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Tracing Family, Teaching Race: Critical Race Pedagogy in the Millennial Sociology Classroom



The “millennial” historical moment presents fresh dilemmas for race-critical instructors. In addition to being well-versed in colorblind racial discourse, millennial students are socialized in a pop-cultural milieu that implies a more integrated, racially egalitarian world than exists in reality and includes claims that U.S. society is now “post-racial.” Millennials’ enthusiastic consumption of race in an era of seeming progress leads them to assume an ever greater social distance between their generation and the relics of those they consider “real” racists, as well as between the former eras of de jure white supremacy and the more racially meritocratic structure they presume exists today. In light of such obstacles, race-critical instructors must employ creative strategies to help students understand and identify their connections to larger, structural matters that create and sustain racial inequality at the systemic level. I introduce one successful approach, where students examine the social reproduction of racial inequality by tracing their family histories of wealth and capital acquisition and transfer.
Teaching Sociology
41(2) 172 –187
© American Sociological Association 2011
DOI: 10.1177/0092055X12455135
Today’s colleges and universities are attended
almost entirely by millennial students. “Millennials,”
born 1990 and later, have a lived experience that is
marked by the socio-cultural-political climate of
the new century. While the challenge of broaching
racial inequality in the classroom is not new
(see e.g., Goldsmith 2006; Haddad and Lieberman
2002; Harlow 2009; Mueller and Feagin forthcom-
ing; Pence and Fields 1999; Tusmith and Reddy
2002), the millennial student population intro-
duces fresh dilemmas for instructors using critical
Millennials have grown up amid a media
drumbeat progressively touting the arrival of a
“post-racial” U.S. society (Apollon 2011:1);
indeed, their own seemingly more tolerant racial
attitudes are often taken as proof that we now
enjoy a post-race world (Gallagher 2003a; Jones,
Cox, and Banchoff 2012; Mueller and Feagin
forthcoming). Far from ignoring race, this imag-
ined post-race world readily acknowledges it. Mil-
lennial students are regularly bombarded with
images of highly visible celebrities and successful
people of color, along with a bounty of racially
coded styles, products, and programming (Gal-
lagher 2003a). Their “pop cultural” fluency par-
ticularly leads white students to imagine a more
X12455135Teaching SociologyMueller
1Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jennifer C. Mueller, Texas A&M University, 4351 TAMU,
311 Academic Bldg, College Station, TX 77843-4351,
Tracing Family, Teaching
Race: Critical Race Pedagogy
in the Millennial Sociology
Jennifer C. Mueller1
The “millennial” historical moment presents fresh dilemmas for race-critical instructors. In addition to
being well-versed in colorblind racial discourse, millennial students are socialized in a pop-cultural milieu
that implies a more integrated, racially egalitarian world than exists in reality and includes claims that U.S.
society is now “post-racial.” Millennials’ enthusiastic consumption of race in an era of seeming progress
leads them to assume an ever greater social distance between their generation and the relics of those they
consider “real” racists, as well as between the former eras of de jure white supremacy and the more racially
meritocratic structure they presume exists today. In light of such obstacles, race-critical instructors must
employ creative strategies to help students understand and identify their connections to larger, structural
matters that create and sustain racial inequality at the systemic level. I introduce one successful approach,
where students examine the social reproduction of racial inequality by tracing their family histories of
wealth and capital acquisition and transfer.
race and ethnicity, critical pedagogy, inequalities, student writing, classroom-based exercises
Mueller 173
wildly integrated and racially egalitarian world
than statistics or their real-world experiences sug-
gest exists. In social fact, persistent segregation
ensures most have little active, engaged contact
with people of color (Bonilla-Silva and Embrick
2007; Johnson 2006), a pattern that persists even
as students enter more integrated college settings
(Stearns, Buchmann, and Bonneau 2009).
Millennials also sit squarely in a social land-
scape dominated by colorblind racism and enter
the classroom well-versed in the central frames of
this contemporary racial ideology (Bonilla-Silva
2010; Bonilla-Silva and Forman 2000; Goldsmith
2006). Like previous generations, white millenni-
als are particularly steadfast in misdefining racism
as a strictly interpersonal matter involving mali-
cious, intentioned actors (Goldsmith 2006; Klein-
man and Copp 2009). Furthermore, they assume an
ever greater social distance between themselves
and the relics of these “real” racists (Harlow 2009),
as well as between prior eras firmly structured
around de jure white supremacy and the more
racially meritocratic structure they presume exists
today. As Apollon (2011:13) asserts, “[f]rom their
point of view, it is essentially a historical accident
and/or irrelevant that the upper class overwhelm-
ingly consists of white people and that people
of color are overrepresented in the ranks of the
poor.” By and large, millennials do not link racial
inequality to the systemic structure of society and
even fewer to a personal “possessive investment in
whiteness” (Lipsitz 2006:vii). Indeed, some white
millennials claim that they are now structurally
victimized by racial remediation efforts and those
campus efforts grouped under the popular banner
of multiculturalism (Feagin 2010; Gallagher
2003b; Jones et al. 2012; Mueller, Dirks, and Picca
In light of these obstacles, race-critical instruc-
tors must employ creative strategies to facilitate
millennials’ ability to understand their personal
connections to larger, structural matters that create
and sustain racial inequality at the systemic level.
I describe one such approach, utilizing a course
assignment where students traced their personal
family histories of intergenerational wealth trans-
fer. In the following I outline the strategy, share
student findings, and analyze their reactions to the
The strategy described in the following has been used
in both Racial and Ethnic Relations and Social
Problems courses and could be well utilized in
courses on inequality and stratification; race, class,
and gender; family; and likely even introductory
sociology courses. While some of my students have
been sociology majors or taken prior sociology
courses, there is no prerequisite for either class. As
such, the vast majority are non-sociologists, new to
the process of “thinking sociologically.” The personal
nature of the project renders it useful for developing
the sociological imaginations of students with a range
of understandings.
I have applied this approach in classes ranging
from 20 to 80 students; instructor time constraints
would likely prohibit its use in classes much larger.
The strategy is ideally used in classrooms with
some degree of racial diversity, given the racial
patterns under investigation, but accommodations
could be made for less racially diverse settings. I
have used the project in classes that have indeed
been predominantly white, and the data I present
reflect that: 166 papers were collected and
approved for use by students enrolled in my
courses. By race, 64 percent were white and 36
percent non-white. Of these, 107 identified as
white/Caucasian, 17 as black/African American,
21 as Hispanic/Latino, 7 as Asian/Pacific Islander,
and 14 as bi-/multiracial (predominantly white/
Hispanic). My classes are disproportionately mid-
dle-class, which no doubt impacts the family
wealth data collected by students. Nonetheless,
because the project explores the contours of both
race and class, it can be used in classes with vary-
ing class backgrounds by adjusting lecture and
discussion emphases.
While Institutional Review Board (IRB)
approval is not typically required to utilize the
project for instruction, I did secure IRB approval
to collect student papers for my analysis. Students
were given the option to participate in the current
project by either: (1) submitting their papers to a
third party to hold until the semester’s end, follow-
ing final grade allocation, or (2) submitting their
papers directly to me following the conclusion of
the semester. In both cases students were adminis-
tered informed consent procedures.
174 Teaching Sociology 41(2)
The family research project is preceded by a unit
on the social reproduction of racial inequality,
grounded in the concepts unjust impoverishment
and enrichment (Feagin 2010). I center our study
specifically on: (1) the intergenerational transmis-
sion of wealth and (2) the multidimensional role of
capital. I build reading assignments, lectures, and
class discussions around the associated literature,
which I here review.
Critical race scholars argue that racism is a
foundational, systemic, and permanent aspect of
U.S. society that structures the interests of all insti-
tutions and actors (Bell 1992; Bonilla-Silva 1997).
It is a central tenet of race-critical scholarship that
this system is grounded in a material reality—one
that privileges whites and disadvantages people of
color through ongoing patterns of unjust enrich-
ment and impoverishment (Feagin 2010; Harris
1993; Roediger 2007). As conceptualized by
Feagin (2010), unjust enrichment refers to
unearned assets and privileges whites enjoy as a
result of racially oppressive arrangements; the
corollary is the resultant impoverishment suffered
by groups racialized as non-white through such
systems. In function, the recurring patterns of
unjust enrichment and impoverishment reproduce
the material reality of disparities that serve to
socially construct “race”; they are thus a major
force in reproducing the systemically racialized
structure over time.
The racial wealth gap is arguably the most
severe indicator of racial inequality and highly
attuned to capturing patterns of unjust impoverish-
ment and enrichment. On average, black families
own only $0.10 for every dollar of wealth held by
whites. Concerning on its own, wealth is also
linked to other life chances, such as the ability to
survive economic crises or create opportunities for
upward mobility (Johnson 2006; Keister 2000;
Oliver and Shapiro 2006; Shapiro 2004). While the
income gap has narrowed, racial wealth disparities
have increased in the post–Civil Rights era, reflect-
ing intergenerational practices of wealth transmis-
sion, the “historical legacy of deprivation,” and
the dynamics of wealth growth (Conley 2001:42;
Oliver and Shapiro 2006). During slavery, whites
appropriated the asset-building potential of blacks,
facilitating asset acquisition for slaveholders as
well as many other whites in slavery-linked jobs
and industries (Feagin 2010). The era of southern
legal and northern de facto segregation repro-
duced similar patterns, as blacks faced discrimina-
tion in employment, business ownership, housing,
education, and banking. Simultaneously, govern-
ment programs, like the New Deal labor programs
and the GI Bill of Rights, served as major asset-
building instruments for whites, exacerbating
wealth disparities further by systematically
excluding blacks (Conley 2001; Katznelson 2005;
Oliver and Shapiro 2006; Shanks 2005). Notably,
such programs were often not racially codified
despite being exclusive in practice, obscuring
the explicit racial privilege in this white capital
Similar patterns of unjust impoverishment and
enrichment also interrupted asset accumulation
among other groups. Key examples include the
forced relocation of Native Americans from
resource-rich land onto reservations (Cornell 1988;
Snipp 1999), the coercive misappropriation of
Mexican land after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
(Glenn 2002), and the abusive labor practices,
restrictive citizenship rules, and alien land laws
that impacted Asian-descent groups (López 2006;
Okihiro 2000).
These past patterns are not simply historically
notable; they link to the ongoing reproduction of
inequalities. In groundbreaking research, Shanks
(2005) modeled the contemporary impact of one
late nineteenth-century federal land grant program:
the Homestead Act of 1862. This act distributed
160 acres of land to 1.5 million Americans—
almost exclusively white—creating immediate
upward mobility for the families involved.
Although the act could have promoted the transi-
tion from slavery to freedom for blacks after the
Civil War, most were denied access. Perhaps most
striking is that as many as 46 million Americans—
close to one quarter of the current U.S. population
over the age of 25—can trace their ancestry to
homesteaders. Such work concretely illustrates
how past practices of explicit racial discrimination
link to modern U.S. families of all races.
Beyond indicators like wealth, scholars also rec-
ognize the role of nonmaterial factors in reproducing
Mueller 175
stratified systems. Pierre Bourdieu (1977, 1984,
1986) broadened the idea of capital to capture non-
material forms of “bankable” power. Beyond mate-
rial (i.e., economic) capital, Bourdieu argued that
individuals and groups also access power through the
“currency” of social capital (individual acquaint-
ances and networks), cultural capital (educational
credentials and “resources” like verbal facility, aes-
thetic preferences, and knowledge of cultural mat-
ters), and symbolic capital (the authority of prestige
and power to legitimize particular ideas and points of
view) (Bourdieu 1977, 1984, 1986).
Research supports the idea that capital is multi-
faceted and frequently interconvertible from one
form to another (Bourdieu 1977). For example,
Shapiro (2004) and Johnson (2006) found that
white families with even modest assets use those to
leverage advantages, like moving to areas with
high-quality educational options or making upward
career changes. Others have documented whites’
disproportionate access to key networks for job,
educational, and other prospects, revealing a criti-
cal interplay of social and cultural capital (DiTo-
maso, Parks-Yancy, and Post 2003; Royster 2003;
Sherwood 2010). Collectively, such studies illus-
trate that whites regularly use their typically
greater assets in transformative ways, facilitating
their upward mobility beyond what traditional
means would promote. This research also reveals
significant symbolic capital, as whites commonly
consider their options and successes to be the prod-
uct of merit and not racialized practices, knowl-
edge, and access.
Following several weeks of lectures and discus-
sions on the aforementioned topics, I assigned
students to trace their families’ intergenerational
wealth and capital transmission. Questions they
explored through consulting family histories and
interviewing family members included: Is there a
family history connected to slavery? Did anyone in
previous generations inherit property, money, or
businesses? Did parents or grandparents receive
down payment help for purchasing a home or
assistance with college? Did the family take advan-
tage of formal programs that would facilitate
wealth/capital acquisition, like the Homestead Act
or the GI Bill? Did anyone use social networks to
get jobs, secure loans, open businesses?
To manage length, students were told they
could choose to focus on one or two branches of
their family lineage. They were instructed to use
information from the unit to analyze their data for
racial dynamics that likely influenced their fami-
lies acquiring and transferring wealth and capital.
They were additionally encouraged to consider
other issues discussed in class; for example, situa-
tions where one type of capital was used to access
another; experiences with white flight; segregation
experiences that facilitated or hampered work or
living options/outcomes; and ideological ration-
ales offered by their families to explain successes
or failures. Finally, students were asked to reflect
on what they were taking away from their research.
Involving students in researching their own
families is both theoretically appropriate and peda-
gogically cogent. As Feagin (2006) theorizes,
although the resources inherited by whites ulti-
mately stem from white control of major societal
institutions, they are transferred most immediately
in the social contexts of family and other intimate
networks. Examining family history intergenera-
tionally yields the additional benefit of tapping
critical, often covert connections that link contem-
porary generations (including our millennial stu-
dents) to the prior eras of explicit, formal
oppression that make up the bulk of U.S. history
(Feagin 2010). Beyond this, scholars enjoin the
specific utility of family genealogy in unlocking
the sociological imagination (see e.g., Gatson
2003; Hackstaff 2010; Parham 2008). Gatson
(2006) argues that because identity in sociological
terms is collective, asking students to explore their
own biographies helps them develop insights—
academic and personal—about crucial social struc-
tural realities. Indeed, the family research project
creates both a classroom opportunity to discuss the
patterns that emerge from the aggregate class find-
ings as well as a personal opportunity for students
to uncover and reflect on their own racialized
group positions. I address the pedagogical benefits
of each in the following.
Benefits aside, instructors should be prepared
to guide students through the process of conduct-
ing their research and anticipate the concerns that
often emerge. Some of their apprehensions are
176 Teaching Sociology 41(2)
practical, usually revolving around presumptions
that they will not be able to find information. As
one white female student reflected back, “As soon
as I got this paper assignment I thought to myself,
‘None of these things will have applied to my fam-
ily.’” While that does not usually turn out to be the
case, occasionally there are family dynamics that
do present challenges to executing the research—
for example, situations involving divorces,
estranged relationships across generations, or more
recent immigration. Additionally, at least one stu-
dent came to me frantic about her family’s outright
unwillingness to discuss these “personal” matters.
To minimize these types of concerns, I am
assertive about communicating a simple end goal
of learning when I introduce the project. I assure
students that their grade is not contingent on find-
ing the most examples of wealth and capital, nor
on crafting a family narrative that maps exactly
onto the concepts and examples we have dis-
cussed. Rather, I tell them to attempt to gather the
fullest data possible and then utilize the theory and
information we have to analyze it, whatever it
turns out to be. I share the sociological dictum
“everything is data” (even “no data”) and tell them
that if they find something that seems to stand
outside what we might expect (e.g., students of
color whose family members were able to acquire
land during the era of legal segregation), they
should attempt to analyze why that might be and
what it means. I urge students to consider how
their families’ history and stories might be differ-
ent if they were another race or in the absence of
the resources and assets they uncover. And,
throughout the process I make myself available to
meet and discuss their data and work through an
analysis of it. Under my encouragement, the young
woman whose family refused to share information
turned her (lack of) data into a stellar analysis of
the racial significance of her family’s resistance,
discussing what such silences accomplish ideo-
logically and how they too contribute to reproduc-
ing systemic racism.
Aside from these practical concerns, it is worth
acknowledging the emotional obstacles the project
presents for some students. To be sure, white stu-
dents often respond to discussions of racial ine-
quality and privilege with resistance, guilt, anger,
and denial (Bohmer and Briggs 1991). This is
likely worsened by the fact that the project may
seem an implicit challenge to family stories, tradi-
tions, and beliefs they cherish (Kleinman and
Copp 2009). Some of my white students admitted
an initial discomfort with the project and material.
Their research often leads them to disquieting dis-
coveries about the ways their families (and they)
have benefited from unearned racial privilege. For
their part, students of color are often disinclined to
tell their story “from the perspective of a victim,”
as one Latina female wrote. We risk stunting out-
comes or shutting down learning altogether if we
ignore these emotional reactions in our classrooms
or write them off as ideological defenses (even if
they are). While we cannot always break through
our students’ resistance (Hoop 2009), I believe the
personalized nature of the project does as much to
aid working through common defenses as it does
to incite them. I return to this point in my analysis
of student reflections in the following and propose
ways to mitigate emotional triggers in the class-
As indicated previously, collectively reviewing
and analyzing the racial patterns that emerge from
the classes’ aggregate data creates a powerful
inroad for learning. It is one thing to listen to lec-
tures or read about unjust enrichment and impov-
erishment and wealth gaps; even empirical data
can seem “abstract” to our students. Seeing con-
cepts brought to life in their midst, however, is
something else. To prepare for class discussion, I
build a tally of wealth/capital accrual and transmis-
sion examples by race while grading, noting also
other relevant issues they record. Table 1 is an
abridged version of the tally built from 50 papers
collected during a spring 2009 Racial and Ethnic
Relations course.
I present these aggregate results in a subsequent
class period. As the sample table implies, the data
from my classes have well reflected the concept of
racial group interest, even despite racially skewed
samples. White students report appreciably more
examples of capital transmission in their family
histories than students of color. Land giveaways; GI
Bill access; home, land, and business ownership; and
Mueller 177
major social network benefits are usually plentiful
among class findings. The tally for students of
color provides significant contrast and reveals numer-
ous historical examples of unjust impoverishment.
After presenting the tallies I ask the class to
identify areas of comparison that stand out,
which they are usually able to do without much
Table 1. Spring 2009 Abridged Tally of Students’ Family Data as Reported in Papers by Race.
White Families (n = 30)
Slaveowners (3 owned sizeable and/or numerous plantations) 11
Homestead Act/other land giveaway (3 traced to former Native American territory; 2 to
former Mexican territory)
GI Bill (education or home loans) 20
Inheritance (includes inheritances from a living relative and those acquired after a
relative’s death)
Land and/or home 33
Money/stocks/bonds 30
College paid by family (1 great-grandparent; 8 grandparents; 15 parents; 12 students, i.e., class
Social capital/social networks
To start (or build) business 4
To buy land/home/qualify for loan (1 report of a loan officer friend who “fudged some numbers”) 3
For jobs 28
Attended private school (several reported choice was to ensure high-quality educational
Family used wealth to move to “better”/“good” neighborhoods for schools 22
Earned college degrees (5 great-grandparents; 17 grandparents; 24 parents) 46
Built/own businesses 49
Families of Color (n = 20)
Ancestors were enslaved (2 became sharecroppers on the same land where they had
worked as slaves)
GI Bill (education or home loans) (both for education, post–WWII era-related; e.g., Vietnam) 2
Inheritance (includes inheritances from a living relative and those acquired after a
relative’s death)
Land and/or home (1 reported home is run-down and in an impoverished neighborhood) 6
Money (reported as a “few thousand” dollars) 1
College paid by family (1 grandparent; 1 student, i.e., class member [partial assistance only]) 2
Attended private school/ “magnet” school (1 reported as a way to avoid inner-city school; 1 for
Earned college degrees (2 grandparents, both restricted to HBCUs; 5 parents) 7
Social capital/social networks
Evidence of diminished social networks (e.g., did not receive information re: school or other
Use of “Ethnic Enclaves” (2 to open small business; 1 use of intra-ethnic ties to get a job) 3
Used white social networks to access job opportunities 1
Built/own businesses (2 via “ethnic enclaves;” 1 reported parents could not financially sustain
Debt (2 reports of family living in “significant debt;” 2 reports of family living below the poverty line) 4
Note: HBCUs = historically black colleges and universities.
178 Teaching Sociology 41(2)
I then initiate a discussion around inheritance
pathways1—instances involving the transfer and/
or interconvertibility of wealth/capital between
two or more generations. I invite students to share
personal examples of inheritance pathways but
also make note of good cases during tally building
to present anonymously if needed. Here, Jay
(names are pseudonyms), a white male, traces a
pathway from his grandfather to himself:
The land that has played the most significant
role [in our success] was . . . secured by my
grandfather through a loan from the Veter-
ans Land Board . . . after World War II . . .
with a very low interest rate and a “death
clause” that would pay off the loan in the
event of his passing. . . . [W]hen my grand-
father passed away one year later . . . his
family w[as] able to keep the land without
paying the rest of the loan. . . . After [my
father] graduated high school my grand-
mother passed away and my father inherited
a portion of the land originally paid for by
the aforementioned loan. My father then
married my mother, sold the land, and used
the money acquired to aid them as they
began their lives together. The money
gained from the land undoubtedly had an
impact of my parent’s financial situation for
years to come and thus on me as I was born
a year after my parent’s marriage. . . . [H]ad
my grandfather not been white he would not
have qualified for the loan and my father
would not have had the advantage (or head
start) given to him by such a large sum of
As Jay’s example suggests, access to resources
often paves pathways of upward mobility for white
families and may trace directly to the students’
own generation (sometimes even from slave-owning
generations). In contrast, the accounts from stu-
dents of color commonly reveal inheritance path-
ways where upward mobility is “detoured” or even
“dead-ended,” for example when families are
divested of their capital through explicitly racist
(e.g., forced relocation, land theft) or more subtle
means (e.g., black families selling off land during
legal segregation under the fear of dispossession).
Additionally, when families of color do access
capital and attempt to use it to launch mobility, its
value is often racially diminished (e.g., owning a
home in a largely minority community), making it
less constructive for paving mobility pathways.
I work with the class to unpack the racial
dynamics of such examples, asking pointed ques-
tions and helping them make links to research and
theory. A major emphasis of our discussion is
exploring ways structural factors connect to what
happens at the micro level, shaping the inheritance
pathways that families pave and how they are
facilitated (or not) in their efforts. Highly useful
for exploring common, expected patterns like
those identified previously, this strategy also works
to make sense of anomalies. For instance, when
inheritance pathways do lead to upward mobility
for families of color, that success is often traceable
to unique structural circumstances or atypical
access to white assets and networks (e.g., having a
benevolent relationship with a white employer).
This proved exceptionally useful for considering
how broader, institutionally supported access to
the same kinds of transformative assets that whites
have enjoyed could have at multiple points in his-
tory reduced the extreme disparities produced dur-
ing slavery and legal segregation. Such examples
also helped challenge ideological, victim-blaming
cultural explanations for racial disparities and
break down the “bootstrapping” claims so com-
mon in family success stories.
As discussed previously, resistance and other
emotional defenses can be common to racially
centered classroom discussions like these, particu-
larly among white students. Rather than simply
react to such difficulties when they occur, I choose
instead a more preventive strategy of anticipation
and climate building. From the outset of my classes
I work to institute a culture of collectiveness,
establishing that we are all in this together. I pre-
pare students for the fact that in discussing pro-
vocative, charged issues like privilege and
oppression, some people, particularly those from
dominant groups, may feel triggered, defensive,
and uncomfortable. I advise that we should explore
those emotions if they arise and explicitly add that
the goal of the class is not to demonize people and
groups who are privileged nor paint those
oppressed as victims, but to interrogate critically
Mueller 179
and honestly the social-structural realities of our
lives. As a white woman I am able to expose my
own material and psychic privileges as examples
while modeling a healthy, nondefensive posture. I
tell the class, we may not have had a hand in creat-
ing the oppressive structures of our society—we
inherited them; nonetheless, we often walk the
“paths of least resistance” laid out by oppressive
structures that reproduce them (Johnson 2008:18).
(An additional benefit of this recurrent point is that
it aids later discussions around how we can redi-
rect our agency along different paths.)
I import this strategy—of anticipating common
ideological responses and making the implicit
explicit—to specific discussions like those of the
class wealth findings. Students regularly respond
to our review of the aggregate findings with shock.
Even after conducting their own research and usu-
ally drawing affirmative conclusions about how
family wealth transfer contributes to reproducing
racial inequality, they are often still surprised at
how well the collective findings fit the principles
of the unit. Notably, this implies how critical the
collective review is to learning outcomes. But
never have I encountered defensive or emotional
reactions that have shut down class discussion
altogether. I would like to believe my proactive
approach mitigates much of this threat to learning
in the classroom. Given that my anonymous
instructor ratings are consistently high (and often
positively reference the family project specifi-
cally), I feel fairly secure my students are not
simply holding back frustrations about me, the
class, or the project.
Recall that in addition to analyzing findings, stu-
dents were directed to share their personal reflec-
tions—their “take away” from the research. I
regard this as central to the pedagogical strategy
and thus emphasize this instruction when going
over the prompt with students. The unconventional
practice of journaling is often consciousness-rais-
ing for students, as they reflect on racialized expe-
riences they might not otherwise consider (Collins
2009; Goldsmith 2006; Mueller and Feagin forth-
coming; Picca and Feagin 2007; Rusche and Jason
2011). Serendipitously, it also provides a means to
evaluate the impact of the project and of the ben-
efits of this kind of reflective pedagogy on student
learning. Overall, students’ reflections supported
the efficacy of the project to understanding the
concepts of interest and their personal connections
to them. In the following, I present a thematic
analysis of their responses.
Recognizing the Significance of Wealth
Most students assertively argued that exploring
wealth transmission was vital to unlocking the
“puzzle” of ongoing racial inequality (a recurring
metaphor). For instance, one white female
acknowledged that while it made her “uncomfort-
able” to analyze her “white families’ wealth and
the transmission of it, and how it was accumulated
through an advantage over minorities,” she thought
it “necessary in order to recognize the reasons for
racial inequality today.” That her discomfort and
perhaps guilt (common reactions) did not become
defensive nor prohibit her thorough analysis of the
racial privilege in her family’s history is meaning-
ful; she saw fit to work through her reactions.
Following analysis of her family’s history,
another white female made a critical observation
regarding the nature of social reproduction:
[W]ealth has the possibility to increase with
each generation via the social and economic
ladder. Some generations make small steps
and some skip multiple rungs. Whites have
had this opportunity to make steps (however
small they seem to us today) but over time
these have accumulated. . . . [E]very time
one of my ancestors was able to purchase
[assets or] go away to school, he was making
an investment that changed his future that
would not have been possible had he not
been white.
This kind of analysis was common, implying
students validate the centrality of the topic for
unraveling sources of ongoing inequality, but also
understand that their families’ micro-level actions
180 Teaching Sociology 41(2)
link to these larger patterns. In illuminating this
material basis, the project proved liberating for
some students of color, as it was for one black
I realized that the systemic racial inequality
in the U.S. was not created because of a dis-
like of those who were different but as a way
to increase the wealth and status of a partic-
ular group. My entire life, I thought that
blacks were singled out only because of a
strong dislike of their race, but in fact it was
much deeper; there was an economic value
for racial inequality.
Clearly, such an observation is powerful in
helping students of color not only understand the
structural nature of racial inequality, moving
beyond conceptualizations of racism as a rootless
ideology; perhaps more personally important, it
displaces notions that they are simply “objects” of
white contempt, revealing their exploitation as
centrally rooted in white material advantage. The
logic of a material understanding becomes obvious
to most students after they are able to see racism is
more than merely hateful prejudice.
Understanding Racialized Structural
Hierarchy and Positions
Beyond general understandings, many students
specifically addressed how vital their research was
in helping them recognize their own racialized
structural positioning. It was particularly influen-
tial for white students in revealing how whites
become (often passive) “stakeholders” in the cen-
turies-old system of U.S. racism because of their
social position (Feagin 2010:12). Shannon, a white
female, noted several obstacles to whites acknowl-
edging personal connections to racial oppression,
past or present:
[W]ithout looking at our family history, it is
easy to deny that racism had any effect on
where we are today. Inequalities in the
modern era are explained as being caused by
personal ineptness or broadly by systemic
racism. . . . It is more difficult to discuss who
is “at fault” for current inequalities. . . . It
takes looking at how our past constructed
our present to visualize that it is racism that
has built our current circumstances.
Shannon offers an interesting analysis, that
even deferring to “systemic racism” as an explana-
tion can lead whites to ignore their structural
privileges, as such reasoning is seemingly more
abstract and impersonal. This appeared true for
many students prior to conducting their research.
Reflecting back they shared feelings ranging from
skepticism to outright opposition. One remarked
feeling “pretty sure” she “was an exception to what
we had been learning”; another shared she was
initially “frustrated,” “doubted” the material, and
flatly “disagreed” with many of the arguments
being made in class.
It was quite obviously a radically new stance
for my white students to imagine having a personal
investment in the structure of racial oppression.
Tracing personal family histories well focuses
them toward this end, however. Janet’s case is
Learning about white privilege and institu-
tionalized racism this semester had been
eye-opening and thought-provoking, but to
tell the truth, it had not hit home yet. . . .
[M]y worldview was gradually shifting for
the past 11 weeks, but as far as getting me to
where I am today I was pretty sure that the
racialized system had done me no favors . . .
until I sat down and began to piece together
the puzzle. I found . . . that I am where I am
today largely because of institutionalized
Throughout the semester Janet was one of the
most active participants in class. She well articu-
lated the arguments being advanced and by all
appearances embraced the information. Her com-
ment reveals, however, that were it not for the
assignment even she would not have seen her spe-
cific, personal connections to institutionalized
Also critical was the fact that many students
were able to link how privilege and oppression are
interdependent in a racialized hierarchy. Sarah, a
white female, picked up on this:
Mueller 181
While the main question in my mind was
how well modern families can gain financial
success if they are hindered by the color of
their skin, I neglected to examine how my
own family’s wealth can be attributed to our
white skin. . . . I better understand the undue
privileges a family such as mine can attain.
Because whites experience their privilege as
normative, Sarah, like many whites, believed that
examining racial inequality meant examining the
obstacles faced by people of color. Through the
project, she came to understand how disadvantage
for people of color exists in inverse relationship to
the privileges accessed by whites. Recognizing
how structural positioning makes racial actors of
us all strongly impacted many students. One white
student stated she could not “help but ask where
[my family] would be had we been denied access
to crucial resources.” She added that while she was
“proud of the accomplishments” and “thankful”
for the resources passed through her family, her
“eyes ha[d] been opened to the process by which
these things have been made available. Many peo-
ple, equally if not more worthy . . . have never had
opportunities to advance. . . . This project has
made this issue a personal one.”
Deconstructing Stories of “Hard Work”
Beyond recognizing their own privileges, many
developed even more nuanced racial analyses.
Laura, a white female, wrote:
[T]he success of my grandparents, parents,
and hopefully me someday was never some-
thing I questioned. In my mind, as a family
we have been successful because of hard
work, dedication, and perseverance. What I
failed to realize was that our advantages are
not simply due to this, but rather are inher-
ited. . . . These advantages were never
something my family thought about or
dwelled on, merely because we were never
forced to. They were always just at our fin-
gertips without any question. . . . My family
was and still is “producing racial inequality
without active participation” (DiTomaso
et al. 2003:189).
While research documents persistent, overt dis-
crimination, Laura captures a theme identified by
many students—that white passive acquiescence
also perpetuates racial stratification. White fami-
lies working hard and persevering through difficult
pasts does not mean that white racial status did not
confer them benefits at the same time, a significant
point to which her quote alludes. Colin, a white
male, attacked this head-on:
I have found many of the arguments pre-
sented hold true even for my own family,
which for 3 generations could very likely
never have encountered a black person.
They seized opportunities as they saw them,
many of which resulted from white privi-
lege. . . . Arguments and theories of systemic
racism, unjust impoverishment, white privi-
lege, and transmission of wealth are not easy
to accept or swallow. They attack that which
many people (including myself) wish was
purely the result of hard work. . . . While
most of my family worked very hard, they
also were allowed to many times due to
advantages they did not realize they had. . . .
Systemic racism is real, and it does affect us.
Colin well identifies that though the early his-
tories of many American families involved labor-
ing hard for upward mobility, being white opened
many personal and institutionalized opportunities
for advancement. To be sure, many students have
heard the stories of struggle passed down in pride
through their families. Importantly, the project
does not require that they definitively discard such
stories, but rather that they properly contextualize
them in a larger structural framework that consid-
ers racial status.
As Colin’s quote reveals, this can aid in break-
ing through the kind of student resistance identi-
fied earlier. Another white male put it well: “What
I’m taking away from this is how I can be proud of
my family and at the same time understand my
privilege.” It did seem important to most students
that they be able to retain a sense of family pride.
This might reflect white students seeking “a narra-
tive . . . that does not demonize white as a racial
category” (Gallagher 2003b:301)—a position that
can yield ideological conclusions and defensiveness.
182 Teaching Sociology 41(2)
But perhaps it simply reflects a reasonable need to
reconcile otherwise contradictory social facts. This
seemed particularly critical for white students from
socioeconomically modest backgrounds, where
racial privileges may be less obvious. Even these
students were usually able to identify race-based
privileges available to family members that buff-
ered their class constrictions (e.g., having access to
jobs that black Americans were restricted from
during certain eras or to citizenship as new immi-
grants when naturalization was legally restricted to
“free white persons”).
Students of Color Recognizing Structural
Structurally contextualizing family histories was
also useful for students of color, particularly when
families had achieved some degree of social
mobility. While Simon’s was one of the few black
families to receive Homestead land, he recognized
a caveat:
My father’s side of the family was not vic-
timized by slavery but instead emigrated
from a British Colony . . . sometime after
Reconstruction. They settled in southern
Alabama and took advantage of the Home-
stead Act, acquiring . . . land and a home.
My ancestors were able to profit from this
land through farming and could therefore
expand the amount of land they owned. . . . I
do believe that that story for the majority of
blacks who are descendants of enslaved
Africans would be different from mine. Had
it not been for the fact that my ancestors
were born outside of the U.S., they would
not have been able to take advantage of the
Homestead Act, which promoted the trans-
mission of wealth in my family.
Simon identifies important structural matters
that influenced his family’s success, rather than
simply taking their success as proof that race is
irrelevant to others’ life chances.
As noted earlier, students of color often report
examples involving historically atypical relation-
ships with whites. Thomas, another black male, had
a family history that did trace to enslavement.
Although his great-grandfather grew up “very
poor,” working “in cotton fields and rice mills as a
young man,” Thomas writes that he eventually was:
given a job at a local bank as a maintenance
man and his wife would be the keeper of the
banker’s house. This was a very unusual
position for black people at this time as
many were sharecroppers and very poor.
The jobs that my great grandparents had
with the banker allowed my family to make
its first major purchase when they bought a
small piece of land with a house on it from a
white man . . . establish[ing] my family as
one of the elite black families in [town]. . . .
My grandfather described living right down
the street from the mayor and chief of police,
both of whom [we]re white but still know-
ing his place being black.
Thomas recognizes the unique opportunity
extended to his great-grandfather at the time, while
also offering the critical reminder that such access
did not erase the social boundaries erected to keep
blacks and other people of color “in their place.”
Even as Thomas reported relative prosperity in his
family currently, he connected this to unique
opportunities available to his family, a theme
reflected by other students of color.
Some students of color used the project as a basis
to reflect on the colorblind ideology often embraced
in the wake of family success. Sandra, a Latina
female, put it bluntly: “I was raised to be proud of my
roots and to be thankful that my grandparents and
great-grandparents ‘pulled themselves up by their
bootstraps.’ Yet, through my research I have found
that they are not quite the bootstrappers that they had
once portrayed themselves to be.” While her tone
might seem indicting, the rest of her paper reveals a
refined understanding of how such ideologies come
to support a structure of racial inequality. Likewise,
David, a Vietnamese American, offered a thoughtful
analysis of the role of “model minority” ideology.
After describing the significant material and cultural
capital that contributed to his immigrant parents’ suc-
cess he writes:
My parents pride themselves on success as
they came to this country with “nothing but
Mueller 183
a toothbrush” and seek “nothing” from the
government. In fact, my parents have stated
repeatedly that “black people are lazy” and
“they commit a lot of crimes.” . . . Further-
more, . . . the model minority myth tells
African Americans that they ought to be like
Asian Americans thus adding racial tensions
between the two groups. Through this sys-
temic racism, Asian Americans conform to
the [cognitive] white racial frame, and in
turn, act against their own interests.
David captures numerous key points in his
analysis, central to which is a structural framework
for understanding micro-level actions and beliefs.
Understanding the Role of Colorblind
White students also picked up the role of colorblind
ideology, impressive given that it was not explicitly
required. Indeed, we had only begun discussing col-
orblind racism at the time students were writing their
papers. That white students tapped into this matter
and linked it to their analyses suggests not only a
nuanced connection of concepts, but also a willing-
ness to challenge the veneer of their own families’
seemingly colorblind success. Exemplary was Paul,
who used a smart interview question:
I always concluded my conversations with
relatives with the question, “do you believe
we were privileged in any way due to our
skin color?” Not a single yes was replied.
This was a shock for me to hear. Through
my knowledge gained from this course, I
concluded that my family was intensely col-
orblind. . . . Even though my family may
have never directly discriminated against
blacks, they have definitely benefited from
favoritism to whites in America. The bene-
fits they received were the foundation of my
immediate family to be able to obtain
Initially perplexed by the comparison of his
family’s history to their colorblind views, Paul was
able to use course material to reason how color-
blindness does the work of hiding white privilege
from view. Many students went a step further,
reflecting on the causes and consequences of their
own colorblindness. For example, Kelsey, a white
female, discussed how whites “grow accustomed
to their limited vision” through the “blinder” of
individualism and “obliviousness” to institutional-
ized racism, adding, “[u]ntil recently, I fell into this
category.” Such revelations highly disturbed some,
like Carla:
Perhaps the scariest part of my research was
coming to realize just how blind we are to
race in our society and how that works for us.
While we ignore the ways that race shapes
our lives we are reinforcing the existing racial
hierarchy. We have been given opportunities
and benefits we are not even aware of; and by
this ignorance we have been conditioned to
transmit these opportunities, benefits,
resources and wealth to our children.
Critical race scholars argue that white igno-
rance is often quite willful—a challenging asser-
tion for most. Yet a number of students clearly
grasped how racial ignorance is indeed functional
for whites. Carla here picked up on the significant
point that colorblind ideology perpetuates inequal-
ity by socializing not just whites’ thinking, but
their behavior as well. Along the same lines
another white female, Liz, remarked:
I have never had to face [some] of the issues
my peers have, and I have realized much of
this is because I live in a racialized society
that has tried to hide it from me. It is studies
that put forth research revealing these injus-
tices that have awoken my understanding of
the tragic state of our nation. DiTomaso et
al. (2003) state that “whites can be ‘bliss-
fully unaware’ of the institutional
arrangements that reproduce inequality in
their favor ‘without active participation’ and
‘hidden from view.’ They can also . . . ‘feel
quite blameless in the whole affair’” (p.
198). I feel like I have been duped into this
category that they describe.
Her frustration is somewhat palpable; nonethe-
less, Liz’s reactions suggest that synthesizing critical
184 Teaching Sociology 41(2)
instruction with personal research and reflection
can be a major educational tool with an often
potent impact.
Inspiration to Take Action
Our students generally think of themselves as good,
moral people—indeed, this itself can be a source of
defensive resistance to learning about inequality
(Kleinman and Copp 2009). In examining their own
experiences, however, students are many times led to
confront incongruities that arise between their self-
beliefs and actions, as Liz and others did. Rather than
stifle her, Liz’s new awareness inspired her toward
action. Her frustration swiftly evolved, as she
remarked, “[k]nowing my family lineage, and the life
that I live today, all contribute to systemic racism is
infuriating. Now that I am aware of the injustice that
is present, I feel an obligation to work against it.” For
some, the project simply raised questions: “Now that
I am able to recognize the reality of my unearned
privileges and how I acquired them, it leaves me with
a daunting question: How can I help the larger issue
of systemic racial inequality?” Others were more
[E]ven though my newfound knowledge has
made me ask overwhelming questions, it
has also made me realize not only my role,
but also my power as a white person to fight
in the battle against racism. . . . I have a
powerful position, and hopefully I can help
other white people realize their powerful
roles in assisting this cause as well.
Responses such as these support findings that
once “structural injustice is made visible, problem
solving and social change become salient” for stu-
dents (Alexander 2005; Braa and Callero
2006:362). While the project does not explicitly
call students to embrace their agency for social
change, and many never do, the consciousness
sparked by self-reflection clearly inspires a num-
ber to make that step.
In the revised edition of his radical landmark text,
Racial Oppression in America, noted scholar Bob
Blauner (2001) addressed the challenge of teach-
ing race. He complained of his experience with
class discussions that descended into “talking past
one another” (p. 193). White students were work-
ing from entirely different definitions of racism
than students of color, who were unsurprisingly
more inclined to see racism as structural. Instead of
proposing strategies to help white students move
beyond ideological understandings, Blauner
(2001) issued a shocking retreat from his earlier
race critical positions. Pronouncing he was now
“more concerned . . . with the social and political
consequences of analytical frameworks and less
with their abstract ‘theoretical correctness’”
(Blauner 2001:189), he advocated a toning down
of his race-critical stances. He offered several
compromises he felt could be made to bring well-
meaning whites into the fold—such as emphasiz-
ing class and/or ethnicity over race and paying
more heed to the white ethnic experience—despite
their plain theoretical and empirical flaws.
It is perhaps understandable that even race-
critical instructors consider making these kinds of
concessions in our classrooms. The obstacles to
tackling the difficult topic of race, particularly with
white students, and the specific barriers presented
by the millennial socio-cultural context are real.
Moreover, many instructors lament students’
resistance to learning as the bane of teaching.
Nonetheless, as Gross (as cited in Moore [2007])
argues compellingly, avoiding issues is a mark that
we ourselves resist learning. After all, “some facts
and truths are more factual and truthful than oth-
ers” (DeCesare 2009:77). DeCesare (2009:77)
asserts, “it is our responsibility, our only purpose
really, to teach students how to find the most fac-
tual facts and truthful truths—and then to ask ques-
tions about them.” Ceding difficult spaces or
massaging the theoretical and empirical correct-
ness of our content to make it more palatable is no
replacement for investing ourselves in developing
creative, empirically grounded pedagogical solu-
tions. My data demonstrate such abdications are as
unnecessary as they are undesirable.
Race-critical instructors assume the importance
of exposing our students to the social-structural
realities of systemic racism, such as the tremen-
dous racial wealth gap and the patterns of unjust
enrichment and impoverishment that produced and
Mueller 185
maintain it. Encouraging students to connect them-
selves personally to course content—to “study the
world sociologically for themselves . . . and to be
deeply critical and self-reflective in the process”—
creates powerful inroads to do just that (Braa and
Callero 2006; Feagin and Vera 2008:260; Mueller
and Feagin forthcoming; Rusche and Jason 2011).
As my data suggest, students are much more apt to
consider where they fit in the “larger web” of sys-
temic racial realities when studying their own his-
tories; to assess the ways their racial identities are
“attached to historical—and ongoing—structural
positions in society. Positions tied to economic
status, community membership, and the status of
various rights of citizenship” (Gatson 2006:159).
Centering the lens on themselves brings the con-
tent to life in a way that simply memorizing facts
and important information cannot.
More importantly, when we authorize our stu-
dent’s experiences we empower them in a way that
can transform initial resistance into social action
(Moore 2007). Having students trace their own
family’s transmission of wealth and capital and
examining the patterns and themes of their collec-
tive data offers hope for not simply teaching about
structural racial inequality; for some students, the
shift in consciousness moves them toward a more
fundamental development of a “political self”
(Braa and Callero 2006:366; Sweet 1998). If we
accept that the goal of critical pedagogy is about
more than just conveying information, the finding
that our lessons might bear fruit beyond the walls
of the classroom is encouraging. And for those
invested in the hope that our work as scholars and
educators might be at all emancipatory and facili-
tate not just personal but social transformations,
we should seek nothing less.
Reviewers for this article were, in alphabetical order,
Shirley Jackson and Rachael Neal. The assignment and
the complete version of Table 1 are available by contact-
ing the author.
A previous version of this article was presented at the
2010 Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Asso-
ciation and the Society for the Study of Social Problems in
Atlanta, GA. Thanks go to the organizers and attendees of
those sessions and additionally to Joe Feagin, Ashley
Woody Doane, Sarah Gatson, Terah Venzant Chambers,
Joseph Jewell, Glenn Bracey, Kristen Lavelle, Chris
Chambers, Ruth Thompson-Miller, Kenneth Sean Chaplin,
as well as Kathleen S. Lowney and the two anonymous
reviewers for their insights and feedback. Finally, I would
like to especially credit Rosalind Chou for helping shape
the ideas for the family research project.
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Jennifer Mueller is a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M
University. Her research interests include racial and
ethnic relations, intersectionality in structures of privi-
lege, and critical pedagogy. She is currently investigating
the intergenerational transmission of wealth and capital
among U.S. families to identify specific social mecha-
nisms that reproduce racial inequality over time. Her
research locates racial differences in family access to
(and use of) different types of capital and contextualizes
these differences in a larger socio-historical framework to
assess how institutions like law and public policy foster
or inhibit wealth acquisition and transfer in racially dis-
parate ways.
... The ideology of color-blind racism, in co-opting the 1960s civil rights movement discourse on equality, effectively allows members of the dominant group to maintain historical advantages without sounding "racist." Many Americans, including college students, have been deeply acculturated in this ideology (Burke, 2012;Mueller, 2012;Valiente-Neighbours, 2015;Jason and Epplen, 2016;Weinzimmer and Bergdahl, 2018), and it thus warrants further attention and discussion here. ...
... They can do this by openly reflecting on their own White and/or fair-skinned privilege, i.e., the "invisible package of unearned assets (McIntosh, 1989:10)" that is inherited by Whites. Moreover, they can discuss how the racist values instilled in the American social structure provided them with opportunities that individuals from different racial and ethnic groups did not have (see Mueller, 2012;Jason and Epplen, 2016 reading to consider assigning here is McIntosh (1989). This process can help students understand that recognizing White privilege does not devalue their (or their relatives') achievements (Mueller, 2012). ...
... Moreover, they can discuss how the racist values instilled in the American social structure provided them with opportunities that individuals from different racial and ethnic groups did not have (see Mueller, 2012;Jason and Epplen, 2016 reading to consider assigning here is McIntosh (1989). This process can help students understand that recognizing White privilege does not devalue their (or their relatives') achievements (Mueller, 2012). It does require, however, that all people with privilege have a moral responsibility to recognize injustice and to help alleviate it on whatever social and spatial scale where they can personally effect change. ...
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Many students find environmental justice to be emotionally overwhelming and/or politically alienating, and there is currently little work that provides instructors with effective techniques for addressing these types of challenges. In this paper, upon situating the environmental studies classroom and the broader undergraduate experience in sociohistorical context, we identify four sequential strategies for engaging and empowering students on environmental justice issues. First, instructors can facilitate an open and honest dialogue by strategically framing course content for the unique composition of the audience, sharing their own racialized experiences (or working with a guest speaker who would be willing to do so), and using interactive assignments to encourage student participation. Second, social theory can be presented to students as complimentary (rather than competing) ideas which can be used for creative, real-world problem solving. Third, instructors and students can cultivate empathy by acknowledging different standpoints, particularly those that have been historically marginalized. Lastly, by working in partnerships with community-based organizations, instructors and students can think and work beyond hero/savior and perpetrator/victim narratives. These strategies are not intended as a set of silver bullets, but rather as a series of potential starting points that are informed by recent scholarship on these topics.
... The challenges of teaching race in higher education are well documented (for instance, see Davis 1992;Fritschner 2001;Goldsmith 2006;Haddad and Lieberman 2002;Harlow 2009;Khanna and Harris 2015;Mueller 2013;Pence and Fields 1999). Such challenges include the feeling among students that they are living in a "post racial" America and therefore discussions about racism are not relevant to them (Goldsmith 2006), or that issues of racial discrimination should be discussed in history courses but are not relevant to contemporary society (Khanna and Harris 2015), or a majority of students not having any first-hand knowledge of the most overt forms of racial discrimination or prejudice (Upright 2015), or the race and social location of the professor (Smith et al. 2017), or "white fragility" (Pitman 2010), etc. ...
... Other teaching strategies have included student journaling (Picca, Starks, and Gunderson 2013), using the Race Implicit Association Test to teach about and address implicit racial bias (Ghoshal et al. 2013), using student-centered models that combine problem-based learning and exploratory learning (Goldsmith 2006), using selectively assigned readings and deconstructing the "scientific" literature on physical racial difference (Haddad and Lieberman 2002), or using print and electronic media (Khanna and Harris 2015;Upright 2015). Other instructors have used simulation (Harlow 2009;Paino et al. 2017), real-world data visualization to help students "see" racial segretation (Seguin, Nierobisz, and Kozlowski 2017), or writing family research projects (Mueller 2013), among many other strategies. What is missing from this broad array of creative strategies for teaching about race is the use of visualization, or more specifically, drawing. ...
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Even though drawing, as a form of learning, has been confined to disciplines such as fine arts and graphics design, there is evidence that drawing can be an important heuristic device for teaching college students. However, the use of drawing as a pedagogy in teaching sociology is undeveloped. The article starts by discussing the theoretical framework for understanding drawing as a teaching technique, then it describes the drawing activity used in a sociology class to explore the topic of race and the observations I have made from the activity. The article then discusses an unexpected discovery and how to make sense of this unexpected finding. The paper concludes with a discussion of the pedagogical value of visualization in teaching social sciences.
... Davis, 2019;Loya, 2011). Moore (2012) ascribed this contrast in awareness to younger generations' increased exposure to diversity and changing social trends, which, in turn, may influence their socialization and education (Apollon, 2011;Mueller, 2013;Slaymaker & Fisher, 2015). Consequently, SSWs should consider these foundational, generational differences when discussing material related to privilege and oppression to advance student learning. ...
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Schools of social work are tasked with preparing students to support the field’s ethical challenge of eliminating racism. Given that color-blind racial attitudes constitute a form of continued racism, identifying the factors associated with color-blind racial ideology (CBRI) in social work students represents a first step toward meeting this challenge. Drawing from critical race theory, this cross-sectional study surveyed a convenience sample of 305 master of social work (MSW) students across five schools of social work to explore which individual characteristics are significantly associated with CBRI at the bivariate and multivariate levels. A multiple linear regression assessed CBRI’s multivariate associations with demographic characteristics (i.e., age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation) and professional characteristics (i.e., prior work experience with marginalized communities, bachelor of social work [BSW] attainment, MSW concentration). Results showed that increased age, gender identification as men, and BSW attainment had statistically significant, positive associations with CBRI, compared to their respective reference groups. Compared to straight sexual orientation, identification as gay or lesbian, bisexual, and other sexual orientation was significantly associated with lower CBRI. Macro-focused MSW concentration was the strongest statistically significant independent variable and was associated with decreased CBRI. Fostering critical self-awareness of MSW students’ racial blind spots may support meeting social work’s ethical challenge.
Researchers from a range of disciplines emphasize that effectively socializing children about race and racism is vital to promoting positive outcomes, such as disrupting the development of racist attitudes and beliefs. While parents and guardians influence children's racial attitudes and beliefs, children also learn about race and racism from many other important adults in their lives, such as teachers, community leaders, and librarians. Yet race‐related topics are largely absent or underdeveloped from child‐facing programming, policies, and procedures. In this paper, we describe three major barriers to effectively socializing children about race and racism within child‐facing institutions like libraries, museums, and schools: (1) adults’ (often inaccurate) beliefs about children's social and cognitive race‐related development, (2) adults’ knowledge and comfort discussing race and racism with others, and (3) social norms that minimize explicit discussion of race and racism in institutional and interpersonal contexts. To contextualize these barriers, we address how children can process and reason about race across childhood and outline the evidence‐based benefits of socializing children about race and racism inside and outside the home. Finally, we provide recommendations aimed at translating this research to child‐focused spaces and provide general guidelines to consider when implementing such practices in their own spheres of influence. In sum, we argue that effective socialization about race and racism benefits all children and can (and should!) be achieved successfully outside of the home; and that adults who interact with children must interrogate their own beliefs, biases, and perspectives, work to develop cultural competence, and invest in and continually reassess practices and policies to facilitate effective socialization about race and racism.
I explore the possibilities for domestic educational travel to impact students’ understandings of racism, and their attitudes and planned behaviors toward enacting change in their communities. Prompted by movements for racial justice and drawing from the critical pedagogies of Paulo Freire, students on the “America’s Race Issues” community engagement program traveled throughout the Northern and Southern US to explore issues impacting the Black experience, such as slavery and the Civil War, the civil rights movement, environmental injustice, contemporary racial justice activism, and community organizing. Six students documented their experiences through photos and participated in interviews that illuminated the program’s impact on their process of conscientization. The program contributed to students’ conscientization in various ways and to varying degrees, yet shortcomings exist. This study suggests that domestic educational travel with a purposeful focus on race and racial justice activism can contribute to student conscientization, but further research and program improvement is needed.
This article contributes to building anti-racist teaching resources in the scholarship of teaching and learning in sociology. We developed an active learning-based project in which students conduct and analyze an interview with someone they are close to on how their family discussed racial discourses during their childhoods. Using Latinx Critical Race Theory as a framework and through qualitative analyses of student assignments, we found that the course project developed students’ critical consciousness by helping them evaluate how biographies are shaped by race, racism, and racial discourses and identify how racism and resistance manifest in family life through storytelling.
Engagement with family stories, religious and community practices can change a teacher’s conception of thought. We propose teaching as thinking-with the world and teaching as thinking-with others. These terms draw on the philosophy of new materialist thinkers in expressing the ontological impacts of context and materiality. We explore the relationship between teaching and thinking as a distributed and engaged practice by investigating family stories as an avenue for teachers to pedagogically engage with student’s lived experiences. We work with students as valued contributors to the learning environment, irrespective of academic achievements. We argue that engaging with family and faith stories as constitutional of thinking about, and doing, pedagogy can challenge the persistent racism. We are interested in experiential ways of knowing and modes of paying attention to the social and emotional learning that takes place as part of a pedagogic culture of care.
Recent scholarship demonstrates that whites' racist action requires creativity as much as habit. Racial cognition is implicated in this behavior, as white people use ignorance and apathy to overcome epistemic challenges that threaten white power, privilege, and wealth. Using Mueller's Theory of Racial Ignorance, we show how these cognitive processes abide by an ends-based orientation—one whereby white people coordinate “anticipated futures” to maintain the literal and psychic spoils of racism. Analyzing papers produced by white undergraduates following a project investigating systemic racism and family wealth transmission, we reveal how students' practical takeaways betray this ends-based orientation, which remains resilient amidst critical learning.
Most contemporary research suggests that white Americans overwhelmingly subscribe to color‐blind racial ideology; however, comparatively little is known about people of color. What is less known, however, is how color‐blindness is used by nonwhites: most existing work on color‐blindness and people of color (POC) focuses exclusively on African Americans, or investigates specific circumstances like interracial relationships. This current project helps to fill some of the gaps in current knowledge regarding nonwhites and color‐blindness by investigating how nonwhites utilize or reject color‐blind racial ideology. To this end, I analyze personal journals and interviews with 48 Latinx, Asian, black (including ethnically black), and multiracial college Millennials in order to understand how their racial and ethnic identities impact their ideological beliefs. Findings suggest that Millennials of color use color‐blindness infrequently as compared to their white peers, and their usage is very nuanced, inconsistent, and often contradictory. I discuss how POC are often bound by the dominant racial ideology of the U.S., such that it colors their perceptions largely through indirect means.
Colorblind ideology provides individuals with numerous ways to minimize racism. This poses a challenge for instructors who teach about race and racism as students deploy this ideology to derail classroom discussions. Student resistance may be amplified when discussing microaggressions because students often characterize focusing on microaggressions as being “too sensitive” or trying to see racism where it does not exist. This article details a demonstration that attempts to move students past the too-sensitive argument so they can understand the complexity of microaggressions. An analysis of anonymous student reflections shows that the activity successfully conveys the cumulative impact of microaggressions, demonstrates how racism is embedded in everyday interactions, and encourages students to reflect on their own role in perpetuating and ending racism. In short, the demonstration helped students understand the structural and cumulative nature of microaggressions by combating the too-sensitive argument and encouraging a critical examination of racism.
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In this paper I present a pedagogical method called Writing Answers to Learn (WAL) which combines Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Exploratory Writing to address the interrelated pedagogical problems of misconceptions, resistance, retention, and transfer. I analyze the use of this combined method in a course on racial and ethnic relations and provide examples to suggest that students commonly use four ideologies to understand racial and ethnic inequality: blaming the victim, justification, naturalization, and colorblind racism. I describe how I helped students identify and unlearn these ideological misconceptions and replace them with a sociological conceptual framework. I analyze the results of a pre-test, post-test, and follow-up test showing that students' use of ideology declined on each subsequent exam while their use of sociology increased during the semester and was partially retained months later. Finally I discuss the study's limitations and the utility of students learning the falseness of ideology.
Outline of a Theory of Practice is recognized as a major theoretical text on the foundations of anthropology and sociology. Pierre Bourdieu, a distinguished French anthropologist, develops a theory of practice which is simultaneously a critique of the methods and postures of social science and a general account of how human action should be understood. With his central concept of the habitus, the principle which negotiates between objective structures and practices, Bourdieu is able to transcend the dichotomies which have shaped theoretical thinking about the social world. The author draws on his fieldwork in Kabylia (Algeria) to illustrate his theoretical propositions. With detailed study of matrimonial strategies and the role of rite and myth, he analyses the dialectical process of the 'incorporation of structures' and the objectification of habitus, whereby social formations tend to reproduce themselves. A rigorous consistent materialist approach lays the foundations for a theory of symbolic capital and, through analysis of the different modes of domination, a theory of symbolic power.
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