Foundation series

Russell Sage Foundation Selects UM Professor as Visiting Scholar

Staff report

University of Mississippi

James M. Thomas, a professor at the University of Mississippi, travels to New York to continue his exploration of how white Southerners make sense of race and racism.

The associate professor of sociology is among 14 fellows selected by the Russell Sage Foundation as part of its 2022-23 Visiting Scholars Program. The fellows, which include researchers from Columbia, Georgetown, Vanderbilt and Yale, will travel to the foundation’s headquarters in New York for their residencies.

“Southern whites have conflicting and complicated opinions about their place in the American social hierarchy,” Thomas said. “But they are often portrayed monolithically by lay people because they are seen through a single lens.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen dog whistles turn into fog horns, and I want to understand how white Southerners make sense of everything they bear witness to – America in a melting pot space.”

This is the latest in a series of research by Thomas on racism through time. Other projects include the racial formation of medieval Jews and how contemporary urban nightlife “reproduces images about race and racism”.

In October, the National Science Foundation also funded his research on Southern whites. Since then, a research team led by Thomas has interviewed rural residents in Mississippi and Memphis and analyzed their responses.

“The Russell Sage Visiting Scholar Award is a prestigious honor that recognizes the high caliber of Dr. Thomas’ work as a scholar,” said Jeffrey T. Jackson, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“It reflects well on the University of Mississippi and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology as places where cutting-edge research on race and racism is taking place and making a difference.”

Established in 1907, the foundation aims to improve social and living conditions in the United States through the social sciences. It does this by supporting work focused on methods, data and theory to better understand and help societal issues. Nowadays, nine former Visiting Scholars have won Nobel Prizes.