SHADES OF WHITE: White Kids and Racial Identities in High School

Pamela Perry, Author, Pamela Perry, Author, Perry, Author . Duke $54.95 (280p) ISBN 0-8223-2877-1 ISBN 0-8223-2892-5

This timely but disappointing study looks at racial identity among students at two California public high schools, one urban and racially diverse, the other mostly white. Perry, a community studies professor at UC–Santa Cruz, seeks to discover what being "white" means to European-American students. Unsurprisingly, she learns that whites in a diverse environment are more conscious of their ethnicity than those in a homogenous one. Sort out the unfriendly academic syntax ("little to no association with racialized differences within a socio-cultural milieu that was self-confirming contributed to the construction of white as 'norm' and a race-neutral logic of social organization"), and the results never penetrate much beyond the predictable finding that suburban white students don't spend much time thinking about their racial identity, while the urban white students were ambivalent and conflicted about theirs. A "participant observer" at the schools, Perry frequently reminds readers of her intimacy with the students ("I knew the hallway people Melissa was referring to"), but her observations are full of presumptive speculation about their thoughts and motivations ("I intuitively felt... Carli was punctuating her presence with urban black slang... to impress Mark"). The students' voices, though quoted abundantly, are framed—and perhaps overdetermined—by Perry's assumptions about their inner lives. The racial issues that the students face are meaningful; one wishes we had a more trustworthy guide leading us through their world. A more readable choice is Denise Clark Pope's Doing School, which Yale published last year. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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