In this review essay, Barbara Applebaum uses white complicity as a framework for discussing three books: Mica Pollock's Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School, Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin's The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racist, and Virginia Lea and Judy Helfand's Identifying Race and Transforming Whiteness in the Classroom. She explains the notion of white complicity and discusses some of the deep philosophical questions involving moral responsibility and agency that arise when one acknowledges white complicity. In particular, she examines the question of whether complicity is best described as grounded in individual intention or as an outcome of collective action, as well as whether "complicity" as a word displaces the strong sense of harm implied by the term "racist." Finally, Applebaum explores how some of these philosophical questions crisscross through the discussions highlighted in the three books.If you can talk to me in ways that show you understand that your knowledge of me, the world, and "the Right thing to do" will always be partial, interested, and potentially oppressive to others, and if I can do the same, then we can work together on shaping and reshaping alliances for constructing circumstances in which students of difference can thrive.
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