Whose race problem? Tracking patterns of racial denial in US and European educational discourses on Muslim youth

Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, Anne Ríos-Rojas, Reva Jaffe-Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In this paper, the authors focus on everyday narrations of the nation as they are taken up by educators in schools in the United States, Denmark and Spain. As the primary institutions within which children from im/migrant communities are incorporated into the nation-state, schools are the key sites within which young people learn the languages and practices of national belonging and citizenship. Comparing ethnographic case studies in the United States, Denmark and Spain, the authors trace the nationalist storylines that serve to frame Muslim youth as particular kinds of racialized and “impossible subjects”. Across national contexts, the authors document similar, often almost verbatim, stories that educators narrated about the disjuncture between liberal ideals of the nation, and what they imagined to be true of Muslim im/migrant youth. They theorize that, despite differences in US and European approaches to immigration, there are consonances in the ways that Muslims are positioned as racialized Others across liberal democracies because of the very ways that western liberalism has constructed notions of individualism and tolerance. These seemingly benign discourses of liberalism in schools provide the conditions of possibility for schools’ imposition of exclusionary nationalist values while keeping a safe distance from charges of racism. Thus, we show how liberalism's imbrication with nationalism, and its promotion of goals conceived of as inherently humanist and universal, occlude the racial logics that ultimately restrict human freedom for Muslim youth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-335
Number of pages26
JournalCurriculum Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - 27 May 2017


  • Educational practices
  • Muslim youth
  • immigration
  • international education
  • socio-political conditions


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