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Sounds of Silence Race and Emergent Counter Narratives of Art Teacher Identity

Studies in Art Education
A Journal of Issues and Research
ISSN: 0039-3541 (Print) 2325-8039 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/usae20
Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent CounterNarratives of Art Teacher Identity
Amelia M. Kraehe
To cite this article: Amelia M. Kraehe (2015) Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent
Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity, Studies in Art Education, 56:3, 199-213, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00393541.2015.11518963
Published online: 25 Nov 2015.
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Copyright 2015 by the National Art Education Association
Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research
2015, 56(3), 199-213
“In the midst of
these prescripted
storylines, there
exist counternarratives,
stories rendered
marginal and
inaudible by the
normative din
of stock stories.
Counternarratives supply
Sounds of Silence: Race and
Emergent Counter-Narratives of
Art Teacher Identity
University of North Texas
This article presents case studies of two Black preservice
art teachers and their racialized experiences in art teacher
education. Drawing from a critical race theory perspective,
their stories are conceptualized as emergent counternarratives of becoming an art teacher. The case studies are
based on interviews from an ethnographic investigation
of teacher identity at a predominantly White university’s
art education program. The counter-narratives that
emerged chronicle racial microaggressions that participants
negotiated as each fashioned an art teacher identity. At a
systemic level, the testimonies shed light on the invidious
effects of race avoidance in art teacher preparation and art
teacher research. The conclusion discusses future directions
and implications for making art teacher education programs
more inclusive and safe for students of color, while also
supporting greater race consciousness among all teachers.
Correspondence regarding this article may be sent to the author
at [email protected]
Studies in Art Education / Volume 56, No. 3
oes race matter in art education?
As a focus of research, the field of
art education tends to avoid the
topic of race and its intersections with
other forms of sociocultural difference
(Alfredson & Desai, 2012; Knight, 2006;
Kraehe & Acuff, 2013). This article takes
up the problematics of race and racial
silence within the context of becoming
an art teacher.
There are two major strands of inquiry that
examine the process of becoming an art teacher.
The first focuses on art teacher thinking, learning, and development (Bain, Newton, Kuster,
& Milbrandt, 2010; Galbraith, 1997; Grauer,
1998; Hetrick, 2010; Powell & LaJevic, 2011;
Zimmerman, 1994). The second uses identity as
a heuristic for understanding how one becomes
an art teacher. Scholarship under this rubric
hinges on an artist/teacher binary (Anderson,
1981; Daichendt, 2009; Day, 1986; Graham &
Zwirn, 2010; Hall, 2010; Hatfield, Montana, &
Deffenbaugh, 2006). Both traditions tend to
overlook race and its intersections with other
sociocultural processes as influential factors in
the development of art teachers. When race is
addressed in the scholarship on becoming an art
teacher, it is often within the context of supporting primarily White students’ racial knowledge
(e.g., Briggs, 2012; Desai, 2010; Knight, 2013).
The aversion to talking about race—what
Pollock (2004) called colormuteness—poses consequences for art educators and policymakers.1
The collective practice of centering the interests,
experiences, and ideologies of White preservice
teachers without situating them as such masks
the ontological, epistemological, and axiological
specificity of research, policies, and practices set
forth to represent all teachers (Ladson-Billings,
2000; Scheurich & Young, 1997).2 This valorizes
an invisible White imaginary (Leonardo, 2004)
by normalizing the realities, knowledges, and
moral underpinnings of the dominant racial
group. Racial silence, therefore, does not transcend racialized difference; rather, it imposes
a standpoint that disregards and subordinates
the worldviews and educational needs of nonWhites. Prospective teachers of color are rendered alien, insignificant, and thus irrelevant to
policy decisions and program reforms (Milner,
Pearman, & McGee, 2013). Though colormuteness is often enacted by well-meaning individuals and written into antidiscrimination policies,
it is, in effect, a key mechanism by which White
supremacy is institutionalized (Pollock, 2004).
This study investigates how race and racism
shape the development of art teachers. It breaks
new ground by drawing insights from the experiences of preservice art teachers of color and
extends current research on the lives and identities of art teachers of color (Bey, 2011; Bullock
& Galbraith, 1992; Knight, 2007; Stokrocki, 1990).
The study is guided by the question: How do preservice art teachers negotiate race and racism
in art teacher education? Critical race theory is
used to interpret the racialized experiences of
two Black preservice art teachers. Following a
description of the research methodology, two
emergent counter-narratives are presented
along with a concluding discussion that considers the implications of racial silence for the field
of art education.
Emergent Counter-Narratives and
Critical Race Theory
Art teacher narratives help to portray the
complexity of teaching and teacher agency (e.g.,
Anderson, 2000; Lampela & Check, 2003; Stout,
2002). As a way of making sense of their lives,
people routinely reconstruct their experiences
Kraehe / Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity
in narrative form (Czarniawska, 2004). Narrative
processes play a crucial role in the construction
of identities (Gee, 2000-2001; Sfard & Prusak,
2005) because they enable us to “tell a story
that informs others of who we are, where we
come from, where we are going, and what our
purpose may be” (Rolling, 2010, p. 6). Forging
a sense of self through narrative is not without
constraints, however. As Hicks (2012) noted, “we
must usually contend with narratives we have
not authored ourselves” (p. 91). The narrativized self is entangled in dialogue with received
stories that engender particular ways of thinking, feeling, and speaking about one’s self in
relation to others.
In the midst of these prescripted storylines,
there exist counter-narratives, stories rendered
marginal and inaudible by the normative din of
stock stories. Counter-narratives supply alternative sense-making structures. These structures
contest the legitimacy of stock stories “by contradicting the insinuation of hierarchical and
self-preserving meaning over contextual and
anomalous meaning” (Rolling, 2011, p. 100).
Counter-narratives are imbued with transformative potential as they generate spaces of rupture
from/within oppressive structures. In this study,
attending to moments of rupture—both large
and small—in which preservice teachers worked
to sustain and alter themselves within discordant identity spaces was important. Becoming
a teacher is often experienced as a discordant,
liminal period of self-transformation (Atkison,
2004; Britzman, 1991). It stands to reason that
preservice teachers may not possess fully
developed or coherent plot lines that are characteristic of recollections told with the reflexivity afforded by the passage of time. However
inchoate, partial, and fleeting they may seem,
emergent counter-narratives provide a glimpse
into the dynamic, unfolding processes involved
in negotiating an art teacher identity.
To understand preservice art teachers’ emergent racial counter-narratives, this study drew
from critical race theory (CRT) and its methodology of storytelling. CRT grew out of critical legal
studies in the 1970s and made its way into the
field of education in the mid 1990s (LadsonBillings & Tate, 1995). CRT is relatively new to
art education research (Kraehe & Acuff, 2013). A
brief introduction to some of its key concepts is
beneficial for understanding how racial counternarratives are conceptualized in this study.
First, a central premise of CRT is that race
and racism play fundamental structuring roles
in society within the United States (Delgado &
Stefancic, 2001). Though a substantive review
of the history of racism is beyond the scope of
this article, it is important to note that contemporary scholars of race have demonstrated that
racism is not a social relic from a bygone era.
On the contrary, racism has taken new forms in
response to shifting historical and political circumstances (Bonilla-Silva, 2010). Whereas overt
and conscious forms of racism (e.g., racial slurs,
physical attacks, and written policies of racial
exclusion) were at one time quite common, in
our present post civil-rights context, it tends
to take more covert and unconscious forms
(Sue, 2010). Racism is deeply ingrained within
American institutional policies and cultural
practices such that the existing social order
appears natural and inevitable. Racism is not so
much a deviation from the norm as it is an ordinary part of life (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001).
Second, CRT rejects racial essentialism and
the long-discredited genetic view of race as
fixed or natural. On the contrary, race is understood as a social construction, a set of categories and ideas formed historically by human
relations (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). Ideas and
meanings associated with racial differences are
ascribed to arbitrary biological markers. Over
time, society continues to imbue racial categories with meaning, recycling and discarding
them in different contexts as needed, giving
each racial category a distinct history (Delgado
& Stefancic, 2001).
Third, CRT conceptualizes race as interdependent with other social categories such as
class, gender, and sexuality. This concept of
intersectionality is an important move away
Studies in Art Education / Volume 56, No. 3
from thinking of race as having the properties
of a static, singular identifier. Intersectionality
poses more complex understandings of identities as they are formed through the interaction
of multiple subject positions.
Fourth, the concept of “voice” holds particular methodological significance in CRT (Parker &
Lynn, 2002). It refers to expressions of individual
and shared experiences structured by racism.
Through storytelling, CRT recognizes “voice”
as an asset (Chapman, 2007; Delgado, 1989;
Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). It serves as a counterhegemonic strategy that helps destabilize colormute discourses that can camouflage inequities.
From this perspective, counter-narratives are
stories told from the vantage point of those
who have been subjugated, disparaged, and
forgotten. They expose hidden institutional and
cultural mechanisms of racial injustice as they
are understood at the level of everyday experience. The concept of microaggression is used
to describe these small—though cumulative—
units of experience.
Solórzano (1998) defined microaggressions as
subtle insults, slights, and everyday exclusions
encountered when navigating dominant group
spaces. They are “so pervasive and automatic…
that they are often dismissed and glossed over
as being innocent and innocuous” (Sue, 2010, p.
25). According to Sue (2010), microaggressions
are communicated through verbal interactions,
nonverbal behaviors, and environmental cues.
Environmental microaggressions are transmitted indirectly through symbolic references dispersed throughout the visual culture and other
nonhuman elements. Sue argued that these are
the most pernicious and invalidating because
they “exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality
of certain groups” (Sue, 2010, p. 37; see also
Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000).
Counter-narratives foster healing after racial
microaggression. They provide a way for the
storyteller to reconstruct a more enabling sense
of self. Counter-narratives also contribute to
shared knowledge by “unmoor[ing] people
from received truths so that they might consider
alternatives” (Ladson-Billings, 2013, p. 42). They
present opportunities to rethink institutional
norms and policies and provide fertile ground in
which justice-oriented change can begin to take
root (Dixson & Rousseau, 2005).
Research Design
This article focuses on data drawn from
a 3-year critical ethnographic case study
(Carspecken, 1996; Stake, 1995) of art teacher
preparation at a large university in the southwestern US. The study investigated how preservice art teachers negotiated their emerging
art teacher identities and how social positions
were implicated in the process of becoming an
art teacher. The research purposefully sampled
(Patton, 2002) a demographically varied group
of preservice art teachers from a single cohort.
I draw from in-depth, semistructured individual interviews conducted with two participants, Brianna and Cherise, from the time they
entered the art teacher education program until
the culminating semester of student teaching.
Both women were Black middle-class women
in their early 20s.3 When I met them, they were
just beginning their coursework in art education
at Southwest State University, a predominantly
White institution. The art faculty was disproportionately White and male. As in most art teacher
education programs, the art education program
was largely comprised of White female students
(Galbraith & Grauer, 2004). I invited Brianna
and Cherise to be part of the study because,
as visible members of a racial group underrepresented within the fields of art and art education (Galbraith & Grauer, 2004; Lindemann et
al., 2012), their social locations could engender
different experiences and dispositions than
those portrayed in the literature on art teachers
(Johnson, 1990).
Data Collection
Brianna and Cherise participated in seven
2-hour interviews. Each interview was transcribed in full, and member checks were
incorporated into the final representation of
Kraehe / Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity
participants’ narratives. A significant challenge
in eliciting information about identity at this site
stemmed from the absence of dialogue about
social positioning as an aspect of self-identification. The conventional manner in which
participants responded to questions about
identity was to talk narrowly of being an artist
(I see myself as just an artist.). Distinctions were
sometimes made when identifying with a particular art process (I’m a sculptor. I am into artist
books right now.). When open-ended identity
questions were asked, participants’ responses
generally contained little or no references to
social positions (e.g., race, class, and gender). As
someone who studies power relations, I felt it
was important to note these absences as a key
dimension of the discourse in use; the principal
idea being that what goes unsaid in the data is
as important in framing reality as what is said.
The silence was a productive ideological force
(Charmaz, 2005) that reflected and circumscribed the range of acceptable and desirable
identifications for art teachers.
One example of silent ideological framing
appeared in the art teacher education curriculum. The first half of the 4-year program was
devoted to coursework in studio art, art history,
child development and individual differences,
and general undergraduate studies. Courses
specifically covering art education content comprised only about one quarter of the art education major (see Figure 1). As I participated in
these required art education classes alongside
the preservice teachers and reviewed program
documents related to all the courses, I observed
that none of them dealt directly with issues
related to sociocultural differences or educational equity. These seemed striking omissions,
given that most schools in the surrounding
districts served high percentages of Black and
Latino children, many of who lived in racially
isolated and economically vulnerable communities.4 These schools were the very sites in which
the preservice art teachers would conduct their
field placements and student teaching.
Figure 1. Coursework for preservice art teachers
(percentage of required course hours).
Researcher Positionality
When I approached the art education faculty
about carrying out this study, I was welcomed
with the understanding that the research would
focus on students’ experiences in the program.
Over time, my relationship with the student
participants became increasingly reciprocal,
though initially I withheld information about
my background and my reasons for doing the
research. I was concerned about two things. First,
I worried that speaking too directly about my
interest in social identities and unequal power
relationships would make people uncomfortable and close off opportunities for observation
and genuine conversation. My second concern
stemmed from not wanting to direct the identity
discourse within this setting.
By withholding information, I realized that I
was perpetuating the same evasive practices
that I was critiquing, rather than helping to
catalyze more just relationships and self-determination among participants (Lather, 1986).
It became ethically necessary and, ultimately,
more constructive to disclose aspects of my own
Studies in Art Education / Volume 56, No. 3
life and my critical stance as a researcher. When
asked, I shared with participants my experiences
of being a Black teacher in various contexts, and
how being light-skinned, biracial, middle-class,
and heterosexual afforded me certain advantages—even as my racial identity likely worked
against me. Once I revealed myself, participants
seemed to have much more to say, as though
permission had been granted to talk about previously taboo subjects. They became openly
reflective and more vulnerable, wondering aloud
about the awkward, difficult, and even painful
encounters they experienced on their journey to
becoming art teachers.5 I related to participants
as an ally, asking questions and listening to their
stories without shock and without imposing my
own academic discourse on their narratives. This
dialogic interaction was important in building
trust and sustaining fruitful conversations with
Data Analysis
Constant comparative method guided the
analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The interview
data were summarized under the general categories of events, strategies, perspectives, and setting
(Miles & Huberman, 1994). Within each category,
the data were coded based upon their content,
form, and function, with particular attention to
the ways in which individuals resisted, accommodated, and reinvented identity narratives.
The thematic patterns that emerged were then
analyzed in terms of their connection to dominant racial discourses, patterns of discrimination, and structures of inequality.
In this section, I interpret Brianna and
Cherise’s stories as emergent racial counternarratives. This means that their stories are
not left to speak for themselves. The account
offered here is, like all re-presentations, a type
of translation from one social location or field of
meaning to another that, at times, privileges the
logic of one over the other (Skeggs, 2001). This
interpretation of Brianna and Cherise’s counternarratives is an attempt to describe how, in an
environment defined by racial silence, making
sense of race and racism becomes an integral—
but often hidden—part of negotiating an art
teacher identity.
Acquiring Unsanctioned Racial
When I met Brianna, she was just beginning
her art education coursework. She had already
taken numerous studio art courses. Brianna
enjoyed drawing and saw it as her area of
strength. In describing the studio art classes, she
noted that she was nearly always the only Black
person. I asked Brianna to tell me what that
was like. She recalled an introductory drawing
course she had recently completed in which all
the other students were White, led by a White
male professor:
[When] I came from high school, I was
used to drawing the outside of the
face, drawing the eyes perfect, doing it
slow and making everything where it’s
supposed to be. [My professor] wanted me
to be gestural and to be outside of what
I was used to.… He just kept telling me
to start over, telling me I was wrong, or
pointing out everything that was wrong.
And so then I tried to draw lightly, but he
wanted me to go dark, everything dark.
(Brianna Interview 1, October 2008)6
Brianna complied with the professor’s
request, making more gestural marks and going
outside of her range of comfort. She said that
eventually “it helped me because when I got
into my life drawing class [the next semester],
I was able to apply some of the things that he
taught me.” She went on to describe an upper
level life drawing course that she took the following semester. It was also taught by a White
male art professor:
I was used to being gestural and making
things dark and using dark colors.
Everyone else was still, from their high
school days, trying to make everything
perfect.… I felt good because [the
professor] was… showing [my artwork] in
front of everybody. He’s like, “This is really
Kraehe / Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity
good.” Eventually everybody’s [drawings]
started being similar to mine.
Brianna recounted the positive critiques
of her work as a backdrop to a more vexing
There was this one time in my life drawing
class [when] we did a drawing, and we
turned it around for everybody. The
[professor] was like, “Your art reminds me
so much of African art. It’s the way you
draw. Did you study African art?” I was like,
is he just saying that because I’m Black?
As she spoke, shifting in her seat, Brianna
appeared bothered by the incident, uncomfortable even with the uncertainty of how to
interpret his comments. She went on, saying,
“but he explained why he thought so—it wasn’t
pointing me out as the Black girl.” Brianna’s face
still bore an expression of annoyance. After
a brief pause, she continued incredulously: “I
don’t know. He said that my marks were “so
aggressive,” like I was carving into it like a wood
sculpture.… I don’t see myself as an aggressive
As she questioned and countered the insinuation of the professor’s words, Brianna was
drawn into an internal contest over how to
construe the negative racial overtones of what
was, on the surface, delivered as a compliment.
This vacillation between possible meanings is a
common feature of microaggression. It can be
emotionally and psychologically detracting for
the recipient of double-coded messages (Sue,
It is not possible to know the precise origins
of the professor’s thoughts on the subject of
African art. Indeed, there is no evidence that
the comments were made with malicious intent
or conscious bias on the part of the professor. It is doubtful he realized that his appraisal
of Brianna’s artwork perpetuated stereotypes.
However, in genealogical terms, the confluence
of the terms “aggressive” and “African art,” when
referring to Brianna’s embodiment of expressive mark making, carried traces of dominant
European and Euro American cultural con-
structions of the Black female body as uncontrollable, emotional, and hypersexual. These
tropes of an exotic, untamed Africa have been
repeated throughout the history of colonization
and modern art (Araeen, 2000; Feagin, 2010;
Hammonds, 1997). These discursive traces triggered dissonance in Brianna’s self-concept.
After another year in the art education
program, it seemed Brianna still tussled with
two contradictory subject positions with which
she might identify. The first position appeared
in her emergent counter-narrative where she
questioned the manner in which her artist identity was read by her life drawing professor. His
comments positioned Brianna in a manner that,
for her, was highly racialized. From the tone and
content of her remarks, she initially resented
and resisted his reductive response to her and
her artwork. The second subject position, the
one Brianna ultimately took up, showed greater
deference toward the professor’s narrative.
Many months after the jarring critique with
the drawing professor, Brianna, stated, “I didn’t
see the connection to African art, but he said
he’d studied it. He probably knew better than
I did, anyway” (Brianna Interview 3, May 2009).
Brianna’s rationalization of her professor’s comments seemed to be shaped by an assumption
that, as an art professor, he had more (objective) knowledge about the character of African
art. At the same time, it seems likely that his role
as professor also conferred greater power and
status. With this status comes the authority to
name reality and impose one’s (subjective) point
of view.
Brianna’s ambivalence about how to attribute
racialized encounters continued. For example,
she wound up in a painting class with one of the
few Black studio art professors. She explained
how nervous and intimidated she was by his
stature in the art world, and what she thought
he would expect of her as a Black artist:
I was like, “Oh, my gosh, he’s going to have
such high expectations of me, and I have
to work so hard.”… He does this African
American art, and it’s about slavery and
Studies in Art Education / Volume 56, No. 3
all this stuff. I feel like he’s going to want
me to do something “Black.” Like he’s
going to want me to produce something
Afrocentric or African American, like his
work is. (Brianna Interview 1, October
Her prior studio art experiences taught her
that race mattered in how she and her artwork
would be read, even if no one ever uttered the
word “race.” She explained, “When I took [his]
class and I was painting, he was like, ‘I don’t see
any of you in this painting’” (Brianna Interview
3, May 2009). Picturing the politically charged
Black imagery that the painting professor used
in his artwork, Brianna interpreted his critique
to mean that he wished to see references in her
work to an inner Black essence. Since studying
with a Black art professor was such a rare opportunity, it was possible that she internalized his
critique in more affirming ways than the racistsexist insinuations from the life drawing professor. Ironically, Brianna’s reading of this statement
was no less essentializing than the statements
by her White male professor. Whether or not
there was conscious racial intent from either
art professor, both men’s comments provided a
catalyst for her identity development.
From that point on, Brianna took it upon
herself to learn more about Black artists. With
little extra time or money to spend taking additional courses beyond the required art education sequence, Brianna used the assignments in
her art teacher preparation courses as a space
for learning about Black art. She focused on
trying to decode the work of Black artists, deciphering how they used visual imagery and mark
making to communicate about and make sense
of Blackness:
Almost all of the artworks that I presented
[for the art education assignments] were
of African American artists.… I don’t know
too much about art history in general and
especially African American artists. I mean
I know some, but I don’t feel like I know as
much as I need to know. I’m going to be
researching art [for this class] anyway, so
it’s for my own personal use as well as for
informing other students in the classroom.
(Brianna Interview 3, May 2009)
Black artists and their artwork were not a part
of any of the coursework that Brianna and the
other art education students were expected to
take in order to become an art teacher. Brianna
appropriated the art education assignments for
her own personal development. The class activities became a self-directed identity space, infusing her work with newfound social meaning:
There was stuff that we were required to
do, but this was something that I could do
for myself because I want to. Outside of
the class, I probably wouldn’t have done
it because, you know, I’m in other classes
and then working.
Indeed, Brianna was the only student I knew
of who held a full-time job throughout her
program of study. Moving beyond the approved
art teacher education curriculum, Brianna
pursued unsanctioned racial knowledge in
order to counteract the dissonance she felt
from prior art experiences. This identity practice
helped her to achieve a more expansive sense
of personhood while also fulfilling the requirements set forth by the art education program.
Race was salient in Brianna’s development
during this period, though she stopped short of
incorporating her budding racial consciousness
into her emerging teacher identity. Brianna had
difficulty articulating the relationship between
racial knowledge and the role of an art teacher.
This may have been, at least in part, because
there were not any curricular content or living
examples of race-conscious art teachers available to students in this art teacher preparation program. Nor was there course content
related to art and teaching in the context of
racial inequality. Acquiring and integrating
unsanctioned knowledge of race into her vision
for teaching was a difficult process that went
unnoticed by others. Nonetheless, Brianna conducted art inquiries on her own, an act that can
be understood as an attempt at self-actualization and cultural maintenance (Feagin, Vera, &
Imani, 1996).
Kraehe / Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity
Transgressing Racial Silence
For her elementary-student-teaching practicum, Cherise was assigned to an elementary
school in a predominantly White, affluent neighborhood. She immediately noticed that most of
the teachers were White, with only a handful of
Latinas. Cherise was the only Black member of
the faculty. Among the students, she detected
racial patterns as well:
You can definitely tell especially by how
they’re dressed and how they interact with
other kids. I felt like the Black kids stayed
more to themselves. They didn’t really
interact with their White peers or anything
like that. They were pretty quiet most
of the time, not all, but most. (Cherise
Interview 7, May 2011)
Though her cooperating teacher (CT) was
one of the few Latina teachers at the school,
Cherise did not talk about these observations
with her:
[Race] wasn’t something that we talked
about. It wasn’t my classroom, and
sometimes I felt like I had to kind of tiptoe
and please my CT, but at the same time
kind of stay true to myself. I don’t know. I
could see [race], but at the same time, it
wasn’t brought up between us.
Cherise negotiated race and racial tensions
in this school, while at the same time being
mindful of always needing to be viewed favorably by her CT. There were material consequences for how Cherise comported herself as
a student teacher. After all, the CT’s evaluation
of Cherise would impact her grade for student
teaching, her ability to graduate and apply for
teacher certification, her letters of recommendation, and her future job prospects. On the
other hand, as she said, she wanted to stay true
to herself, so when the CT gave her the opportunity to teach her own 1st-grade lesson, Cherise
used that opening to experiment with creating
a more internally resonant teacher self. She did
this by trying to address race in her teaching
Cherise enthusiastically recalled a lesson she
taught based on the work of Romare Bearden,
declaring, “It really turned out well, surprisingly.
Collage for 1st graders, you know!” Then, I asked
her to tell me more about how this lesson came
about, and her initial gloss gave way to a more
complicated reflection. Cherise explained that
the lesson was intended to be racially inclusive
as well as empowering for Anthony, the only
Black child in the class. She described how the
lesson unfolded. First, she modeled for the students how to create a self-portrait using papers
hued to match different skin tones:
When I was doing my demonstration,
I picked a skin color that was similar to
[Anthony’s] skin color. At first they were
like, “Well, why are you picking that? That’s
not your skin color.” And I was like, “Well,
I like this color. It’s your project. It’s how
you see yourself.” And they were like, “Oh,
okay”.… This one girl—a White student—
was like, “Well, what if we’re not African
American?” They always want to emulate
what it is that I’m doing, and I’m like, “Well,
that’s why we have all these different
skin tones available for you.” She’s like,
“Oh, okay”.… Other students made some
comments because I had some darker
brown skin tones that were available, and
one of the students started laughing and
they were like, “Oh, that’s Anthony’s color.”
Anthony’s darker skinned. I went up to
the student, and I just asked, “So why are
you laughing? How is that funny?” and just
kind of questioned him and things like
that. [He answered with] “Oh, I don’t know.”
Cherise was certain Anthony had overheard
the comments of the White students. I asked
what she gathered from Anthony’s response.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks. She
answered, “He felt ashamed of it.”
In transgressing the racial norms of art education, Cherise relied upon a liberal art discourse
of self-expression and individual freedom,
instructing her students, “It’s your project; it’s
how you see yourself.” This statement was strategic, simultaneously deflecting the conversation
Studies in Art Education / Volume 56, No. 3
away from explicit race talk while defending
Anthony from a veiled racial assault and refocusing students on representing themselves
as autonomous artists. However, this normative ideological framing of the artist (Bersson,
1986) and the child (Norquay, 1999) did little to
contest the imbalance of racial power that was
playing out in her classroom.
Cherise exemplified the myth of the teacher
as a neutral figure (Bartolomé, 2008; Ginsberg,
Kamat, Raghu, & Weaver, 1995) by deploying the
objectivist language of formalism and media.
This mobilized a decontextualized discourse
about (skin) color that concealed sociohistorical
meanings attributed to light (White) and dark
(Black) bodies (Alfredson & Desai, 2012; Gude,
2000; Haney López, 1996; Harris, 1993).
Cherise’s choice of a darker color to represent herself was not at all a neutral decision. She
intended to teach all the students that dark skin
is beautiful and valued, imbuing Blackness with
greater social value and status by linking it to her
position of power as art teacher. Cherise’s goal
was to stand in solidarity with the lone Black
child and to increase White students’ awareness
and respect for people of color. As the lesson
unfolded, however, Cherise’s desire to enact an
affirming art pedagogy was not realized.
Even though Cherise was committed to culturally engaged teaching, she was not equipped
with the critical sociocultural knowledge
needed to recognize, understand, and respond
effectively to racial inequality (Kraehe & Brown,
2014). For instance, Cherise seemed unaware
of the ways in which Anthony’s social location
as the only Black (male) child could influence
how he might be seen and positioned by others
in a White dominant learning environment.
Anthony’s relationship to his classmates and the
self-portrait project were already structured by
preexisting racial discourses and social hierarchies. Hence, the White students did not need
to employ race words to disparage their Black
classmate. They had already acquired the cultural devices of Whiteness and were now incorporating them in this art experience to make
sense of self and other (Bode, 1999; Lewis, 2003;
Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). Looking back on
this incident, Cherise acknowledged, “I didn’t
know how to talk about [race], plain and simple,
and I wasn’t prepared for the potential questions or responses that I would receive from my
students” (Cherise member check e-mail, 2013).
Even as she transgressed the habitual evasion of
race by teaching the Romare Bearden lesson and
focusing attention on skin color, Cherise continued to participate uncritically in traditional art
discourses, which undermined her capacity to
mediate classroom discussion (Milbrandt, 2002)
and defuse the ensuing racial microaggression.
At this point, it is worth reiterating that in
this art teacher education program, there was
no recognized forum for excavating, critiquing,
and building racial knowledge. Brianna and
Cherise broke the codes of racial silence when
they recounted their stories, and they did this
only with me in the context of the research
project. Their stories show how, even in colormute settings, race operates as a coconstitutive
process in the making of art teacher identities.
That their counter-narratives surfaced in bits
and pieces, rather than as full-blown social or
institutional critiques, does not diminish their
significance. On the contrary, this unpredictable,
emergent quality highlights overlooked modes
of student agency that students of color employ
as they navigate the “overwhelming presence
of whiteness” (Sleeter, 2001, p. 94) in art teacher
education. These tactics may be similar to how
members of other historically marginalized and
underrepresented groups negotiate their art
teacher identities.
This study advances knowledge of how race
and racism influence art teacher learning and
identity formation. The findings suggest that
when art teacher preparation programs and
teacher education research ignore these and
other sociocultural influences, the distinctive
frameworks, idioms, and practices that define
us as a field may also function surreptitiously as
Kraehe / Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity
hegemonic tools of domination and exclusion.
It seems clear from this study that such “race
ignore-ance” is not innocent (Applebaum, 2006).
Moving forward, teacher education policy
and practice need to become attentive and
responsive to emergent counter-narratives
(Chapman, 2011; Milner, 2008). An important
step in that direction is to establish curricular
spaces for critical race reflection and dialogue
and to integrate these into the heart of art
teacher preparation. These spaces can enable
preservice art teachers to recognize unjust race
relations as they are mediated (and often reproduced) by the performance of subject matter
expertise. Prospective art teachers also need
opportunities to acquire critical conceptual
frameworks in order to understand their own
personal and professional identities in relation
to racialization and other intersecting sociocultural processes. Without such opportunities,
important aspects of art teachers’ identities are
suppressed. This is not only invalidating to preservice teachers of color, but it also diminishes
the capacities of all prospective art teachers to
teach equitably and reflexively in the context of
social inequality.
The data in this article derive from the author’s
dissertation research and were presented at the 2014
American Educational Research Association annual
meeting in Philadelphia, PA. The author extends her
gratitude to James Haywood Rolling Jr. for his astute
and thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this
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Kraehe / Sounds of Silence: Race and Emergent Counter-Narratives of Art Teacher Identity
1 The terms “racial ignore-ance” (Applebaum, 2006), “color-blind racism” (Bonilla-Silva, 2010) and “power-
evasive discourse” (Frankenberg, 1993) share similar meanings as colormuteness. As this study focused on
the language and talk produced within interview data, I borrow from Pollock’s (2004) conceptualization of
colormuteness in order to emphasize the inaudible presence of race in how preservice art teachers talked
about and made sense of their experiences of becoming art teachers.
See Delpit (1988) and Cochran-Smith (2004) for how this occurs within conservative as well as progressive
teacher education discourses.
Brianna self-identified as African American, and Cherise self-identified as biracial Black/Filipino. Pseudonyms
were used for all participants and the research setting.
Much of art teacher education was regulated by the state legislature and higher education accrediting
agencies. For example, there was a ceiling imposed that limited the number of credit hours university
programs could require for any undergraduate degree. Such regulations limited the possibilities for
adequately addressing curricular gaps by simply adding a diversity course, the most common approach taken
in teacher education (Kraehe, 2010). To adequately address the sociocultural gaps in art teacher preparation,
the foundational assumptions about what constitutes essential knowledge for art teachers would likely need
to be rethought and programmatic structures reorganized in their entirety.
Participants who identified as racial and/or sexual minorities were particularly inquisitive about and
responsive to my positionality. These participants also seemed to be more willing to disclose their experiences
as members of marginalized groups once I shared my stories with them.
Quote sources are identified at the first occurrence from each interview, as well as when the interview source
Sue (2010) describes the cumulative effects of racial microaggression on people of color, which include
emotional distress, an invalidating climate for learning, stereotype threat (see Steele, Spencer, & Aronson,
2002), and a strain on physical health (see Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999) and productivity (see
Salvatore & Shelton, 2007). These costs extend to other marginalized groups as well.
Studies in Art Education / Volume 56, No. 3