Joe Feagin sorted stacks of journals from a study that asked 626 white students to record racial incidents they had witnessed.
The study, in which the students nationwide documented about 7,500 “blatantly racist” scenes over a period of about eight weeks, provided a glimpse into how prevalent racism is even these days, the Texas A&M sociology professor said.
“A lot of it’s what people do over two beers with friends and relatives,” Feagin said before he delivered a lecture titled “White Students and Backstage Racism” to about 90 students and community members in the Memorial Student Center on Wednesday night.
“What’s happened with white Americans is we’ve learned to do the blatantly racist stuff only with friends and relatives,” he said.
The bulk of the lecture was about the 2003 study’s findings. He and a former graduate student of his, Leslie H. Picca, co-authored a book about the study, Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage.
They plan to write a book based on the same study after examining the journals of black students, Feagin said.
Feagin spoke as part of Social Justice Week, which began Monday and continues Thursday and Friday. It is conducted by the Leadership & Service Center in the Department of Student Activities to “raise awareness about issues that are especially pertinent to the college community,” said Mike Starr, a graduate student who helped organize the event.
Kevin McCullough, a senior sports management major who attended, said the U.S. was founded on racism, and it’s still around today, but it’s more of a universal problem than just a white one.
Not everyone was impressed with the author.
Preston Wiginton, a self-described skinhead who lives in the area and once attended Texas A&M University, held up his hand, waiting fruitlessly to be called on by the professor for most of the hour-long interactive lecture. So he spoke anyway.
“[I’m here] to defend white people so they don’t have to have white guilt,” he said, as he held a sign that read “White pride, not white guilt.”
Feagin, a 1966 Harvard graduate, has also authored or co-authored several other books, including Racist America: Roots, Current Realities and Future Reparations and Ghetto Revolts: The Politics of Violence in American Cities. The latter book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“The election of a black president did not kill racist activity in this country. Racism is much deeper than what one election can affect,” he said. “I hope to see all children grow up in a truly multiracial society, where they are treated equally their whole lives. In my 70 years, I haven’t seen it.”
Feagin said people with consciences have to fight racism in all forms, whether blatant or subtle.
“Even if it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “Even if you’ll lose friends. You have a moral obligation.”
Joe Feagin at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Lecture 2006