Brown, A. L. (2011). Racialised subjectivities: a critical examination of ethnography on Black males in the USA, 1960s to early 2000s. Ethnography and Education, 6(1), 45-60.
The intent of this paper is to show that while ethnographic research for decades has helped to challenge one-dimensional, deficit-oriented perspectives about Black males, this work has also helped to reproduce essentialised racial motifs. I define a racial motif as a central theme or story used to make sense of the social and educational experiences of a racial group.
I argue that long-standing racial motifs inform how ethnographic research is conducted within a historical context, and how the theories that come out of ethnographic research inform how we understand the social and educational concerns of African-American males in the present. In other words, past constructions and theories close off the kinds of questions one can ask within a particular historical period and limit how contemporary questions are explored.
In this paper, I show how ethnographies written during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s were constructed in a way that was aligned with the dominant tropes and theories about Black males during those decades. I additionally show how these same theories and tropes were visible in television programsand movies. I conclude by discussing both the challenges and the promise of ethnography, including how educational ethnographers can explore new questions that challenge historically entrenched racial motifs. I conclude this paper by suggesting that attention should be given not only to the institutional, structural, and pedagogical practices within schools that constrain and reproduce Black males’ schooling experiences, but also to the historical and discursive constructions that have taken form throughout decades of ethnographic research.
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