Hello everyone! I’m Fabio Rojas, Sociologist and Professor at Indiana University Bloomington.

I’m the author of “From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

In honor of Black History Month, I thought it would be fun to visit Reddit for a conversation on this topic, on the history of the civil rights movement more broadly, and how these play into the social change we are seeing today.

Ask me anything!

EDIT: I’m going to wrap up the AMA for now. Thanks to everyone who participated—the questions were great! I may check back a bit later today and answer a few more questions if any new ones have trickled in. And thanks to Learn Liberty as well for arranging the AMA. If you’re interested in learning more about my work relating to the civil rights movement, I would invite you to check out the episode of Learn Liberty Live that I recently did with them. You can see their other videos at /r/learnliberty.

Comments: 109 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

Corydoran33 karma

Hello, Dr. Rojas.

How do you think the Black Lives Matter movement will be viewed 25 years from now in the context of civil rights?

fabiorojas_sociology18 karma

Great question. In some ways, BLM will be seen as a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. BLM seeks racial equality and pushes back against policies that are thought to target African-Americans. In other ways, BLM might be seen divergent from the Civil Rights movement because of its focus on cultural nationalism.

-UncleRapey-27 karma

How can you compare all the good Martin Luther King did to what these people do?

note the sign that reads kill cops

fabiorojas_sociology28 karma

Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and BLM were deeply concerned with how the police interact with minority communities. Furthermore, many BLM activists adhere to a philosophy of non-violent protest advocated by King and his allies in the Southern Christian Leadership Council. There are clearly points of departure between classic civil rights activism and BLM, but there is overlap as well.

Creepfaster4 karma

What are those policies that are thought to target black people?

fabiorojas_sociology1 karma

The most common example is racial profiling.

Judge_of_Java19 karma

In one of your answers, you briefly touched upon the fact that mass incarceration affects African Americans and Latinos disproportionately. How much of this is due to culture, as opposed to some vague idea of institutional racism?

For instance, 72% of African American children grow up in single parent households. Statistically, single parent households are among the poorest demographics regardless of race, and it's been shown that there exists a correlation between poverty and increased crime rates.

I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts, since (from what I can tell) society at large would rather ignore what I just said and focus on what everyone else can hand out to those who feel oppressed.

I apologize in advance if I come across as inflammatory. If I did, it wasn't my intention.

fabiorojas_sociology6 karma

We know from research on the penal system that race correlates with harsher charges for similar infractions (see Rehavi and Starr's work, for example), often correlates with longer sentences for similar convictions, and so forth. This suggests that at least some the variance in criminal justice outcomes might be due to systematic differences in how people are treated.

omgwtf56k18 karma

How much are you charging for your textbooks? Do you feel any responsibility for the punishing cost of higher education?

fabiorojas_sociology22 karma

Prices for textbooks are set by publishers, not authors. Since textbooks are often required for classes, publishers can often charge higher prices for them. You can go to Amazon to see how much publishers charge for the books I have written.

Energy_User14 karma

Hi, thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. What is the best way you could describe racial equality; what does it look like, how does it impact cultural status quo, how do we go about implementing it, and is there a way to do so without "lessening the equality" of other racial groups to achieve a neutrality?

fabiorojas_sociology16 karma

Hi, thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. What is the best way you could describe racial equality; what does it look like, how does it impact cultural status quo, how do we go about implementing it, and is there a way to do so without "lessening the equality" of other racial groups to achieve a neutrality

Thanks for the note. Equality would mean that people are judged on their actions, not their social status. What does it look like? Hard to tell, but we have hints. For example, some institutions are better at addressing inequality than others (such as the US Military). What matters is explaining to people how the rewards you get are tied to your actions.

Energy_User13 karma

So, are you saying that a meritocracy would be a better way to implement a sense of cultural and societal worth? How is it possible to overcome what seems to be a natural predisposition towards forming groups and order from perceived accumulated generalities and commonalities (aka stereotypes)?

fabiorojas_sociology11 karma

There is no easy answer. But first, try to enforce rules that are transparent. Second, try to get people to break out of their small social networks. For example, a lot of occupations are built on social ties, which tend to be mono-racial. Third, try to create a new sense of in-group and out-group. Religions, for example, are good at getting people to see each other in terms of an in group.

fabiorojas_sociology11 karma

Racial equality means that people are judged on actions, not their social status. It is hard to tell what it looks like, since it is so rare. We have some evidence. I think we can promote equality without lessening others by focusing on actions and responding thoughtfully to perceived and real discrimination. Thanks for asking!

jabanobotha12 karma

What is your opinion of race relations today and to what do you credit the current state?

fabiorojas_sociology20 karma

I believe that we are in much better shape than we were decades ago. For example, legalized segregation is thankfully a thing of the past. It is hard to find people who would say that we would be better off returning to the pre-Civil Rights era. At the same time, there are some bad developments. For example, mass incarceration mainly affects African Americans and Latinos. There is also the issue of immigration. The harsh and draconian immigration policies of the last few years have fallen mainly on Mexican and Central American migrants. So, yes, I am clearly happy that we live in a post-Civil Rights world. It is a huge improvement. At the same time, there is still a lot of work to be done.

In terms of causes, there are many. Scholars who study mass incarceration note that it stems from concerns about drugs, harsh sentencing aimed at specific populations, and the public's willingness to tolerate these policies.

Curveball1411 karma

Many classical liberals charge that some civil rights legislation violates the rights White Americans. They see affirmative action as legal discrimination against Whites, the outlawing of racially restrictive covenants as infringing freedom of association, etc. Do they have a point? Shouldn't private citizens and businesses have the right to discriminate?

fabiorojas_sociology44 karma

You have to be careful here. There is generally not legislation that mandates affirmative action. For example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not mention it. Affirmative action is a range of policies developed by private and public groups to address real and perceived discrimination. In my personal view, some types are more justified than others. For example, some institutions have tried to set up quota systems, which seems unwise to me. However, in other cases affirmative action means that the decision maker (a college admissions committee) consider that people from certain economic or social backgrounds may not have identical opportunities (e.g., not all high schools have AP courses). Being more sensitive in college admission to the fact that many African Americans don't come from well funded high schools seems like a reasonable thing to consider.

baggytheo9 karma

Hello Professor Rojas,

A question for you on sociology more broadly: why do you think it is that insights from some of the 20th century's greatest economists (particularly Hayek and Mises) haven't seen a great deal of penetration into the discipline, when it seems like they would be highly relevant and informative to so many of the questions that sociologists grapple with today?

fabiorojas_sociology17 karma

Another great question. Here are my thoughts: a lot of sociology was initially framed as a response or critique to industrialization. So, you would not expect a lot of sociologist to embrace economic theory. But, at the same time, there seems to be a lot of similarity between some types of economics and sociology. For example, Hayek's most important idea is that society is a spontaneous order built from evolved norms and relationships. This is very similar to modern sociology, which sees society as built up from a web of decentralized social relations. I hope that there can be more contact between sociology and various schools of economics, such as Austrianism.

baggytheo5 karma

Great answer, thanks!

To go a little bit further, do you see an interplay between concepts from behavioral economics and public choice economics, and the models that are used in the field of sociology? And do you see these ideas having an influence on the sociology field in the future?

fabiorojas_sociology12 karma

Is there a huge opportunity for public choice and behavioral economics to impact sociology? Absolutely. Sociologists are very comfortable with describing agents who have biases and misaligned incentives. Sadly, there seems to be a cultural divide between economists and sociologists, where we see each other as competitors rather than allies. I hope that will change.

fabiorojas_sociology9 karma

My mistake - the AMA is longer. I will answer questions below!

IDKin20167 karma

Do you think a splintering in the African diaspora might be likely? exmp, Black Americans or West Indians wishing to identify solely as people of their respective locations and not at all tied to or related to the continent.

Will black unity/pan-africanism remain important aspects of the african and african diaspora worldview in the future?

Do you think african diaspora/african culture is resilient enough to weather out the current times we live in and do you have a view on what direction it might take in the future?

Seeing it's negative reception in online chat sites and casual conversation circles, does Afro-centrism hold any merit in academic circles? Has it changed anything in Academia?

What would you advise individual(s) who want to empower and enlighten black men and women worldwide to be able to fully grasp the value of the internet and technology/science so that they may be able to use it as a positive tool to create change in their lives?

What books would you recommend to young adults of African heritage?

fabiorojas_sociology10 karma

  1. Most people will assimilate into the host nation. So my expectation is that division between Caribbeans, Africans, and African Americans are likely to mitigate after a generation or two.

  2. Black unity and pan-Africanism will continue to have many adherents. Michael Dawson's book on black public opinion delves into this. For example, Black Lives Matter might be viewed in this perspective. They certainly present themselves in that way.

  3. Currently, my observation is that afro-centrism is not very popular in the academy. It has, however, created a generation of scholar who question the European orientation of many academic traditions.

  4. That's a broad question. The Internet is so amazing and so accessible that it is hard to now where to start. All I can say is that people should be proud of who they are and proud of what they can achieve.

  5. Octavia Butler; the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.; the writings of Frederick Douglass.

Sumidiotdude6 karma

Do you like the book The Giver? I remember reading it for my Sociology class.

fabiorojas_sociology7 karma

Sorry, but I have not read that book!

Sumidiotdude10 karma

What's a book that's easy to comprehend that you recommend for someone who is new to sociology?

fabiorojas_sociology14 karma

Great question! I might recommend some of Malcolm Gladwell's books. I may not agree with everything he has written, but he is great at explaining social science, and sociology in particular, in a way that is accessible. I might also recommend a book like Six Degrees of Separation or Connected, which presents social network analysis (an important part of sociology) in an accessible way. Matt Desmond's Evicted is a nice example of recent work that explores the effect of poverty on people, focusing on housing.

Phresh_Prince6 karma

I read Outliers of his and loved it! If you don't mind me asking, what are some critiques you have of Outliers? I reference it frequently.

fabiorojas_sociology4 karma

I really enjoy Malcom Gladwell's work, so I don't want to be too harsh, but I think there is more to be said about how to move from average to above average. Very few of us are outliers - by definition!

Sumidiotdude4 karma

Thank you so much!

fabiorojas_sociology5 karma

You are welcome!

Plinkplonk30306 karma

So what do you think about the claims that alot of sociology professors are more concerned with indoctrinating students to an ideology rather than teaching from a neutral standpoint and introducing conflicting opinions thus promoting independent thought?

fabiorojas_sociology7 karma

In every discipline, there are some instructors who choose to indulge their own proclivities. It is also true that most sociologists are politically liberal But I have found that most sociology classes actually teach sociology!

artcurious5 karma

How good or bad do you think race relations are now compared to the last 50 years? What makes today's race relations unique from other eras throughout history?

fabiorojas_sociology4 karma

Great question - see above! Much better, but we have a lot of work to do.

true_spokes5 karma

In my English class, we spent last week contrasting various speeches from the Civil Rights movement. We ended up talking a lot about the role of the media in presenting direct actions to the American public, and how MLK's brand of civil disobedience wouldn't have been nearly so effective without the eyes of the news cameras immortalizing their bravery and self-control.

Do you feel that movements like Black Lives Matter are leveraging media technology as effectively as their forebears? Has the recent concern over partisan reporting and fake news influenced how social justice advocates are perceived by the general public?

fabiorojas_sociology9 karma

  1. It is different now than in 1965. Back then, people were just learning how to use TV as a way to project a movement. Now, everyone is way more experienced. Also, in an age of social media, people get desensitized.

artcurious4 karma

What is government's proper role in race relations? Has government done more to help or hurt our progress towards unity and understanding?

fabiorojas_sociology17 karma

When the state ensures the protection of all people in society, it is a great help. When the state is asked to choose and pick certain people, then it can be problematic.

illgetup_andflyaway4 karma

Hi professor,

What role does class play in race relations?

Have you ever experienced an uncomfortable situation/setting when discussing your research or race in general with a group ? Thanks

fabiorojas_sociology12 karma

  1. Among sociologists, it is commonly believed that social class can change racial dynamics. For example, a wealthy person may feel less discrimination than a working class person.

  2. Yes. I think a lot of academic feel uncomfortable talking about race. But we work hard at trying to be professional when discussing sensitive topics.

The_Dawkness3 karma

Are you glad that Frederick Douglass is getting recognized more and more these days for the work he's doing? /s

On a serious note, was there much cooperation between the black power movement and the SDS, and if so how did those movements effect each other?

fabiorojas_sociology2 karma

The SDS and Black Power movements did overlap in time and there is evidence that people in one movement attend events in the other movement. I should not that by the time the Black Power movement appeared circa 1966, SDS was already getting shaky.

owlcrackpot3 karma

Very interesting set of responses and questions...still wanted to ask if you were aware/had an opinion on the recent black british studies degree in England? Has black studies successfully dealt with the black experience in other countries as a discipline?

fabiorojas_sociology4 karma

  1. I have heard of the degree but I have not looked into it. I wish them the best of luck.

  2. Black Studies has moved in the direction of "Diaspora Studies" to properly contextualize the Black experience across the world. It is a very promising avenue of thought.

Thanks for asking.

Yeash2 karma

Hello Prof. Rojas! As a fellow academic from Brazil we have now a black movement and a distinctive black aesthetic afirmation which are both mainly centered in black American(USA) culture and social movement simbologism. How do you think relationships work on this national level, do you think that there is a movement of reciprocity? Moreover, what are the effects of this simbolic influence in your opinion? And (last question!) do you feel that we should regain inside the black movement and studies the importance of Ancestrality, African roots and tradicional oral knowlegde? Thank for the great debate proposition, hope i didnt arrive too late! A sincere LatinoAmefrican hug!

fabiorojas_sociology1 karma

  1. The movement for Black freedom has always had an international dimension, from King using Ghandi's nonviolence to Black Power activists appropriating Mao's socialism. Each generation has to figure out for themselves what they can take from the movements of other nations and what they need to develop on their own.

  2. Oral tradition is extremely important, especially in the Diaspora. I would see it as a positive development if Black Studies more fully integrated oral traditions into its repertoire.

Solvagon2 karma

Professor Rojas, thank you for doing this AMA!

I am very curious about the circumstances of shifts in societies / public perception - what would you say were the most important factors that lead to the civil rights movement rising up at the time when it did? Which institutions were essential to its formation?

fabiorojas_sociology7 karma

We have had a lot of great questions. The classic civil rights movement (1950s) appeared after two things happened: the decades long development of Black political groups (like the NAACP and various churches) and the global attention given to American segregation (e.g., the Soviets could accuse Americans of hypocrisy). Also, there was a modest shift in public opinion, which helped Civil Rights groups enormously.

Solvagon3 karma

Also, there was a modest shift in public opinion, which helped Civil Rights groups enormously.

Could you elaborate / speculate on the causes of this shift? How did rhetoric in e.g. media change?

fabiorojas_sociology5 karma

According to political scientist Taeku Lee (whose book describes this shift), local activism (e.g., court cases, protest) slowly chipped away at public opinion outside the South. This built up over time, and created a political system a little more open to reform. Also, the adoption of Ghandian non-violence helped enormously. It is hard to trash people who adopt a Christian, pacifist stance in the media.

Solvagon2 karma

I assume this is the monography you mentioned? I will look into it, thank you.

Taeku Lee, 2002. Mobilizing Public Opinion: Black Insurgency and Racial Attitudes in the Civil Rights Era. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Also, the adoption of Ghandian non-violence helped enormously.

That sounds very logical - thank you for your time and your answers!

fabiorojas_sociology2 karma

You're welcome!

tennmyc212 karma

Hello Dr. Rojas! I was reading I've Got the Light to Freedom by Charles Payne, and one thing he said really interested me. Essentially, he said that the fact that lynchings were happening all over the south in the 1950s-1960s was not unique by any manner, but what was unique was that the national news actually started covering them.

Frankly, it feels similar to what is going on now with Black people and police brutality/violence. I'm sure there's no more or less of it happening now that in the last 20 years or so, but all of a sudden people/the media care enough to pay attention.

Anyway, just curious about your thoughts. Does the media need to cover these events for them to grow into a social movement? Does social media kind of negate the "mainstream media"?

Lastly, Payne also argues that grassroots movements are really what drove the Civil Rights Movement. That these smaller movements acted as a coercive pressure on federal government. Thoughts on how that mimics today's political atmosphere?

fabiorojas_sociology2 karma

Excellent point. A major argument in research on social movements is that movements need allies in the media. This was certainly the case in the Civil Rights movement.

Well, BLM is grassroots by most accounts. We'll have to see if they develop in a way that allows them to systematically apply pressure for state and federal agencies.