Commentary disrupting the big lie: Higher education and whitelash in a post/colorblind era

Melvin A. Whitehead, Zak Foste, Antonio Duran, Tenisha Tevis, Nolan L. Cabrera

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


James Baldwin (1998) described whiteness as “the big lie” of American society where the belief in the inherent superiority of white people allowed for, emboldened, and facilitated violence against People of Color. In the post-Civil Rights era, scholars reframed whiteness as an invisible, hegemonic social norm, and a great deal of education scholarship continues to be rooted in this metaphor of invisibility. However, Leonardo (2020) theorized that in a post-45 era of “whitelash” (Embrick et al., 2020), “post-colorblindness” is more accurate to describe contemporary racial stratification whereby whiteness is both (a) more visible and (b) increasingly appealing to perceived injuries of “reverse racism.” From this perspective, we offer three theoretical concepts to guide the future of whiteness in education scholarship. Specifically, we argue that scholars critically studying whiteness in education must explicitly: (1) address the historicity of whiteness, (2) analyze the public embrace of whiteness, and (3) emphasize the material consequences of whiteness on the lives of People of Color. By doing this, we argue that critical scholars of race in higher education will more clearly understand the changing nature of whiteness while avoiding the analytical trap of invisibility that is decreasingly relevant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number486
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2021


  • Critical whiteness studies
  • Higher education
  • Racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Education
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Computer Science Applications


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