Below is a guest post from Dr. David Mayeda a professor at The University of Auckland and blogger at sites like The Grumpy Sociologists, The Cranky Sociologists, and SociologyInFocus.

Racism can function in a number of capacities. Yes, anyone – including people of color – can hold racial prejudices, meaning holding attitudes that stereotype those from other racialized groups. And anyone – again including people of color – can discriminate along racialized lines, meaning acting behaviorally according to racial prejudices. As an undergraduate student, I was taught in simpler terms that racial discrimination is racial prejudice put into action. So I suppose yes, ethnic minorities can enact reverse racism against Caucasians. But racism’s strength depends on its historical and contemporary context. Let’s listen to comedian Aamer Rahman explain:

Ahhh, I could watch that a thousand times over and still not be tired of it!

The power that racism carries depends on how it is embedded in institutions and whether or not racist actions carry with them institutional support. Hence, even if ethnic minorities have advanced in society and carry power, they still typically lack institutional power, and when racist actions are perpetrated against them, minorities tend to lack the institutional means to defend themselves. As Solorzano and colleagues (2002) argue, “racism is about institutional power and that People of Color in the United States have never possessed this form of power to a significant degree” (p. 24).

Returning to the story at hand, as Dr. Gibney was discussing this very concept in her class, a white male student asked, “Why do we have to talk about this in every class? Why do we have to talk about this?” And as Dr. Gibney attempted to respond, another white male student interjected, “Yeah, I don’t get this either. It’s like people are trying to say that white men are always the villains, the bad guys. Why do we have to say this?” Dr. Gibney replied, “if you’re really upset, feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint.” After the white (male) students took Dr. Gibney up on her offer, we can see the institutional aspect of this case come further into play.

In fact, following the students’ complaint it was not the credentialed and employed Dr. Gibney who was supported by her institution. Rather, it was the white students who were institutionally supported by an individual with significant power: Vice President of Academic Affairs Lois Bollman formally reprimand Gibney by stating among other things, “Your actions in [targeting] select students based on their race and gender caused them embarrassment and created a hostile learning environment.”

Despite earning advanced degrees and being accomplished enough to be hired by institutions of higher learning, ethnic minorities must first deal with students (and colleagues) who question their credibility. Dr. Gibney’s experience with students is strikingly similar to this African American faculty member’s account, documented in Patton and Catching’s 2009 article, “‘Teaching while Black’: narratives of African American student affairs faculty”:

As each new cohort enters my classroom, I am prepared to present my credential and prove my credibility. But it doesn’t stop there. The students have to assess my teaching before I receive my ‘pass.’ I can’t tell you the number of times where students, especially older White men in our doctoral program, have challenged my authority in the classroom or took subtle shots at my credibility. (p. 720).

Then, when scholars of color discuss how racism operates systemically in society, they run a greater risk of being challenged by students for their alleged reverse racism. And worse yet (as was clearly the case with Dr. Gibney), those students from the dominant group are more likely to receive institutional support from their university’s management, who unsurprisingly also represent the dominant group.

Dr. Gibney, however, is not taking this sitting down. She and six colleagues plan to file an anti-discrimination lawsuit against Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Good on them. Still, in order to earn and exercise power and respect, look at all the extra work people of color are burdened with. I do not profess to understand what Dr. Gibney has experienced as an African American female academician, but as a person of color actively supporting Maori and Pacific students in Aotearoa New Zealand, I can relate. Stay strong sistah.


  1. Explain how institutionalized racism differs from interpersonal racism (racism occurring between two individuals who are of equal power).
  2. It is very difficult for many of us to believe that systemic, institutionalized racism can exist since racism is outlawed in most societies. Explain how racism operates institutionally despite being illegal.
  3. Read Nathan Palmer’s take on this here. How does this case exemplify white privilege?
  4. Dr. Gibney’s struggles are happening within a context of higher education. Identify and describe an example of institutionalized racism in another sector of society.
  5. If we already have laws that outlaw racism, how might society work to eradicate institutionalized racism?
Photo via Wikicommons.

W Kamau Bell at Nerdist Studios
“How come black people can say the N-word, but white people can’t?” That’s a question teachers of race get a lot and comedian W. Kamau Bell has a great answer, “You can say anything you want, but you have to live with the consequences of your words.” While Bell is talking about the N-word, his wisdom could be applied to any discussion of privilege/oppression or really any highly controversial topic.

Intent vs. Impact

There seems to be genuine distress and/or hurt on my students faces when they say, “No, no, no. That’s not what I meant at all!” For the most part, students who say something that deeply offends portions of the classroom seem surprised by the impact of their words. It’s as if I’m watching the student reach down, wrap their hands around their ankle, open wide and stick their foot in their mouth only to be dumbfounded as to how it got their in the first place.

Bell’s retort to the “N-word question” makes me laugh because he is hitting on something that is so painfully obvious and simultaneously something that we[1] often want to pretend isn’t true. Our words and actions sometimes have an impact that we did not intend when we said those words or took those actions. This “intent vs. impact” idea is something that students struggle with, but it’s also a prerequisite for classroom discussions that are open, honest, and safe. It’s something I teach when we set our class expectations for discussions and reiterate throughout the semester.[2]

  1. “who is we?” is something I always ask my students. Many times we is used when the speaker means white people. However, I used the term we to refer to everyone. While folks of privilege may be more likely to deny the intent vs. impact idea, all of us are prone to denying it. If you’ve ever said, “that’s not what I meant at all” to a partner, relative, or friend, then you’re inside my we.  ↩

  2. If you’re looking for a activity/video to illustrate the “intent vs. impact” idea check this out.  ↩

Find a discussion of todays article written for a student audience by yours truly over at SociologyInFocus.com

Maybe it’s the Just World Hypothesis or maybe it’s the dichotomization of racism, but for whatever reason, students are quick to claim they’ve been cured of racism.[1] Racism, it would appear, is a big problem… for other people. Or older generations. Or other parts of the country (like in the South). According to many students, racism is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not a problem for them.

I’ve talked at length here at SociologySource about the need to teach our students that racism is more than overt hateful acts committed by ultra bigots. Racism (and all prejudice and discrimination for that matter) need to be conceptualized as problems “good, moral, and honest” people have. Furthermore, when we conceptualize all prejudice and discrimination as being big events carried out by mean people, we marginalize the day-to-day experiences of socially non-dominant peoples.

The concept of microaggressions helps my students understand the more everyday side of racism. Microaggressions are defined by Solórzano et al. (2002) as, “subtle verbal and non-verbal insults directed at non-whites, often done automatically or unconsciously” (Pp. 17)[2]. This conceptual framework also does a great job of separating the intent of an action from the impact that action has.

Franchesca Ramsey’s Sh*t White Girls Say About Black Girls is one of the best illustrations of the microaggressions concept[3]. Ramsey satirizes white microaggressions in a way that is both painfully funny and painfully honest.[4]

When this video came out it quickly went viral and then was parodied by a number of white actors who thought it was racist to point the finger at white women. The article “Not Everyone’s Laughing At ‘Sh*t White Girls Say To Black Girls’” by Tami Winfrey Harris at Clutch magazine does a fantastic job of reporting the backlash and critiquing the false equivalence of microaggressions targeted toward whites. Winfrey Harris uses microaggressions to analyze both Ramsey’s video and the backlash to it in her article and draws attention to the blog Microaggressions.com. This is a fantastic site of user submitted stories of microaggressions they have experienced in their everyday lives.

Pairing Ramsey’s video, Winfrey Harris’s article, and Microaggressions.com seemed like too potent a pedagogical opportunity to not use in my classes. I put together a quick written assignment for students to do before coming to class that will hopefully start a vibrant discussion on racism and microaggressions (Download it Word | pdf). Unlike most of the things I post here at SociologySource, I haven’t tried this one yet, but I plan to this fall.

If you’ve taught microaggressions before or if you have any suggestions/additions to this project hit me up on Twitter @SociologySource, on our Facebook page, or email me at Nathan @ SociologySource . Com.

  1. To be clear, I do mean all students. While white students have been, in my experience, more likely to celebrate the end of racism, I have found that students of all racial ethnic groups espouse that same idea. Some students only argue that they are cured of racism and others argue that racism is no longer a real social problem.  ↩

  2. Solórzano, Daniel G. and Delgado Bernal, Dolores 2001 ‘Examining
    transformational resistance through a Critical Race and LatCrit Theory Framework: Chicana and Chicano students in an urban context’, Urban Education, vol. 36, no. 3. pp. 308–42  ↩

  3. The video is fantastic, but it’s not for everyone’s teaching style. I would also be more inclined to show it to an upper level or graduate level class. If you are going to show it to an intro to sociology class, I would highly recommend a large amount of time for class discussion and decompression.  ↩

  4. Do keep in mind that I am neither Black nor a woman, but I have heard something similar to most of the statements Ramsey makes. The video rings true to me. Just saying.  ↩

Growing up I heard Rush Limbaugh from the radio in my father’s truck everyday. I took sociology my senior year of high school and on the day we talked about feminism, I said sincerely, “oh, I love feminism. I’m a total feminazi.” I looked around the room to cocked heads and furrowed brows. After a long pause I said, “amirite?… what?”

I was then and am now, a feminist. I was also wildly unaware of how my social location was affecting my world view. If Donald Trump started a Mr. Socially Dominant pageant I could enter. I am white, male, heterosexual, upper middle class, able-bodied, and young (despite what my students say). When I said feminazi in class, I truly believed the other feminists in the room would recognize the term and embrace me as one of their own. I had a lot of unlearning to do.[1]

I’ve spent my entire life awakening to the world around me. Awakening to the experiences of people who don’t enjoy the privileges that are automatically extended to me. Typically I’m only guessing and typically I’m wrong, but I’ve been fascinated for years by the question, “what must it be like to not be in the dominant group?” In asking this question I’m really asking what is it like to be myself. To live with privilege.

If you teach sociology, then I don’t need to tell you that teaching privilege is hard, especially if you are teaching it to students of privilege. Because social privilege is extended automatically and often unconsciously, telling someone they have privilege is like trying to convince a fish they are surrounded by water. It would appear that the greatest social privilege the dominant group enjoys is the privilege to enjoy their advantage without having to be aware they are receiving it.

Sleeping Walking Through Racism

One of the privileges of being white is that you do not have to think of your experience as being unique or distinctive to your racial group. Many students, but particularly white students, when asked to identify their race will say, “I’m American”. When I teach culture it’s not uncommon for a student to raise their hand and say something like, “I feel like I don’t have a culture. I see all of these other people eating special foods, dancing at celebrations, and stuff like that and I wish I had a culture too.” Of course this is ridiculous, if we air dropped them into a foreign country where no one spoke their language, at their foods, or celebrated their holidays then their culture would jump up and slap them in the face.

My point is, being the default, the neutral, the unremarkable leads the dominant group to sleepwalk through their unique cultural and racial experience. We can see evidence of this sleepwalking in the common reactions white students have toward racism.

“There’s no solution to racism, we’d have to think about it all the time!”

Over and over again I’ve heard my white students say verbatim or in essence, “there is no solution to racism”. Which I, up till now, took to mean “there is no way we can mitigate racial inequality”. However I now believe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. What I think my students are saying is, “there is no way to make race go away.” But why does race need to go away?

Being “colorblind” is popular because it simplifies the world. “If we could just stop talking about race- if we could stop thinking about it, then we could just move on” is a common refrain my “colorblind” students espouse. From the perspective of someone who actively ignores race, discussions of or any acknowledgement of race creates the problem. To solve racism, the colorblind believe, everyone just needs to join me in not thinking about race. Of course, the dominant social group would say this, because they are already the default in society. By giving up the word race, they are in effect ignoring all non-dominant racial groups.

Sleepwalking students want racism to go away. When you’ve effectively convinced them that racial inequality is real, they get caught in a moral cognitive dissonance. A good person doesn’t allow injustice to go on in their community, so if they accept racism as real, they are forced to do something about it, redefine themselves as a bad person, or mitigate the cognitive dissonance. This usually entails denial, rationalization, or throwing their hands up in defeat.

Over the years a few of my white students have said a non-colorblind world would be unfeasible because, “we’d have to think about race all of the time!” They are half right. We have to teach our students to embrace the complexities race, class, gender, etc. bring to our lives. Race has to be important enough that we honor everyone’s uniqueness, but not so important that we discriminate based upon it. I said that in my classes recently and a student groaned loudly and said, “well that’s not hard at all is it?”

I’m fond of saying anger is a common side effect of learning. When you awaken a sleepwalker they abruptly realize that the dream world they were just in is a fallacy and the harsh realities of being lucid to the world around them can make them angry. They want to go back to sleep. They want to return to the simple and comfortable dream world you pulled them from.

If I had one take home message for my101 students it would be, “The world is far more complex than we are lead to believe; embrace the complexity.”


To be uncomfortably honest I see myself in these responses. I know them from an insiders point of view. Being a part of the dominant group means you receive a life-long training in the justifying rationales that tell you everything is ok- everything is as it should be. It’s surprisingly easy to be lulled to sleep on the issues of inequality.

I angered people my senior year when I declared myself a feminazi, but I learned a lot about my social location, worldview, and my blind spots. In the years that have passed since that day, I’ve tried to open my eyes wider. I’ve tried to wake more fully, but I still have a ways to go.

  1. And I still do. I live in a biased unequal world that privileges me everyday.. How could I not have a lot of work left to do?  ↩

When I was a kid my school had “multi-cultural” day- usually in February. It was our annual conversation about MLK and the Civil Rights movement. I remember asking my 5th grade teacher something to the effect of, “if today is ‘multi-cultural’ day, what are all the rest of the days?” I’ve been an “annoying sociologist” my entire life.

On these “multi-cultural days” we were taught one thing more than anything else, “don’t be racist”. Racism, I was told, was a problem had by ignorant meanies. Racism was an end state. It was something you were; like a title. This, as I’ve discussed before, is the dichotomization of racism.

A week or so ago, friend of the site Paula Teander or @sober_sociology sent me this TED talk by Jay Smooth about the dichotomization of racism (he doesn’t use those words). I like this video so much that I will certainly be using it in my 101 classes from now on.

He mentions in his talk another of his videos “How to Tell People They Sound Racist”:

What They Don’t Teach On Multi-Cultural Days

These are great and I totally plan on using them, but as a sociologist, I always want my students to know that while individual racism is terrible, institutional racism has a much bigger impact on the daily lives of people in our society.

Axises ofInstitutional Discrimination

That’s what they don’t teach you during “multi-cultural days”. When racism is discussed as an individual problem (whether it be an end state or a single act as Mr. Smooth suggests), it overlooks how racism can exist without any one person being actively and overtly racist. After we talk about racial institutional discrimination in housing, employment, banking, education, etc. I ask my students, “If I could wave a magic wand and make everyone never think, act, or speak in a racist manner ever again, would racial inequality evaporate?” The answer comes easily to my class.

Will This End Institutional Discrimination

“How many people do you know who openly consider themselves to have a racial bias in their worldview? How many people do you know who consider themselves racist?” Tough questions for a early morning sociology 101 class. The class sits silent. Furrowed brows and questioning looks greet me as I continue, “Well then. Isn’t it strange that in a world where almost no one considers themselves racist we see vast racial disparities? If there are almost no racists, then who is responsible for creating racial inequality?” This is how I start my week long discussion of institutional racial discrimination.

In my Soc 101 classes I teach race over the course of three weeks. Week 1 focuses on the social construction of race, how race is still an issue worthy of our time, and individual prejudice & discrimination. Week 2 is spent on providing students with evidence of institutional discrimination. We conclude our discussion of race by watching The Color of Fear and discussing how we can end or mitigate racial disparities.

The Axes of Discrimination

I break down discrimination across two axes or spectrums. The first axis addresses how discrimination can range from overt or intentional acts all the way to subtle or even unintentional acts of discrimination. The second divides discrimination between individual acts of discrimination and institutional discrimination. Students can always help me with subtle and overt examples of individual discrimination, but are stumped to think of a form of institutional discrimination. The overt institutional discrimination example I have above is a sign outside a Sundown Town which formally barred people of color from being within city limits after dark. A more subtle example of institutional discrimination is the use of standardized tests to justify educational inequality.

The Importance of Institutional Discrimination
Institutional Discrimination is the unequal distribution of rights or opportunities to individuals or social groups that results from the normal operations of society. This is the bias in the system that comes from how our society is structured. Institutional discrimination is not the result of some bigot using his or her power to hurt minority groups. These are disparities that are created by people who are doing what they are supposed to. From this vantage point it’s easy to see how people could be totally oblivious to the fact that they are creating inequities. The people who carry out the policies that discriminate often do not intend to hurt minority groups and see themselves as moral upstanding citizens.

But this is only half the story. Now we know how people could be oblivious to the institutional discrimination they create and enforce, but now we need some evidence that institutional discrimination is creating real racial disparities. I spend an entire 50 minute class providing evidence that contemporary institutional discrimination exists for minorities in our economy, in housing, in our education system, in the legal justice system, and in our community. You can download my lecture notes and see all of the empirical findings of sociological research that I share with my students. Below I share some of the highlights:

Institutional Discrimination in the Economy
Gif Created on Make A Gif
Students are floored to realize that the boards of the Fortune 1000 corporations are so gender and race biased.

Institutional Discrimination in Housing
I show the video Race the Power of an Illusion 3: The House We Live In, which sets the bar for outstanding sociological films and for the lengthiest title in history. The video clearly and concisely explains how the federal government sanctioned the suburbanizing of the US racially via redlining, blockbusting, and residential steering. Truly a must see film for every sociology student & teacher.

Institutional Discrimination in Education
I have a couple of great YouTube clips and activities for educational inequality which I wrote about previously in a post you can read here

Institutional Discrimination in the Legal Justice System
In addition to the research findings I share with them about racial profiling (listed in the lecture notes), I also do the Racism and the Death Penalty activity I discussed a few weeks back.

Institutional Discrimination in Our Community
Finding recent local examples of institutional discrimination can be challenging, but the Kids Count study is a great resource for educators in the U.S. Each year The Annie E. Casey Foundation collects data on various social indicators of childhood wellbeing. If you go the to “data by state” page you can find excellent data about the state you are teaching in. I am currently teaching at Georgia Southern University, so the facts I shared with my Georgia students are below:

  • Leading cause of teen deaths (age 15-19) by race and gender: White females & males: car accidents, Black females: Medical issues, Black males: Homicide
  • The Infant mortality rate for Black infants (12.7 per 1000) was three times that of Hispanic infants (3.7 per 1000) and nearly twice that of White infants (6.5 per 1000)
  • Black (21%) and Hispanic (22%) students are more likely to fail state reading tests than their White (8%) or Asian (7%) counterparts
  • Black (18%) and Hispanic (16%) students are twice as likely to fail state math tests than their White (7%) counterparts
  • 88.2% of Asian students graduated from high school on time, followed by 77.5% of White students, 65.5% of Black students, and 60.3% of Hispanic Students in 2007

“Will This Stop Racial Disparities?”
When I was in elementary school I remember we had a multi-cultural day every year (which begs the question, what were the rest of the days if not mono-cultural days). All I remember from these multi-cultural days was that we were told, “Everyone is equal” and we always learned about the Civil Rights Movement as though it had solved or ended racial discrimination and disparities in the United States. I don’t think my multi-cultural education was an aberration. Recent publications suggest that this type of, “We’re all friends/Everyone is equal” education is pervasive in the U.S. and ineffective. This type of education promotes a individualistic focus on race, racism, prejudice, and discrimination. It tells our young people that to end racial inequality all each of us needs to do is quit being a bigoted jerk. A lengthy discussion of systematic and institutional discrimination crimination is the only remedy to this narrowly focused multi-cultural education.

After our 50 minute tour of institutional discrimination in all its forms I put the slide above up on the screen and ask my students, “Will this stop racial disparities?” After a beat, a chorus of no’s come from the class. We spend the next week exploring systematic solutions to the systematic problems of institutional discrimination.


Flickr: CxOxS

Why are murderers who kill Whites more likely to receive the death penalty than those who kill a person of color? What does this say about the role race plays in our societies valuation of life? These are the questions I raise with my students when we read a short excerpt about Victim Discounting out of Schaeffer’s Racial and Ethnic Groups*.

The excerpt tells students that even though Whites and African Americans commit roughly the same number of murders each year, African Americans represent 72% of all the defendants in death penalty cases. Compounding this inequity, of all the murder cases that faced the death penalty 79% of the victims were White even though Whites only represent approximately 50% of all those murdered each year. Put simply, Whites are less likely to face the death penalty for committing murder and when Whites are murdered their assailant is far more likely to receive the death penalty. Inversely, African Americans are more likely to be executed for killing another and less likely to have their assailants put to death.

After reading the excerpt I have my students brainstorm possible explanations for the inequity. Typical responses include, 1) the majority of police, lawyers, judges, and others in the legal justice system are White, 2) in most areas jury pools are predominately White, thereby increasing the likelihood that the jury will “see themselves” or a family member in the victim, 3) if juries are predominately White, they may have a harder time identifying with and subsequently sympathizing with defendants of color.

Be prepared for some victim blaming here too. Frequently students will say something like, “well if the murders Black people commit are more savage or heinous then that may explain why they are more likely to be put to death”. Questions like this can be quickly addressed by asking, “what is it about a Black person that makes you think they are more likely to use tactics that are more ‘savage’ or ‘heinous’?” Furthermore, you can ask, “what makes you confident that Whites are more likely to use ‘less savage’ or ‘heinous’ tactics?” It quickly becomes apparent that these assumptions are only based on stereotypes.

Here is a group activity that I developed for my students. I have my students explain in their own words victim discounting and the inequities the excerpts discuss. Lastly, I have the students debate the legitimacy of using the death penalty if it is being applied unequally. It is always interesting to hear the justifications for keeping the death penalty (for the record I’ve only taught in states that have the death penalty). Students often say that, “we need the death penalty” and that, “we just have to do a better job of applying it equally.” When I ask them to provide guidelines or new policies for how we can ensure a just application of the death penalty typically the classroom goes silent. So I conclude by asking, “Does your opinion on the abolishment of the death penalty change if we cannot find a fair way of applying the death penalty?” The answers are interesting every time.

If I had one disappointment with this excerpt it would be that it reinforces the false White/Black racial binary. Students frequently ask for information on murder and victimization for other racial ethnic groups. If you have some good sources be sure to share them.

*Note: This excerpt was removed from the latest edition of Schaeffer’s Racial and Ethnic Groups, which is a shame. Given that it is out of print and I have reprinted only a snippet of it, I think I am under the Fair Use shelter. Please don’t sue me, I love my family.

Excerpt from Schaeffer’s Racial and Ethnic Groups
Group Activity
Racial and Ethnic Groups (12th Edition)
More info from Deathpenaltyinfo.org


I am a white middle class heterosexual male sociology teacher. I teach about inequality that I benefit from. I teach about inequality that I can mindlessly recreate both inside of and outside of class. I teach about inequality that some students deny exists and some know on a first name basis. From the outside this could seem hypocritical; I could appear a fraud. Have I chose the wrong line of work? Can white teachers teach race and ethnicity? Can middle class teachers teach economic inequality? Can male teachers teach gender inequality? Can straight teachers teach sexual inequality? They can and they must.

I’m let in & taken at my word

As a white middle class male heterosexual teacher I walk into my class room and when students lay eyes on me they more often then not have their preconceptions of what a professor is going to look like met. My collard shirt, my wedding ring, my clean shaven face all reassure them that I am what they were most likely bargaining for. I fit the stereotype of a professor and subsequently benefit from it. When I talk about inequality students take me at my word. They don’t say to themselves, “well of course you would say that you are _______”. When a person of privilege asks, “why are things this way; why are things so unequal” the taken for granted aspects of our culture are more easily knocked down from their perch of sacredness and honest exploration of the status quo can begin. (Messner 2000).

For students of privilege I can use our shared cultural experience as an illustrative example of how inequality is created. When I tell my students how I mindlessly hurt someone with my own prejudice I can role model how to grapple with and acknowledge privilege. For all of my students I can be an example of someone who stands up for social justice and does not tolerate intolerance. I can show them that no one is inoculated from being prejudice, discriminating, or holding biases. I can stand before them not as a savior with all the right answers, but a fallible educator with some of the right questions.

I’m obligated for countless reasons, but here are two of them.

First, racism is not people of color’s problem, nor is misogyny women’s problem, nor is homophobia the LGTBQ community’s problem, etc. The oppressed and exploited are not responsible for ending oppression and exploitation. They are inextricably linked to it and certainly most affected by it, but it is not their responsibility to mitigate it. As an individual who begrudgingly benefits from exploitation and oppression I am obligated to work to end it. If you believe for one second that you benefit because of your social position (regardless if you seek it out or not) and you believe in social justice, then you either feel obligated to do something about it or you feel cognitive dissonance. If what I’m saying sounds to you like “white guilt” or one of it’s equivalents, then I ask you, how is cognitive dissonance treating you?

Second, research suggests that faculty of color and women are disproportionately assigned to teach what’s called in the biz, “required diversity classes”(Perry, Moore, Edwards, Acosta, and Frey 2009). These classes on race, gender, sexuality, and inequality are tough classes for any teacher. Subsequently this makes the tenure process, for which course evaluations are a component, more changeling for anyone who teaches them. Assigning faculty of color and women to teach required diversity classes recreates inequality and reflects the “oppression is the responsibility of the oppressed” mentality discussed above. As a person of privilege I am obligated to share the burden* of teaching these courses

Minding Your World View

Teaching inequality from a place of privilege requires me to be constantly reevaluating my world view, how I structure my class, and how I interact with students. Privilege is often automatically extended to the privileged. Bias emerges not from consciousness, but from being unconscious about how your world view is slanted. To understand your privilege and how you benefit from it you have to think outside of yourself. You have to imagine how your words and actions would appear to someone who does not experience the privileges you do. Its complex, convoluted, and at times maddening. But the burden of dealing with privilege is minuscule compared to the burden forced upon those without it.

Teaching involves power and so it has the potential to recreate inequality. All teachers must be mindful of this. You must be willing to own up to your mistakes and learn from them. You must be honest with your students about the privileges you hold and your humanity. This is the only way to reduce inequality, make your community a better place, and change students lives.

*For the record. I don’t see teaching diversity as a burden, but a privilege. I prefer teaching required diversity courses as I love interacting with my students on material that is challenging and at times controversial.

Perry, Gary, Helen Moore, Crystal Edwards, Katherine Acosta and Connie Frey. “Maintaining Credibility and Authority as an Instructor of Color in Diversity-Education Classrooms: A Qualitative Inquiry.” The Journal of Higher Education 80.1 (2009): 80-105.

Messner, Michael A. 2000. “White Guy Habitus in the Classroom: Challenging the Reproduction of Privilege”. Men and Masculinities 2:457-469

How do White parents and Parents of Color teach their children about race? This is the primary question I ask my students for one week during my Race & Nationality courses. To help answer this I have the students read a chapter called “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” out of the “pop sociology”* book NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.

According to Bronson and Merryman’s Nurtureshock White parents don’t talk to their children about racism, but rather believe that children are naturally colorblind. Many of the studies done on how White parents talk to their children have found that White parents believe that talking to their kids about racism would actually make them racist. After reading all of the studies in the chapter that showed that White children, like all children, were able to identify physical differences in others and they believed that those who looked most like them were inherently better than those who did not. This is a great opportunity to talk about essentialism and ask if some adults still believe in essentialism. Some of my students took this to mean that racism is natural and subsequently okay. However, I try to draw a parallel between how children naturally do not want to share, but rather they have to be taught to share. We talk about how being selfish is shortsighted and anti-social, just like being a essentialist, and that parents who want their children to be good citizens teach their children to abandon these ideologies.

Bronson and Merryman go on to discuss how parents of color talk openly about race with their children as a means to prepare them for racism, prejudice, and discrimination that they will face. They provide research that shows teaching children of color cultural pride increases many pyscho-social variables (e.g. self-esteem, self-efficacy). This research is more than timely considering Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies programs. They also provide data to show that most White children inherently know that the White race has more social power than people of color, so teaching white pride to children is “abhorrent” and “redundant”.

Another aspect of race socialization challenged in Nutureshock is what Bronson and Merryman call this the diverse environment theory. This is the idea that if we put children of a races and ethnicities in a environment they will automatically internalize that all people are equal. Bronson and Merryman provide a number of recent studies that show that in many cases as the diversity of a school increases so to does the likelihood that a student “will stick with their own.” The authors present this not to discourage or discredit integration, but to make the point that simply putting students of various cultures in a room does not give them the skills to overcome essentialism and be accepting and understanding. Bronson and Merryman argue for frank and open education that acknowledges the uniqueness of each student and promotes social integration

My students loved this reading. The found it interesting, challenging, and they found the writting approachable. Where many texts leave intro students behind by using jargon or technical language, this text goes to extreme lengths to explain the complex simply.

*I use the term “pop sociology” here not to discredit the Bronson and Merryman’s work, but rather to acknowledge that this book is a collection of peer reviewed studies. Many of the overarching conclusions the book makes are made taking the findings from one sample and drawing a causal connection to a study done on another sample. This isn’t a best practice in social research and the findings should be considered within this context. However, the three main ideas I discuss here all came from individual studies, so they do not suffer from this methodological weakness. Alright, enough disclaimer 🙂

Discussion Questions for Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race (Word Version)
Discussion Questions for Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race (.pdf Version)

photo: whitehouse.gov

Does race still matter? This is my day one question for students in my race & ethnicity courses. Many students walk into my class on the first day thinking that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are issues that were solved in the 1960s. Students have said to me, “How much racism can there be if we have a black president?” While I see this line of thinking more often from my white students, I have had numerous students of color share this mindset.

Even students who believe and know that racism is alive with are typically unaware of the numerous current events that many feel are clear examples of racism. Many students are surprised to hear that this February two ROTC students spread cotton in front of the Black Culture Center at Missouri University to mock Black History Month. Or that after a noose was hung in the UC San Diego library a fraternity put on a “ghetto themed” party called the “Compton Cookout” where guests were invited to dress like thugs and “Nappy Headed Hoes.”

Many students are surprised to hear that this February two ROTC students spread cotton in front of the Black Culture Center at Missouri University to mock Black History Month.

I have developed a lecture that shows students how race and racism are still issues at the national, state (NE), and local level (Lincoln). All of the news events at the national level are from the last 6-12 months. I use data from the Kids Count to show students the poverty and graduation rates for the state by race & ethnicity. In Lincoln we are fortunate to have a chief of police who has blogged about the discrimination and hate crime issues we as a city face.

As we go through each of these news events and facts I say over and over again that I am not saying each of these events is evidence of racism. I am simply showing them examples of what others have called racist. This is crucial, because it avoids any debate about the incidents and it keeps students from feeling bullied or steamrolled. I ask my classes, “If racism is a thing of the past, why is it in the news so frequently?”

I wrap the lecture up by discussing how racism, prejudice, and discrimination affect us at an individual level. You can read more about this discussion in my post on the dichotomization of racism.

Below are the slides in Powerpoint and .pdf formats as well as the handout I give my students. The handout has links to all of the websites and youtube clips that the information came from. Please feel free to use these and if you have something to add send it my way

LectureSlides.ppt (PowerPoint Version)
Fact Sheet Handout (Word Version)
Fact Sheet Handout (pdf Version)