Theses Doctoral

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Maintenance of White Privilege and Power Amid Demographic Change in a Suburban School District

Fox, Ashley Lauren

My dissertation examines racial power dynamics and whiteness in a previously all-white suburban school district that is now home to a very racially, ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse population. Specifically, I explore how white parents make sense of and respond to changing racial demographics in their community and the extent to which whites maintain privilege and power as they comprise a declining proportion of the community population overall. In light of the current political and social context in the U.S that has accompanied demographic change, there is a great need to critically examine the racial ideologies of whites as they relate ongoing structures of inequality, particularly in suburban areas that are previous centers of white isolation and modern epicenters of demographic change.

Using a multi-modal case study methodology, I found that in this particular suburban context, where residents of color possessed similar or greater levels of income and education than white residents, and students of color performed at similar levels as white students in the public schools, dominant ideologies that associated whiteness with superiority and goodness persisted and led some white parents to flee the changing community and schools. Moreover, despite the increasingly small proportion of whites in the community and schools, white parents and residents were able to leverage their racial privilege and status in ways that reasserted and maintained unequal racial power relations in Parkwood through school district policies and practices. This research highlights the often invisible and under-examined ways in which white interests are continuously centered and served in ways that reproduce structures of racism in the “post-racial” era. Overall, the findings from this study contradict dominant colorblind narratives and point to the many ways in which whiteness operates, often in surreptitious ways, to maintain the racial status quo and exert social control over people of color even in contexts in which logic might imply that the power and privilege associated with whiteness would be threatened.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Wells, Amy Stuart
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 4, 2019