When researchers analyze race and organizations they primarily do so at the individual level. Sociological studies confirm that organizations produce inequality or systematic disparities between racial groups. In particular, all else being equal, Whites have far better experiences and outcomes with the organizations – firms, schools, hospitals, etc. – that we have come to depend upon for our livelihood than racial minorities.
Though necessary, focusing on the individual level has its limitations.By confining race to an individual level property, we highlight the reality that people have a race and this influences their organizational experiences. Yet, this is just one of the many ways that race intersects with organizations. If we situate race as a property that operates at other, higher levels of analyses we can develop an even deeper understanding of how race affects organizations.
There have been few efforts to conceive of race as a characteristic that organizations also possess or at the very least a characteristic that exists at the institutional level with which organizations must contend. In the United States especially, this belies our history. Homer Plessy and Rosa Parks both chose organizations – the East Louisiana Railroad and the Montgomery Bus Line respectively – as sites to challenge racial practices. In both instances, defying an organizational rule reshaped the discourse and laws pertaining to race, regionally first, then nationally.
A ruling against Homer Plessy’s constitutional right to sit in the “Whites Only” car had far reaching consequences, most of which were enacted through organizations. This ruling racially marked organizations and organizational practices as “Black” or “White”, essentially “racing” organizations. Despite the undoing of legally sanctioned racial segregation, we continue to use such demarcations to classify organizations – Black colleges (e.g., Howard University, Hampton University) or Black media companies (e.g., Ebony, The Root).
Sociology is ill equipped to explain how a person’s quest to sit wherever they choose could have such far-reaching consequences in part because there has been little effort to build bridges between those studying the problems of race and those studying the problems of organizing. Consequently, we cannot adequately speak to how race affects organizations, markets, or institutions with the same confidence that we can for people.
The mini-conference would bring together scholars to interrogate the relationship between race and the organizing process for the founding of organizations, the organizational pursuit of human, financial, or political resources, organizational choices regarding strategic orientation and structural configurations, and the role of institutional logics that saturate organizations, industries, and markets with racialized ideologies, among other topics.