William R. Frey, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and graduate research collaborator for CAT Lab, presented part of his dissertation research at last week’s Big Tent Meeting. Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020, many white Americans began to attend racial justice demonstrations, join anti-racist book clubs, and display shifts in beliefs around police violence and racism (Harmon & Burch, 2020)—despite these shifts being short-lived (Thomas & Horowitz, 2020). While 75% of white Americans report that their networks are entirely white (Cox, Navarro-Rivera, & Jones, 2016) and still live in mostly white neighborhoods (Frey, 2022), some white people sought out participation and membership in Black communities online to learn about and discuss racism beyond their ideologically insulated lives.

William’s three-paper dissertation includes conceptual and empirical research examining the role of social media in processes of race and racial socialization. Paper one is a conceptual framework of digital white racial socialization, published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence (Frey et al., 2022). Paper two and paper three are a multi-method community collaboration with moderators of the subreddit, r/BlackPeopleTwitter, a digital Black community with a user verification process for “white allies.” His early ethnographic work and qualitative coding for this collaborative study—When Kindness Kills—is published in Data & Society: Points and written with Dr. Matias.

The focus of last week’s presentation was on paper two of William’s dissertation using, in which he employs qualitative content analysis to examine two main questions regarding self-identifying white allies applying to r/BlackPeopleTwitter as verified users in the year surrounding the murder of George Floyd: 

  1. What reasons do self-identifying white users give for applying as verified ‘white allies’?
  1. What ally qualifications do self-identifying white users give when they are applying as verified ‘white allies’?

William’s dissertation will present evidence that social media contain consequential contexts for racial socialization and doing race, and an examination of individual white users participating in a savior swarm.