Harvard University professor of social sciences Lawrence D. Bobo will give the 10th annual Shirley Kennedy Memorial Lecture today in the MultiCultural Center Theater, addressing contemporary issues of race and politics within American society.
The lecture, titled “Postracial Nation: Blacks, Laissez Faire Racism, and a Changing American Population,” will address the evolution of racial dynamics in the United States and assert that future work needs to be done to achieve a truly “postracial” society. Bobo’s research at Harvard, which focuses on American racial issues and their relation to social inequality, has appeared in articles in several academic publications, including the American Sociological Review, American Political Science Review and Social Psychology Quarterly, among many others.
The esteemed professor is the co-author of the award-winning book Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, as well as the founding editor of the DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race, and member of several renowned scholarly organizations — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has taught at UCLA, the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Stanford University.
The late professor Shirley Kennedy, for whom the lecture series was started, taught classes in the UCSB Black Studies department focusing on race and politics. Kennedy became an important figure within the university and greater Santa Barbara community through her work advocating the rights of women and people of color. After her passing in 2003, the Center for Black Studies Research established an annual lecture in her honor, attracting a wide variety of scholars and activists to speak.
Black Studies professor Christopher McAuley said the annual lectures are continued as a special tribute to Kennedy, as she spent an exceptional amount of time working to better the community.
Professor Bobo said his research directly aligns with Kennedy’s mission to combat deep-seated problems within society.
“From what I understand of her efforts and contribution and activities over the years, I think that she was someone seriously engaged with issues of race and social justice,” Bobo said. “This is a talk that is deeply animated by those sorts of concerns.”
However, Bobo said his lecture also draws attention to the additional actions that should be taken to create the sort of fair and equal American society outlined and pushed forward by the Civil Rights movement.
“If we really are committed to becoming a postracial society — one that actually achieves the full meaning of Dr. King’s dream — there is still a lot to do, and we need a clear-eyed, honest assessment of what still remains to be done.”
A “postracial” society is one in which issues of inequality and racial tension are genuinely being resolved, according to Bobo, who said such a society would lack historic racial prejudices.
“It would mean that the U.S. has reached a stage of development with regards to civil rights, inequality … that we no longer need to worry about the old racial injustices and discrimination and biases,” Bobo said. “That we’re at a stage where things are either largely healed, or in the process of healing themselves.”
Bobo said he intends to provide an opposing viewpoint to the idea that the United States has achieved the status of a postracial society.
Through a research method that synthesizes his findings in multiple academic fields — including sociology, political science, psychology and history — Bobo will encourage audience members to think critically about the current social landscape of the U.S. Along with such critical thought, Bobo also wants attendees to see that social progress regarding these issues has not yet reached “the finish line.”
Black Studies associate professor Roberto Strongman said the Center for Black Studies Research chose Bobo to speak not only because of his academic accomplishments but also because of his ability to reach a variety of audiences.
“I think that he’s somebody who can really translate knowledge from popular culture to the academy, and from the academy to the broader culture,” Strongman said. “So he’s someone who can really bridge a lot of audiences, and I think that that was an aspect of Shirley Kennedy’s life work.”
The Center for Black Studies Research was founded in 1968 and combines research with outreach, hosting a number of events intended to engage the student body and provide a welcoming environment, Strongman said.
Bobo said he intends to further that outreach with his talk and added that he hopes students will feel inspired to further investigate the issues his lecture touches on.
“I certainly hope that students attend the talk,” Bobo said. “I hope they find it engaging, and I hope they ask tough questions — both of me and of others with whom they have differing viewpoints.”
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of the May 16th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.