DDCE Researchers Expose the Myth of a Post-Racial America

RacialBattleFatigue_Lith1-400x600The notion that we live in a “colorblind society” is carefully dismantled in a new edition of Racial Battle Fatigue in Higher Education: Exposing the Myth of Post-Racial America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Dec. 2014). Faculty from the DDCE are among several contributing authors examining an emerging body of research that suggests chronic exposure to racial discrimination can lead to a serious anxiety disorder.

In a chapter titled Exercising Agency in the Midst of Racial Battle Fatigue: A Case for Intragroup Diversity, they examine court decisions regarding diversity in higher education and point out several mitigating factors that create racial battle fatigue. As a solution, they state the case for advocating and obtaining support for diversity and inclusion efforts in colleges and schools across the nation. The chapter is co-authored by Gregory J. Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement; Sherri Sanders, DDCE associate vice president; and Stella Smith, DDCE postdoctoral fellow.

Book on Medieval Syrian Shrines Takes Grand Prize at Hamilton Book Awards

images Stephennie Mulder, associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, has been named the $10,000 grand prize winner of the 2015 University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards for her work The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence.

The Hamilton Awards are among the highest honors of literary achievement given to UT Austin authors.

The awards are named for Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regents Chair-Emeritus in Law, who served as chair of the board of the University Co-op from 1989 to 2001.

The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence (published by Edinburgh University Press) is the first illustrated, architectural history of these shrines, increasingly endangered by the conflict in Syria. Mulder, a specialist in Islamic architectural history and archaeology, spent years in the field in Syria and throughout the Middle East. She works on the conservation of antiquities and cultural heritage sites endangered by war and illegal trafficking, and is a founder of UT Antiquities Action, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the loss of cultural heritage.

Three other UT Austin professors received $3,000 runner-up prizes:

  • Donna Kornhaber, Department of English, for Charlie Chaplin, Director(Northwestern University Press)
  • Fernando L. Lara, Department of Architecture, for Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia, co-authored with Luis E. Carranza (University of Texas Press)
  • Kelly McDonough, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, for The Learned Ones: Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico (University of Arizona Press)

The University Co-operative Society also announced winners for its research awards Monday. Go to this website for more information.


Former UT Austin English Professor Releases New Historical Novel

authorpicbookFormer UT Austin creative writing professor Elizabeth Harris recently released Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman (October, Gival Press), a novel that follows the causes and consequences of an unusual crime.

Two stock farmers in Central Texas (circa 1936) are accused of castrating a neighbor under circumstances deriving from standard gender and social relations. The daughter of prominent landowners, regarded as the cause of this crime, is outcast from home and family, rescued by clergy in the role of plot angels, and becomes a paid laborer in other people’s homes, where she undergoes a muted, nearly 20-year recovery from trauma. 

As to what makes a historical novel, Harris replies, “Some definitions say a detailed, realistic, historical setting, which I tried to give Mayhem, and a fidelity to the culture and society of the period, which, as imagined in Mayhem, shape the action.”

The setting of Harris’ novel is a synthesis of rural places in Central Texas, 1917-1954. 

“Other definitions want the historical novel to be about a historical event or person, like Gerald Duff’s new novel about Custer’s Last Stand, or Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain, about a wounded Confederate deserter making his way homeward in the North Carolina mountains,” says Harris.

But in Mayhem the characters and events are fictional, although some details of the crime and its consequences are based on one that occurred in Texas at a different period. 

Harris attributes her interest in historical settings to her Texas family’s closeness to the past.

“My father’s father—the only one of my grandparents not born in Texas—was born in 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War. He had an Alabama childhood memory from the end of the War.”

“Alternating between delighting you with pastoral descriptions of the Hill Country, lulling you with sepia-tones portraits of the good ol’ days, and smacking you in the face with the gender, race, and class conventions. . .of the period, Mayhem is a surprising blend of plot-driven crime story, character study, and social critique.. . .When you decide you know where this is going, Evelyn hijacks the plot. It’s not what you think it is—it’s better.” – Michelle Newsby, Lone Star Literary Life

Visit the author’s website to learn more and view the book trailer. http://elizabethharriswriter.com/ .


Faculty Authors Showcase their Works at the 20th Annual Texas Book Festival

image of logoBookworms, foodies, artists and scholars will partake in an annual rite of fall here in Austin: The Texas Book Festival! This Texas-size literary event will take place in and around the State Capitol and nearby venues on Oct. 17-18.

A record 300 authors are coming to the festival—the largest number in its 20-year history.  Here are just few highlights featuring education outreach events and top faculty authors from colleges and schools throughout the Forty Acres. Dates, times and locations will be available on the Texas Book Festival website later this month. Use this hashtag to join the conversation: #TXBookFest

Special Events

image of book and authorThe Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken Wendell Pierce, Actor and Tony Award-Winning Producer
Moderated by Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement

On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans, devastating many of the city’s neighborhoods, including Pontchartrain Park, the home of Wendell Pierce’s family and the first African American middle-class subdivision in New Orleans. Pierce and his family were some of the lucky ones: They survived and were able to ride out the storm at a relative’s house 70 miles away. Read more here…

About the author: Wendell Pierce was born in New Orleans and is an actor and Tony Award-winning producer. He starred in all five seasons of the acclaimed HBO drama The Wire and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for the role. He also starred in the HBO series Treme and has appeared in many feature films including Selma, Ray, Waiting to Exhale, and Hackers. Since Hurricane Katrina, Pierce has been helping to rebuild the flood-ravaged Pontchartrain Park neighborhood in New Orleans.

15th Annual Youth Fiction Writing Contest
Co-hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement

writingcontestThe Fiction Writing Contest encourages and rewards creative writing in Texas schools. Junior and high school Texas students are invited to submit a piece of original fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length. The submissions are judged by Texas Book Festival authors, local educators, and leaders in the publishing industry. Read more here…

Place and Race, a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Leonard Moore, senior associate vice president, DDCE 

image of authorsAuthors Wendy S. Walters and Jason Sokol discuss the dynamic and complicated course of civil rights over the past several decades in America. Racism emerges in unexpected locations, and the ways in which people resist, cope, and consent are not predictable.

Margo Jefferson
Moderated by Shirley Thompson, Departments of Anthropology and Africa and African Diaspora

image of author Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson recounts growing up in a small region of African-American upper class families in Chicago during the civil rights movement and the genesis of feminism. With this point of view, Jefferson discusses race, identity, and American culture, through her own lens. Read more here…


Author Appearances

image of book and author Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City
Javier Auyero, Department of Sociology

Austin, Texas, is renowned as a high-tech, fast-growing city for the young and creative, a cool place to live, and the scene of internationally famous events such as SXSW and Formula 1. But as in many American cities, poverty and penury are booming along with wealth and material abundance in contemporary Austin. Rich and poor residents lead increasingly separate lives as growing socioeconomic inequality underscores residential, class, racial, and ethnic segregation. Read more here…

Reagan: The Life
H.W. Brands, Professor, Department of History

Image of author and bookRonald Reagan today is a conservative icon, celebrated for transforming the American domestic agenda and playing a crucial part in ending communism in the Soviet Union. In his masterful new biography, H. W. Brands argues that Reagan, along with FDR, was the most consequential president of the twentieth century. Reagan took office at a time when the public sector, after a half century of New Deal liberalism, was widely perceived as bloated and inefficient, an impediment to personal liberty. Reagan sought to restore democracy by bolstering capitalism. In Brands’s telling, how Reagan, who voted four times for FDR, engineered a conservative transformation of American politics is both a riveting personal journey and the story of America in the modern era. Read more here…

Destiny of Democracy: The Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library Mark K. Updegrove, Director, LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

image of book and authorPresident Lyndon B. Johnson played a monumental role in America’s quest for civil rights. The legacy of those efforts reached a crescendo from April 8 through 10, 2014, as the LBJ Presidential Library hosted a historic Civil Rights Summit to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. A host of luminaries—including President Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office, and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter—came to the LBJ Library to recognize the progress made in the country’s long, often troubled, journey toward civil rights. Read more here…


Save the Date! “Invisible Austin” Launch Party and Panel Discussion is this Friday at BookPeople

image of bookYou’re invited to a book launch of Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City this Friday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m. at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.

In Invisible in Austin, the award-winning UT Austin sociologist Javier Auyero and a team of graduate students explore the lives of those working at the bottom of the social order: house cleaners, office-machine repairers, cab drivers, restaurant cooks and dishwashers, exotic dancers, musicians, and roofers, among others.

Recounting their subjects’ life stories with empathy and sociological insight, the authors show us how these lives are driven by a complex mix of individual and social forces. These poignant stories compel us to see how poor people who provide indispensable services for all city residents struggle daily with substandard housing, inadequate public services and schools, and environmental risks. Timely and essential reading, Invisible in Austin makes visible the growing gap between rich and poor that is reconfiguring the cityscape of one of America’s most dynamic places, as low-wage workers are forced to the social and symbolic margins.

Want to know more about the research that went into this sociological portrait of Austin’s rapidly gentrifying landscape? Check out this Q&A with three sociology graduate students who co-authored the book. For more about the book, visit this website: www.othersidesofaustin.com

Educational Psychologist Delves into the True Psychology of African American Students

kevin-cokley-bookIn this excerpt from the introduction to his new book, The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism: A True Psychology of African American Students, psychologist and professor Kevin Cokley delves into his own history as a high school and college student, and explores how the evolution of his academic identity intersected with his evolving racial identity.

The book, which was published earlier this year, challenges the dominant narrative regarding black student achievement by examining the themes of black identity, the role of self-esteem, the hurdles that result in academic difficulties, and the root sources of academic motivation. In it, Cokley proposes a bold alternate narrative that uses black identity as the theoretical framework to examine factors in academic achievement and challenge the widely accepted notion of black anti-intellectualism.

High School

By high school, I had been identified as a “smart” student. I was in the highest-level classes that were available. I thought of myself as a good student, and fully embraced making good grades as a part of my academic identity.

I never considered myself as one of those super-smart, academically gifted students who always made straight As. However, I considered myself an above-average, hard-working student. I made honor roll often, but not all of the time. I did not make the National Honor Society, a disappointment that lingered with me for several years.

The defining moment in my young academic career were two programs called Medicine as a Career and Focus on Biology. They were summer enrichment programs geared toward academically gifted minority students (mostly African American) and Appalachian Whites (defined as Whites living in rural Appalachian areas who were presumably economically disadvantaged).

The programs brought these students together for two and five weeks, respectively, on the campus of Wake Forest University. The purpose of the programs was to encourage more ethnic-minority and economically disadvantaged students to pursue a career in medicine.

I had never been in a setting where there were large numbers of serious, goal-oriented, academically gifted Black students. The pride that I felt from my selection and participation in the programs was immeasurable. It was the first explicit experience that connected my identity as a Black student to my academic performance, and it changed me forever. When I completed the summer programs and returned home to get ready for school, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I also had a newfound resentment toward my White classmates, and toward living in a small, predominantly White “hick” town.

My eyes were now open. I was angry because I felt that for years I had been deprived of the opportunity to reach my potential as a student. I was also angry because I had considered myself a special Black student because I was excelling in my classes. I realized that I harbored beliefs that Black students could not excel academically, and that I believed I was the exception.

Living with a group of academically gifted Black students made me realize that I was, paradoxically, special yet not special. A whole new world of possibilities had been opened to me, and my racial and academic identities became more solidified. I had developed a new racial consciousness, and I was now empowered to be more vocal on race-related issues, while other Black students continued to sit back passively. I was ridiculed by certain Black and White students for being too militant, which only fueled my emerging Black consciousness.


Wake Forest University is a small, highly selective private liberal arts school filled mostly with upper-middle class White students. Being accepted there—the first Black student from my high school ever to do so—was a very proud moment in my life.

Within the first couple of days of college, I was approached and asked by some White students if I was a football player. I responded by saying no, and proudly pointed out that I was there on academic scholarship. It was a rude awakening to what would be the first of many “encounters” that the African American psychologist William Cross would describe.

I can vividly recall those first few days of college walking in the quad area and seeing a Confederate flag displayed from the dorm room of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. That flag was a constant reminder of the history and culture of Wake Forest and the old South, and a reminder that African American students were ethnic and racial minorities in an overwhelmingly White and sometimes unwelcoming environment.

Like many first-year college students, I was overwhelmed with the freedom I had to go anywhere I wanted, stay awake as long as I wanted, and pretty much do anything that I wanted. Academically, I could take whatever classes I wanted. Also like many first-year college students, I was pre-med, and I took biology, chemistry, psychology, and Latin in my first semester. After having attended two summer enrichment camps that were geared toward increasing the number of ethnic minorities in medicine as a career, I was certain that this was my destiny. However, biology and chemistry changed my destiny!

I struggled mightily in those classes, and ended up failing both classes while making Cs in my psychology and Latin classes. This was a rude awakening to the beginning of my college experience. I lost my academic scholarship, and was immediately placed on academic probation after my first semester. Never had I experienced such academic struggles before. A wave of self-doubt suddenly surrounded me, and my academic self-concept was shaken to its core. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Was I not smart enough to be there? Did I really belong? If I flunked out of school, it would embarrass not only me, but my family.

My parents were extremely proud that I was attending Wake Forest University. Black students from my hometown, Pilot Mountain, were not supposed to be academic achievers. We were not supposed to go to colleges like Wake Forest University. If I flunked out, I would be confirming the doubts of all the naysayers who (I and my family believed) wanted me to fail.

The atrocious start in my first year haunted me for my entire four years of college. The truth of the matter was that I really was not as academically prepared as I should have been to do well in college. I did not know how to study effectively, nor did I know the amount of time that was needed to thoroughly master the information being presented in classes. I did not understand the importance of scheduling regular meetings with my professors to discuss material that I did not understand. For that matter, I did not even always know what I truly understood and what I did not. I rarely sought academic help, and when I did, I could not help but feel self-conscious about being a Black student who needed academic assistance. My academic self-concept took a beating during those four years of college, and left me wondering what my future held in store.

During the time that my academic self-concept was taking a beating, my racial consciousness and Black identity was growing. I entered Wake Forest already having a pretty strong Black identity that had been enhanced by my experiences in the two summer enrichment programs at Wake Forest. However, college is an experience in which racial and ethnic differences are often emphasized to a degree not seen in high school. There are numerous student organizations based on racial and ethnic identities and themes. Additionally, famous and provocative speakers are routinely brought to campus to stimulate and foster dialogue on important racial issues.

I immediately became involved in the Black Student Association (BSA), a staple organization seen on many predominantly White college campuses. I also joined the Gospel Choir and later a Black fraternity.

The BSA was the center of social and political activity for Black students on campus. One of my most vivid memories of the BSA was protesting South African apartheid. The BSA had partnered with another organization to stage a dramatic enactment of apartheid activity in the student cafeteria. When given a sign, several Black males (myself included) walked to several seemingly unsuspecting White females (who were actually willing participants in the demonstration), grabbed them out of their seats and dragged them away. The reaction was swift and dramatic. Several white males stood up, clearly angered and disturbed by what they were witnessing, and demanded that we stop.

At this point, a member of the BSA stood in front of the cafeteria and made a statement about apartheid, indicating that what people had just witnessed was a regular occurrence to Black people living under the brutal regime of South African apartheid. The adrenaline rush that I received from participating in this demonstration was incredible. More importantly, it was an influential experience that contributed greatly to my emerging critical racial consciousness.

Two speakers were brought on campus who had perhaps the greatest influence on my critical racial consciousness and increasing pride in my racial identity during college. These speakers were Jawanza Kunjufu and Na’im Akbar. Jawanza Kunjufu is best known for his book Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys. Na’im Akbar is a highly regarded and outspoken Black psychologist who advocates an Afrocentric philosophy to understand the conditions and psychology of Black folks.

The impact that hearing these two men speak had on my racial identity was incredible. Both men exuded a confidence, racial pride, and sense of purpose and commitment to Black people that I had never witnessed before. Na’im Akbar (or Baba Na’im, as he is affectionately called) was especially influential, as he sowed the early seeds of what would become my embrace of Afrocentric psychology.

Years later, I attended my 20-year class reunion. I was excited to see friends and acquaintances whom I had not seen in many years. One of these individuals was a White female named Tina. Tina had attended high school with me, and we ran track together both at East Surry High School and for a summer track club. We were also in all of the same advanced classes, and played in the band together. We were close friends in and out of school. Our lives were remarkably parallel in academics and athletics, so it was no surprise that we both applied and were accepted to Wake Forest University.

Once Tina and I started college, however, our paths rarely crossed outside of track. We were not in the same student organizations, and we did not socialize together. We had never talked about this, and in fact we had very few conversations while attending Wake Forest.

20 years later, I contacted Tina via Facebook and arranged to meet with her at our 20-year class reunion. During dinner, we reminisced about old times, especially the traumatic false start that I had in high school. Then a conversation that I did not anticipate took place.

Tina indicated that something had been bothering her for so many years, and she had always wanted to talk with me about it. She basically wanted to know what happened to us. Why didn’t we stay close while in college? I thought about her question very carefully. I do not think I had ever really thought about it much, and as I was reflecting on her question, the answer became obvious. I decided to be very candid with her, and responded by saying that I essentially discovered my Blackness in college.

I lapsed into a mini-lecture on the psychosocial development of Black college students, and how my racial identity was impacted by attending a predominantly White school. I talked about the importance of being around other students similar to myself, and the importance of belonging to Black student organizations for my racial identity. I also talked about my academic struggles, and the fear of failure that I thought would be attributed to being Black.

By the time I was a senior, I did not know what my future held in store for me. I did not think my grades were good enough to get accepted into any graduate program in psychology, so I never considered that a viable option. I participated in the job fair and hoped that my resume would be attractive to some company. I was encouraged when a pharmaceutical company contacted me for an initial interview. Later, I received another invitation for a second interview. I was very excited, and thought that I might actually have the chance of having a job waiting for me upon graduation. However, a third interview did not happen, and a job offer never materialized.

I was in a very bad place emotionally. In an independent research paper that I wrote in my last semester, my words reflected an angry and disillusioned Black male student, as evidenced by the title of my paper, “The Unknown Societal Conspiracy to Denigrate African-American Males.”

In the paper I made the following statement: “My feelings about myself are such that I feel as though I have disappointed my family, teachers, and, most importantly, myself. I did not make Dean’s List once while in college. My feelings of high aspirations upon entering college have been shattered beyond repair. My future is unknown. The person that I thought I would be upon graduation has never materialized. Many would say that I made my bed, now I must lie in it. And to a certain degree, this is true. However, I refuse to accept all of the blame. Social forces at work all around me have molded me into an embittered young Black man. Now I’m almost a college graduate. God only knows what young, uneducated and impoverished Black men must be feeling.”

As I reflect on my college years, I see that my time at Wake Forest was marked by two distinct experiences: one of academic struggle, and one of emerging Black consciousness. It is no accident that these themes would later define much of my scholarly work on African American students. 

Dr. Kevin Cokley is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology as well as the Department of African and African American Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to his extensive background in academic research, Dr. Cokley serves as the editor-in-chief for The Journal of Black Psychology and director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis.

New Historical Novel by Former UT English Professor to Release this Fall

Harris headshotFormer UT Austin fiction writing and modern literature professor Elizabeth Harris will be releasing a novel Mayhem:  Three Lives of a Woman (Gival Press) this fall.

The historical novel, scheduled to drop Oct. 5, 2015, engages issues of gender, vigilantism, recovery from trauma, and nostalgia for the rural and small-town past.

Winner of the 2014 Gival Press Fiction Award, the book follows two stock farmers in 1936 Texas who are accused of castrating a neighbor. Mayhem is the story of their crime and its consequences, the violent past and standard gender relations that enable it, and its economic displacement of the modest, well-connected woman who occasions it.

“A great novel gives us Genesis, and so Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman calls a world into being. We get not only the odor and crackle of rural Texas beginning a hundred years ago, but also the spirits of that time and place. We suffer with a rancher’s wife, a woman catastrophically misunderstood. Violence proves inevitable — but then comes the real miracle. Elizabeth Harris summons up not one world but several, in rich and moving succession. Itʼs as if redemption were sympathy: as if to peer deeply into anyone is to understand everyone. If this sounds less like a God and more like a great storyteller, well, thatʼs what weʼve got. Harris squeezes palaver and tears from her Texas clay, even while making sure we see the gifted hands at work.”

— John Domini, author of A Tomb on the Periphery and other novels, as well as stories, criticism, and poetry.

Harris’ stories have appeared in a number of literary journals and have been anthologized in New Stories from the South, Best of Wind,  The Iowa Award, and Literary Austin. Her first book, The Ant Generator, received the University of Iowa’s coveted short fiction award.

The Writers’ League of Texas recently interviewed Elizabeth Harris about her favorite writers. She stated: “People ask you who your favorite writers are when they want you to talk about reading, and I name some books and their writers, but I seldom love everything a writer has written. I’ve been a passionate reader all my life, and I love many different books for different reasons.”

As yet untitled, Elizabeth’s current project is another contemporary novel with a historical setting. She and her husband, who are birders, divide their time between the Texas Coast and Austin.

Preview an excerpt of Mayhem at: www.elizabethharriswriter.com.




Q&A: Sociologist Ben Carrington Talks Race, Sports and Politics

30143_97814129010313Starting today, athletes, head coaches, researchers and academics from across the nation are convening at the Forty Acres to discuss ways to improve academic and career success for Black student athletes. To celebrate The Black Student-Athlete Conference, we are bringing back a post from our archives featuring a Q&A with UT Austin Sociologist Ben Carrington, author of “Race, Sport and Politics” (Sage, Sept. 2010).

Read on to learn more about his research on athletes of color, and how academics can play a critical role in dispelling racial stereotypes that continue to be enforced in the media today. 

Go to this website for more about the conference, hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and two of its units: the African American Male Research Initiative and the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color. Use #blackstudentathlete to participate in the live Twitter conversation.

This post was originally published in August, 2010.

Benjamin Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ben Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

 What is the major theme of your book? 

I argue that the sociology of sport needs to go beyond some of the traditional ways of thinking about race and sport. Once you understand sport’s historical and contemporary role in shaping racial discourse, you not only see how race impacts sport, but also how sport itself changes ideas about races and racial identity in society as a whole.

How did the world of sports alter perceptions of race during the 20th century?

At the beginning of the 20th century, whites were considered to be superior to blacks, intellectually, aesthetically and even physically. By the 1930s, this logic begins to shift as blacks are viewed as potentially physically superior to whites in matters related to sports. Jack Johnson played a pivotal role in challenging these ideas of white supremacy when he became the first black heavyweight champion of the world, which is supposed to be the epitome of superior physical strength.

What role do you believe does politics play in sports?

Some people argue that sports work like a distorting mirror. It has an ideological effect that makes us believe we’re all happily a part of the same world. In the World Cup, one of the FIFA advertisements stated, ‘this is not about politics, war, religion or economics. It’s about football.’ That makes us feel like we’re all human beings that love the same sport. But in truth it’s all about politics when you see politicians in the stands promoting their countries and wearing their national colors. On one hand it’s an apolitical platform for games and entertainment, but on the other hand sport is deeply infused with political ideology.

Your book argues that the media continues to perpetuate fears of the black male athlete. Could you point out a recent example of this? 
The April, 2008 cover of Vogue generated some controversy over how NBA star LeBron James is depicted with supermodel Gisele Bundchen. In the picture, LeBron has striking similarities to the classic ‘King Kong’ image carrying off Fay Wray, a racially loaded simian metaphor that draws upon white fears about black male hypersexuality and violence. The magazine cover metonymically plays with these deeply racist symbols in using one of the world’s most famous black men to portray a ferocious gorilla carrying off a white woman.

Looking back at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, could you give me an example of racial bias among the sports media?

When the United States played Ghana in the World Cup, the Ghanaians were often described as both ‘athletic’ and ‘unpredictable.’ That notion implies they’re emotionally unstable, and that even they don’t know what they’re going to do next. But at the same time, they are somehow endowed with extraordinary physical strength and ability, as if the other players at the World Cup are somehow ‘unathletic.’ Their culture is attributed as unstable, so these racial attitudes, which are not just about Ghana but ultimately about all black people, are reproduced in sports. It’s what sociologists refer to as ‘racism without racists.’ Nobody aside from extremists admits to being racist anymore, but we often use ways of seeing the world that rely upon racial frameworks that end up producing racist effects and outcomes. This is what I refer to in the book, drawing on the work of the sociologist Joe Feagin, as the ‘white colonial frame.’ There are no objectively existing ‘races,’ only ways in which we see race, and sport plays a very important role in the production and reproduction of these ideas about race and racial difference.

You argue that black athletes are commonly seen as physically gifted and intellectually stunted. What do you mean by this?

You see this in the way that many people believe that black athletes are ‘naturally’ gifted for sports, implying that their success comes from within, that it is rooted in their biology. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that there is a split between the physical and the intellectual. Just as we might admire an animal’s spectacular physicality, we don’t therefore assume that animals have our cognitive capabilities. So the praising of black athleticism often serves to reinforce notions of black intellectual inferiority.

How do you believe these stereotypes are perpetuated in the sports media?

White sports commentators and journalists used to be very explicit in comparing black athletes to monkeys and gorillas and cheetahs. Today they are more circumspect and instead tend to over-emphasize black players physical attributes – power, speed, strength and so on – and conversely tend to highlight the ‘intelligence’ and ability to ‘read the game’ of white athletes, who supposedly lack the ‘natural advantage’ of their black peers but can make up for it by their better play-making abilities. You often see this in how white basketball and football players are described, especially quarterbacks.

I would also add that college sports help to perpetuate these myths, especially given how committed big-time college sports programs are to winning conference and national titles using the labor of predominately black ‘student-athletes.’ At the same time, they demonstrate a lack of concern with actually graduating these students, most of whom will not go on to become professional athletes. Thus, these issues are really systemic, running through professional sports to the college level and even into high schools where we see similar patterns.

What kind of reaction do you hope to get from your fellow sociologists after your book is released in September?

The book challenges mainstream sociologists to take sport more seriously than they have done up until now and takes sociologists of sport to task too for not engaging critically enough with questions of race, so I’m hoping there will be a reaction of some kind. Better to be discussed and debated than ignored is my motto right now.


‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an’ Author Wins $10,000 Hamilton Book Award

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, professor in the Departments of History, Middle Eastern Studies and Religious Studies, won the $10,000 grand prize at the Hamilton Book Awards for her work “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.” (Knopf, 2013) on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

The awards are the highest honor of literary achievement given to published authors at The University of Texas at Austin. They are sponsored by the University Co-operative Society.

TJQIn “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” Spellberg recounts how a handful of the country’s founders, Jefferson foremost among them, drew upon Enlightenment ideas about the tolerance of Muslims to fashion a practical foundation for governance in America. For more about the book listen to her podcast on the History Department’s Not Even Past website.

Four other UT Austin professors received $3,000 runner-up prizes:

– Desmond F. Lawler — Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, for his work “Water Quality Engineering: Physical/Chemical Treatment Processes,” co-authored with Mark Benjamin, University of Washington; Published by John Wiley & Sons

– Huaiyin Li — Department of History, for his work “Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing”; Published by University of Hawaii Press

– Allison E. Lowery — Department of Theatre and Dance, for her work “Historical Wig Styling: Volumes 1 and 2”; Published by Focal Press/Taylor and Francis Group

– Mark Metzler — Department of Asian Studies, for his work “Capital as Will and Imagination: Schumpeter’s Guide to the Postwar Japanese Miracle”; Published by Cornell University Press

The Hamilton Awards are named in honor of Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regent Chair-Emeritus in Law. Professor Hamilton was chair of the Co-op Board for 12 years, from 1989 to 2001, and was in large measure responsible for the Co-op’s uncommon growth and profitability during that period. Visit this website for more about the award winners.

Richard Pells’ War Babies Released

War BabiesWar Babies: The Generation that Changed America by Richard Pells, emeritus professor of history, was released in August by Cultural History Press. Pells examines the lives of famous Americans born between 1939 and 1945, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

War Babies may be ordered from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1t39MPD

Read an excerpt: http://authorrichardpells.com/excerpt-from-war-babies-carl-bernsteins-memories-of-mccarthyism