Shades of White

White Kids and Racial Identities in High School

Shades of White

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: February 2002

Author: Pamela Perry

Pedagogy and Higher Education, Sociology, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

What does it mean to be young, American, and white at the dawn of the twenty-first century? By exploring this question and revealing the everyday social processes by which high schoolers define white identities, Pamela Perry offers much-needed insights into the social construction of race and whiteness among youth.
Through ethnographic research and in-depth interviews of students in two demographically distinct U.S. high schools—one suburban and predominantly white; the other urban, multiracial, and minority white—Perry shares students’ candor about race and self-identification. By examining the meanings students attached (or didn’t attach) to their social lives and everyday cultural practices, including their taste in music and clothes, she shows that the ways white students defined white identity were not only markedly different between the two schools but were considerably diverse and ambiguous within them as well. Challenging reductionist notions of whiteness and white racism, this study suggests how we might go “beyond whiteness” to new directions in antiracist activism and school reform.
Shades of White is emblematic of an emerging second wave of whiteness studies that focuses on the racial identity of whites. It will appeal to scholars and students of anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies, as well as to those involved with high school education and antiracist activities.


“The text [is] thoroughly accessible, not just to scholars but to undergraduates and even high school students themselves. Whiteness emerges here as more diverse than might have been expected. . . . This book will be of great use to scholars and students of education, and for sociologists and ethnographers of race. Perry’s writing style makes it a book that welcomes the non-academician, whether high school teacher or high school students themselves.” — Ruth Frankenberg , Anthropology & Education Quarterly

“In Shades of White, author Pamela Perry interviews white students at two high schools—one in an urban, multiethnic community and the other in a suburban and predominantly white setting. Her goal is to figure out what it means to be young, white and American. Her conclusions—as can be expected—are not simple. Racial identity is considerably diverse and ambiguous. But Perry concludes her study on a less hazy note. She speaks strongly ‘ on behalf of reversing the current trend towards resegregated schools and revitalizing efforts to integrate and reform our public schools.’” — Jill Wolfson , San Jose Mercury News

“In presenting findings based on participant observation in the schools and in-depth interviews with 60 students, Perry paints a portrait of racial identity formation among whites that varies dramatically by proximity to students of color. She asserts that merely interacting with students of different races and ethnic backgrounds in a multicultural school is not enough to counter the forces of racism that persist in American society.” — UC Santa Cruz Review

“Perry’s book is part of a second wave of whiteness studies; she challenges ‘new racism’ theories with the encouraging idea that inconsistencies in white’s attitudes are not the subtle, modern face of racism, but ‘potential inlets for nurturing antiracism.’ Trying to broaden this ethnography’s appeal, the author has limited the jargon-heavy passages, making the book readable by those simply curious about what the kids have to say.” — Keir Graff , Booklist

“Perry’s research provided her with ideas for restructuring education to enhance cultural diversity and compatibility among students, emphasizing that, as this country becomes more racially diverse, we should try to strip away racial identity and think of Americans as one people. These ideas might seem out of reach, but they’re worth considering.” — Library Journal

“This ethnographic portrait of students enrolled in two very different northern California schools provides us with some insight into how they identify racially and establish cultural boundaries among themselves and across racial groups. . . . This comparative research design allowed Perry not only to observe how context influences racial identity, but also how white students from similar backgrounds maintained substantively different racial identities depending on whether they were a part of either the school's majority or minority. . . . I enjoyed reading Shades of White, and certainly, I cannot quibble with Perry’s conclusions.” — Prudence L. Carter , Contemporary Sociology

"A truly outstanding contribution to the existing race and ethnic relations literature. . . . I strongly recommend this very well written, accessible, and forward-thinking book for courses in race relations, multicultural and ethnic studies, and education. Perry's Shades of White makes an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the relational and situational nature of racial identity construction and the various social forces that continue to reshape the meaning we attach to race." — Charles A. Gallagher, Social Forces

"[A]n engaging, comparative ethnography of white identity in two northern California high schools. . . . Shades of White asks a series of big questions: How do white youth talk about race? Do they think of themselves as racial subjects? Is there a white culture? Is white identity fixed or singular? How might diversity, and daily interactions with cultural differences shape the kind and quality of responses given by white youth? With theoretical sophistication, Perry provides illuminating response to each of these queries." — C. Richard King , American Studies International

"[This] ethnography is extensive and the writing is often rich, complex, and vivid. . . . An important book." — Michael Moffatt, American Anthropologist

"Useful. . . . This work has . . . important practical implications. . . ." — Jennifer Eichstedt , American Journal of Sociology

"Based on extensive, qualitative research, Perry's ideas are well supported and consistent not only with research in race and ethnicity studies, but also with student development theorists." — Angela Pasarelli, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education

"Perry’s study leads to both troubling and exciting conclusions."

— Nadine Dolby , Educational Researcher

"Perry’s study leads to both troubling and exciting conclusions."

— Nadine Dolby Educational Researcher

“Do whites have a culture? Pamela Perry shows us that not only do they have a culture, they have many. An engrossing study of teenage peer culture in an increasingly multiracial society, Shades of White is an enlightening romp through white youth identity—an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on whiteness.” — Dalton Conley, author of Honky

“In an overwhelmingly white country being white used to be seen as just being part of the majority, just a normal American. But how will our children think about it in schools where they will increasingly confront more and more students of other racial and ethnic identities? This book offers a sensitive and fascinating exploration of that question from the state at the cusp of that demographic revolution, California. Perry frames vital issues of integration and equity that demand leadership from the nation’s educators not just for the sake of minority students, but to prepare whites to become a successful minority in a workable multiracial society.” — Gary Orfield, Harvard University


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pamela Perry is Assistant Professor of Community Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part One: School Life and Social Meanings 23

1. Valley Groves: “Normal, I’d say I’m just . . . normal.” 25

2. Clavey High: “There aren’t enough white kids here to have many skaters." 44

Part Two: Identity and Culture 73

3. Situated Meanings of “White” as a Cultural Identity 75

4. Doing Identity in Style 104

Part Three: Identity and Group Position 133

5. The Million Man March 135

6. The Social Implications of White Identity 150

Conclusion: Beyond Whiteness 180

Appendix: Methods and Reflections 199

Notes 211

Bibliography 243

Index 257
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2892-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2877-3
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