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Sociologist Shares Research on Racism in White Communities with Madison, Guilford Families

by Jesse Williams, Source Reporter

Rich, white communities across the United States have issues talking about, understanding, and confronting issues of race, particularly when speaking with children.

That in a nutshell was the message of Mississippi State University professor and sociologist Margaret Hagerman, who spoke to a crowd of about a hundred people of all ages at The Country School on Dec. 2—mostly Madison and Guilford families—about her work studying the ways affluent, overwhelmingly white towns or neighborhoods confront, or fail to confront, their racism and privilege in a systematically unfair society.

Hagerman’s talk and Q&A session was a collaboration between Madison and Guilford public schools, as well as The Country School, a private Pre-K through 8 school in Madison.

In his opening remarks, The Country School Head of School John D. Fixx said he thought the event was the first of its kind—all three local schools sponsoring it together. Guilford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman and Madison Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice also attended.

Hagerman is the author of the 2018 book White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, and much of her talk focused on what she had learned as she studied the way rich, white Americans communicated ideas of racism and race to their children, both in how and what they talked about, as well as in their actions.

Both Guilford and Madison are about 90 percent white, according to census data.

Hagerman discovered, she said, that the white communities she studied for two years all had significant problems dealing with race, and in different ways, all perpetuated racism, racist ideas, and inequalities to their children—even in places where parents and schools were openly progressive and anti-racist.

“Although these parents are in some ways working to combat racism, they’re also reinforcing the very inequality they hope to challenge in many of their day-to-day behaviors and activities,” Hagerman said.

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