Moving from the Margins
Life Histories on Transforming the Study of Racism
Edited by Margaret L. Andersen and Maxine Baca Zinn





THE CLASSIC SOCIOLOGIST C. Wright Mills defined the central task of sociology as grasping history and biography and the relations between the two. As Mills writes, “No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history, and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey.”1 Mills was writing about comprehending the whole of society through the lens of individual biography, but his insight also applies to how the sociological imagination emerges from the lived conditions of individual sociologists. The central tenet of the sociological imagination—that society and those within it must be understood in the context of particular social historical conditions and the biographical facts of people’s lives—drives this book.

Moving from the Margins: Life Histories on Transforming the Study of Racism is a collection of essays by prominent sociologists from different racial and ethnic backgrounds who reflect on how their personal experiences have shaped their contribution to the study of race and racism. Each contributor is a highly accomplished scholar whose life history teaches us exactly what Mills was imagining: one’s perspective on society is shaped by one’s lived experience. Beyond what Mills was imagining, though, this book also shows how learning about the different life experiences that happen within a system of racial inequity can change how we think about racial inequality in society. As a personal memoir, each essay included here is fascinating in its own right because of the different race, class, and gender backgrounds of these sociologists. The essays reveal the societal conditions that have personally influenced each of these scholars and how their intellectual journey into sociology has transformed thinking about race and racism.

Because our contributors are senior scholars within sociology, the conditions they faced as they came of age and into the academy are particular to their time. We learn from their accounts what structural impediments they encountered. Some of these structural impediments have changed over time, in no small part because of the transformative efforts of so many of these scholars, among others. Younger scholars who are coming along now may not face the same circumstances, but the contributors’ reflections show how people can challenge such obstacles and develop work that changes conditions for coming generations.

Autobiographical narratives such as these have often been used to connect individual lives with particular sociohistorical contexts. Sociologists’ life histories have also underscored the value of using biographies to examine the context of sociological theorizing.2 Barbara Laslett and Barrie Thorne’s early (1997) collection of feminist life histories, for example, shows how life histories can trace the development of a field of study—in their case, feminist sociology. As they say, life histories have deep explanatory power, illustrating how events in people’s lives inform key developments and theoretical debates within a field of study. Because life histories are so personal, they are both moving and accessible to those who might not have the same experience. Life histories can reveal how personal experiences of inequality and lived identity shape people’s research.3

Earlier collections of sociologists’ life histories have not, however, focused on race—with two exceptions: an early collection by James Blackwell and Morris Janowitz that is a series of essays by notable twentieth-century Black sociologists, and John Stanfield’s 1993 book History of Race Relations Research.4 But because sociologists of color were too often overlooked in the post–World War II period Stanfield covers, contributors to his volume are primarily White men. Luckily, this omission is now being corrected, as in the recent volume by Marcus Hunter,5 where contemporary Black sociologists provide a series of essays examining the past, present, and future of Black thought within sociology. Such a volume is yet to be developed with regard to other people of color in sociology. We hope that the volume we have prepared will add to the understanding of how the lived experiences of a diverse group of sociological scholars have shaped sociological knowledge.

In the cases we include here, particular social supports have enabled each person’s success. In many of these cases, you would not likely have predicted such a high degree of accomplishment from the person’s early social and economic background. What does it take for someone to emerge from disadvantage to high achievement (named professorships in prestigious institutions, for example)? In every case included here, success comes from many factors, including individual sponsorship and mentoring; sometimes private, state, or federally based support programs and policies; the activism of racial and gender justice social movements; the formation of collective support networks; and, not to be overlooked, individual determination, a strong mind, and, sometimes, sheer good luck.

These essays show people succeeding against the odds even when confronted with racism, sexism, class inequality, and, in some cases, all three. Our hope, however, is that people will read each essay not just as an individually compelling story but, most importantly, as revealing how society can enable, not disable, success—particularly for those perhaps not otherwise situated to succeed.

Further, these life narratives are about more than individual success. They are also about how people who encounter the inequities of racism, often in very early childhood, bring new perspectives and new ways of thinking to our understanding of race and racism. In each of these essays is someone who has confronted the ongoing presence of racism in society—and sometimes class disadvantage, gender inequality, and antiethnic hatred as well. Every person included here has contributed new insights because of their particular social location. The understanding sociologists now have of race in society derives in large part from the life histories of these diverse people—along with others whom we could not include here. As we see it, a sociological perspective brought coherence to our contributors’ lives, but their lives and consequent perspectives have, at the same time, transformed sociology.

Long a defining trait of sociology as a discipline, the study of racial and ethnic inequality lies at the core of sociological thinking. Yet sociological perspectives on race and ethnicity are not static. Sociological knowledge itself changes as social and historical conditions evolve. As different generations of scholars face unique societal conditions and as diverse voices inform the analysis of racial inequality, sociological knowledge changes. And as those who have previously been excluded from sociology as a profession have entered the field, how sociologists think about race and ethnicity has changed—and will continue to do so. Simply put, as the work of those included here (along with others) shows, sociological scholarship on race has changed as more diverse people and their different experiences and perspectives have entered the academy. Without their voices, our view of racial inequality in society would be incomplete and wrong because of excluding the vantage point of those most likely to confront its harms.

We learn from these diverse essays how particular social-historical moments have been critical to these scholars’ intellectual contributions. We also learn what social structures and social supports have enabled their success. And these life narratives tell us much about how race—and sometimes the additional connections between race, class, and gender—influence people’s perspectives, opportunities, and challenges. Simply put, these people’s lives tell us a lot about how racial inequality is felt and experienced.

Of course, there are many other stellar sociologists, perhaps ones readers would expect to see, who could have been included in this book but are not here. Our contributors are only a few of those whose work has critically transformed the study of race. We could have brought in many more, but we had to make hard choices as we tried to include people who came from different racial, gender, and class backgrounds and who were available to write on our schedule.

Among those we have included are people whose primary scholarly work is about the social dynamics of race and racism. Some have also been founders of critical race theory and scholarship on what is now called intersectionality. We note that at the time most of these people were emerging within sociology, there was scant attention to the social dynamics of race and sexuality, except insofar as sexual stereotyping was interlaced with racial stereotypes. With the newer emergence of scholarship about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, this omission is now being addressed. We look forward to seeing the further development of the study of race accordingly.

Finally, because we focused on sociologists, some people in other disciplines whose work is increasingly important in the study of race are not found here. They include people developing critical race theory within and outside sociology departments. Especially as scholars continue to encounter personal and intellectual impediments within traditional academic departments, the trend toward more interdisciplinary work and programs, such as ethnic studies, women and gender studies, and other relatively new sites where work on racism is flourishing, seems likely to continue. As that work emerges, it will likely continue to be inspired by the intellectual contributions of many of the people included here. We hope that, wherever readers are situated within the academy, they will find inspiration and motivation to proceed by reading these individual accounts.

We developed this book by asking our contributors to reflect on their intellectual journey, specifically how their life experiences have influenced their perspectives on race and racism. We asked each contributor to think about these questions:

1. What factors in your autobiographical experiences have influenced your work on racial inequality in sociology?

2. How have social structures affected your intellectual journey?

3. How have any or all of the following been part of your journey (emphasizing their intersectionality where you can): race, ethnicity, gender, social class, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other significant social locations?

We make no attempt here to summarize each of these essays because the authors speak so potently for themselves. The essays are interesting on their own terms. Yet certain themes resonate throughout, and we highlight some of them here.


The life narratives published here vividly tell us how race is felt and experienced. Generally speaking, research on race does not tell us what race feels like, but these essays link objective events within the authors’ lives with the subjective experience of racism. Many of our contributors report early experiences—sometimes very early childhood experiences—that they still remember as strong racial blows. Aldon Morris, for example, recalls his experience as a six-year-old African American boy living in rural Mississippi in 1955 just a few miles from where fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, only fourteen years old, was brutally murdered. Morris relates how this singular event catalyzed his commitment to racial justice work. Enobong Hannah Branch vividly recalls an experience she had as an eight-year-old Black child when her middle-class family was turned away from a house they wanted to buy, solely because of racial discrimination. This experience confused her at the time, but it was the first to reveal the salience of racism in her life, and it later impelled some of her writing on Black women and racial injustice. Margaret Andersen, a White woman, recalls the sting of her grandmother’s rebuke when, as a young girl, she sat in the back of a city bus, thus violating the norms of Jim Crow Georgia. Similarly, Mary Romero, recollecting her early educational experiences as a Latina student, highlights the racial divisions in Denver when she was a young girl. As she writes, “Early in life I learned that racial boundaries were important to know to avoid trouble.”

Still sharp, these memories were moments of racial awakening. They show how “feeling race,” even in early childhood, fostered the sociological awareness these scholars now have. Put simply, encounters with racism have shaped the sociological work of every contributor here. Michael Omi is another example. Reflecting on his early experiences as an Asian American boy in racially segregated schools, he writes, “I’m convinced that my early grade school experiences profoundly shaped my understanding of what race is, the social meanings we impart to it, and how race is both structured and lived. These early inchoate ideas about race would eventually coalesce and inform my subsequent work.”

Early felt moments, though not understood in sociological terms at the time, can make you question otherwise taken-for-granted social realities. “Feeling race” roots the reality of racism in one’s inner life, although differently depending on one’s place in the racial system of inequality. For people of color the reality of race is felt every day. As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva writes, “I have been feeling race all my life. I felt race long even before I knew what race was and long before I recognized myself as Black Puerto Rican.”6 Little wonder that Bonilla-Silva has subsequently devoted much of his scholarship to theorizing the emotional power of race.


Sponsorship has been pivotal in all these intellectual journeys. A sponsor is a person who notices your talent—your promise, in other words—and introduces you to new possibilities for your life and career. A sponsor opens doors for you, perhaps ones you never even imagined. A sponsor might be a teacher, a coach, a peer, or even a relative.

Sponsorship can be direct, perhaps only a comment such as “Maybe you should consider graduate school.” Or it might be indirect, as in the experience of Denise Segura, who, as a Chicana undergraduate, was looking for affirmation of her interests, went to the library, and found a published article by a Chicana scholar. She then thought to herself, “My God, a Chicana has written an article and it’s published! I could do that!”

Sponsorship is especially important for people of color and women, who might otherwise be met with discouraging comments about their options. One example comes from Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, whose school counselor encouraged him to consider only physical education as a course of study. Another comes from Margaret Andersen, whose professor in a college honors calculus course told her, “Girls just can’t do math.” More positive sponsors can help overcome such disparagement.

Sponsorship has an enormous impact on one’s life chances. Especially for first-generation college students, sponsorship can open paths previously unconsidered, maybe even unknown. It is striking, for example, how often in these narratives someone suggested to a now-distinguished scholar that the person should consider graduate school and the person’s response was “What’s that?” Without sponsorship, someone whose family never attended college is likely to find the college admissions process quite mysterious and will then miss opportunities that would otherwise be available. Having basic information, along with the financial means to attend, is critical to college success. Sponsors can provide this opening.

Related to sponsorship is mentoring. Mentors provide intellectual and often personal support, while also giving information about career opportunities and possibly even financial assistance through such avenues as research assistantships or fellowships. Mentors open various doors that might otherwise be closed, and they can counter the negative and traumatic experiences that many scholars report here. A mentor is also someone, typically senior to you, with whom you can discuss your ideas. A good mentor will value your contribution instead of dismissing it—a phenomenon widely reported by women of color, who, when they express an interest in doing research about women of color, are too often told the topic is somehow trivial or unimportant. Almost all the contributors here write about how important mentoring has been in their academic development. Most name particular people who have had an enormous impact on them. We honor these mentors by dedicating this book to them.

In addition to sponsorship and mentoring, threaded throughout these narratives is the value of support programs in assisting and mentoring people. Support programs may be privately funded and federal policies, such as affirmative action and other equal-opportunity programs, but they can also be state and organizational policies that facilitate the inclusion of people of color and White women in higher education.

Many of the scholars included here have benefited from support programs—not because the person was somehow deficient, but because the program provided the resources (both formal and informal) that were otherwise lacking. As C. Matthew Snipp, who identifies as Oklahoma Cherokee and Choctaw, writes in acknowledging the critical role affirmative action played in his academic journey, “I knew affirmative action had not written my papers or taken my exams. My grades had been weak my first year of college, and they were stellar by my senior year, but it was not affirmative action that had made them so. Likewise, affirmative action may have helped my admission to graduate school and provided me the funds to pursue a PhD, but affirmative action did not exempt me from withering reviews of my papers by professors or critiques by peers.” Accounts such as Snipp’s not only dispel myths about affirmative action but also show how consequential support programs and policies are for creating more diverse pools of scholars.

Six of our fifteen contributors benefited from a specific support program—the American Sociological Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). This important program was the direct result of activism by Black sociologists and their allies. In 1968, Black sociologists demonstrated at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, demanding greater representation in all facets of this professional organization. After sometimes bitter debate within the association, and with the added support of Latina/o sociologists and others, the ASA created the Minority Fellowship Program in 1974 with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health.7 The impact of this program is enormous—not just because of the numbers served but also because of the intellectual growth, economic sustenance, and sense of community that the program has generated. Funding for the program now comes from private donations from individuals and sociological organizations.

Support programs such as the MFP reveal how frequently institutional support is lacking for people of color. In the absence of institutional support, people sometimes must create their own support systems—networks and groups to provide intellectual community and social-emotional support. As you will see, informal support communities have also been critical for most of these scholars.

For example, Chicana scholar Denise Segura writes about La Colectiva, a loosely formed support group organized by Chicana women graduate students at the University of California Berkeley in the 1980s when Segura was a graduate student. By creating La Colectiva, Chicana graduate student women found others who shared their research interests and who could then read and review each other’s work. The collective also engaged in collaborative studies on topics of interest to them, especially topics about Chicanas. Every one of the women in this informally generated group later achieved great distinction in her respective discipline, thus also bringing new and important scholarship about Chicanas to their different areas of study.

Similarly, as discussed by Bonnie Thornton Dill, three women at Memphis State University (Bonnie Thornton Dill, Lynn Weber, and Elizabeth Higginbotham) developed the Center for Research on Women to generate research on women of color, working-class women, and southern women.8 In this important collaboration between two African American women and one White woman, the Center ran workshops and retreats that became critical support networks for emerging scholars whose work centered on the connections among race, gender, and class inequality. Now institutionalized, the Center for Research on Women at Memphis State generated the sisterly support, critical thinking, and collaborative resources that facilitated academic development for many, including several of the authors included here as well as the two editors. Chicana scholar Maxine Baca Zinn writes, “Whereas women of color across the country had previously worked mostly alone, many of us now worked collectively and began to form a national race/gender intellectual community.” In sum, support programs are crucial because they can generate new scholarship, but they also meet social and emotional needs for people otherwise not well served by existing institutional structures.


Another theme resonating in these essays is the influence of progressive social movements. Because many of our contributors were coming of age during the protests of the 1960s and 1970s, the mobilization of African Americans, Chicanos, Asian Americans, indigenous peoples, and women during this era was a critical part of the awakening of their sociological consciousness. Social movements speak to the injustices people see in their own lives, as several authors here recall. Many of our contributors especially note the influence of the Chicano Movement, the Black Protest Movement, and feminism on their academic journeys. Chicano scholar Rogelio Sáenz, for example, remembers four key events in the Chicano Movement in South Texas that stood out for him. Sáenz writes, “I was greatly influenced by the courage coming from the Chicano Movement that raised our voices to protest the racism and discrimination that we experienced and called for improvements in the conditions of our people. With pride in our culture, language, and history, the Chicano Movement gave us hope for a better world.”

Social movements catalyzed these authors’ political awareness but also inspired their sociological perspective. For these emerging scholars, the sociological perspective elucidated much of what they saw in their own lives. Further, social movement protests against institutional injustice synchronized with the analysis of social structure that sociology provided. Both social movements and sociology explained what they saw around them.

For example, as an undergraduate Chicana student, Denise Segura questioned why she saw Latinas on her campus working only as custodians, food servers, and housecleaners and not as faculty. She also knew that there were talented women in her own family but that they had not been given opportunities for education or white-collar jobs. As a sociology major, she learned to recognize institutional racism, sexism, and the importance of collective action. As was true for the others here, sociology became not just an intellectual passion but a means for social change.

The linkage between sociological scholarship and activism is thus another theme running throughout these essays. Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo describes for her own work an aim held by many Latina scholars: “All of my research strives to hit a balance between sociological analysis and social advocacy, putting people’s lives and aspirations into broader macro contexts.” Because of their commitment to activism, many of the authors here began their careers working in antipoverty projects, equal-opportunity and job-training programs, or immigrants’ rights organizations. Many also participated in the movement activities of the 1960s and early 1970s—Freedom Summer, the Farm Workers’ Strike, and other campus-based activist actions. Social activism fueled their interest and commitment to sociology because of sociology’s perspective on structural inequality—a point we return to in the final section of this introduction.

Along with the antiracist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement had a strong impact, notably for the women in this volume. Among these authors are some of the founders of intersectional thinking in sociology—that is, the recognition and analysis of how racial inequality is entangled with gender and class inequality. Each woman included here connects her life experiences to understanding how race, gender, and class are intertwined. In one case, Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman recalls how, as a young Black girl riding the bus to school, she witnessed a sexual assault against a Black woman. She says that back then she did not understand why seeing the indignity inflicted on the woman engendered such an intense emotion in her, but she was certain the beginnings of her Black feminist consciousness emerged at that very moment. As she writes, “I felt exposed, bare, and embarrassed. Without knowing how I knew, I was certain that if she could be treated like this, then we (Black women) could all be treated this way.”

Intersectional thinking for others came through seeing the inadequacy of existing intellectual frameworks to explain women’s place in society. One example is from Mary Romero, who describes her research on domestic work as shaped by thinking about the intersections of race, gender, and class. Another is from Evelyn Nakano Glenn, whose early experience in a Japanese American concentration camp led her to write about how women and people of color were excluded from the rights and protections of US citizenship. Intersectional theory, as developed by many of these scholars, emphasizes that race, class, and gender—along with other dimensions of structured inequality—are entangled in a web of domination, what Patricia Hill Collins has called the matrix of domination.9

The influence of social movements on these sociological careers underscores how much social-historical context matters in shaping the ideas and opportunities of a generation. Many of our contributors were developing as scholars when sociology itself was being transformed by the movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Beginning one’s sociological journey at that point in time meant being part of the transformation of race thinking in sociology. Being in the right place at the right time mattered. Particular historical conditions at the time also facilitated social mobility, especially as higher education became more possible for women and people of color. One must ask, as some of these authors do, if such conditions are present now or whether current social-historical conditions militate against such achievement.


Taken as a whole, the life histories here point to the promise of sociology, even with its flaws. Sociology helps you see the power of social structure for understanding yourself, your family, your community, and your society. Everyone included here has been inspired by this promise. At the same time, they found early on that the sociological frameworks they encountered did not adequately describe or explain what they observed in their own lives. Bonnie Thornton Dill, for example, writes that what she learned in graduate school about the sociology of families did not accurately describe what she knew about her family and her community. Early in her career Maxine Baca Zinn also saw how the cultural approach to studying families distorted Chicana/o families.

Family scholarship at the time was anchored in a culture of poverty model, one that blamed families for their own difficulties. Although sociology promised to reveal the social structures of inequality, it failed to do so when it misrepresented and misunderstood people of color. As Enobong Hannah Branch writes, “In the field of sociology, we have failed, at times, to unpack the social reality before us. We have instead buttressed simple and pejorative ideas, failing to trouble the frames that pathologize Black people.” These scholars stepped into the void of this unfulfilled promise, bringing new insights to the study of race. In sum, the particulars of our contributors’ lives brought them to sociology, but they, in turn, transformed sociology to take account of lives like their own.

These essays also note the significance of marginality as a factor in the social construction of knowledge. Being on the margins as an “outsider” can bring specific and new understandings to what others may take for granted. This has been recently amplified by the work of Victoria Reyes, who writes powerfully about how her experience as a person of color within the academy has painfully and poignantly influenced her career. Reyes writes that being an academic outsider is “when you don’t see yourself reflected in the other people around you or in the scholarship you read. It’s when your experiences and thoughts are discounted and dismissed, especially—or particularly—when they run afoul of the dominant position.”10 When people of color are discounted as somehow “less than,” disparagement not only thwarts their own career but also detracts from the growth of knowledge about racism.

Our contributors here show that utilizing one’s marginal status as an outsider is a unique skill. Eli Anderson, for example, now a renowned urban ethnographer, writes that being marginal, as a Black man in America, focused his attention on survival and getting by as a “natural observer.” Evelyn Nakano Glenn also describes herself as a “classic ‘outsider within,’” growing up in a predominantly white midwestern neighborhood where her family relocated after internment and often finding herself to be the only Asian or non-White person in her classes. As Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo sums up the importance of marginality, “All sociologists need to be a little inside and a little outside, peering into social worlds without fully belonging.”


The themes we identify here are not unique to our contributors, or to this book. Such experiences have been reported by many who have analyzed the status of people of color and women in higher education. Most recently, David Brunsma and his colleagues have studied the influences that have shaped the “mothers and fathers” of studies in the sociology of race and ethnicity.11 The themes they identify resonate with what we read here. They list (1) the inspiration of mentors who are themselves people of color; (2) the role of debates and paradigm shifts that have been introduced by the greater presence of people of color in sociology; (3) the move beyond studying race as a black/white binary; (4) the importance of intersectionality; (5) the whiteness of higher education, especially as its fosters discrimination against people of color and perceptions of their lack of legitimacy; (6) the marginalization of, and lack of support for, scholarship by people of color; (7) the burden of institutional service and self-care; and, finally, (8) the continuing relevance of race and ethnic inequality. Each of these themes is also reflected in this collection of life histories by sociologists who have challenged, reworked, and reconstructed the study of race.

Those entering the sociological profession now will likely encounter many if not all of these factors. A question lurking in these essays is how conditions have changed and will continue to change for newer generations of scholars—those who have inherited and benefited from the transformational work of those found here, along with others. The journeys of our contributors show us the revelatory power of sociology, but its full power is yet to be realized.

The time is ripe for someone to develop a similar volume focused on the newer generations who are shaping scholarship on race and racism now. Newer generations of scholars are now paying more attention to the intersection of multiple identities, but there remains scant work on the structural connections between race, gender, and sexuality. The evolving scholarship on race across the disciplines is likely to be more informed by intersectional thinking—thinking that analyzes race in the context of other systems of power, including sexuality, gender, and class inequality. We would welcome a new volume examining how the lives of a newer generation are shaping the study of race and racism now.


Because language is fraught with assumptions stemming from racial inequalities, we want to be explicit about why we use some of the language we do. Language changes as our as people challenge the labels used to define them and as we learn more about different people and groups.

Our choices may be imperfect, and readers may see some inconsistencies in the language and style that we and our contributors use. For example, we capitalize Black and White when referring to specific identities (such as “Black American” and “White woman”), but we do not capitalize them at other times (as in the case of “white supremacy” and “white privilege”) because we want to be careful not to make “race” seem fixed or inevitable. Some authors never or rarely capitalize white because doing so makes it seem immutable. Because the language of race is both political and a sociological construct, we understand that our decisions are debatable, not always consistent, and subject to change.

We recognize, though, that neither Black nor White Americans have uniform experiences. We know that using terms like Hispanic, Latina/o, Native American, and women of color homogenizes distinct historical experiences, even within each group. But we also want to acknowledge common experiences across different groups, so we use labels such as Latina/o, Asian American, Native American, and women of color to do so. Unfortunately, describing groups in this way reinforces basic categories of oppression. We want readers to be aware of the limitations and the ongoing and emerging political context of language as they try to think more inclusively about diverse group experiences.

The editors of this book do not use the term Latinx, as has now become common among many who want to remove the gender binary presumed by the terms Latino and Latina. But there is a lively debate among Latinos/as about whether Latinx disrespects traditional Latino/a values, as reflected in the Spanish language. In fact, a mere 3 percent of Latinos use the term Latinx, preferring other labels.12 For these reasons, we continue to use Latinos and Latinas, even while use of Latinx is more popular among some, particularly young people. Not even all our contributors will agree with our choices here, and you will see inconsistency in how different contributors deal with these challenges of the usage of language. Still, we wanted to make our use of language explicit, and we certainly do not intend to offend anyone.

In sum, the labels used to describe various groups are highly political and subject to change, usually through political organizing by the people so affected. Our choices here may not be permanent and are certainly not perfect, but we are trying to be transparent in why we use the labels we do.


We express our gratitude to the contributors of this volume for sharing their life histories and courageous academic journeys. Each has challenged traditional bodies of knowledge and transformed the study of race. We thank our editor, Dylan Kyung-lim White, for his assistance and direction throughout the production of this book. We also appreciate the early enthusiasm of Kate Wahl and Paula Moya when we first proposed this volume. We give special thanks to Sarah Rodriguez for shepherding us through the final details and to Emily Smith for her care with the production process. We especially thank the anonymous reviewers whose contributions to the preparation of this collection were extremely helpful.

We sincerely appreciate our special colleagues and friends who have influenced our thinking and provided consistent encouragement about this volume: Gabrielle Cobbs, Valerie P. Hans, Karen V. Hansen, Margaret K. Nelson, Nancy Targett, Howard F. Taylor, and Barbara Wells. And we are indebted to our families, who have long been enthusiastic supporters of this project: Richard Rosenfeld, Alan Zinn, Prentice Zinn, Gabby Cobbs, and Edan Zinn.

Maggie and Maxine thank each other for decades of academic exchange, collegial support, enduring friendship, and shared dedication to racial justice. We are deeply grateful for this opportunity to collaborate on a project about racial transformation in society. Finally, because of the significance of the American Sociological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program in supporting so many scholars, including many of those here, proceeds from this book will continue to support this important program.


1. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), 6.

2. Bennett M. Berger, ed., Authors of Their Own Lives: Intellectual Autobiographies by Twenty American Sociologists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Barbara Laslett and Barrie Thorne, eds., Feminist Sociology: Life Histories of a Movement (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997); Rosalyn Benjamin Darling and Peter J. Stein, eds., Journeys in Sociology: From First Encounters to Fulfilling Retirements (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017).

3. Laslett and Thorne, Feminist Sociology.

4. James Blackwell and Morris Janowitz, eds., Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974); John H. Stanfield II, ed., A History of Race Relations Research: First Generation Recollections (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993).

5. Marcus Anthony Hunter, The New Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2018).

6. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, “Feeling Race: Theorizing the Racial Economy of Emotions,” American Sociological Review 84 (January 2019): 2.

7. James E. Blackwell, “Minorites in the Liberation of the ASA?,” American Sociologist 23, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 11–17.

8. Lynn Weber, Elizabeth Higginbotham, and Bonnie Thornton Dill, “Sisterhood as Collaboration: Building the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis,” in Laslett and Thorne, Feminist Sociology, 229–56.

9. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 1980).

10. Victoria Reyes, Academic Outsider: Stories of Exclusion and Hope (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2022).

11. David L. Brunsma, David G. Embrick, Amy Ernstes, Whitney Hayes, and Kevin Zevallos, “The Mothers and Fathers of the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 7, no. 1 (2021): 1–11.

12. Luis Noe-Bustamante, Lauren Mora, and Mark Hugo Lopez, “About One in Four U.S. Hispanics Have Heard of Latinx, But Just 3% Use It,” Pew Research Center, August 11, 2020,