The Emperor’s New Clothes: Exposure and Vulnerability in Academe

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Sadie Donovan


As a white, female, aspiring anti-racist researcher and scholar, issues of power and whiteness are never resolved. I must continually disrupt and be disrupted by the source of my social capital, never finding comfort in the assumption that ‘I’ know what it means to be a critical white anti-racist scholar. This realization has not been an easy one to come by. In the past, I had trusted my ability to think critically about my own privilege, and that trust betrayed me (Thompson 2003). The heightened awareness of my own ignore-ance came from a reading of Thompson’s (2003) ‘Tiffany, Friend of People of Color’, where she cautions against the dangers of white investments in anti-racism¹. For me, that was a critical uncomfortable, disruptive moment whereby I realized the dangers of my previously felt confidence. This paper, then, is a product of the renewed disruption caused by Thompson’s article. In it, I attempt to work through the paralysis I initially felt in my first reading by examining the continued issues of power that are embedded in white anti-racist scholarship and how we may work through them, in spite of their continued existence.

To begin to dismantle these issues, I revisit Thompson’s article in greater detail, elaborating on the points that caused me to become disrupted. I then utilize literary symbols from the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ as a way to aid us in an examination of our white privilege. Through the medium of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, I attempt to critique how white power within academia is maintained. From there, I argue that we must expose regardless, in order to work towards social justice. Once we, that is, white, anti-racist scholars, are disrupted, it is essential that we continue to stay within the disruption, and to accept being naked and vulnerable as part of our growth as progressive individuals.However, we must first turn to the source of my disruption. The next section introduces the reader to Thompson to uncover what prompted my strong reactions in the first place.


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How to Cite
Donovan, S. (2014). The Emperor’s New Clothes: Exposure and Vulnerability in Academe. SFU Educational Review, 5.