Zeus Leonardo is an Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education at University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Leonardo’s work is guided by an attempt to capture “the real experiences of race, both by whites and people of color.” He argues that whiteness has not been historically marked by a certain sense of rigidity, but instead, has the ability to flex, change, and morph in order to ensure its survival. Moreover, Dr. Leonardo argues, the construct of whiteness continues to shape global cultural identities even as it fragments our total understanding of race. By embracing a new, if not uncomfortable understanding of race and race relations, Dr. Leonardo believes that a more genuine sense of multiculturalism can be fostered.
Since the late 1980s, education has witnessed the creation of a new subfield of study called “Whiteness Studies.” Since the arrival of Peggy McIntosh’s (1989) essay on white privilege, David Roediger’s (1991) documentation of the history of the white working class in the U.S., and Ruth Frankenberg’s (1993) interviews showcasing white women’s vacillation between evading and recognizing race, a veritable explosion of writings centering whiteness gives educators a new arsenal for analyzing schooling. Overall, the innovation of Whiteness Studies has helped educators focus on the contours of racial privilege, or the other side of the race question that has long been neglected. Rather than the usual, “What does it mean to be a person of color?” it asks, “What does it mean to be White in U.S. society?” Traditionally, race analysis focused on the experiences and developments of communities of color, their struggles with racism, and hopes of one day ending it. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois (1904/1989) posed the question to African Americans: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Partly ironic in the sense that African Americans were on the receiving end of racism, the question was nonetheless profound in extrapolating what life is like when you are perceived to be a problem within the audacious assumptions of American democracy. The turn to whiteness, which is now in full swing only two decades after the initial works, perhaps asks Whites the same question without the implicit irony: “How does it feel to be the problem?” This time and coming mainly from White scholars writing about whiteness, the tone is more literal, even accusatory. How do we scaffold educational leaders to adopt the study of whiteness in a critical way?