Date of Award

5-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Veronica Watson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

sj Miller, Ph.D.

Abstract

As a text within the genre of the literature of white exposure, Langston Hughes’ The Ways of White Folks provides valuable insights into the consciousness and racial performances of its white characters. This dissertation specifically analyzes the collection’s white female characters and their responses to blackness, noting a variety of responses, but recognizing a singular effect: the reproduction of systems of white male dominance, even at risk to self, and almost always at risk to others. These responses can be categorized into three behaviors that ultimately reinforce white patriarchy: 1) Performances of Purity, 2) The Pursuit of Ownership and Control, and 3) The Maintenance of Ignorance and Blindness. However, Hughes’ characters at times act against these norms, creating possibilities for alternative white “ways.” Of all the white characters in his collection, only the white female characters embody such possibilities. My investigation is especially important for white women in educational settings, as these settings consistently reproduce the cultural discourse of white supremacy, and are overwhelming staffed by white women. I therefore respond to my literary analysis by investigating corresponding behaviors within the pedagogies of white women, including performances of purity within the classroom, ownership and control within the scholarship of African American literature, and ignorance and blindness within the racial consciousness of white female teachers. Following the qualitative research practices of autoethnography, I frame these theoretical inquiries with my own experiences. I also offer pedagogical methods of resistance to these responses, including the development of what I term an ‘associative consciousness’ and a pedagogy of white exposure that builds on the insights of the genre. Such work contains the potential to create and establish new “ways” for white women teachers. This dissertation contributes to scholarly research by conducting a thorough analysis of The Ways of White Folks, a text that has been sorely overlooked by literary scholars; in addition, this study brings together this literary text with Critical Whiteness Studies, performance theory, and critical pedagogy in order to argue for pedagogical practices that are cognizant of, and resistant to, systems of dominance and the performances they prescribe.

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