Published: Sept. 29, 2021

Dr. Megan R. Underhill
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of North Carolina, Asheville


Thurs., Nov. 18 at 12:30PM MST


Becoming Woke: White Racial Socialization During the Era of Black Lives Matter


Images from the 2020 George Floyd protests featured an unusual sight: throngs of white people brandishing Black Lives Matter signs marching in city streets across the country and the world. In the weeks following Floyd’s death, book sales on racism and anti-racism also soared. White Americans who identified as social and political progressives formed book clubs and began posting on social media about “systemic racism” and “white privilege,” concepts that had little currency among this population previously. These behaviors were not only surprising, they were also disconcerting to some Americans, begging the question about what these new developments meant. Had white people finally awakened to racial inequality in the United States or was their presence at these rallies little more than a performative display of virtue signaling, pursued to communicate their status as a white person “on the right side of history”? 

Becoming Woke provides some insight into these questions. Drawing on interviews conducted in 2019 with 50 white parents from Asheville, North Carolina, this talk traces the development of this white racial awakening among a subgroup of people tasked with raising the next generation of white Americans. In this talk, I explore how the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of the Trump presidency inspired a subset of self-identified “liberal” white parents to embark upon a frenetic racial re-socialization that altered how parents thought about race, racism and whiteness, and how they communicated this information to their children. I also examine if and how white parents new racial awareness translated into anti-racist action outside of the home. 

Findings from my research suggest that white parents awareness of racial inequality grew during this period of time, but that it rarely resulted in transformative change, due to parents’ inability to establish relationships across the color-line, their individualized notions of anti-racism and anti-racist action, and their reluctance to relinquish their racial and class privileges. 


Megan R. Underhill earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Cincinnati in 2016. Since then, she has been employed as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina Asheville where she teaches courses on race and racism, social inequality, and social and cultural theory. Megan's research focuses on understanding how white parents communicate ideas about race, racism, and whiteness to their white children. Her scholarship has appeared in numerous academic journals including City and CommunityContextsEthnic and Racial Studies, and Sociology of Race and Ethnicity as well as public outlets such as The Washington Post.