How high school girls perpetuate social spaces of racism, misogyny, and gender stereotyping despite their best intentions

Multicultural Girlhood

Racism, Sexuality, and the Conflicted Spaces of American Education

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Mary E. Thomas

"Given the institutionalization of multiculturalism, racialized school violence continues to baffle teachers, parents, and researchers alike. In Multicultural Girlhood, Mary Thomas addresses the question raised by the schoolgirls in her study: ‘Why can’t we just get along?’ Her provocative answer draws attention to the investment that we all have in hierarchies of difference. This book is a must read for anyone concerned about the limitations of current multicultural policies and practices."
Dawn H. Currie, Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia

High school turf wars are often a teenage rite of passage, but there are extremes—as when a race riot at a Los Angeles campus in the spring of 2005 resulted in a police lockdown. In her fascinating book, Multicultural Girlhood, Mary Thomas interviewed 26 Latina, Armenian, Filipina, African-American, and Anglo girls at this high school to gauge their responses to the campus violence. They all denounced the outbreak, calling for multicultural understanding and peaceful coexistence.

However, as much as the girls want everyone to just “get along,” they also exhibit strong racist beliefs and validate segregated social spaces on campus and beyond. How can teenagers and “girl power” work together to empower instead of alienate multicultural groups? In her perceptive book, Thomas foregrounds the spaces of teen girlhood and the role that space plays in girls' practices that perpetuate social difference, and she explains the ways we navigate the intellectual terrain between scholarship and school yard.



Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).



"Multicultural Girlhood is a totally outstanding book on several counts. It tackles head-on the problems and limits of facile discourses of multiculturalism. It refuses the deep, underlying tendency in Girlhood Studies to imagine that young women are somehow able to reach for and embody a feminist future. And it makes use of Butlerian psychoanalytic thinking to analyze a series of fascinating interviews with young, economically disadvantaged women, from different ethnic backgrounds, who are responding to the spatial dynamics of ethnic conflict in the Los Angeles school system."
Angela McRobbie , author of The Aftermath of Feminism

"In this multifaceted analysis, Thomas accomplishes a genuine assessment of the limited possibilities for addressing the realities of race, ethnicity, and poverty in urban schools using the current multicultural framework. Highly Recommended."

"In this carefully crafted and theoretically sophisticated study, Mary E. Thomas offers a much-needed critique of the limitations of multiculturalism to fight racism, sexism, misogyny, and violence in schools.... The innovative analyses offered from this study herald the centrality of new work by new theorists.... Thomas adds an exceptional and provocative study to our research on the politics in the urban U.S. schoolyard setting."
Contemporary Sociology

"Thomas challenges the common belief that multicultural education—whether based on understanding others, getting along and accepting others or developing respect-centered individual and group ethnic identities—can remedy school segregation and conflict.… Multicultural Girlhood is most provocative [when] Thomas shows how the girls unwittingly invest in racial conflict and segregation and how with such investment comes both positive and negative consequences…. Thomas' work is an important read…. It will give scholars and practitioners in the field of education much to ponder."
Social Forces



1. Introduction
2. Banal Multiculturalism and Its Opaque Racisms: New Racial Ideals and the Limits of “Getting Along”
3. The Sexual Attraction of Racism: The Latent Desires of “Boys Are stupid”
4. The Pain of Segregation: School Territoriality, Racial Embodiment, and Paranoid Geographies
5. Geographies of Migrant Girlhood: Families and Racialization
6. What Girls Want at School: Surveillance, Care, and a Predictable Space
7. Conclusion


About the Author(s)

Mary E. Thomas is Assistant Professor in the Departments of Geography and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University.

Subject Categories

Women's Studies

In the series

Global Youth, edited by Craig Jeffrey and Jane Dyson.

The Global Youth Series, edited by Craig Jeffrey and Jane Dyson, comprises research-based studies of young people in the context of global social, political and economic change. The series brings together work that examines youth and aspects of global change within sociology, anthropology, development studies, geography, and educational studies. Our emphasis is on youth in areas of the world that are often excluded from mainstream discussions of young people, such as Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, but we also welcome studies from Western Europe and North America, and books that bridge the global north and global south.



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