Southern Assumptions: Normalizing Racialized Structures at a University in the Deep South

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Race Ethnicity & Education






Informed by critical race theory (CRT), we examine how African-American and white college students, at a predominantly white, structurally diverse, Southern US university, understand their cross-racial experiences. Black–white interactions are understood within the context of the so-called ‘post-racial’ environment, against the backdrop of high-profile cases of racial injustice, and within the added context of the historical legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the rural Southern United States. Our study suggests that many students, regardless of race, recognized the persistence of racial segregation, especially in nightlife and campus Greek letter organizations (GLOs). African-American students were the most vocal and troubled by this division. Unexpectedly, however, students appeared to take for granted that in the American South, racism is persistent and indestructible. Building on Bell’s (1991) notion of racial realism and Bonilla-Silva’s (2013) notion of naturalization, we expand the view that racism is inherent or related to individual preference, to place and time, with a construct we term southern assumptions. Southern assumptions are the mechanisms in which participants connect collective historical racism in the south to the race problems of today.