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Syllabus Intro to Contemporary Afro-Amer Society

Page history last edited by Tyler Callum 8 years ago

Afro-American Studies 151:

Introduction to Contemporary Afro-American Society

Fall 2012, MW 11-12:15, 2637 Humanities Building


Instructor: Michael C. Thornton, Ph.D., Afro-American Studies, Asian American Studies, & Sociology

Office and Hours: 4111 H. C. White by appointment

Contact Info: 608 263-1148 & mcthornt@wisc.edu(best way to contact me)


A wise person

only believes half of what he/she sees or reads.

A brilliant person

knows which half to believe


You need to live the question

and only then

look for the answer


Course Objectives:

This course is an introductorysociological survey of the past 20 years of US life. It will:


1- introducesociological concepts used to study the dynamics of US life (e.g., social class, gender and the role of institutions);

2- analyzevia course material and community agencies the social forces and trends that affect the quality of life for Americans;

3- evaluatetheories/assumptions used to explain life chances; &

4- examinehow race, class and gender influence housing options.


This class addresses how life chances are linked to racial, and, in turn, to social class, gender and institutions. No course on life can be neutral. Thus I offer a varied view on a complex set of issues, and the contents reflect the experiences of people like myself: Raised in a working class family, and living in public housing. Don’t take this to mean, however, that these issues have nothing to do with you, for race, class and gender link us all.


As a SERVICE-LEARNING (S-L)course this onerequires 25 hours of service outside of normal class time. S-L is an experience with structured service activities meeting community-identified needs. In using course concepts to reflect on the activities, you will be pushed to a deeper command of course material and an enhanced awareness of civic responsibility, while doing a public good. Service is equal to lectures, readings and papers. Even so, you are evaluated mostly on how well you use course concepts to understand and interpret your service. You learn thru doing, and this is usually the MOST moving part of the course as it links you to the “outside” world, a place often distorted by your own reality.


Course Format and Requirements:

The course is lecture/discussion format. After week 3, I lecture on Mondays and use Wednesdays to apply lecture concepts to current issues, e.g., racial profiling or aspects of being “white.” I emphasize developing and enhancing communication skills and thus expect you to take active part in class discussions. (The quality of that participation may be used to increase your final grade). To enhance this process, all assigned readings must be completed before their scheduled discussion dates. The final grade is tentatively based on the following:


1. Journals (biweekly): 25%.

Each covers material and placement site experiences for two. Each week involves: a- reactions to an assigned reading, b- exploring your experience each week at the placement site, AND linking the two by using key concepts from the reading as a lens to help interpret what you felt, saw or learned from the site experience. The idea here is, for example, to take a reading from the week on prejudice, reacting to what you think the reading implies about the world. Then, based on your experience at the site for that week, write about what you felt, “saw”-- any insights whether physical or metaphysical -- and/or experienced that week. Finally, use the idea of prejudice to bring deeper insight into that experience. Some will write about how they see prejudice in others; some about discovering their own. This final piece for the journal entry is what I refer to as the linkage piece of the assignment. Your task is to think about course topics/discussions in greater detail, incorporating your views, and applying them to real life (i.e., your experience at the placement site). This process helps to prepare you for the reflective final paper. See with your emotions, but interpret with your head (i.e., using course ideas).

Each time you turn in the journal there will be 4 entries (for each week a reaction to a reading and one to your site), plus 2 syntheses/linkage pieces. Journals should be placed in the course drop box every other Monday by 11 a.m. The first is due September 17thhand covers material for the weeks of September 3 & 10. More details will follow.

Journals are graded on a scale of +, +-, and -. A “+” means you have reacted to the reading, reflected on your experience and linked the two thoughtfully; you show serious deliberation to what you read and experienced by linking the material to broader issues whether in terms of other course concepts/readings, to your own life, and/or the life of the community/the world. A “+-“ tells you that you merely describe but put little thought into the material; this often comes out like a book report. A “-“ means that you did not complete the assignment. Each of these marks corresponds to, approximately, in turn, an “A”, “C”, and an “F.” Not doing well on the journals WILL affect the grade for the final paper.


2. Executive Summary Paper (15%) (DUE: October 8 at 11 a.m. in drop box).

The first assignment is an executive summary (ES). In the business world these extract major points from a much longer document. You will formally reflect on what you’ve learned through week 5. THE ES involves picking out from a larger set of evidence what you consider the essence of the organization you work at; its raison d’être. You are to identify and analyze the central public problem facing the organization (or specific part of the organization) for which you work. First, describe this problem in detail. Who is your organization attempting to help? What are its goals and how has it decided to pursue them? What obstacles does your organization face? Are these individuals, ideas, public opinion, local institutions and/or other community-based organizations? Is it a local issue or perhaps one that touches a national audience? Describe the nature of the interaction with other people in the community, including public officials, that pursuing these goals requires. Second, address the causes/outcomes of the problem(s) your organization confronts: “They are trying to deal with helping people find jobs, or are ensuring that they have a place to stay.” Are there alternatives they have perhaps not considered in trying to achieve their goals? Evaluate the organization’s approaches to the problem. Third, where do you fit into this effort: what will you do to help them toward their goal(s)? What are your responsibilities? How will you know if you are successful?

For the ES, draw upon what you have learned from readings, people at your site, class sessions AND journals. The expectation is that you pull from all the ideas we have covered through week 5 (e.g., prejudice, race, stratification). Place your site into the context of what you are learning in the class; use course concepts to help examine your site and your experience there. Attend staff meetings, interview staff members and clients of the organization. It may be useful to visit the public library (e.g., the one at 201 W. Mifflin St., off the Capitol Square) and search for articles about your organization in The Capital Times, The Madison Times, Isthmus etc. Or try on-line.

The ES will be 7-10 pages long, double-spaced, 12-point type, using reasonable margins and any standard form of citation. For whatever style, use both in-text parenthetical references and a reference list. For a guide on citing sources, see the Writing Center web page "FAQs about Documenting Sources" (www.wisc.edu/writing/FAQ/documentation.html). Turn your paper into the course drop box. Please use Word.

NOTE. For this assignment, do not dawdle on contacting your site. Along with more obvious reasons, procrastination puts more pressure on staffs that are short-handed and overworked. Contact them by the week of September 24th. If you do not, they have permission to ignore your requests to meet/talk with them. THIS IS ABOUT RESPECT—do not disrespect them by waiting until the last minute. In a similar vein, cell phones are NOT to be used at sites or in class.

3. Exam (20%): handed out December 5, December 10th(by 11 a.m. in drop box).

This is a take-home exam with two/three questions, where you use course material to examine an issue. It tests your understanding of concepts and how well you marshal them to address a real-life concern. Teamwork on answers is acceptable, but the final answer must be your own. Essay expectations are noted in #6.


4. Final Reflective Paper (40%): Due December 17, before 9 a.m. in the drop box

As a S-L course you work with one community organization and experience aspects of life for people of color and working class/poor people, notably around issues of affordable housing. The final paper involves taking journal material and describing your academic and personal growth over the semester. The format is similar to the journaling procedure: a- experience, b- course concepts, c- how a & b relate. The final paper is YOUR assessment of a & b & c for the semester. You tell me what you found to be the semester’s highlights.


5. Presentations to the Service Sites (December 12)

We will use the final week to offer the agencies an oral report of your semester’s experience. These talks are smaller versions of your final reflective paper, and will have two distinct parts: 1- How did your placement experience bring insight to course concepts? Was this related to any changes in how you understand your world and your place in it? Did you learn anything about yourself? 2- Any suggestion to the agency to enhance the experience of the next group of students who work there? Is there something about more/less supervision, more/different orientation to the program etc? Each talk will be about 5 minutes and its nature is limited only by your imagination. Please be prepared to hand your 1-3 page written critique to the agency representative.


6. Requirements for written assignments:

Written assignments are to be typed, carefully proofread and turned into your drop box. Always keep a copy of any item turned in for evaluation. I evaluate them according to the three C's:


a. Content or informative value - How well do you cover the basic concepts? Do you at least clearly restate basic information gathered from the readings and lectures? Do you show that you have read, understood and marshaled ALL relevant course material to make your point? (45%)

b. Creativity or originality of approach/ideas - What evidence is there to indicate that you have given the ideas critical thought? How does your thinking go beyond what you heard or read in class? Do you tie those ideas together in a unique way, for example, with new information (from another class perhaps) or with a new way of thinking about the subject? (30%)

c. Composition, grammar, syntax - How well do you organize and articulate all the above; do you explain/analyze/assess rather than merely describe or list your ideas? Do you show how they are interrelated? Do your thoughts hang together and make sense? (25%)

There is an attendance requirement. Whether starting late, getting sick, having to work, etc., you get three unexcused absences from class. On the fourth absence your grade drops by one letter. It's just like a job--after you use up your sick leave, it comes out of your check. Also, I reserve the right to mark you absent if you are chronically late or leave early, and if you are chronically negligent in doing class readings. I will send a sign-up sheet around each class period to check attendance. I strongly urge you to take another course if you are unable to commit to meeting these course requirements. Whatever you do, do not try to cheat on attendance or plagiarize your papers, for you will be expelled from school.

Course Readings and Material to Buy

Buy the texts at the University Book Store, 664 State Street (251-4444). Choose one of the following: There are no Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz, OR The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore. The former is about a family living in Chicago projects during the 1980s; the latter is the contrasting lives of two black men of the same name. Five other texts are required: Dolgon and Baker, 2011, Social Problems (hereafter D&B); Lareau, 2011, Unequal Childhoods; Paul Loeb, 2010, Soul of a Citizen; and Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001. Other readings are on e-reserve.


Outline of Course

Week of

9/3 Introduction: Race and America in the 21stCentury

9/10 Theories of Stratification; American Ideology

9/17 Introduction to Service-Learning/Theory; 1st journal due

9/24 Prejudice

10/1 Race and Ethnicity; 2ndjournal due

10/8 Discrimination; Executive Summary Due

10/15 Inequality Part II; 3rdjournal due;

10/22 Inequality: Part III

10/29 Inequality: Part IV 4thjournal due

11/5 Affirmative Action;

11/12 Social Mobility; 5thjournal due;

11/19 Student-determined discussions;

11/26 Whiteness; 6thjournal

12/3 Whiteness, Exam (handed out December 5, due the 10th)

12/10 Conclusions; 7thjournal

12/17 Final Paper Due in drop box by 10 a.m.

12/12 Final meeting with sites: 11-12:15 4207 H. C. White Hall





NOTE: + = on electronic reserve; # = on class web stie


WEEK OF September 3



I. Introductions

A. Introduction to Service-Learning (S-L)


  1. D & B: Introduction: page 2-17.

  2. Service Learning: Skim www.morgridge.wisc.edu/faculty/documents/booklet.pdf).

+3. R. Coles, “Method, pp. 1-30, from The Call of Service.


B. Introduction to Race


#1. D&B. Chapter 2: Who has and who doesn’t.

2. Loeb. 2010. Making Our Lives Count, pp. 21-41.

+3. Loewen. 1995. “Gone With the Wind.” In Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, pp. 131-165.


WEEK OF September 10

American Ideology and Race Relations: Part I: Overview and Theory

A. Theories


#1. Rothman, Chapter 2: “Theoretical Approaches to Social Stratification,” pp. 26-42.

+2. Rosenblum & Travis. 1996. “Constructing Categories of Difference.” In R&T (eds.), The Meaning of Difference, pp. 1-13, 22-31.

3. D&B. Chapter 1. “Do we make the world. . .”

4. Loeb. 2010. We Don’t Have to be Saints, pp. 42-63.



Feagin and Feagin. “Theoretical Perspectives in Race and Ethnic Difference.” In Pincus, pp. 41-57.


WEEK OF September 17

American Ideology and Race Relations: Part I

Activities: ***Visit From Service-Learning Sites***; First journal due


1. ***Must be signed-up at sites by next week. Contact sites for ExecSum by next week too***

2. Calculate Affordable Housing:

- Go to http://www.housingconnections.org/index.php?option=com_calculator. The figure tells you how much housing you can afford based on your income.


  1. Explore map: http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Madison-Wisconsin.html

  2. Loeb. 2010. One Step at a Time.

  3. Lareau 2011. Unequal Childhoods, Ch. 1.

  4. Lareau, 2011. Ch. 2.


WEEK OF September 24

American Ideology and Race Relations: Part I (contin.)

  1. Prejudice


#1. “Prejudice.” Pincus, pp. 61-64.

2. Loeb. 2010. The Cynical Smirk, pp. 82-104.

+3. Vedantam. 2005. “See No Bias.” Washington Post Magazine, Jan. 23.

#4a. Roth. “Racism and Traditional American Values.” Pincus, pp. 77-88 OR

+4b. J. Morgan. 2004. “Hip-Hop Feminist, in That’s the Joint, p. 277-281.

+5a. Bonilla-Silva. 2006. “Are Blacks Color Blind Too?” In Racism without Racists, pp. 151-173. OR

+5b. Meyer, “Intro: Keep this Neighborhood White” pp. 1-12, As Long as They Don’t Move Next Door.


WEEK OF October 1

American Ideology and Race Relations: Part II

A. Race & Ethnicity


#1. Ferrante and Brown. “Classifying People by Race.” Pincus, pp. 14-23. OR www.pbs.org/race/002_SortingPeople/002_00-home.htm

+2. Staples. 1996. “Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders. . . .” In Disch (ed), Reconstructing Gender, Pp. 191-194.

+3. Loeb. 2010. Unforeseen Fruits, pp. 105-124.

+4. Lusane. 2004. “Rap, Race and Politics.” In That’s the Joint! p. 351-361.


WEEK OF October 8

Realities of Racial/Class/Gender Differences: Patterns of Inequality: Part I


Activities: Executive Summary Due; read for W of next week: Barbara Ehrenreich, NICKLE AND DIMED



#1. Pincus. “From Individual to Structural Discrimination” Pincus, pp. 120-124.

2. D & B. “Finding Ourselves.” Pp. 119-142.

3. Loeb. 2010. The Call of Stories, pp. 125-161.

+4. A. Johnson. 1997. “Patriarchy, the System. . . .” Pp. 91-98. Disch (ed.), Reconstructing Gender.


WEEK OF October 15

Realities of Racial and Class Differences: Patterns of Inequality: Part II


+1. Korgen/White. 2007. “Sex, Gender, Power.” The Engaged Sociologist, p. 141-153.

2. Lareau. 2003. Ch. 5.

3. Loeb. 2010. Values, Work and Family, pp. 161-194.

4. Ehrenreich. NICKLE AND DIMED.


WEEK OF October 22

Realities of Racial Differences: Patterns of Inequality: Part III

Read: There are no children here or The Other Wes Moore for next week.


1. Lareau, 2011. Ch. 8.

2. Go through this exercise: http://playspent.org/

+3. Bonilla-Silva. 2006. “Peeking Inside the (White) House of Color Blindness.” In Racism without Racists, pp. 103-125.

+4. S. Rhea. 2002. “Black, White and Seeing Red All Over.” In When Race Becomes Real, pp. 193-205.


WEEK OF October 29

Realities of Racial and Class Differences: Patterns of Inequality: Part IV


1. Loeb. 2010. Widening the Circle, pp. 228-256.

2. D & B. Chapter 3: On the job.



WEEK of November 5

Realities of Racial Differences: Patterns of Inequality: Part V: Affirmative Action


1. D & B. Chapter 7: Why can’t Johnnie Read?

+2. McKinney. 2005. Ch. 5: “I was the loser in this rat race.” In Being White, pp. 149-163, 173-179.

  1. Loeb. 2010. Pieces of a Vision. Pp. 257-286.


WEEK OF November 12

Realities of Racial and Class Differences: Experiences

Activities: ****Visit from working class people****


I. Mobility

1. Rothman. Chapter 11: “Patterns of Social Mobility.” Pp. 222-240.

+2. Malveaux. 2002. “Race, Rage, and the Ace of Spades.” When Race Becomes Real. Pp. 101-110.

+3. Jensen. 2002. “Black and White.” When Race Becomes Real. Pp. 143-157.

4. Lareau. 2011. Ch. 3 OR

5. Lareau. 2011. Ch. 10.


WEEK OF November 19

Student-Lead Discussions: TBA

You will select the discussion topics this week. You may choose from the following options: crime, interracial marriage/friendships, relations between blacks and Asian Americans, hip-hop. If there is a groundswell for some other topic, I will gladly consider it.


  1. Loeb. 2010. Copping with Burnout, pp. 287-315.

  2. D & B. Chapter 8: What Price Justice? OR

  3. D & B. Chapter 10: The Whole Wide World Around.


WEEK OF November 26

Realities of Racial and Class Differences: White Identity I

Activities: Visit from Student SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) participants;


Readings: Whiteness

+1. McIntosh. 1988. “White Privilege and Male Privilege.”

+2. Barker. 1978. “For the White Person who wants to be my Friend. “ Pp. 215. Reconstructing Gender.

+3. Wise. 2002. “White Like Me: Race and Identity. . .” When Race Becomes Real. Pp. 225-239.

+4. Bonilla-Silva. 2006. “All Whites Refined Archie Bunkers”” In Racism w/o Racists, p. 131-147.


WEEK OF December 3

Realities of Racial and Class Differences: White Identity II

Activities: ***”The White Guys” visit class****

1. Loeb. 2010. The Fullness of Time, pp. 316-354.

+2. Waters. 1996. “Optional Ethnicities.” Pedraza & Riboud (eds.), pp. 444-454.

+3. Mckinney. 2005. “Being White is Like Being Free.” In Being White, pp. 191-200, 202-211, 220-226.

+4. M. Bush. 2002. “Breaking the Code of Good Intentions. . . .” Souls 4: 25-44.


**** EXAM HANDED OUT *** (handed Dec. 5, due December 10))


WEEK OF December 10

Conclusions/Wrap up (December 10)

Presentations to Service Sites (Dec. 12)

(4207 H. C. White, SLIS, 11-12:15)

****Final Paper due December 17 by 9 a.m. in the Drop down box of the class web site****

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