Getting Real About Race

Getting Real About Race Second Edition


To my students, current and former, whose passion and curiosity continually inspire me. And to my coeditor, whose courage and determination continually humble me.

—Stephanie M. McClure

To my precious daughter and my amazing nephews—may you inherit a world that is a little kinder and understanding toward kids that look like you. To my students over the years who have fought the good fight and decided to do the hard work of understanding and fighting against inequality. And finally, to my coeditor, Steph, whose friendship continues to be generous and patient, and whose brilliance and passion inspire me every day.

—Cherise A. Harris


Getting Real About Race Second Edition


Stephanie M. McClure Georgia College

Cherise A. Harris Connecticut College



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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: McClure, Stephanie M., editor. | Harris, Cherise A., 1976- editor.

Title: Getting real about race / editors: Stephanie M. McClure, Georgia College & State University; Cherise A. Harris, Connecticut College.

Description: Second edition. | Los Angeles : SAGE, 2018. | Includes bibliographical references.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017021394 | ISBN 9781506339306 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: United States—Race relations. | Stereotypes (Social psychology)— United States. | Race.

Classification: LCC E184.A1 G43 2018 | DDC 305.800973—dc23 LC record available at

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Contents Preface Acknowledgments I. LAYING THE FOUNDATION In this section, essay authors introduce key concepts and ideas regarding race and racial inequality. These include how race is socially constructed and how the construction process connects with questions of biology, history, and power. The essays also provide students with information about how and why we need to engage in meaningful, inclusive conversations about race in contemporary American society.

Essay 1: “But My Mother Says It’s Rude to Talk About Race!”: How and Why We Need to Discuss Race in the United States Essay 2: “Blacks Are Naturally Good Athletes”: The Myth of a Biological Basis for Race Essay 3: “Native American/Indian, Asian/Oriental, Latino/Hispanic . . . Who Cares?”: Language and the Power of Self-Definition Essay 4: “Is Discrimination Against Muslims Really Racism?”: The Racialization of Islamophobia

II. DEBUNKING INDIVIDUAL ATTITUDES The essays in this section consider widespread individual attitudes and beliefs about the current state of racial inequality in the United States, including beliefs about color blindness, meritocracy, and structures of opportunity. The authors compare these perceptions to social science research and information in psychology, sociology, history, and media studies. The information presented helps students consider the validity of these popular attitudes.

Essay 5: “If People Stopped Talking About Race, It Wouldn’t Be a Problem Anymore”: Silencing the Myth of a Color-Blind Society Essay 6: “Obama Says Blacks Should Just Work Harder; Isn’t That Right?”: The Myth of Meritocracy Essay 7: “If Only He Hadn’t Worn the Hoodie . . .”: Race, Selective Perception, and Stereotype Maintenance Essay 8: “My Family Had to Learn English When They Came, so Why Is Everything in Spanish for Them?”: Race and the Spanish Language in the United States Essay 9: “Asians Are Doing Great, so That Proves Race Really


Doesn’t Matter Anymore”: The Model Minority Myth and the Sociological Reality Essay 10: “But Muslims Aren’t Like Us!”: Deconstructing Myths About Muslims in America Essay 11: “But It’s Honoring! It’s Tradition!”: The Persistence of Racialized Indian Mascots and Confederate Culture in Sports

III. INSTITUTIONS, POLICIES, AND LEGACIES OF OPPRESSION Following up on the history and attitudes discussed in the previous sections, these essays consider how misperceptions and beliefs about patterns of race and racial group differences manifest across social institutions. Some of the areas addressed include the family, education, the state and public policy, and the criminal justice system. In this section, the authors consider the impact of legal history, individual perceptions and beliefs, and media representations of racial dynamics. Family

Essay 12: “But What About the Children?”: Understanding Contemporary Attitudes Toward Interracial Dating and Marriage Essay 13: “Black People Don’t Value Marriage as Much as Others”: Examining Structural Inequalities in Black Marriage Patterns

Education Essay 14: “Well, That Culture Really Values Education”: Culture Versus Structure in Educational Attainment Essay 15: “They Don’t Want to Be Integrated; They Even Have Their Own Greek Organizations”: History, Institutional Context, and “Self-Segregation” Essay 16: “I Had a Friend Who Had Worse Scores Than Me and He Got Into a Better College”: The Legal and Social Realities of the College Admissions Process

Politics, Social Policy, and the State Essay 17: “We Need to Take Care of ‘Real Americans’ First”: Historical and Contemporary Definitions of Citizenship Essay 18: “If Black People Aren’t Criminals, Then Why Are So Many of Them in Prison?”: Confronting Racial Biases in Perceptions of Crime and Criminals Essay 19: “What’s the Point of ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protests?”: Black Lives Matter as a Movement, Not a Moment Essay 20: “If Only They Would Make Better Choices . . .”: Confronting Myths About Ethnoracial Health Disparities Essay 21: “Now All the Good Jobs Go to Them!”: Affirmative


Action in the Labor Market IV. RACE IN EVERYDAY INTERACTIONS This final selection of essays returns students to the level of the individual and considers some of the key questions they may have as they look to engage in further conversation about race. The topics addressed encourage the kind of meaningful dialogue that is necessary to help students think more carefully about how they engage others.

Essay 22: “Why Do They Get to Use the N-Word but I Can’t?”: Privilege, Power, and the Politics of Language Essay 23: “It’s Appreciation, Not Appropriation! I Don’t Know Why You’re Offended!”: Understanding Exploitation and Cultural Appropriation Essay 24: “#BlackLivesMatter Is Racist; It Should Be #AllLivesMatter!”: #AllLivesMatter as Post-Racial Rhetoric Essay 25: “I’m Not Racist; Some of My Best Friends Are . . .”: Debunking the Friends Defense and Revisiting Allyship in the Post-Obama Era

About the Editors



Professors teaching introductory courses in race and ethnicity or “diversity” must not only communicate the long and complicated history, psychology, and sociology of these topics in just one semester but must also repeatedly respond to the myths and misperceptions of race that students bring with them into these courses. Some of these include the idea that race and racial classification systems are based on human biology or genetic variation; that systematic disenfranchisement by race ended with the culmination of the Civil War, the civil rights movement, or the election of the nation’s first Black president; or that evidence for the persistence of racial discrimination is difficult to establish or does not exist. In teaching these topics semester after semester, it can become difficult for professors to summon the patience and empathy needed to engage students in early stages of critical awareness, particularly given how often we hear the same misperceptions. Furthermore, for instructors who may be wary of broaching these questions and discussing them in the classroom, a text that places the latest research at their fingertips can lead to essential learning in an area of society too often fraught with controversy and silence.

Drawing from our experience of teaching race for over 20 years, we believe professors will find it useful to have an engaging text that comprehensively and succinctly addresses the most common misconceptions about race held by students (and by many in the United States, in general). In this book, we have put together a collection of short essays that draw on the latest sociological research on these topics. It is a “one-stop-shopping” reader on the racial topics most often pondered by students and derived from their interests, questions, and concerns. Many scholars write on these topics in various places (e.g., journal articles, books, readers), but what is often lacking is a systematic deconstruction of specific, widely shared myths believed by students. Moreover, with other readers, the professor is left to pull out the key pieces of information in each reading, provide the additional supporting information to debunk a particular myth, and create consistency in a format that is understandable to students. The concise and topic-specific, short-essay format we use here aims to facilitate quicker movement from acknowledging misperceptions about race to examining and discussing the sociological evidence. Each of our contributors has also provided excellent follow-up discussion questions for in-class work and suggested out-of-class activities that can


help students apply their new knowledge to their everyday lives.

What we saw as necessary, and what drove us to put this collection together, is the work of “translation.” The information contained in these essays is available in many other places, and given our space constraints, we point to those outside sources at the end of each essay. What we saw happen in our own courses was that students often had difficulty connecting the primary text readings to the specific kinds of misinformation and misunderstanding they brought with them. We have tried to build a reader that speaks both languages—the language of the commonly held myths and the language of social science—so that the two are together in one book. Our contributors are those who have written books and articles on these topics or who have been “in the trenches” teaching these topics on a regular basis. As scholars who consistently cover these issues in the classroom and in their scholarship, they are well versed in the latest scholarly literature on controversial racial topics such as these.

The primary target audience for this text is lower-level or introductory race and ethnicity or diversity courses, especially those in the core or general education curriculum. Courses of this kind are taught every semester in colleges and universities across the country; class sizes are usually between 30 and 60 students. Other courses where this text might be useful include education courses, social psychology of race or racism courses, introduction to higher education courses, and ethnic studies courses.

Our hope is that this reader will make the work of translation less difficult for the many excellent instructors all across the country engaging these important topics in their classes every semester.

Suggested Additional Resource

Fox, H. (2009). “When race breaks out”: Conversations about race and racism in college classrooms. New York, NY: Peter Lang.



Putting together an edited volume is no small task and requires the assistance of many. As we were deciding on which topics would be covered, we sought the advice of treasured colleagues and friends who gave us the benefit of their many years of experience in the classroom. We would like to thank Nikki Khanna, Keisha Edwards Tassie, Michelle Petrie, Ronald J. O. Flores, Afshan Jafar, Michallene McDaniel, Kelly Manley, Victoria Bruce, Michael Ramirez, and E. M. “Woody” Beck for their input and support during the early stages of our project and for the advice and wisdom they offered along the way. We would also like to thank Jeff Lasser, Eve Oettinger, Adeline Wilson, and the rest of the team at SAGE who worked tirelessly to get this project off the ground and make our vision a reality.

Thanks go to the following reviewers for this second edition: Sofya Aptekar, University of Massachusetts Boston; Stacye A. Blount, Fayetteville State University; Jesus Jaime-Diaz, University of Arizona; and David Oberleitner, University of Bridgeport.

This project is the product of teaching these topics to thousands of students in race and ethnicity courses over many years. In that time, we have witnessed and moderated many challenging discussions—discussions that remind us just how much there is left to know in this area and how important it is that instructors continue to do this difficult work, while having the tools to do so. We thank all the students we have had over the years, as it is their questions and insights that fueled this anthology.

Finally, we would like to express our great appreciation and gratitude to the contributing authors for lending us their expertise and for writing essays that were better than we could have even hoped for when we first envisioned this project. We are honored and humbled to have you as colleagues and are beyond grateful for all you did to make this volume come to life.


Part I Laying the Foundation


Essay 1 “But My Mother Says It’s Rude to Talk About Race!” How and Why We Need to Discuss Race in the United States

Cherise A. Harris

Connecticut College Stephanie M. McClure

Georgia College

In spite of our hesitance to talk about them, racial myths permeate our social world. They are frequently present in the mass media and public discourse, as well as in our everyday conversations with each other. Perhaps in your dorm rooms, dining halls, workplaces, or on social media, you have heard a variation on the following statements:

We elected a Black president twice, which means racism doesn’t exist anymore. We need to look out for “real Americans” first, not immigrants. Native American/Indian, Asian/Oriental, Latino/Hispanic—why does it matter what we call them? Asian Americans are doing very well. If other racial groups had their values, they would do well also. I know a minority who got worse scores than me and got into a better college! When people come here, they should learn the language. I don’t know why people are so upset about team names like the Washington Redskins. It’s really just a way of honoring Native American culture.

These kinds of statements reflect a great deal of the conventional wisdom around race. We define conventional wisdom as the received body of knowledge informally shared by a group or society that is often unstated, internally inconsistent, and resistant to change. This conventional wisdom is full of racial myths and misunderstandings. In this reader, we look at


common racial myths that we and many sociology professors and race scholars have heard from students in race courses. In this essay, we will give you the tools necessary to use this reader and introduce some key ideas and questions to help you navigate discussions about race both inside and outside the classroom.

Early in our schooling, we learn a simplified history of America’s founding that ignores the significant levels of racial conflict and inequality that have existed. For instance, it is often stated that America was founded on ideals of freedom and equality for all, an image that ignores the many groups who were excluded from that freedom and equality—namely, people of color. We also tend to think that racial or ethnic strife happened sometime after that idealized founding. However, as sociologist Joe Feagin (2013) notes in his book The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing, “racial oppression was not added later on in the development of [U.S.] society, but was the foundation of the original colonial and U.S. social systems, and it remains as a foundation to the present day” (p. ix). Yet there is a tendency in American society to gloss over this history or in other ways minimize the import of race. We see this minimization in the present day when political pundits and others in the media characterize our society as post-racial, asserting that race no longer determines one’s life chances, or determines them to a far lesser extent than it once did.

Indeed, since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, we have heard more and more that we have moved beyond race, despite much evidence to the contrary. To be sure, the election of the nation’s first Black president signaled a significant shift in the tenor of race relations in the United States, but not always for the positive. For this reason, you may see President Obama mentioned often in the essays in this volume, because his election was a watershed moment in American race relations. Yet his election has also been something of a miner’s canary, signaling that perhaps we haven’t come as far on the issue of race as we would like to think. Unique occurrences during his presidency, such as the “birtherism” movement, which many mark as the beginning of Donald Trump’s political career, or his being called a liar by a congressman during a televised congressional address, suggest that we are far from post-racial. The reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in modern political discourse and the power of the white nationalist movement in the form of the “alt-right” in the United States (and abroad) reaffirm evidence that a “post-racial” diagnosis was premature.


The move toward post-racialism and an emphasis on color blindness are what Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1994) have referred to as racial projects. They are “simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines” (p. 56). American history is replete with racial projects that have resulted in negative outcomes for people of color. The defining of Native Americans as savages that coincided with the violent removal of groups from their land; the current dehumanizing construct of Latinos (and Mexican Americans, specifically) as “illegal immigrants,” thus prompting calls for stringent legislation and policy; and the branding of Black women as welfare queens undeserving of public assistance are all examples of racial projects and policies that have disenfranchised people of color. More recently, we have seen the racialization of Muslims as a racial project designed to mark Muslims as threatening (see Garner and Selod in this volume). As Ted Thornhill explains in greater detail in his essay, the post-racial/color-blind discourse also seems to be a racial project designed to convince Americans that the restrictive racial barriers of the past have fallen (particularly with the election of a Black president) and thus keep people from thinking or talking about the reality of race as it plays out in their day-to-day lives.

While empirical information about unequal outcomes in education, the criminal justice system, health, and the labor market clearly show all the ways many Americans’ lives are still affected by race, in the context of a supposedly post-racial and meritocratic society, when people even mention race, they are often subject to silencing and even ridicule. You may have heard the statement, “Why can’t people just stop talking about race? If they stopped talking about it, it would go away!” Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself. As difficult as it is to talk about, our ability to move toward greater social justice is severely limited by the silencing around race. Moreover, as Thornhill explains, “differences in skin color are not the problem; racism, racial discrimination, White racial privilege, and racial inequality are.” Silence only begets further misunderstanding and inhibits progress.

To get the discussion started, let’s talk about the role race plays in the college experience and why you might be hearing more about race than you have at other points in your life.

The Impact of the College Experience on


Racial Thinking As Stephanie McClure (one of the editors of this volume) points out in her essay on Black fraternities and sororities, the college experience has the potential to bring about a great deal of intellectual and personal growth and is an opportunity for students to obtain a degree and also learn more about who they are as individuals and who they would like to become (see also Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Sociologist Mary C. Waters (2013) writes that the college experience also often puts race in stark relief, where students find themselves thinking about race more than they did when they were younger:

Sociologists and psychologists note that at the time people leave home and begin to live independently from their parents . . . they report a heightened sense of racial and ethnic identity as they sort through how much of their beliefs and behaviors are idiosyncratic to their families and how much are shared with other people. It is not until one comes into close contact with many people who are different from oneself that individuals realize the ways in which their backgrounds may influence their individual personality. (p. 212; see also Aries, 2008; Tatum, 1997)

The effect of this experience may be even greater if the person has had very limited previous exposure to people of different races or ethnicities. Moreover, as Waters (2013) argues, prior to the college experience, many White students’ relationship to their ethnicity is mostly symbolic, meaning that it is a voluntary relationship that is often enjoyable and expressed only intermittently (see also Gans, 1979). For instance, they may celebrate their distant Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day, but otherwise rarely acknowledge it. Thus, their relationship to their race or ethnicity is fairly tenuous.

But “for all of the ways in which ethnicity [and race] does not matter for White Americans, it does matter for non-Whites” (Waters, 2013, p. 210). For students of color, and particularly those at predominantly White institutions (PWIs), race and ethnicity play a key role in their college experience. For example, in Elizabeth Aries’s (2008, p. 36) study of race and class at an elite college, she found that race was something that almost every Black student in the study had thought about before arriving, while


only half the White students in the study had (see also Tatum, 1997). In addition, many of the White students in her study seemed unaware of the privileges they possessed as a result of their race. One of those privileges is that college campuses are essentially built around White students’ interests and needs; the food served in the dining halls, the membership and leadership of student organizations, the music played in dorm rooms and at campus parties, and even the course offerings at the college frequently center on the desires and interests of White students (see also Feagin & Sikes, 1995). In other words, the overall culture of the institution frequently reflects the things that Whites value. However, because Whiteness and White privilege is often made invisible (McIntosh, 2013), it is difficult for some White students to see.

Meanwhile, it is within this context that students of color must function. They may have grown up in cultures with different music, foods, and languages, for example, or have different life histories, experiences, and concerns that they find difficult to have validated in the context of a White-dominated institution. Thus, it is challenging for these students to enjoy the full college experience. As Beverly Daniel Tatum (1997) writes, they also frequently find themselves the target of racial prejudice, discrimination, and isolation on campus and in the classroom:

Whether it is the loneliness of being routinely overlooked as a lab partner in science courses, the irritation of being continually asked by curious classmates about Black hairstyles, the discomfort of being singled out by a professor to give the “Black perspective” in class discussion, the pain of racist graffiti scrawled on dormitory room doors, the insult of racist jokes circulated through campus e-mail, or the injury inflicted by racial epithets (and sometimes beer bottles) hurled from a passing car, Black students [and other students of color] on predominantly White campuses must cope with ongoing affronts to their racial identity. (p. 78; see also Feagin, 2013; Feagin & Sikes, 1994)

Recent events on college campuses bear out the nature of this hostility. For instance, in the past five years or so, a rash of “ghetto parties” have been held on college campuses, where attendees are encouraged to wear clothes with “urban” labels (FUBU, Rocawear, etc.), athletic jerseys, and gold teeth. Similarly, in 2012, a White fraternity at a prestigious university allegedly held an Asian-themed party, complete with conical hats, geisha


outfits, and misspellings on the invitation designed to convey an Asian accent (Quan, 2013; see also Kingkade, 2013).