Updated: Feb 4
As a new faculty on the tenure-track in a department where, with the fewest number of majors, sociology seems to be the least attractive option for students, I’ve been reflecting on what makes sociology exciting, relevant, and the right option for a 19 year old college student. After all, I was hired as a sociologist to teach sociology. Having students to teach and especially those with a genuine interest in the discipline is kinda important. So as I navigate this new space and find my way through my first year, I find myself reflecting on the discipline and its appeal. I’ll admit, it is not always at the forefront of my thoughts. There is plenty to adjust to this year, but it certainly lingers in the background, waiting patiently to consume me with ideas upon ideas.
One of the things that I keep thinking about as I reflect is my own journey to being a bonafide sociologist. My undergrad and masters training were in Black studies, nevertheless, sociology courses laced my education from Dr. Newsomes Schools In Society course at Agnes Scott College to the Sex Workers, Transnational Capital & Tourism class I took at Syracuse University. Still my arrival to a sociology graduate program was not a warm and welcoming experience. I constantly questioned myself, my belonging to the program, whether or not I was sociological enough, was my research going to be valued if it was focused on Black people? I struggled to see myself and experiences reflected in course material especially in theory classes or those deemed foundational. I didn't start every sentence with Fouccault or Bourdieu (my never completely gone caribbean accent wouldn't allow it, even if I wanted).
And what was even more frustrating was that the whole time I felt alone, I never had a homie to vent to or share my experiences with. And on top of that, I didn't have the language I needed to name my struggle or critique the discipline. Needless to say, my first year or two in the sociology graduate program was hard. It didn't help that I was in an overwhelmingly white city at a predominantly white institution and in a department where I was the one black woman (faculty/graduate students) for several years.
So how did I make it through and find a place of belonging in this discipline?... I found Black sociologists. I was reintroduced to people like Patricia Hill Collins and W.E.B Du Bois, not as the Black scholars I knew them to be previously but as Black sociologists. Collins’ critique of sociology was life-giving. I remember crying with both excitement and anger when I read Black Feminist Thought for the first time as a sociologist. Reading Du Bois as a sociologist was a reminder that Black Sociologists have been dropping knowledge. Finding Black sociologist changed my research trajectory, changed my graduate training, changed my comps reading list, changed my dissertation topic, changed my career. E. Franklin Frazer, St Clair Drake, Aldon Morris, Mary Pattillo, Earl Wright, Elijah Anderson, Adia Harvey Wingfield, all Black sociologists whose ideas and insights fed me and whose work and presence invited me to trust myself.
I can't say enough what it meant to me to be introduced to Zandria Robinson, not only to read her work but to sit with her and to talk and to listen and share with her. I will never forget the night we met. Zandria made me believe that not only could I do sociology, but I could do it the way I wanted to. And I could talk the way I wanted to and I could be as Black as I wanted to be. When I found Karida Brown's work, I began to embrace my budding interest in Black Appalachia and she instilled in me that no matter what I did in life, I would always be a sociologist, nobody could take it from me. And when I met Brian Foster, I knew I was in good company.
Of course there is Tressie McMillan Cottom, we haven't met yet but boy does she inspire me to be a fabulous sociologist.
There are so many more that I can't mention and of course I have to shout out the sociologists (and historians) who have been my professors, especially the Black ones (there were only a handful of them) and my dissertation chair. They are the ones who introduced me to this discipline and for that I am grateful.
As I step into the role of professor, of Black sociologist, of a person who will introduce, to so many, this discipline, I am assured that the Black sociologists’ critical social analyst of the past, present, and future and deep commitment to Black, feminist, intersectional sociology that values experiential knowledge holds the key to attract and inspire new generations.
Where can you get more on Black sociologists and their contributions to the field:
The scholar denied: WEB Du Bois and the birth of modern sociology by Aldon Morris
The new black sociologists: Historical and contemporary perspectives by Marcus Hunter
Black feminist sociology: Perspectives and praxis by Zakiya Luna and Whitney Pirtle
Black sociologists: Historical and contemporary perspectives by James Edward Blackwell and Morris Janowitz
Some Black sociologists and sociological thinkers you should know:
W.E.B. Du Bois
Patricia Hill Collins
Tressie McMillan Cottom
William Julius Wilson
Sharron M. Collins
E. Franklin Frazer
St Clair Drake
Edward Bonilla Silva
Adia Harvey Wingfield
Karida L. Brown
*This list is by no means expansive. Who would you add to the list?
Send me a message if you would like a copy of the poster below.