An exploration of the physical frontiers that define race in America


Terms relating to: Race

Racialization: a sociologic topic that examines how racial identities are created, and how notions of race are extended to aspects of life that one typically would not associate with race. Thus, racialization seeks not only to identify the cultural production behind racial identity, but also to identify how these racial identities are manifested in everyday life. In its most basic form, racialization is about understanding how we develop our collective, societal ideas regarding different races and ethnicities.

Ethnocentrism: perceiving and interpreting other cultures and histories from the perspective of one’s own culture. This is an incredibly important term within the context of studies of ethnic and spatial identity. A person’s culture invariably plays a role in determining their worldview, and the culture that one takes on is often dictated by the person’s home or where they were born. So the concept of ethnocentrism is very intimately linked to types of topics covered by SPACExRACE.

Race discrimination (as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission): involves “treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).” This is an important concept to consider in light of the Forest Whitaker incident I covered in a blog post. In particular, the EEOC very clearly defines issues related to racial discrimination as having to do with outward, physical characteristics. This is the exact type of discrimination that Whitaker experienced, and  it is considered absolutely illegal in work settings.

Post-racial imaginary: a school of thought that discredits the idea that American society has developed a cultural understanding that is post-racial or post-racist. This is a term that came up in my conversation with UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies professor Keith Feldman. He noted that there was much conversation, following President Obama’s election in 2008, that the US had taken substantial steps towards reaching a post-racial society by electing a President of color. However, Feldman also noted that the most recent 2012 election was centered around separating out demographics and targeting individual minority groups. This suggests, in line with the post-racial imaginary, that American society has a long way to go before it achieves some form of post-racial thinking.

Ethnic Studies: an academic discipline that studies race, ethnicity and culture. It developed in the 20th century out of an academic need to examine the eurocentricity of many academic topics, and offer an alternative viewpoint that was grounded in the study of other population groups. For some more in-depth information on the field of Ethnic Studies, how it was created, how it has grown, and the challenges it faces today, be sure to check out my background page on the subject. This blog was inspired by topics developed in an Ethnic Studies class, and the blog’s content will adhere to topics that are often central to Ethnic Studies subject matter.

Terms related to: Space

Spatiality: the connection of various parts of life to the physical positioning/orientation of individuals and groups with regards to one another. The field of study that has developed around spatiality seeks to examine how our notions of space influence our conception of other things, including culture, ethnicity, religion, politics, etc. This blog, as evidenced by the name, focuses in particular on the effect of space on perceptions of race, and vice-versa.

Gentrification: when rebuilding spurs the movement of affluent people to formerly dilapidated areas, often displacing poorer tenants. This is a topic that came up in my examination of the new economic development taking hold in Oakland. Gentrification has developed somewhat of a negative connotation (particularly among urban traditionalists), but there are people who both support and dislike the effects of gentrification. There are those who welcome the economic development that often precedes gentrification, but there are also those who fight to maintain the neighborhoods developed by poorer tenants who are likely to be displaced.

Urban redevelopment (in the United States): practice of demolishing older, run-down parts of cities in an effort to spur economic activity within city centers – has roots in the Housing and Slum Clearance Act of 1949. Urban redevelopment is often found to be a precursor for gentrification, which is defined above and is discussed in-depth in the blog post on Oakland’s economic development. The United States has a fascinating history with regards to urban redevelopment, and the initiatives that have been taken on here have led to substantial changes in the physical placement of ethnic and socioeconomic groups within certain cities.

People and Places

UC Berkeley: the first university in the US to establish an Ethnic Studies program. The program was created on March 4, 1969 after students staged the second-longest strike in American history in support of educational programs that studied history and culture from the perspective of marginalized populations. The Berkeley movement successfully created four separate academic programs within the realm of Ethnic Studies: Asian American Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies, and Native American Studies.

Wade Churchill: a professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote an inflammatory article classifying the attacks as a result of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The article was widely panned in the press, though Churchill did also gain supporters who defended his right to free speech. Ultimately, the University of Colorado, Boulder fired Churchill on the grounds that he had plagiarized some of his academic work, charges that Churchill denied. This led to a protracted lawsuit that ultimately went to the Supreme Court.