Working Hard for Whiteness: How White Women Make Meaning of Social Class to Avoid White Complicity

Moira L. Ozias, Genia M. Bettencourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


College-educated white women across social classes support and uphold racism. Using narrative methods in a secondary analysis, we, as two white women, explored how white non-trans women make meaning of social class using the revised model of multiple dimensions of identity (RMMDI; Abes et al., 2007) as positioned within the context of white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy (hooks, 1994) and higher education. Findings were framed by white ignorance (Mills, 2007) and whiteness as property (Harris, 1993). We found that white women used class to distance themselves from whiteness and white supremacy in two ways. First, they projected race and class onto elite spaces that they simultaneously desired entry to and distance from. Second, they avoided critical reflection on their racial positioning and identity by constructing a pliable class identity. Both distancing strategies demonstrate “moves to innocence” (Mawhinney, 1998; Tuck & Yang, 2012) away from white complicity, a process that the institutional environment largely facilitated and supported. Such an approach advances understandings of intrapersonal student development by examining how white women use social class to avoid addressing their racial domination and maintain false innocence (Mawhinney, 1998; Tuck & Yang, 2012). We discuss research and practice implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-536
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of College Student Development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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