Laughing White Men


  • Timothy J. Lensmire


The complex social production of white racial identity is the focus of this article.  Drawing from a larger interview study conducted in a rural white community in the Midwest, I explore how Frank, a high school teacher, experienced being white.  I pay particular attention to Frank's descriptions of two white spaces in which he said he participated:  one that he called a "basement culture," characterized by laughter and racist and sexist humor, and another that he described as more formal and "politically-correct."  Ralph Ellison thought that white racial identity was created in various scapegoating rituals, such as lynching and racist humor.  With Ellison's help, I interpret a long comic story that Frank told about selling his van to Mexican immigrants, in which Frank was the butt of the joke, as an example of a scapegoating ritual that just might be compatible with a democratic project.

Author Biography

Timothy J. Lensmire

Timothy J. Lensmire is associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota. His research focus explores the teaching and learning of writing as a form of democratic living, and how white people learn to be white in our white supremacist society. Grounded in critical white studies, his work contributes to the ongoing effort to figure out how best to work with white students (in K-12 schools and universities, in teacher education, in teacher development) on issues of race and social justice.