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Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language education - [Narrativas Autobiográficas de raça e racismo no Brasil: Teoria Racial Crítica em Estudos da Linguagem] 2015


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FERREIRA, Aparecida de Jesus. Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language education. Revista Muitas Vozes. Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015. This research reflects the experiences of language teachers regarding race and racism in their lives in Brazil. The three main research objectives were to examine how these teachers personally encountered racism; what these teachers’ narratives reveal about racism and the way that they reflect about their own racial identities; and finally, how the experiences of these teachers were transformed into action in their language classrooms and in their private lives. The theoretical framework used was based on Critical Race Theory (CRT), which was the basis for data analysis (LADSON-BILLINGS, 1998, LADSON-BILLINGS AND TATE, 1995). The methodology for data gathering was autobiographical narratives about these teachers’ experiences of race and racism. The results showed that in one way or other these teachers faced issues of race and racism in their own homes, in schools as students, in university as students, as well as in their own working environments.
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Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and
racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and
language education
Narrativas Autobiográcas de raça e racismo
no Brasil: Teoria Racial Crítica em Estudos
da Linguagem.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira*
Abstract: This research reects the experiences of language teachers regarding
race and racism in their lives in Brazil. The three main research objectives were to
examine how these teachers personally encountered racism; what these teachers’
narratives reveal about racism and the way that they reect about their own racial
identities; and nally, how the experiences of these teachers were transformed
into action in their language classrooms and in their private lives. The theoretical
framework used was based on Critical Race Theory (CRT), which was the basis for
1995). The methodology for data gathering was autobiographical narratives about
these teachers’ experiences of race and racism. The results showed that in one
way or other these teachers faced issues of race and racism in their own homes,
in schools as students, in university as students, as well as in their own working
Keywords: autobiographical narratives, identity, race, Critical Race Theory,
language education, Brazil.
Resumo: Esta pesquisa reete as experiências dos professores de línguas sobre
raça e racismo em suas vidas no Brasil. O objetivo principal da pesquisa foi exa-
minar como as experiências desses professores foram transformados em ação em
suas salas de aula de língua e em suas vidas privadas. O referencial teórico utili-
zado foi baseado na Teoria Racial Critica (Critical Race Theory - CRT) , que foi
a base para a análise de dados (LADSON - BILLINGS, 1998, 1999, LADSON
- BILLINGS E TATE , 1995). A metodologia de geração de dados foi narrativas
autobiográcas sobre experiências de raça e racismo de professores de línguas.
Os resultados mostraram que, de uma forma ou de outra estes professores enfren-
taram questões de raça e racismo em suas próprias casas, nas escolas como estu-
dantes, na universidade como estudantes, bem como em seus próprios ambientes
de trabalho.
Palavras-chave: teoria racial crítica, estudos da linguagem, narrativas
autobiográcas, Brasil, raça e racismo.
* Pós-doutora
e doutora pela
de Londres –
Inglaterra, profes-
sora Associada na
UEPG no Programa
de Pós-Graduação
em Linguagem,
Identidade e
Subjetividade e pro-
fessora do Programa
de Doutorado em
Letras na Unioeste –
Linguagem e Ensino.
E-mail: aparecidade-
com. Site: www.
DOI: 10.5212/MuitasVozes.v.4i1.0005
80 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
This research aims to reect on the experiences of race and racism
of language teachers in Brazil and seeks to understand how these particular
teachers experienced race and racism in their lives. From 2011, I started
collecting autobiographical narratives written by teachers as part of an MA
course in language, identity and subjectivity that I teach at the Universidade
Estadual de Ponta Grossa, Paraná, Brazil. These written, autobiographical
narratives were produced as part of the activities of the course, in which
I discuss professional identity and the social identities of race in the
classroom. I collected 32 written autobiographical narratives of teachers
from the eld of languages (Portuguese, English as a foreign language,
French as a foreign language, and Spanish as a foreign language).
Considering the signicant impact that this activity had on the
teachers who were attending the course I decided to analyse their written
autobiographical narratives. Other research Ladson-Billings (1998); Moita
Lopes (2002); Milner (2010); Ferreira (2012, 2015a, 2015b); Pessoa (2014)
has shown that it is difcult for teachers to address the issues of race and
racism in the classroom if they are not adequately prepared Consequently,
this research was designed to examine the teachers’ specic experiences of
race and racism.
Research conducted by Ferreira in Brazil (2004, 2009, 2012a),
which observed classroom interactions between students-students and
teachers-students, concluded that the voices of the students should be heard
more, and that they should be more involved in the process of teaching and
working towards actions that can challenge race inequality in education.
The data collected from students and teachers by race/colour/ethnicity
clearly demonstrated that the experiences of racism that were mentioned
by the participants merited further reection and prompted consideration
about potential actions to challenge racist behaviour. This is an aspect
that needs to be discussed with students and teachers in a way that helps
them to reect on their own identity. This research attempts to understand
how teachers have experienced race and racism in their lives and these
experiences are reected in their autobiographical narratives.
Changes to the Brazilian curriculum in relation to the issues of race
took place in January 2003, with the instigation of Federal Law 10.639/2003,
which made the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture
mandatory (BRASIL, 2005). According to Brasil (2005), African, and
Afro-Brazilian history and culture should be taught within all subjects of
the school curriculum. The contribution of this legislation to education in
Brazil was welcome in terms of addressing issues that were previously
absent in curricula and in teacher education courses.
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
All schools, universities and teachers in Brazil should now be
prepared, through their teaching development courses and continuing
education, to include questions that address the issues of race and ethnicity
in the curriculum. However, in reality this depends on the individual school
or university, and compliance with this legal requirement is not currently
being monitored. The government guidelines for the teaching of African
and Afro-Brazilian history and culture provide guidance on what content to
teach, and the guidelines are also intended to raise general awareness that
racism exists in Brazil. It is intended that teaching about Afro-Brazilian
culture will be achieved by well-developed teaching material as well as
teachers who are prepared to deal with the issue in the classroom (MOITA
LOPES, 2002; BRASIL, 2005, FERREIRA, 2006 2008, 2011; JORGE,
The inclusion of this content in the curriculum was urgently needed,
given the previous lack of representation of topics that address issues of
race and ethnicity in the curriculum. However, one element of concern
with regard to Federal Law No. 10.639/2003 was the lack of preparation
of teachers to implement the discussion of race and ethnicity in the school
context, which was one of the main motivating factors for the present
Thus, the issues to be addressed in this article are: how these teachers
personally encountered racism; what these teachers’ narratives reveal about
racism and the way that they have been able to reect on their own racial
identities; and nally, how these teachers’ experiences were transformed
into actions in their language classrooms and in their private lives.
This article starts with a brief discussion of the issue of race in
Brazil. This is followed by some reections on the use of autobiographical
narratives, critical race theory (CRT) and language education. The
methodology of the data gathering is then outlined. The analysis is separated
into three sections: reections on teachers encountering examples; the
impact on their racial identities; and how their experiences were turned
into actions in their teaching and in their private lives.
Race in Brazil
According to the IBGE, the ofcial classications of colour, race
and ethnicity in Brazil are: Branco (white - European descendants), Preto
(black – Afro-descendants), Pardo (mixed race of Black and White),
Indígena (native Brazilian Indian - Brazilian native Indian descendants)
and Amarelo (Yellow – Asian descendants). According to the 2010 census,
the population of Brazil was 190,749,191. The population was divided
as follows: Black, 14,517,961 (7.61%), mixed race (Pardo) 82,277,333
(43.13%), White 91,051,646 (47.73%), native Brazilian Indian 817,963
82 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
(0.42%), Yellow (Asian descendants) 2,084,288 (1.09%). If the Black
and mixed race (Pardo), which are the Afro-descendant/Afro-Brazilian
segments of the population, are added together this represents 50.74% of
the Brazilian population. Researchers in the eld of race tend to combine
the categories of Black (Pretos) and mixed race (Pardos) because when
research is carried out regarding schooling, employment, medical access and
housing, there is no signicant difference for Black and mixed race people
in the results. In Brazil, Black people tend to self-identify themselves by
referring to colours such as moreno (brown), moreno claro (light brown),
moreninho (little brown) etc (see FERREIRA, 2011). As my data was
gathered in the university environment I will mention some statistics about
the racial prole of people who have taken post-graduate courses in Brazil;
the information is provided by Paixão (2010, p. 242). The numbers that
follow are by race/colour: White (year 1988, 44,097; year 1998, 160,584;
year 2008, 258,738), Black and mixed race (year 1988, 3,517; year 1998,
25,255; year 2008, 65,045). This data clearly shows which racial groups
have had access to post-graduate university education. As I have written
Regarding racial terminology, Afro-Brazilian activists used to prefer to
use the term ‘Negro relating to a Black person. They preferred this term
because it is associated with ethnic origin rather than colour. Recently,
black activists introduced the terms ‘Afro-descendant’ and ‘Afro-Brazilian’
as a way to self-dene. However, people who are not aware of this still use
the terms ‘Preto (Black) and Negro interchangeably. (FERREIRA, 2011,
p. 22)
I choose to use the word ‘race’ in this article to refer to a socially
constructed phenomenon (Ladson-Billings, 1998).
Autobiographical narratives and Critical Race Theory in
language teacher education
Over the last few years a lot has been done in the eld of narrative
research in education (CLANDININ; CONNELLY, 1998, 2000); in
language education and teaching English to speakers of other languages
(TESOL) (BELL, 2002; BENSON & NUNAN, 2005; PAVLENKO, 2007;
2011); and in the eld of race that considers the importance of narratives
(LADSON-BILLINGS, 1998; BELL, 2003; FERREIRA, 2004, 2009;
MILNER, 2010; LACHUK & MOSLEY, 2012; DIAS, 2013;). According
to Clandinin & Connely (2000), ‘[…] life – as we come to it and it comes
to others is lled with narrative fragments, enacted in storied moments
of time and space, and reected upon and understood in terms of narrative
unities and discontinuities’ (CLANDININ & CONNELLY, 2000, 17).
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
In this research I adopt the framework of CRT, which is important
in terms of my research because it has been used in the eld of education
to address issues of race and racism. Although CRT started in the legal
eld (DELGADO & STEFANCIC, 2000, xvi), Ladson-Billings & Tate
(1995) are acknowledged for introducing CRT into the eld of education.
In this article, I am interested in the aspect of CRT that is related to stories,
narratives and counterstories. Ladson-Billings (1998) claims that:
The use of voice or “naming your reality” is a way that CRT links form and
substance in scholarship. CRT scholars use parables, chronicles, stories,
counterstories, poetry, ction, and revisionist histories to illustrate the false
necessity and irony of much of current civil rights doctrine. (LADSON-
BILLINGS, 1998, p. 13)
Milner and Howard also contribute to this discussion by claiming
that “[…] narrative and counter-narrative should be captured by the
researcher, experienced by the research participants, and told by people of
color. […] race and racism are placed at the center of analysis through the
narrative and counter-narrative in CRT.” (MILNER & HOWARD, 2013,
p. 542)
Since the introduction of the CRT approach to education by Ladson-
Billings and Tate almost twenty years ago (1995, see also Ladson-Billings,
1998), many researchers have been using this approach within educational
research as a theoretical and analytical framework (BELL, 2003; PARKER
2003; MILNER, 2010; MILNER & HOWARD, 2013; and many others).
The theoretical framework of CRT has also been used in the elds of
TESOL and language education (FERREIRA, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011;
2014; MICHAEL-LUNA, 2009; KUBOTA & LIN, 2009; SANTOS, 2011;
DIAS, 2013; LIGGETT, 2014; KUBOTA, 2015)
After nishing my PhD in 2004 (FERREIRA, 2004), in which I used
the tenets of CRT to analyse my research data, I went back to teaching and I
gradually introduced autobiographical narratives as part of the themes to be
discussed in the MA course that I teach at UEPG. There is a moment in the
course when we discuss professional identities and there is another moment
when we discuss racial identities and their impact in language teaching.
Firstly, we discuss some theoretical issues concerning race and racism
and I ask the teachers to write, in their own homes, an autobiographical
narrative answering the question “How did you rst become aware that
racism exists?” There is a later moment in the course when all the teachers
share their autobiographical narratives of experiences of race and racism in
their lives, and this normally triggers an explosion of emotions from most
of the participants. When I did this for the rst time I was very surprised
to see that many teachers were moved to tears. Now, after having done this
84 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
for several years, I am more aware of what is likely to happen and I am
more prepared to deal with the reactions of the teachers. At the end of the
course I always do an evaluation with the participants and for most of them
the high point of the course is the sharing of personal experiences. It is
clear that this discussion about race and racism can have a positive impact
on teachers’ ways of viewing the issue. Similar experiences have occurred
in research carried out by Milner (2010): “Indeed, the sharing of race-
related narratives can prove meaningful and productive in helping students
and teachers understand, think about, and change their thinking about such
issues. Once students (and teacher educators) know better, they are more
likely to do better.” (MILNER, 2010, p. 199, his emphasis).
As this article is related to race and racism in the eld of language
education, foreign language education, TESOL and applied linguistics, it
is important to point out that signicant research has been done in the eld
over the last few years in Brazil, such as Moita Lopes (2002); Ferreira
(2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012a; 2012b); Silva (2009); Azevedo (2010);
Ferreira and Ferreira (2011); Santos (2011); Jorge (2012); Barros (2013);
Ferreira & Camargo (2014); Pessoa (2014) and in many other countries
such as Van Dijk (1993); Ibrahim (1999); Motha (2006); Ajayi (2011);
Kubota and Lin (2006, 2009); Ligget (2009, 2014); Luke (2009); Ruecker
(2011); Mitchell (2013); and Kubota (2002, 2015);
This article is based on qualitative research (DENZIN & LINCOLN,
2000). The autobiographical narratives were generated during an MA course
(Language Teacher Education) that I teach at the Universidade Estadual de
Ponta Grossa. The course lasts 60 hours over one semester. The data was
generated during 2011, 2012 and 2013. The theoretical framework used
to generate data were authors who research about autobiographies and
narratives, and working with reections on teacher education and language
teacher education (CLANDININ & CONNELLY, 1998, 2000; BELL,
2003; BAMBERG, 2006; PAVLENKO, 2007; MILNER, 2010; Norton &
Early, 2011). The autobiographical narratives of these teachers intersect
experiences linked with race and racism, which are lived in the classroom,
in the home environment, and in the social environment. For this research
the following autobiographies were generated.
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
The autobiographical narratives that I refer to in this article are
important in order to understand the need for the preparation of language
teachers to work with issues of race and racism, not only in the classroom
but also in the whole school environment and in their own lives. There
have been several examples of research conducted in different countries
about narratives in the eld of education (CLANDININ & CONNELLY,
1998, 2000) and in applied linguistics (VAN DIJK, 1993; TELLES,
BARKHUIZEN, BENSON & CHIK, 2014), which demonstrate the
importance of narrative research and autobiographical narrative research.
As explained in the previous section, I will use Critical Race Theory
(CRT) as a framework to analyse the autobiographical narratives of the
teachers. In the process of my analysis I worked with the data in different
phases. In the rst phase I read the 32 teachers’ autobiographical narratives
and I coded them following what Corbin & Strauss (1990) have to say
about themes and the coding of data. In the second phase, I re-read the
autobiographies and separated them into themes so that I could answer
the research questions, and in the third phase I analysed them. Due to
ethical considerations I will be using codes to identify each teacher and the
codes are as follows: T1 (teacher 1), BF (black female), MRF (mixed race
female), WF (white female), WM (white male), PT (Portuguese teacher),
Year 2011 2012 2013 Total
Black female 1-23
Black male - - - -
Mixed race female 2 4 3 9
Mixed race male - - - -
White female 71 10 18
White male -2-2
Total 10 715 32
Table 1: Race, colour and gender of the 32 teachers who provided autobiographical
Table 2: Languages taught by teachers
Year 2011 2012 2013 Total
Portuguese 4 2 -6
English as a foreign language 4310 17
Spanish as a foreign language 1 1 4 6
French as a foreign language 1 1 1 3
Total 32
86 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
EFLT (English as a foreign language teacher), SFLT (Spanish as a foreign
language teacher) and FFLT (French as a foreign language teacher).
Language teachers encountering about race and racism:
Counter-storytelling is a means of exposing and critiquing normalized
dialogues that perpetuate racial stereotypes. The use of counterstories
allows for the challenging of privileged discourses, the discourses of the
majority, therefore, serving as a means for giving voice to marginalized
groups. (DECUIR & DIXSON, 2004, p. 27)
This section discusses how the language teachers who participated
in this research rst encountered racism in their own lives. Some of them
discovered about racism in their own home, or in school as a child, as we
can see below:
I was introduced to racism at home. [...] My grandfather was black, but
my mother denies her own origins. I say this because of the way she
vehemently asserts that blacks are worthless; they just cause problems and
do bad things. She also used a series of [racial] expletives that I heard
throughout my life. (T9, WF, PT)
Well, as I’m a black woman, it wasn’t very difcult for me to be aware of
the existence of racism. Since I started going to school, even in pre-school,
I was already aware that no classmates approached me. Besides being
black, I was poor. My mother was very sick, but she always worked to keep
the house, she always worked extra hours to increase the family income.
She always kept us in school. In order for me to go to nursery school I had
to spend the week at the home of an aunt who lived near that particular
school. I never had a very close relationship with my mother because she
was always working and when she was at home she did sewing jobs for
people. She had no time for long conversations; she was very affectionate
but she didn’t have enough time to discuss issues such as racism. However,
she was always very present in the school, I mean when she was asked to
attend meetings. (T10, BF, SFLT)
Racism was the conict that I was talking about. I encountered it as soon
as I left my mother’s womb. When my father saw me for the rst time
in the maternity hospital he told my mother that he disowned me from
that moment because she was not able to have a white daughter, since all
my siblings (three) were born black, like our father [...] From then on I
started to notice all the overt and all the subtle racist attitudes. Being a
black man or woman enables you recognise racism and prejudice, often
simply through looks. (T30, BF, FFLT)
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
The narratives of Teachers 9, 10 and 30 shows a common pattern
about experiencing racism in their own homes and also some experiences
of black teachers, whose own black relatives made negative comments
about race. Brasil (2005, p.16) argues that it is incorrect to state that black
people are racist against their own race and that this should be understood
instead as the result of a whitening ideology that emphasises the social
privileges of being white. Brasil (2005) goes on to assert that:
It is worth remembering that in the post-abolition period policies were
formulated aimed to whiten the population by eliminating the symbolic
and material presence of black people. Thus, it is possible that black
people may be inuenced by the ideology of whitening and they may tend
to reproduce the prejudices of which they are victims. Racism leaves a
negative inuence on the subjectivity of black people and also on those
who discriminate against them. (BRASIL, 2005, p. 16)
The ideology of whitening that Brasil (2005) refers to above, also
has an impact on the identity of white people, who continue to say things
and take actions that put black people in less privileged positions, as shown
in the narratives by Teachers 1, 13 and 16 that follow:
I can’t really tell you when I rst became aware of the existence of racism:
I just know that I repeated songs, rhymes and sayings that they taught me
when I was a kid, like “don’t go upstairs or the black bogeyman will get
you”. (T1, WF, FFLT)
From childhood, I always heard and saw discrimination as regards race,
either in jokes and/or anecdotes where the “guilty” person was almost
always black [...] In my municipal elementary school, I remember an
incident involving two students. They were siblings, a boy and a girl, both
black, from a dysfunctional family situation and working class. Those were
the two reasons why they were ridiculed by some classmates because (the
two factors were not necessarily related). They had already had to repeat
the year and they lived in an underprivileged part of the city. I remember
that even though we were children aged about seven, racial segregation was
already within the classroom; there was a distancing between “us whites”
and them. (T13, WM, FFLT)
I think that I had already realised that there was prejudice in my family
as a child, even without knowing what to call it. When my grandfather,
who was of German descent and who was very strict, instructed us to do
something he would add “and I don’t want done in a black [sub-standard]
way” [...] So I think I started to realise that prejudice existed and that it
was something signicant. These types of issues (all kinds of prejudice)
are now being addressed more openly in the media and it made me see a
different reality to that which I had experienced. (T16, BF, EFLT)
88 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
The preceding narratives show the voices of people who were taught
as children that being black meant being ugly, that black people should
be feared, that black people could be joked about, called names, belittled,
made to feel guilty about things that they didn’t do, and told that what they
did was not correct or not good enough. These narratives clearly show the
privilege of being white in Brazilian society and are evidence of attitudes of
white supremacy (GILLBORN, 2009); they also show who has the power
to have their voices heard in Brazil. Similar experiences can be found in
studies by Bell (2003); Ferreira (2009); Milner (2010). In the following
narratives, teachers 31, 12 and 4 talk about the issue of whiteness as a
property (LEONARDO, 2002; DECUIR AND DIXSON, 2004;) and also
about the experience of living in a colour-blind society (FERREIRA, 2011;
LADSON-BILLINGS, 1998). The narratives of Teachers 31 and 12 that
follow, show the privilege of being white:
I was always described as being blonde with blue eyes when I was growing
up. I never noticed the importance and relevance of discussing issues related
to racism. I confess that I didn’t even think about this subject because I was
living in a comfort zone; the stereotypes that come to mind when you think
about someone with the physical characteristics I have described above
are largely positive. [...] Reecting about how I rst realised that racism
exists, I think that it came about through the media; I saw news about
prejudice and racism, [...]. Another point to consider is that the opinions of
parents are ultimately the benchmark for children. I think that even seeing
situations of prejudice and racism this could mean that some people would
think that they were acceptable, perhaps going along with the views of their
own family. (T31, WF, EFLT)
[...] It’s difcult to admit that, in some ways, we live in a country that is
dominated by the idea that Brazil is a white society. I thought that this
problem had already been completely resolved. However, I notice that
there are still some traces of racist attitudes. I always realised that racism
existed, but it is very polemical to discuss the issue. In all social spaces
there is always someone saying that whenever something is done wrongly,
it is because it was a black person was responsible. Also people often use
expressions that are connected to racial segregation. (T120, WM, EFLT)
When I started doing teacher training and working with students in the
classroom, I began to really realise that there is still racism in our country
even though many people tend to say that there is no colour prejudice in our
society. I realised that many children were discriminated against because of
their colour. (T4, MRF, EFLT)
These narratives show that, for those who have the privilege of
being white, things are seen from a different perspective. Bell’s comment
below (2003) echoes the experiences of some of the narratives discussed
in this section.
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
When white respondents told stories about what they learned from their
parents, or about what they as parents teach their children, very few
articulated stories of overt training in racism. More often they described
a complicated blend of mixed messages, evasions and distortions that
nevertheless communicate a coherent ideology of color-blindness. (BELL,
2003, p.15)
Reections on the racial identity of language teachers
When we look at the role of storytelling in both CRT and TESOL, the notion
of identity is not a xed essence, but rather an assemblage of positions,
narratives, and discourses constructed from relationships, experiences, and
individual positionality. (LIGGET, 2014, p. 118)
In this section I discuss the teachers’ narratives, which had an impact,
in one way or another, on their perceptions about their own racial identity.
The narrative of Teacher 25 that follows, shows that for this particular
black teacher, even though she was more qualied than the other person
who was being interviewed for the job, it was clear that the choice of
who was eventually offered the job was based on race, and whiteness as a
property. The discourse of whiteness is explicit in the narrative of Teacher
25. Decuir & Dixson (2004) argue that whiteness is one of the tenets of
CRT that can be used in the eld of education.
Once, I went to a job interview and there was another [white] girl there. I
clearly felt the difference in treatment between us. I was much more quali-
ed for the vacancy; however I was not selected. I felt during the conversa-
tion with the interviewer that there was no way that they were not going to
offer me the job. (T25, BF, EFLT)
This experience had a big impact on the identity of Teacher 25 as
a future teacher, on her own self esteem, and in relation to her potential
access to all sorts of capital (economic, cultural, and social) that she
would have had if she had been given the job that she applied for. What
is important here, is allowing her to make her voice heard in relation to
this experience. According to Dixson & Rouseau, “We should make clear,
however, that the use of the term ‘voice’ in the singular does not imply the
belief that there exists a single common voice for all persons of colour.
The stories of individuals will differ”. (DIXSON & ROUSSEAU, 2005, p.
11). The narrative of Teacher 30 that follows shows how she encountered
racism in her own home.
When I was very small, for several months, my father was always looking
at the tips of my ngers to see if they would get any darker, while my
mother, without him knowing, tied my nose with a clothespin or squeezed
90 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
my nose three times in the morning and three times before I went to sleep,
to make it thinner. She justies this, even to this day, by saying that she
did this to all my brothers and that at that time all mothers did this to their
children, for their own good, because having a at or a wide nose meant
being teased for life and made it hard to date or get married. She also said
that a at or wide nose was not pretty. (T30, BF, FFLT)
It is clear from the narrative of Teacher 30 that her own identity was
heavily inuenced by a standard of beauty which upheld whiteness as the
ideal. The two narratives that follow from Teachers 17 and 29 discuss the
discourse of colour-blindness experienced by white teachers:
Having lived in a family surrounded by racism, for a long time I thought that
it was all very natural and normal. Individuals are socially and historically
constructed and I’ve always been surrounded by information that told me
that black people are inferior. [...] Because I don’t have black skin myself I
have never personally suffered from any form of racism, so it’s very easy to
ignore the issue when it doesn’t affect you directly. (T17, WF, PT)
My father was a racist, to such an extent that his behaviour was sometimes
ridiculous. He often had to deal with something important, some business,
signing a document etc. If he met a black person as he was leaving home,
especially if it was a black woman, he would come home and say a prayer
before going out again. In his twisted mind he believed that this was a
harbinger of something negative, he associated the colour of the person
with negativity. For a long time, especially in my childhood, I also thought
that his view of black people, and his prejudice, was normal, because of
years of living in contact with those views. (T29, WF, EFLT)
The narratives above are important because they enable us to
understand how being overtly racist can be seen as “normal”; these teachers
clearly did not have access to counter-narratives in their own homes. The
experiences recounted by these teachers happened to them when they
were children, or as adults, but they still remember them vividly. Their
experiences seem to echo similar experiences mentioned in research by
Bell (2003):
Another interesting characteristic of the counter-narrative stories was
their timelessness. Some stories were clearly recent, while others recalled
experiences from years ago. These stories about long ago incidents
were frequently told not as past history that is over and nished, but
as encapsulating lived experience up to and through the present time.
Respondents offered such stories as emblematic tales that bridge past and
present to illustrate the continuities of racism in contemporary daily life.
(BELL, 2003, p. 9)
The counter-narratives highlighted in this section show that race and
racism is very present in the experiences of Black and White teachers.
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
Reections on the roles of teachers both in teaching and as
researchers in the eld of language education
[…] issues of race address power, identity, subjectivity, and social (in)
justice, which are vital to all aspects of second language education.
(KUBOTA & LIN, 2009, p. 1)
Teacher 26 was a pedagogical coordinator in a school and in charge
of teachers when she had the following experience:
I heard a commotion coming from one of the rooms on the second oor
and then some students appeared who were quite upset. They asked me
to go up because something awful was happening in their class room.
When I arrived, I ran into an astonishing scene: one of the students was
quarrelling with a Biology teacher, who was black, and she [the teacher]
was visibly upset. She was crying and yelling at some boys who were not
intimidated by her in the slightest. One of them was abusing her all the time
and some of the others were joining in. Some of the students tried to calm
the teacher and others booed, whistled and joined in the argument. Keila,
the teacher could not speak because she was so nervous. I asked her to go
away with another teacher, who had possibly heard what had happened and
I stayed with the class to try and nd out what had happened. The students
explained to me that for a long time some of their fellow students had been
tormenting the teacher because of her colour, but she went along with the
joke and she never complained about it. But on that particular day, while
the teacher was talking about evolution, one of the boys started saying that
the teacher had not evolved and that she was still a “monkey”. The teacher
could not control herself and she started hitting the student. I did not know
what to do. I never imagined that in this day and age racial abuse like this
could still happen. I called an inspector to supervise the students and I went
downstairs to talk to the teacher. She said that she should not have let things
get to that point, she should have put an end to those jokes that were in bad
taste, and she should have advised the school directors. It was then that I
got another shock: the teacher had already discussed the ongoing problem
with the school coordinator, before speaking to me, and the coordinator had
made similar bad taste jokes. Consequently, she had decided to keep quiet
and to deal with the problem alone because she was a substitute teacher and
she really needed that job. I immediately called the families of the students
involved and encouraged her to make a police report. (T26, WF, EFLT)
Teacher 26 recounts an experience of explicit racism that happened
to her colleague. This disturbing experience shows that is it extremely
important that teachers are educated to know how to deal with situations like
that faced by her colleague. In relation to the example given by teacher 26
Liggett (2014) claims that “[…] the historical context that frames discourse
around English language education, and how this context overlaps with
92 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
race, racial identity, and racialisation” (LIGGETT, 2014, 122). Although
the experience mentioned by Teacher 26, who is a teacher of English as a
foreign language, did not take place in her own classroom, nevertheless,
she had to resolve the situation. The experiences of narratives of Teachers
18 and 27 that follow seem to conrm what Teacher 26 mentions. Racism
is endemic and it is everywhere, which is one of the main tenets of CRT
I have noticed that early in the school year, when there is an Afro-descendant
student in the class, it usually takes a little longer for them to make friends.
This year, I have a student who took almost the whole of the rst term
before he started playing with other students during breaks and during class
he hardly spoke, and only when he was directly asked to participate. So I
started making the students work in groups and I noticed that he started
to talk more and to play with other students in the playground. (T18, WF,
By paying more attention to the kind of conversation that occurs between
teachers in meetings, in moments of relaxation, such as recess and breaks,
and even in class councils, the sad reality of their mockery and intolerance
of colleagues and students can be seen [...] For example, I had not stopped
to think that the silence of teachers in the classroom in the face of students
using nicknames, making jokes in bad taste etc. can reinforce prejudices,
and that the attitude of teachers in the face of such conicts should be
cautious and conciliatory without reinforcing stereotypes or prejudices.
These are questions that make all the difference in the classroom and
subsequently they will make a difference in society. (T27, WF, EFLT)
These narratives from Teachers 18 and 27 refer to their experiences
with the issues of race inside their classes, which are experiences that
intersect language education and racism. This demonstrates that language
teachers need to be prepared to deal with issues of race in the school
environment and where they work. Pennycook (2001) is an applied linguist
and he considers that language is political and that it is embodied with
power “in relation to questions of class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality,
and so on […]” (PENNYCOOK, 2001, p. 135). Pennycook’s comment
shows that once teachers are prepared and aware that teaching a language is
connected with relating that language to issues of power that also intersect
with race, then those teachers can have different views about the role of
teaching a language and also conducting researching about that language.
This is shown in the narratives from Teachers 11, 22, 6 and 25 that follow:
Through reading and discussions I am now able to perceive issues of
prejudice and racism, through language, gestures and even through
silences. I realise that racism is present everywhere, between men and
women, blacks and whites, between social classes, in the media (TV soap
operas, cartoons), in jokes, nicknames, etc. (T11, WF, SFLT)
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
Following my studies, I had the great pleasure of doing a course within my
MA that addressed the issue of racism. This prompted me to work with this
issue in school, in the classrooms, towards a just and necessary equality
among students. The course gave us directions to give voices to prejudiced
students, to empower them to defend their rights and to be aware of their
importance in the world as citizens. (T22, MRF, SFLT)
The main reason why I decided to carry out research on the issue of race
was the fact that I worked with students who were of German descent and
I noticed how Eurocentric culture is strong in the city where I live. I also
realised that we need to rethink our concepts of culture and society. [...] My
childhood friends still think that marrying a black person is out of the ques-
tion. I still hear students saying that blacks are worse workers than whites.
At home I still hear derogatory remarks about blacks and about women.
Through discussions in my MA course, as well as readings and research on
the topic, my outlook changed a lot. It is fundamental to understand how
we are conditioned to be racist from an early age and it is crucial to learn
to deal with the situations involving racism that we experience on a daily
basis [...]. When I see racist behaviour I feel as offended as a black person,
in the same way that I feel offended when I see prejudice against women,
the poor, etc. It is increasingly difcult to live in this society and it’s getting
worse. (T6, WF, EFLT)
After having done my teacher training course I feel more aware and able to
defend my point of view. (T25, BF, EFLT)
Pennycook (2010) observes that ‘[…] when we look at language
as a local practice […], we can start to see how locality is about much
more than merely being in a location; rather, it is about the becoming of
place’ (PENNYCOOK, 2010, p. 14). This seems to be reected in the
narratives of Teachers 11, 22, 6 and 25 above, who understand that their
role of teaching a language and researching the issue of race in the eld
of language and applied linguistics changed after they were able to reect
about racism in their social practices; this changed their way of seeing
the interrelationship between language education and the possibilities of
researching in the eld of social identities of race. I agree with Pennycook
(2010) when he claims that:
Local landscape are not blank canvases or spatial contexts but integrative
and invented environments. The importance of movement, of interactive
spaces, leads us into an understanding of locality as a dynamic place.
(PENNYCOOK, 2010, p. 14)
Consequently, whether the language that is taught in Brazil is
Portuguese, English as a foreign language, Spanish as a foreign language
or French as a foreign language, as was the case with the teachers who
participated in this research, their experiences with race and racism shows
94 Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Autobiographical narratives of race and racism in Brazil: Critical Race Theory and language
that these themes are issues for the “local practice” to address. These issues
need to be addressed within the context of teacher education courses. This
is of fundamental importance because when teachers face the experiences
outlined in the narratives above in their local practices they will be better
prepared to understand the interrelationship between language education
and race and have a strategy to address that issue.
Race and racism in language teachers’ private lives
“While stories about race and racism may derive from individual
experiences, they also communicate cultural assumptions and habits of
thinking that transcend the individual” (BELL, 2003, p. 4)
The extract below is from a long narrative, in which the teacher starts
by saying that her (white) daughter verbally offended a black neighbour’s
child several times when the two children were playing together. Teacher 8
explains what then happened:
I took my daughter home and tried to show her how much she had hurt the
other girl, who up until then had been her friend. I was pregnant with my
second child. I reminded her that her grandfather was black and that her
favourite aunt was the same colour as the little girl that she had offended.
I reminded her that my baby that would be born soon might be the same
colour and that she would not like to see her future brother or sister to be
humiliated. She listened to me very seriously and promised that he would
not do it anymore and that she would apologise to her classmate. The next
day they were both playing happily together again. (T8, WF, PT)
I don’t want my children to hear their grandfather or any other black person
being called a “monkey”. Respect and tolerance must be the basis of human
development. (T15, WF, EFLT)
These narrative from Teachers 8 and 15, clearly demonstrate that
experiences of race and racism go far beyond the classroom. However,
the school environment is one of the places where teachers and educators
can address those issues and provide alternatives that are more directed
towards social justice.
Final considerations
I will now answer the research questions I posed at the start of this
article. As the narratives show, these teachers found out about the existence
of racism in their homes, with their family, in their schools as students, and
in their schools as teachers.
Muitas Vozes, Ponta Grossa, v.4, n.1, p. 79-100, 2015.
Aparecida de Jesus Ferreira
The narratives demonstrate that it was the various experiences that
the teachers had in their homes, schools, and the contact that they had with
race and racism, that made them reect on the own racial identities. These
experiences changed the way that they see black and white people and it
took them time to reect and reconstruct the way that they thought about
racial identity. The way that they viewed racial identity was constructed for
them and not by them. The experiences of both black and white teachers
that they shared with each other during the course allowed them to learn
with each other about the painful experiences that racism can provoke. It
took them time to deconstruct the views about black people that had been
constructed for them.
From these narratives it seems that if language teachers are allowed
the time and the opportunity to reect on these issues then they can make
changes in their classroom environment and also in their private lives. This
research shows that using autobiographical narratives in research related to
race and racism can bring about such reection and that it can also prepare
language teachers to understand how to use Federal Law 10.639 in a way
that can consider the needs and aspirations of students of all races within
the school environment.
I would like to thank all the teachers who took my MA course at
the Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa (UEPG) and who generously
shared their experiences with me and the group of teachers. I also would
like to thank CAPES - Grant - BEX 10758/13-5, this research was
funded by a scholarship from the Coordination of Improvement of Higher
Education Personnel (CAPES), Ministry of Education, Brasília, DF,
Brazil, whose funding has been crucial to my Visiting Research Fellow at
King’s College, University of London (February, 2014 to January, 2015).
Finally, I would like to thank my department at UEPG (DELIN) and
Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, Paraná, Brazil for supporting
my leave of absence.
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Narrative Inquiry in Language Teaching and Learning Research provides an entry-level introduction to research methods using stories, as data or as a means of presenting findings, that is grounded in published empirical research within the field of language teaching and learning. It discusses basic definitions and concepts in narrative inquiry, explains how and why narrative methods have been used in language teaching and learning research, and outlines the different approaches and topics covered by this research. It also examines the different ways of eliciting, analyzing, and presenting narrative inquiry data.Narrative inquiry offers exciting prospects for language teaching and learning research and this book is the first focused and practical guide for readers who are interested in understanding or carrying out narrative studies.
FERREIRA, Aparecida de Jesus. Identidades Sociais de raça/Etnia na sala de aula de Língua Inglesa. Identidades Sociais de Raça, Etnia, Gênero e Sexualidade: Práticas Pedagógicas em sala de aula de Línguas e Formação de Professores/as. Campinas: Pontes Editores, p. 19-50, 2012.