‘Should I, shouldn’t I?’: A self-reflexive study in unpacking ideologies of race while devising a critical studies fine art programme

Lori, Ope (2019) ‘Should I, shouldn’t I?’: A self-reflexive study in unpacking ideologies of race while devising a critical studies fine art programme. In: Inclusion and Intersectionality in Visual Arts Education. Trentham Books @IOE Press. ISBN 9781858568393


This chapter develops British journalist Kurt Barling’s (2015) provocative statement in order to think about race and its associated systems of oppression in what may be deemed as an equally controversial or a less desirable way. Barling’s The ‘R’ Word challenges us to imagine moving beyond race as a fixed identity construct. He unpicks the way in which matters which may not have anything to do with race often get taken up as such, due to the practice of ‘race-thinking’ as a type of systemic way of thinking that reduces all human variation and interaction to ‘one stable variable associated with an individual, namely their “race”’ (Barling, 2015: 148). Then, in taking the idea of race-thinking further, whether it be a social practice or group, he discusses the practice of ‘racialisation’, as a historically specific ideological process which transposes racial meaning onto a previously non-racial relation. This chapter gives a counter perspective to the dominant ways in which we understand racial oppression, within the context of inclusion and diversity debates. It does not focus solely on how white people are eternal oppressors but, rather, focuses on showing how non-white bodies can also occupy such spaces, by unpacking these ideologies of race, and legacies of whiteness. Whiteness as a privileged system of power has historically benefited some white bodies, whilst excluding others. As Henry (2007) points out crucially in Whiteness Made Simple, whiteness operates ‘as a conceptual framework and not a mere way to describe white people which is where I think many fail to have the right conversation and thus draw the wrong conclusions as they focus on complexion and not on a system of power’ (Henry, 2007: 160). By engaging with intersectionality as an analytic tool to unpick overlapping social categories (Collins, P. and Bilge, S. (2016), we can begin to unpack ideologies of race that limit whiteness and blackness to a matter of skin colour, or that make matters of race synonymous with discussions for and about Black people. We can do this by focusing on the right conversation, the systems of power and oppression, and the ‘autonomy of the individual’ within these dynamics. I take an interdisciplinary approach to these debates, drawing on the thinking of key theorists from a range of disciplines that range across critical race theory and cultural studies, critical pedagogy, gender studies and fine art practice and theory. However, I focus particularly on two major thinkers for whom destabilizing power relations within an educational context and liberationist thinking: the feminist and social activist bell hooks and Brazilian educationalist liberation thinker Paulo Freire.

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