Discussing Race and Ethnicity in America

This post is part of our blog series Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses, which aims to provide lecture topics and corresponding course books that will help your students think critically about today’s conversations on social inequality. Today, we discuss race, ethnicity, and class in America. 

Week by week, students see news headlines swing back and forth, from health care to immigration, from women’s rights to poverty, to much more. Their understanding of, and their personal feelings toward, these various issues can invoke strong responses as they have these conversations in class or on the quad. This is, in part, because their lens on the issues are influenced by race and ethnicity. How then do faculty guide students to have fruitful conversations on the issues that impact our lives today?

In Race and Ethnicity in America, sociologist and demographer John Iceland writes about where to start the conversation when guiding students to discuss race and ethnicity:

Discussing racial issues can be difficult. It is often more challenging than talking about many other sociological topics—such as changes in the occupational distribution of American workers or regional migration patterns—because race can be very personal. For many Americans, race is an important part of their identity. It affects how they view themselves, their aspirations, and their communities. …

These conversations about race are typically not that productive, as people are not really listening to one another. Their arguments, more generally speaking, also are often not based on empirical evidence and instead rely on anecdotes.

The goal of this book is to address this issue by providing such an empirical overview of patterns and trends in racial and ethnic inequality, as well as their causes and consequences. In doing so, I offer a social scientific basis for much-needed conversations about race. Having this kind of basic information is critical to reduce the extent to which people talk past one another with their own alleged facts accompanying their own opinions. Then people can be honest about their interests and values and recognize that these also play a key role in informing their policy preferences. In short, we need to cut through the clutter of empirical falsehoods to have real substantive discussions about racial inequality in the United States and what to do about it.

Read a sample chapter of Race and Ethnicity in America. And use these instructor resources to help prepare for your course. Feel free to see our other titles on race and class as well as other titles in the Sociology in the 21st Century Series.

How do you begin your discussions about race and ethnicity in your classes?

Help Your Students Understand the Impact of the End of DACA

This post is part of our blog series Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses, which aims to provide lecture topics and corresponding course books that will help your students think critically about today’s conversations on social inequality.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in six months if Congress cannot find a different and more permanent solution. The statements Attorney General Jeff Sessions has used to describe many DACA recipients have been said to be misleading. And clarification about how DACA came about, who is affected, and what will happen next has been shared widely (click on Twitter hashtags #DACA #DREAMer to see the volume of commentary that’s been generated since earlier this week).

What has been sorely missed are the personal stories—those of people who were brought here as children to escape persecution or other hardships, have lived here in the United States peacefully, and are now poised to productively contribute to society. One such story is that of Jesus Contreras, a Houston-area paramedic who has been helping his community in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. And others, such as the DACA recipient who participated in a sit-down interview at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s home, notes that, “[a]ll we’re asking for is a chance . . . I urge members of Congress to meet a DREAMer.”

Books That Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses

Below are recommended books you can assign to help students put a face to those affected by the end of DACA.

Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America by Roberto G. Gonzales, winner of the 2016 C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems

Roberto has written about how DACA beneficiaries contribute to society. He continues to serve as champion to immigrant children and has recently discussed how DACA has affected their mental health and well-being.

“It will stand as the definitive study of the undocumented coming of age in our midst. It is a book every teacher, every policymaker, indeed every concerned citizen should read and ponder.”—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, coeditor of Latinos: Remaking America



Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody by Susan J. Terrio

Susan has written about what happens to undocumented children and families in the Trump era. She has also been interviewed regarding her thoughts on U.S. government’s treatment of children and who has access to the American dream.

“An impressive grasp of relevant history, law, policy and practice. Essential reading for anyone interested in one of the US’s most urgent contemporary human rights challenges.”–Jacqueline Bhabha, Harvard University



Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families by Joanna Dreby, winner of the 2017 Distinguished Contribution to Research Award, Section for Latina/o Sociology, American Sociological Association

Joanna writes about how to tell children not to be afraid. She is committed to discussing and changing policies that undermine immigrant families.

“Eloquent and sharp… an important contribution to the literature on undocumented populations.”—Harvard Educational Review




Dreams and Nightmares: Immigration Policy, Youth, and Families by Marjorie S. Zatz and Nancy Rodriguez

Marjorie speaks frequently about how sweeping political decisions have enormous consequences to swaths of people living in the U.S.

“Highly valuable… this book is a combination of informative resources, rigorous social science research, and is well written to boot!”—Sociology and Social Welfare





Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation by Deborah Boehm

Deborah discusses the fate of returnees and deportees, or “lost citizens.” Her research has focused on migrants’ lives before and after federal custody but she now intends to do research on detention itself.

“Boehm challenges sterile depictions of deportations in the media and political debates. This urgent book is a must read.”—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Immigrant Families


See other books on immigration and read the Immigration Syllabus: UC Press Edition#ImmigrationSyllabus