My field of expertise is race and ethnic relations— for over 30 years I have been a student of racism and antiracism.
Life-changing experiences as a teenager sparked my passion to study racism through the field of sociology,
and as a college professor, award-winning author, community educator and activist I have been
practicing servant leadership ever since.
Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class
The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change with
Joseph Healey (Sage, 2018)
Featured on What's the 411 with Sharon Kay, Jazzy 88 WFSK,
Nashville, TN, March 11 , 2015. Learn more here
"Joseph F. Healey and Eileen O'Brien's Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and
Class, Seventh Edition once again uses sociological perspectives to
tell the story of race and other socially constructed inequalities with
consistency and clarity. "
"In this brilliant and pioneering book, O'Brien provides the first study of antiracist activists. Using innovative field research, O'Brien shows how individual and group acts of resistance are critical to challenging persisting racism in the U.S."
I have been researching race and hip hop with Ninochka “Nosh” McTaggart, a doctoral candidate at University of California, Riverside and a brilliant scholar of media, pop culture, gender and race. Our forthcoming article can be found here. I focus on music, particularly hip hop music, as a bridge across the racial divide, click here to learn more. Nosh and I are also working on a book about white privilege.
I am the Associate Chair of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology at Saint Leo University’s Virginia campus. Visit my faculty bio page
One of the many courses I teach is part of our university’s general education curriculum “diversity requirement” for all students–Building a Multiracial Society—watch me discuss it in this short video below:
My field of expertise is race and ethnic relations– for over 30 years I have been a student of racism and antiracism. Life-changing experiences as a teenager sparked my passion to study racism through the field of sociology, and as a college professor, award-winning author, community educator and activist, I have been practicing servant leadership ever since. Whether leading workshops on racism and white privilege, educating law enforcement on prejudice and racism, guiding students through examining their own biases and larger societal inequalities, or writing about racism and the work being done to challenge it, I combine my social science training with my multiracial family experiences to dialog with individuals and community groups about the challenges facing our society. From an early age I found myself in a relatively rare “bridge” position between two worlds, and by listening carefully to those who were generous enough to share their experiences, and with brave freedom fighters as mentors, I strive to combine my expertise and insights with others’ toward much-needed social change.
At the age of 15, my first boyfriend was an African American young man, and neither my family, friends nor community was ready for that. I lost the support of many white friends and family and so I turned to African Americans who were more willing to accept me. I was often the only white person at many a social gathering, and by 16 when I had started driving, I had already witnessed the dramatic difference between how a police officer conducted his business when pulling me over versus how officers treated my boyfriend—guilty until proven innocent, and could barely move a muscle, could not even reach to get his registration out of the glove compartment. On college applications I wrote about The Autobiography of Malcolm X being the most influential book of my life—it was the first time I had ever heard any critical words spoken about whites, and much of the hypocritical behavior the author described rang true in my own experiences. By the time I took formal courses on racism and white privilege in college, not much that I learned was a surprise. Seeing how knowledge was a powerful tool for combatting ignorance, I chose the path of education.
With Joe Feagin, 1997
With Chuck D of
Public Enemy, 2008
of Michael Eric Dysons’
Tears We Cannot Stop:
A Sermonto White America,
After my life-changing high school experiences, I knew right away I wanted to study racism, so I gravitated to sociology because it seemed like the major that had the most courses on the topic. I took my first sociology class at UMass (home state of my parents), and my first Unlearning Racism class in 1990 in Amherst, MA, led by Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian and Rev. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. I returned to my hometown of Williamsburg VA (as a Navy brat we ended up in VA) and completed my bachelor’s degree in sociology at the College of William and Mary. I forged directly onto The Ohio State University to earn my MA in Sociology, and then to University of Florida to earn my PhD in 1999.
Although I had often felt alone in my passion about the injustice of racism, once I met Joe Feagin and began conducting interviews for my dissertation research on white antiracists at University of Florida, I began meeting many other whites who had similar experiences, and had been tirelessly fighting racism for decades. They taught me a lot of history of which I was previously unaware. I met people like Rev. David Billings and Diana Dunn and learned about people like Tim Wise. I have also been fortunate enough to work with people like Eduardo Bonilla-Silva conducting interviews and surveys for his “I Am Not a Racist BUT…” study, which eventually became the top-selling Racism without Racists. Many of these wise people taught me that the most useful role for people like me is in educating other whites, in getting through where others can’t.
In a society still highly segregated by race, I feel blessed to have been previously married to an African American man, and that our families remain connected as we parent our biracial children—they are the face of the future! I strive to use my “bridge” position between two worlds by calling out injustice when I see it, and educating folks as to what they might be missing, in a language they might be able to hear. Though I began learning from African Americans, my continued work has also broadened to interviewing whites, Latinos, Asian Americans, and multiracials. I truly believe in Dr. King’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “the day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.” In continuing to speak out, and to listen, I hope to build a better world for my children, and to encourage others to join me in making a difference.