Fields Brings Black Identity Studies to Ignatius Seminar
Fields, the Idol Family Term Chair in the Department of Sociology, will lead the seminar “Blackness as an Organizing Strategy: Black Participation in Post-Civil Rights Social Movements,” open to incoming first-year students in the Fall 2018 semester.
RACE, CULTURE, AND SOCIETY
Fields arrived on the Hilltop last fall after spending six years at Stanford University.
He was drawn to both the faculty in the Department of Sociology and the university as a whole.
“There’s a contingent of young, next-generation scholars who are doing fun, interesting, theoretically compelling work here. The prospect of coming to join that crew was really appealing,” Fields. “The university itself also seemed committed to grappling with the same kind of issues that really animate my work — issues of race, culture, and society.”
ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM
Fields’ interest in unusual overlapping identities — as he puts it, “people who do things you wouldn’t expect them to do” — led him to conduct a yearlong academic study on young women who have taken up knitting. While working on that project, he started thinking about other similarly incongruous groups, eventually arriving at a unique specialty: Black Republicans.
“It’s not a monolithic experience. Black Republicans have lots of different experiences within the party, depending in part on their motivations for being there,” Fields said. “There’s a perception of Black Republicans having weak or nonexistent Black identities, and I haven’t found that to be the case at all.”
Fields published a book, Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American Republicans, in October 2016. While the national political landscape has shifted significantly since then, his insights are still very much applicable.
“Things have changed, but the broader themes of the book are actually playing out,” Fields said. “One of the biggest messages was that you will know Black Republicans by the white leadership of the party — and that’s certainly the case.”
In recent years, Fields has expanded his research on Black identity and shifted its focus to representation of Blackness in the commercial spheres. He’s well suited to study the subject, having worked for six years in advertising before pursuing a graduate degree.
“I wanted to look at a context where racial identity operates almost like a human capital skill,” Fields said. “If Coca-Cola or McDonalds says ‘We want to market our products to black audiences in a compelling way,’ a black advertising agency can say ‘Hey, we can do this.’”
Fields will explore multiple levels of Blackness in advertising, from the experience of Black people working in agencies to the mainstreaming of multicultural marketing to the incorporation of race issues into business culture.
“I’m really excited about that project — I think it’ll start to explore the ways race gets incorporated into the institutional missions and business practices of companies, not just at the individual worker level” he said.
— Patrick Curran