Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Amy Lutz


Physical Space, Racial Discourse, Racial Identity, Teaching, Urban Education, Whiteness Studies

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


What does it mean to be white? This fundamental question stands at the heart of the interdisciplinary field of critical whiteness studies. Critical whiteness studies (CWS) epistemologically and theoretically upends traditional approaches to the study of race and racial inequality by averting the critical gaze from racially subordinate groups and focusing it upon the racially dominant group. Although insightful and highly influential, CWS has not sufficiently incorporated racialized space as a theoretically meaningful concept. Far too often, critical whiteness scholars speak of racial categories and racial experiences in board, spatially generalized terms. My dissertation moves beyond the general question of what does it mean to be white, and instead asks a more specific question: what does it mean to be white in nonwhite racialized spaces? In order to answer this question, I use the responsive interview model to interview 32 white teachers from a hyper-segregated, predominantly black school district in Upstate New York. Contrary to the nearly ubiquitous notion that whites do not see or think of themselves in racialized terms, my interview respondents not only saw themselves as distinctly white, but they also spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what whiteness meant for their personal and professional lives. My findings also show that, within nonwhite racialized spaces, whiteness does not operate as the raceless norm, but instead functions as the racialized other. For the teachers involved in this study, this particular spatial dynamic engendered an experiential and epistemological shift in racial status. As the cultural and numerical minority within predominantly black schools, my interview respondents developed a hyper-sense of racial victimization, one that was specifically at odds with their construction of racial victimization throughout society, writ large. Lastly, interview data also show that racialized space, while highly determinative of racial experience, has a noticeable, yet limited effect on racial ideology. Implications for society today and race relations going forward are also examined.


Open Access