One of the things that I am a little uncomfortable with on the Eastern Shore is the absence of diversity in my new world. It is not deliberate, but the institutions and groups to which I belong are populated with people like me…we share a common experience, a cultural bond. We wish that we were more diverse, but when we surround ourselves with people who are like us, that is not really possible.
I also wondered if the Eastern Shore might be different because of its Southern roots. I was raised at the end of the Jim Crow era, but I remember it from a child’s perspective. It had such a profoundly negative impact on me that I was determined to raise my daughter in a multi-cultural world.
A Talbot County resident, Margaret Andersen, has written a book, Getting Smart about Race: An American Conversation, for the general public that will be released in February 2020. She is a sociology professor Emerita from the University of Delaware, and the coauthor of Race, Class and Gender: Intersections and Inequalities (now in its 10th printing) among many other books, including Thinking about Women.
You may recognize the name because there is currently an exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum based on her book, On Land and On Sea: A Century of Women in the Rosenfeld Collection.
Dr. Andersen has been a professor at the University of Delaware since 1974 and has lived in Talbot County for five years but became a frequent visitor in 2003 when she and her husband purchased their sailboat. As a professor of sociology, she devoted her career to studying racial and gender inequality in America.
Knowing that academia is years ahead of the general population, I have asked her to help me try to understand the current status of race in America in general and the Eastern Shore in particular. In several columns, she is going to shed light on questions such as: What happened to the “post racial” society? What can we learn from academic research? And ultimately, can racism be eliminated from America?
My first question is the most obvious one, why are you writing this book?
- ANDERSEN: I have been teaching about race and racism for almost fifty years and, when I retired, I wanted to communicate what I know to the general public. When my recent textbook, Race in Society, was published, I knew that most people would not read a 350-page textbook, so I decided to write a book for the general audience to explain the research on race and racism. The book is intended to debunk some of the misconceptions we have about race and racism and provide personal reflections and contemporary examples.
Question: One of the “academic terms” that I see throughout your book is intersectionality. What is it?
- ANDERSEN: This term is used to describe how race, class, gender, and other forms of inequality (such as sexual orientation)—overlap in everyone’s experiences and in social justice projects. This work originates from the long-standing criticism from people of color that the feminist movement has been too focused on the experiences of white women. Women of color have been important originators of intersectional thinking, because they have too often been sidelined. Intersectional thinking teaches us that we are all influenced by our race, class, gender, and sexual orientation—thereby shaping the advantages and disadvantages that different groups have.
Question: What has research shown are the misperceptions across races that prevent us from becoming a post-racial society?
- ANDERSEN: In my book, I use the phrase “commonsense” racism to describe some of the common beliefs that people have that distort understanding of race and racism. They include such things as, “It’s not about race; it’s about class;” “Immigrants are taking jobs away from other Americans; other immigrants made it—why can’t they?” “My uncle was turned down for a job because they had to give it to a woman of color,” and so forth. My book exposes the problems in such assumptions.
The answers to most of my questions will have to wait for the publication of Dr. Andersen’s book in February. But in anticipation, I have asked her to help me understand a few themes in future columns:
- What are the current issues with racism in America and how does Talbot County compare?
- Is America currently experiencing a backlash? If so, why?
- Is it possible to become a post-racial country? What steps must we take to achieve it?
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.
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