutionalized—Edward Said, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.² Yet the “outsider” who “teaches what she is not” can have a problematic relationship to power and authority, especially in the undergraduate English classroom.

      Before discussing the complexities surrounding my own “cross dressing” as a “normative” English speaker teaching a language and literature that are not her “own,” in what is not...

    • 11 Caliban in the Classroom
      (pp. 215-227)

      Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against Caliban—at least not more than most people. And Fve got absolutely nothing against classrooms—again, not more than most people. But I’m not crazy about the combination of Calibanandthe classroom, especially when I’m cast in the role of Caliban. I sometimes think that a lot of us academics who are blessed with the “surplus visibility” ¹ of race or ethnicity are cast as Calibans in the classroom, lurching between student and blackboard. It seems that our hour has come round at last, that we, who may have been...

    • 12 A Paradox of Silence: Reflections of a Man Who Teaches Women’s Studies
      (pp. 228-238)

      People often ask about my students’ reactions to me, both as a teacher and as a feminist. I have discovered that this is usually a polite, if thinly veiled, way to ask me the question that is really on their minds, which is, “What the hell are you, a white, middle-class, straight male, doing teaching Introduction to Women’s Studies?” The conversation usually goes off in various directions regarding feminism or pedagogy or the politics of exclusion. In truth, the classes I have taught, regardless of how they were listed in the catalog, have always centered around issues central to feminism,...

  8. PART IV The Texts and Contexts of Teaching What You’re Not

    • 13 Teaching in the Multiracial Classroom: Reconsidering “Benito Cereno”
      (pp. 241-258)

      Available in all the major anthologies of American literature, Melville’s novella “Benito Cereno” (1855) has emerged as one of the most widely read and taught of his works. In large part, the relatively recent popularity of the text has to do with the fact that critics have come to recognize, over the past thirty years or so, that the novella powerfully and problematically addresses the politics of slavery and race in antebellum America; arguably, it isthepre-Civil War antislavery masterpiece. What I want to do here is discuss some of the problems I have encountered in teaching the novella,...

    • 14 “Young Man, Tell Our Stories of How We Made It Over”: Beyond the Politics of Identity
      (pp. 259-284)

      Speaking about the power of the erotic in the lives of women, Audre Lorde has said,

      As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men, but which fears this same depth too much to examine the possibilities of it within themselves. (1984, 53-54)

      Reflecting on the fear of men who resist movement into the space of “nonrational knowledge”...

    • 15 Disciplines and Their Discomforts: The Challenges of Study and Service Abroad
      (pp. 285-307)

      By the timeForrest Gumpreceived thirteen Academy Award nominations, a discernible distinction had arisen between a “popular” appreciation for the movie’s charm, humor, and pathos and a critique that decried the film’s oversimplification and parody of social unrest in the sixties. What facilitated this discrepancy was an innovative series of special effects that superimposed Tom Hanks’s character on news footage some thirty years old and allowed him to assume a protagonism in which his strategic insertions into American history produced an ambivalent mix of leftist nostalgia and right-wing ridicule. These superimpositions gave the film its controversial edge. Yet, as...

    • 16 Scratching Heads: The Importance of Sensitivity in an Analysis of “Others”
      (pp. 308-314)

      One discussion currently taking place in the literary community is the question of whether or not racial or sexual identity as it applies to academic writers should be considered an influential factor that enables or assists one’s ability to critically analyze a text. Clearly, it is to the advantage of some that the rift currently existing between colored and white women increase; to harness the energy of female intellect is deconstructive, I would argue, to certain spheres of academia. With this in mind, it occurred to me that a black woman’s examination of her own writing might begin to explain...

    • 17 Who Holds the Mirror? Creating “the Consciousness of the Others”
      (pp. 315-334)

      I want to teach what I am not. In fact, I feel that I am uniquely and appropriately equipped to teach what I am not. I want to teach in a vibrant and reflective and self-consciously interdisciplinary black studies department. I want to teach the foundations of black education as history. I want to be a builder of interracial intellectual bridges. I want to build community. I want to see many black students in my classes. I want to work with a variety of African and African American colleagues, among others, to produce successful students, sound scholarship, and ways to...

    • 18 Daughters of the Dust, the White Woman Viewer, and the Unborn Child
      (pp. 335-356)

      The first feature-length film in theatrical distribution made by an African American woman,Daughters of the Dust(1992), resounds with various discourses of journeying. Director Julie Dash sets this film in the remote Sea Islands along the coast of Georgia. The history of the slave trade involving these Sea Islands intersects with Dash’s concern for African American journeys toward origins. This intersection provides the setting for both a personal and a metaphoric guide to rendering and reading African American women’s lives:

      In this way, the journey of making the film names the personal as catalyst for researching and embracing the...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 357-362)
  10. Index
    (pp. 363-372)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-373)