By Mica Pollock
This book is my first on race talk in education. It considers in unprecedented detail one of the most confounding questions in American racial practice: when to speak about people in racial terms.
Viewing “race talk” through the lens of a California high school and district, Colormute draws on three years of ethnographic research on everyday race labeling in education. Based on the author’s experiences as a teacher as well as an anthropologist, it discusses the role race plays in everyday and policy talk about such familiar topics as discipline, achievement, curriculum reform, and educational inequality.
Pollock illustrates the wide variations in the way speakers use race labels. Sometimes people use them without thinking twice; at other moments they avoid them at all costs or use them only in the description of particular situations. While a major concern of everyday race talk in schools is that racial descriptions will be inaccurate or inappropriate, Pollock demonstrates that anxiously suppressing race words (being what she terms “colormute”) can also cause educators to reproduce the very racial inequities they abhor.
The book assists readers in cultivating a greater understanding of the pitfalls and possibilities of everyday race talk and clarifies previously murky discussions of “colorblindness.” By bridging the gap between theory and practice, Colormute will be enormously helpful in fostering ongoing conversations about dismantling racial inequality in America.
The scholarship is provocative, the text well written, and the argument clear and compelling. Pollock is a truly gifted writer.—Michelle Fine, City University of New York
Professor Pollock attacks a vitally important topic with vitality and an engaging and very readable style. Displaying a keen ear, she has artfully picked up the nuances of ‘race talk’ from students she has taught and observed. Pollock presents a troubling, but significant finding: Talking in racial terms can make race matter; but so too, can not speaking in racial terms.—Hugh Mehan, University of California San Diego
This welcome book invites us to become more critically conscious of ‘race talk’ and thus more aware of how even our silences can reproduce racial hierarchies.—Charles Payne, Duke University
Pollock’s profound insights about the dilemmas of race talk and silence will change the way Americans think about language, social categories, and the responsibilities we must face if we are ever to make headway against racial inequality.—Katherine S. Newman, Princeton University
Pollock attacks the topic with strength, providing a clear, compelling, and well-written argument. She helps readers cultivate greater understanding of the pitfalls and possibilities of daily race talk. A necessary and important work in fostering ongoing conversations about dismantling racial inequality in the United States.—Library Journal
The dilemma at the heart of this book is the same dilemma at the heart of US society: practically no available form of public discourse about racial topics or issues actually engages with what race is. . . . This book’s ethnographic setting, detailed observations, and transcripts provide a close-up look at a vexing everyday issue, demonstrating an important performative dimension in the generation of racialization.—Bonnie Urciuoli, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute