2008 volume 40(5) pages 1132 – 1150

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Vanderbeck R M, 2008, "Inner-city children, country summers: narrating American childhood and the geographies of whiteness" Environment and Planning A 40(5) 1132 – 1150

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Inner-city children, country summers: narrating American childhood and the geographies of whiteness

Robert M Vanderbeck

Received 1 June 2006; in revised form 1 September 2006; published online 5 October 2007

Abstract. Although there has been rapid recent growth in the volume of research on both whiteness and childhood within geography, these literatures have only infrequently intersected explicitly. In this paper, I argue that a focus on narratives of childhood and child rearing can significantly enrich current understandings of how imaginative geographies of American (non)whiteness are sustained and reproduced. I develop this argument using a case study of recent narratives concerning one well-known program for children living in New York City, the Fresh Air Fund, which arranges for ‘inner-city’ children (most of whom identify as black or Latino) to spend portions of their summers living with host families (most of whom are white) in rural and suburban areas. The activities of the fund generate regular media coverage in both New York City and many of the destination communities, contributing to a wider public narrative concerning what white families and spaces have to offer ‘inner-city’ children. Drawing on journalistic accounts produced over the past two decades within one important destination site for the program, the US state of Vermont, I examine the racialized imaginative geographies of city, country, and suburb mobilized and reproduced within these stories of the Fund and its effects. I specifically argue that these accounts (re)script whiteness such that it becomes a solution to, rather than a source of, inequalities.

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