My work focuses on interactions between racialized structures and interpretation/identity. Specifically, I research race, memory, and narrative, conceptualizing how remembering is a political-personal process linked with identity, ideology, and emotions. My research investigates how ordinary people create and articulate understandings of the self, racial groups, and society. By targeting memory, individuals’ interpretations of the past and present racial milieu are conceptualized as both ideological commentary on patterns of institutional racism and as components of racial identity. Furthermore, the work contributes to social/collective memory scholarship (much of which analyzes the public/physical markers of remembrance, such as commemorations and museum exhibits) by illustrating the nuances of ordinary people’s interpretations of history.
My book Whitewashing the South: White Memories of Segregation and Civil Rights (2014, Rowman & Littlefield) analyzes in-depth interviews I conducted with forty-four elder, white, lifelong residents of Greensboro, North Carolina, on their memories of Jim Crow segregation, the civil rights era, and the contemporary racial milieu. With grounding in race critical theories and symbolic interactionism, my core argument is that white southerners’ memories of the racial past enable them to assert a lifelong positive – and non-racist – identity. Narratives of segregation constructed the era as one that had some racial inequities but was overall typified by pleasant relations between white and black southerners. Portrayals of the civil rights era downplayed the value and exaggerated the dangers of protest activism while acknowledging its necessity. Thus, although acknowledgments of systemic racial oppression were common (and, most often, cursory), the memory narratives asserted the timelessness of white racial innocence and goodness and reified negative stereotypes of African Americans.
From this research study, I have also written two papers: 1) An analysis of participants’ stories of threat and vulnerability during civil rights protests and school desegregation. The piece engages current race and whiteness literature and argue that white victim narratives are not a new phenomenon of the post-civil rights “colorblind” era, but rather a response to a perceived loss of advantage/status. Second, in a conceptual methodological piece (recently published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography), my co-author Krista McQueeney and I draw from our respective dissertation studies to argue that the critical methodologist’s emotional labor in the field be used with intention to develop deeper analytical insights behind the desk.