Research Brief: New Work in the Field

Your Monday research brief with a round up of some of the latest work in the field of race and racism is here.


While most scientists of the twentieth century argued for understanding race as a social construction, this understanding has shifted considerably in the past decade. In the current era, biological notions of race have resurfaced not only in the scientific community but in the form of direct consumer use of DNA tests for genetic ancestry testing, sometimes referred to as genetic genealogy, and the emergence of pharmacogenomics, or the marketing of race-specific pharmaceuticals. In this article, I argue that the return of race as a biological concept in the form of racial genomics can best be understood through an application of Blumer’s race as group position theory. Using that, I argue that during the past 20 years, four specific challenges to the racial hierarchy have emerged that have threatened white dominance: the original interpretation of the Human Genome Project results declaring humans to be 99.9 percent similar, thus, dispelling the idea that race has a genetic basis, the electoral wins of President Barack Obama and the ensuing rhetoric that America is a “postracial” society, and finally, the increase in interracial relationships and biracial/multiracial identities. The emergence of racial genomics, I argue, is a response to these specific threats to the racial hierarchy and to white dominance.

Remembering is never an end in its own right, but a means of asserting power and legitimizing social hierarchies. Thus, voices that seek to interpret the past in contradictory ways are often silenced (Zelizer, 1995). No part of the U.S. past is more called upon to legitimize contemporary racial relations than the Civil Rights Movement, which is constructed as the end of the nation’s systemic racism. Institutionalized racism is thereby relegated to history. Troubling aspects of the past that might lead citizens to interpret the contemporary U.S. as anything other than an egalitarian meritocracy are erased or rendered ideologically safe. This article examines how the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), one of the largest contemporary Black Nationalist organizations in the U.S., uses its website to challenge the notion of a “post-racial” U.S. by undermining the history upon which this conception is built. The MXGM’s website recontextualizes contemporary events within marginalized accounts of the past to decrease the temporal distance between the racism of the past and present racial politics, constructing an uninterrupted historical continuum of racial oppression. This recontextualization process is reinforced at the structural level of the website through the inherently intertextual nature of hypertext.

The U.S. Constitution, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the law. Despite this Constitutional protection, however, the United States remains structured by deep racial inequality. Human rights advocates have suggested that this contradiction stems from unwillingness on the part of the U.S. government to go beyond equal protection of the law and provide state protection for a broader scope of human rights such as economic and cultural rights. Although this criticism of U.S. law and policy is warranted, I suggest even the notion of U.S. commitment to equal protection of the law must be critically interrogated given this country’s history of white racial domination. Through an explication of the equal protection jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court, I illustrate how the Court has embedded within the equal protection legal frame a postcivil rights racial logic, particularly tropes of black criminality and white innocence. In doing so, the Court has constructed a substantive legal definition of equal protection of the law that naturalizes and supports contemporary mechanisms and structures of white racial domination.

Among scholars in sociology and history, the backlash against affirmative action has been blamed on White working-class Americans. What has received far less attention is the individual and collective institutional role(s) played by the White middle and upper middle-class in backlash politics. Given that individuals in these social classes have far greater institutional power than White working-class Americans, their beliefs and practices deserve sustained critical attention, and, as the few existing research studies demonstrate, White middle-class and upper middle-class Americans have played an influential role in backlash politics. Part of the reason for this gap in the literature is that these groups are more difficult to access as research subjects. Gaining access to this population may require working through many levels of a bureaucratic organization designed to protect their time and privacy. Moreover, when interviewed, these Americans are more likely than their working-class counterparts to mask racist sentiments through the polite language of “color blindness.” Research methods that complement surveys and in-depth interviews are recommended as strategies for probing White middle and upper middle-class Americans’ deeply hidden beliefs.

This Teaching and Learning Guide is designed to accompany my Sociology Compass article on affirmative action. The sample syllabus is organized historically beginning with FDR’s New Deal and the first use of the term affirmative action and ending with the most recent Supreme Court’s deliberations on this policy. In doing so, it attends not only to the varied meanings and forms of affirmative action across time but also the different interest groups arguing for and against this remedial policy. Along the way, it explores the changing history of race relations in the USA, considers the value of personal narratives as sources in exploring meaning and personhood, examines the ways the news media has framed the debate in contemporary America, and finally, speculates about the future of this controversial policy.

Early research on multiracials documents the existence of a newly emergent population, those who identify with more than one race or what is commonly now known as multiracials. Contemporary research on multiracialism has a new focus on the stratification that multiracials experience and how multiracials may be influencing a new racial hierarchy. This paper discusses some of the primary issues of multiracialism and stratification including colorism, the racial hierarchy, social class, gender and sexual orientation, and multiracial as a celebrity-like status. As the multiracial population grows, so must the field of multiracialism grows to include critical issues and questions regarding stratification.

This paper examines the life stories of six African American women who worked as maids for white families in the Deep South from the 1920s to the 1950s. Together their narratives present the facts about life during those times that are not contained in the history books. The role of older Americans as preservers of history and teachers of the younger generation is explored.

Although multicultural education has made significant gains in recent years, with many courses specifically devoted to the topic in both undergraduate and graduate education programs, and more scholars of color teaching in these programs, these victories bring with them a number of pedagogic dilemmas. Most students in these programs are not themselves students of color, meaning the topics and the faculty teaching them are often faced with groups of students whose backgrounds and perspectives may be decidedly different – even hostile – to multicultural pedagogy and curriculum. This edited collection brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars of color to critically examine what it is like to explore race in predominantly white classrooms. It delves into the challenges academics face while dealing with the wide range of responses from both White students and students of color, and provides a powerful overview of how teachers of color highlight the continued importance and existence of race and racism.