By Raihaana Peera
“Why is race a subject most people are afraid of discussing?” I pondered this question as I spoke with Dr. Nick Vargas, an assistant professor of sociology at the UT Dallas, about the SOC 3325-Race, Ethnicity, and Community class he is teaching this spring. Dr. Vargas says he has two main goals for this class. His first goal is to make people aware of not just the historical aspects of race, but how race continues to be a major component of the structure of today’s society. “Race is not static,” Dr. Vargas clarifies. He continues to explain that race is not something that is definite; rather it is a socially constructed concept that constantly changes over time. The second goal for the class, he says, is to make people more comfortable to talk about race.
I come from a multi-racial background as a Massachusetts born Muslim, raised in eastern Saudi Arabia by my Brooklyn raised-second generation Italian mother and my Pakistani father, and thus excited to further understand the depth of the issue of race. The United States is known to be a melting pot of races from around the world. The diversity in this country is not a recent happening. This country was formed on the values and ideas that would provide all immigrants equal opportunities to pursue their “American Dream.” Ironically, history has not played out that way. Race always has been, and still is, a construct that is deeply engrossed into the American society. We might assume that having a half-black president, we are now in a post-racial era. Understandably, sociologist Dr. Vargas disagrees. His research areas include race, ethnicity, and immigration. And according to Dr. Vargas, racial inequality is more prevalent in today’s American society than people think.
The book Dr. Vargas has chosen for this class is: Racial Domination, Racial Progress: The Sociology of Race in America by Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer. Unlike most other books on race, he explains that he prefers this book because it does not pick apart each race to discuss separately. The various races are a system of socially related entities, and although each race has its own differences, the book discusses how race in general relates to political, economic, educational, and legal institutions. I inquired about the structure of this class to which Dr. Vargas replies that there will be weekly quizzes in class over the assigned readings, a few tests over the semester, and a lot of class discussions. He encourages students to share their thoughts and ideas over the readings and to open up on the cautiously discussed issue of race. Towards the end of the semester, after thoroughly deliberating over the issue of race, Dr. Vargas said we would discuss the approaches we can use in refining racial inequality. “This is one of my favorite classes to teach,” he admits. I have not taken the class yet, but I know it will be a favorite for me as well.
Raihaana Peera is a freshman majoring in public affairs.