The Obama Era Assessed: A Bibliographical Note on a New Qualitative Sociology Issue

Interest in the Obama reelection efforts seems really to be heating up, with a majority of opinion polls showing a small lead for Obama, especially in key swing states. Yet several national polls are now showing a small Romney lead. We will be blogging on these issues, especially in regard to racial matters, often over coming months.

For now, Adia and I have a just released article in the latest issue of Springer’s Qualitative Sociology journal, a very interesting issue on Obama, race, and politics edited by the excellent qualitative sociologists Simone Browne and Ben Carrington. Here is the summary of our paper’s argument:

This paper introduces the concept of the “racial dialectic” to describe the ways racial dialogues and policies have transformed in the wake of Barack Obama’s historic election to the presidency of the United States of America. Using public statements and behaviors from elected officials, pundits, and Obama himself as case study data, we examine the tension between what we term the hard racial frame, the soft racial frame, and the racial counterframe in the public discourses. We conclude that these competing frames produce a dialectic that has transformed the way racial issues are discussed and interpreted in the wake of Obama’s election. [Adia Harvey Wingfield and Joe Feagin, “The Racial Dialectic: President Barack Obama and the White Racial Frame,” Qualitative Sociology 35 (2012): 143-162.]

In this nice edited issue there are several other very good articles on Obama’s presidency and the elections that viewers here might find of interest. For now, the whole issue is available and appears not to be behind a paywall. Each article has a good summary for quick access by readers. I highly recommend this interesting set of discussions.

Adia and I are also doing a second edition of the Yes We Can? book, with results from the November election put in the last chapter just before it goes to press!

Deconstructing Racism: Call for Documentary Filmmakers

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is doing some innovative grant-making in the area of racial equity. They recently awarded the Calhoun School here in New York City a $275,000 grant to make a documentary film called WHAT KIDS OF COLOR KNOW & WHITE KIDS DON’T – DECONSTRUCTING RACISM.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, I think visual media and documentaries specifically are central to how we learn now.  While I keep a list here of race-themed documentaries, there simply aren’t enough of these kinds of titles. So, I’m delighted to see the Kellogg Foundation supporting this important work, and am happy to share the following call for documentary filmmakers.


Mov(i)e it
(Creative Commons License photo credit: zeligfilm )

A documentary filmmakers’ competition is underway to identify a team of 2-3 young professional filmmakers interested in writing, directing, shooting and editing a film currently titled:  What Kids of Color Know & White Kids Don’t – Deconstructing Racism (working title).

The documentary film component of this project is slated to have a total production budget in the vicinity of $275,000. This includes stipends for the filmmaker/director, writer and editor; equipment, camera crew and sound personnel, soundtrack, voice-over, transcripts, graphics & animation, outside footage, stock, etc.  It is anticipated that the film will have a year-long production timetable.  Once completed, it is the producer’s objective to submit this documentary to US and international film festivals and for possible consideration by the Academy as a documentary feature.

The cast of the film will be upper middle- and high-school kids from NYC independent and public schools talking about white privilege and institutionalized racism; select adult talking-heads may be included.  The filmmakers(s) will participate actively in and help to design the casting process.  Filming will take place mainly in New York City during the 2012-2013 academic year.  This is not an exposé of the challenges faced in public schools or an indictment of the public or private school system.  It is an incisive and targeted look at how white kids and kids of color confront – and how they are confronted by — race and racism in the context of contemporary American society.

Requirements for consideration:

*   Draft a detailed treatment and summary story-line reflecting how you, as a filmmaker, envision approaching this project — capturing and conveying how white kids and kids of color confront and are confronted by issues of white privilege and institutionalized racism in contemporary American society in a documentary film format.
*   The length of the film will be between 1-2 hours.
*   The film will be live-action with some animation to illustrate certain elements.
*   The primary audience will be upper-middle and high school students and by extension, their teachers and parents.

If interested, applicants should submit a treatment outline and summary story-line, a sample production schedule, production personnel bios and contact information to:

Doc Film Committee
ATTN:  David Alpert, Producer
The Calhoun School
433 West End Avenue
New York, NY  10024

Proposal Submission deadline:  July 15, 2012


You are welcome to include links to your work or to send a DVD compilation as a part of your submission materials.


Many analyses of racism focus on its negative effects on people of color and ignore the notion of “whiteness” that is embedded in racial hierarchies.  However, assumptions about racial inferiority could not exist without the concept of superiority.  Ideological racism includes strongly positive images of the white self as well as strongly negative images of the racial “others” Feagin, J. (2000) Racist America Roots, current realities, and future reparations, New York, Routledge (p. 33)

The late Dr. Derrick Bell said, “What Kids of Color Know & White Kids Don’t – Deconstructing Racism, is a worthy effort in a very long and still far from successful struggle.  What I hope will be carried out in your project is that learning about race is mostly getting white kids to understand the array of privileges that whiteness provides them whether or not earned or deserved.  Blacks as the minority in numbers, power, and legitimacy, have to have and exercise on a daily basis their knowledge and understanding of how whites exercise their property right in whiteness without really thinking about it.  Recognition of these “rights” is more important than either reforming or rejecting them.   I hope your project will also focus on students of color, preferably the African Americans, who learned about whites the hard way.  In today’s world, these lessons are more subtle than blatant….

What Kids of Color Know and White Kids Don’t: Deconstructing Racism will have a direct and lasting impact by changing, early on, how students learn about white privilege and institutionalized racism.  This includes a particular focus on racial inequity as a historical and foundational component of U.S. culture, and a commitment to the critical analysis and dismantling of racist attitudes, beliefs and policies inherent in our school and society.  The documentary film will support the national visibility, legitimacy and credibility of each program component.  In addition, the film will be presented at national and international film festivals, again assuring it marketing and distribution opportunities, critical acclaim and the education endorsements necessary to secure its active use in classrooms.

What Kids of Color Know & White Kids Don’t – Deconstructing Racism unfolds with the personal stories of students confronting how white privilege and racism affects their sense of self.   The students’ family backgrounds provide a starting point; schools provide a diverse stage for the action.

The students who make up the cast of characters will be chosen not only because their experience mirrors an aspect of our society, but also because they have the ability to tell that story in a way that makes us care.

The piece will draw the audience into the student’s struggle; the threads of their narrative come together as we see all our characters looking at their differences side by side.  The convictions, the frustration, and the emotion each student brings into a larger context of history and group struggle surface to engage the viewer into this struggle.   Just as our characters came into the process with passion about their particular point of view, none of them will walk away from the experience untouched.  Nor will the audience.

Race is so sensitive and so difficult to encompass because often our words don’t match our actions.  Racism is built into every aspect of our culture, and deconstructing that social arrangement is like defusing a bomb.

No documentary has attempted so deep an emotional journey into Race exclusively from the lives and experience of middle school and high school students.  It’s a way for young people all over the country to gain key insights, just as it’s also an angle which makes an adult audience already tired of the subject pay attention once again.

Current program advisors include:

*   David Addams, Executive Director, Oliver Scholars Program
*   John Allman, Head, Trinity School, Manhattan, NY
*   Pat Bassett, President, National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
*   Lisa Barbaris, Artistic Director, True Colors Foundation
*   Harold Eugene Batiste III, Leadership Education and Diversity Team, NAIS
*   Joel Coen, Academy Award Winning Filmmaker
*   Kate Davis, documentary filmmaker
*   Matt Damon, actor, screenwriter, activist
*   Bruce L. Dennis, Head, Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, NY
*   Rhonda Durham, Executive Director, Independent Schools Association of the Southwest
*   Troy Duster, Silver Professor of Sociology, New York University
*   Kathy Egmont, The Children’s Storefront School, Manhattan, NY
*   Mary Gaines, Head, Metropolitan Montessori School
*   David Heilbroner, documentary filmmaker
*   Cyndi Lauper, singer, songwriter, actress
*   Chris Marblo, Head, The Town School, Manhattan, NY
*   Francis McDormand, Academy Award Winning actress
*   Stephen Robinson, President, Southern Association of Independent Schools
*   Patricia Williams, Author, Professor, Columbia University School of Law, MacArthur Fellow, July 2000

In addition to this feature length documentary film, the project is also producing a nationally distributed kindergarten – 12th grade companion curriculum and social-networking interactive website.

The press release announcing the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s grant in support of this project is attached for reference.

All rights will be owned by and be the property of
The Calhoun School, 433 West End Avenue, New York, NY  10024.