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on being white

By Tayene-Santos Nov 27, 2014 664 Words

It is already understood by researchers in the Human Sciences field that gender is one of the most important topics concerning identity which is crucial “to understand social and cultural changes in contemporary life” (p. 289). The article “On being white, heterosexual and male in a Brazilian school: multiple positionings in oral narratives”, written by Luiz Paulo Moita Lopes, aims to expose how the social identities of whiteness, heterosexuality and masculinity are naturalized and constructed as the parameter to define the marginalized social identities, that is, the blackness, homoeroticism and femininity. To corroborate this argument, the author analyzes how a 14-year-old boy positions himself and others in the narratives he tells in his school.

Before presenting the collected data, the writer provides the perspective taken into consideration by him to analyze and better understand [ ]. The researcher points out a view of discourse and narrative as social constructionist approaches, which not only represent the world but also express our actions. The social identity, thus, is constructed in people’s local discursive practices and is legitimated by narrative, that is the tool used to position ourselves in a plot.

Afterwards, the survey goes further on these approaches and begins by exposing a brief overview and analysis of how the concept of positioning is constructed among different research fields, such as Cultural Studies, Social Sciences and Social Psychology. Moita-Lopes states that “the SIDs one identifies with or is identified with depend on the positionings one has occupied/will occupy in the narrative practices one has been or is involved with” (p. 296). In other words, social identity is generated according to how one positions him/herself, the listeners and the characters in a narrative.

The data collected to the research contains 24 hours of audiotaped classes and focus-group interviews with 5th grade students of the public sector school in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Three remarkable situations considered by the author as crucial to [enforce] his argument were transcribed in the text. In these occurrences, Hans is either telling a fact he experienced or participating in the construction of the narrative. Each one of them is used by the researcher to demonstrate how the student constructs himself as male, heterosexual and white, respectively.

In the first example, Hans is telling a story in which his father explains to him why his sister cannot be outside home for a long time, while boys are apparently allowed to do it. The use of elements such as the imperative, the use of specific lexical items in the narrative corroborate the author’s statement concerning men’s sexual incontinence. Also, the use of quotations to reproduce his conversation with his father, in contrast with the total ellipsis of his sister’s voice, are pointing that only men are entitled to speak. Therefore, masculinity here is constructed in opposition to femininity.

Subsequently, in the second narrative Hans and other pupils are talking about a classmate they characterize negatively as different, funny and strange. As they enumerate the boy’s attitudes, behavior, manner of speaking and walking, it is argued that Hans and his colleagues are constructing what being a heterosexual is by defining how homosexuals behave.

Lastly, in the third transcription it is possible to notice how Hans constructs himself as white by participating in one of his friends’ narrative. In the situation, Gail –one of the students participating in the discussion – tells that even black people tend to use pejoratives terms concerning skin color when they want to emphasize someone’s laziness. While engaging in the story, Hans positions himself as white by listing “things niggers do” (p. 306).

In short, this well-written survey focus on how Hans constructs himself by positioning his own figure as dominant in all the stories. Moita-Lopes concludes stating that “the social identities situated in a position of hegemony are unmarked and naturalized and constitute themselves by constructing the margins: femininity, homoeroticism and blackness” (p. 309).

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