Race and racism in women-dominated progressive organizations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Burdick


Race, Racism, Women-dominated, Progressive organizations

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology | Women's Studies


Many white-dominated social movement organizations have begun translating their concern with racial diversity into strategies as diverse as recruiting people of color and analyzing white privilege in the organization's social networks, decision-making structures, and resource allocation. Why do social movement organizations seek to become racially diverse? What strategies do they choose, and how do these strategies impact racism within their organization and in broader society? I investigated these questions during fifteen months of ethnographic research in a mid-size city in upstate New York. My research sites were three politically progressive women-dominated organizations which others viewed as racial diversity "success stories."

I discovered that the two organizations whose stated goal was community-building developed weaker cross-racial networks than did the group focusing on an external goal--the welfare system. This is due in part to group members' shared identity as oppressed welfare recipients. I found that in all three groups, social networks tended to fracture along class lines. My findings suggest that shared class-based identity forms a firmer basis for social networks than does shared racial identity. A third finding concerns the limits of racial identity. Simply counting the number of African-Americans in a traditionally white group tells us very little about the extent of racism or white privilege in the group, because a group may support identities such as homosexuality or disability which are marginalized in the mainstream African-American community.


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