Vanesa Ribas. On the Line: Racial Boundaries at Work in the New South

Monday, April 4, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall


On the Line: Racial Boundaries at Work in the New South

Recent research suggests that, while Latino/a migrants are “successfully” becoming a part of the Southern working class, African Americans facing economic competition react with an exclusionary posture towards Latino migrants. Ominously, researchers have found that Latinos in the U.S. South perceive greater discrimination from African Americans than from whites, and express feeling greater social distance from the former than the latter. Such findings cement the scholarly and popular view that conflict rooted in economic competition is endemic to relations between Latinos and African Americans, perhaps even more so in the South, where African Americans are concentrated. In marked contrast to these fears and conclusions, and drawing on ethnographic research over sixteen months embedded as a regular production worker in a large North Carolina meatpacking plant, I find that African American workers do not talk or behave as if they are especially threatened by economic, political, or cultural competition from Latinos/migrants. On the other hand, Latina/os’ orientation to African Americans is profoundly racialized. Their language and action reflects and reinforces ethnoracial boundaries between Latinos and African Americans, expresses their determination to achieve incorporation as nonblacks, and may bolster the dominance of whites and whiteness in the emerging order. How these groups differently experience and respond to oppressive exploitation in the workplace is a fundamental – indeed, constitutive – aspect of this story. As such, an important implication of my findings is that, by ensuring and extending the workplace rights and protections of all workers – regardless of employment authorization status – a fundamental basis for conflict between Latinos and African Americans might be neutralized.

Vanesa Ribasis Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at UC San Diego and she received her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012. Her book, On the Line: Slaughterhouse Lives and the Making of the New South (UC Press, December 2015), examines Latina/o migration to the American South, labor exploitation, and race relations in a large meatpacking plant. Other research has appeared in the American Sociological Review (with Neal Caren and Raj Ghoshal), Social Science and Medicine (with Janette Dill and Philip Cohen), Teaching Sociology (with Raj Ghoshal et al.), and Sociological Perspectives (with Raj Ghoshal).