Sociology Professor Explores Racial Identities in New Book

Michèle Lamont, professor of European studies, Sociology, and African and African American studies, explores the experiences of racism for five distinct ethnic groups spanning three cities on three continents in her latest book, “Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel.”

The book’s September release concluded roughly 10 years of research and more than 400 in-depth interviews with middle- and working-class citizens in New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and Tel Aviv. The book, which Lamont co-authored with six other academics, provides a multinational analysis of how politics and culture influence the racism members of these groups experience in their respective localities.

Lamont was inspired to write “Getting Respect” following her work on a previous book,
“The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration,” for which she interviewed African American and white workers in New York as well as North African and white workers in Paris, France.

“One of the questions we explored in [“The Dignity of Working Men”] was what makes people equal?” Lamont said. “I became really interested in folks’ understanding of racial equality and inequality.”

Lamont added that “Getting Respect” explores different ethnic groups’ varying degrees of “boundedness,” or how strongly individuals identify with their racial identities.

Two of the groups Lamont analyzed in her recent book, African Americans in the United States and Arab Palestinians in Israel, were “very strongly-defined groups, in the sense that the ethnic identities of the groups are extremely salient to the groups.” The Ethiopian Jews Lamont studied were "bounded" to a lesser extent. In contrast, the Mizrahi Jews in Israel and black Brazilians were weakly "bounded."

Lamont hopes the book will inform readers with limited daily exposure to African Americans, and even highlight for African Americans aspects of their own experiences previously invisible to them.

“It’s a little bit like fish in water. If you spend your life in water, you don’t see the water,” Lamont said.

Lamont also hopes to contribute to the academic literature on racism in the United States.

“While most of the literature on racism in the U.S. is about discrimination—things that people can sue about—we find that when people talk about their experience, most of what they talk about is stigmatization,” Lamont said. “We’re advocating a readjustment of the literature on race that would be much more on the subject of people’s experiences.”

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