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EVERYDAY ANTIRACISM: Competence and Religion in the Cultural Repertoire of the African American Elite

  • Michèle Lamont (a1) and Crystal Marie Fleming (a1)

This exploratory study makes a contribution to the literature on antiracism by unpacking the cultural categories through which everyday antiracism is experienced and practiced by extraordinarily successful African Americans. Using a phenomenological approach, we focus on processes of classification to analyze the criteria that members of the African American elite mobilize to compare racial groups and establish their equality. We first summarize results from earlier work on the antiracist strategies of White and African American workers. Second, drawing upon in-depth interviews with members of the Black elite, we show that demonstrating intelligence and competence, and gaining knowledge, are particularly valued strategies of equalization, while religion has a subordinate role within their antiracist repertoire. Thus, gaining cultural membership is often equated with educational and occupational attainment. Antiracist strategies that value college education and achievement by the standards of American individualism may exclude many poor and working-class African Americans from cultural membership. In this way, strategies of equalization based on educational and professional competence may prove dysfunctional for racial solidarity.

Corresponding author
Professor Michèle Lamont, Department of Sociology, 510 William James Hall, 33 Kirkland Street, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail:
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An earlier version of this paper was delivered by the first author as a public lecture at the Institute for Advanced Study of Religion, Yale University, on May 3, 2001. Revisions benefited from comments from members of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University; the 2002–2003 Working Group on Identity and Difference, Center for Advanced Research in the Behavioral Sciences, the Department of Sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles; and the Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University. We particularly thank Larry Bobo for his helpful suggestions. This project was facilitated by support from the “Successful Societies” program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Studies, for which we are grateful.
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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
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