To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Professor Sarah Mayorga: understanding inequality and how whiteness shapes Latinx communities

Professor Sarah Mayorga (SOC), a sociology professor at Brandeis, explains in an email interview with The Brandeis Hoot, that she grew up in Miami and explains that she got involved in sociology because “it helped me understand my experiences as a Latina in a predominantly white college. Studying Latinx populations has always been a central focus for me and understanding racial inequality is a key part of that story.” She took various sociology courses during undergrad that sparked her interest in sociology. 

Mayorga earned her PhD at Duke University and worked with Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. In 2010, Mayorga interviewed members of the community in Durham, North Carolina to understand more about why they decided to live in this community. Many people said they wanted to live in a racially and ethnically diverse place and also mentioned the term “urban white.” Mayorga wanted to understand more about the relationships between white people and people of color. She found that there was a disconnect between white people and people of color and she did not understand why. She analyzed liberal urban whites in racially diverse areas, such as Creekridge Park, and their words regarding relationships with people of color. Many white residents described the neighborhood as very diverse but did not interact with any people of color. In addition, white people described the relationships between them and people of color as “neighborships” rather than friendships, which was an interesting and strange distinction. Although Creekridge Rark is considered racially diverse, in reality, it is essentially segregated. She wrote about this phenomenon and others in a book called “Behind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood.” 

Through her research, Mayorga hopes to understand more about the reality we live in. She hopes that people reading her work are able to more thoroughly understand the world we live in. She highlights, “Once we better understand how inequality works, we can imagine and work towards different realities.”

Mayorga is driven by the belief that the current reality we live in is not the way the world has to be. She is interested in understanding how power works so we are better able to challenge it. 

While studying communities, Mayorga has found that, “what people say and what people do are not always the same. But rather than call people hypocrites, my job as a sociologist is to understand how words and actions that might seem contradictory actually make sense to individuals. That’s how I came to my understanding of diverse ideology, for example, which is the term I use to describe how we talk about diversity and its disconnect from racial justice.

Mayorga has a particular interest in studying white people in multiracial spaces. Whiteness surrounds and shapes everyone, therefore, in her future work, Mayorga plans to look at how whiteness shapes Latinx communities. She hopes to unpack what studying white Latinxs can uncover regarding white supremacy. 

Currently, Mayorga is working on her second book, which studies how racial capitalism shapes the life in two working-class neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio. She explains, “I hope it will be a good introduction for people who are interested in understanding how racial capitalism creates everyday harm in cities, but also how we can imagine and work towards more just alternatives.” Hopefully, individuals can work towards a world where racial inequality is no longer present and everyone lives in harmony.

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