Dr. Nancy Lopez on Applying Intersectionality In Your Next Proposal


University of New Mexico sociology professor Dr. Nancy López specializes in analyzing how race, class and gender coalesce in research, despite encouragement from broader academia to isolate those variables. 


“If we want to understand inequality in order to advance equity-based policy and practice, we need to understand that it’s complicated,” López said when addressing the need to consider intersectionality in research. López shared results from her publication in the Race, Ethnicity and Education journal, which examined the odds of graduating in a large public university in the southwest. It revealed that not all low-income groups had low odds of graduating. For example while low income Native American men and women had the highest disparities, low income white and Asian women had the lowest disparities in the odds of graduating. 


She said these findings have implications for the funding formula used by many institutions of higher education including in New Mexico, which assume that PELL status is a proxy for racial, ethnic and gender achievement gaps.


López said social statuses in systems of inequality, namely structural racism, patriarchy, capitalism and heterosexism often become decontextualized and flattened in academic contexts. In addition, the use of terms such as “women of color,” can embody solidarities across diverse groups. López warns that this can lead to homogeneity and what can be very different experiences across distinct racial and ethnic groups.  


She spoke to UNM faculty on Feb. 11 at the Advance at UNM workshop, “What’s Your Street Race-Gender? Class origin? How Intersectionality can Enhance Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods for Your Next Research Proposal.” In addition to being a part of the sociology department since 2001, López also is the Director and Co-Founder Institute for Study of “Race” & Social Justice at UNM. This institute established the first interdisciplinary graduate certificate in race and social justice and undergraduate version in the country. 


Much of the presentation focused on the idea of race as put forward by the decennial U.S. Census, a hot topic in the past couple of years due to the debate over whether to add a citizenship question. 


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 that the citizenship question would not be included in the 2020 U.S. Census.


López spoke about several of her publications on the street race concept including two on street race — Sociology of Race and Ethnicity; Critical Public Health” as well as one in the conversation.com — which discusses how the U.S. Census confuses race and ethnicity, even inquiring about them in a single question. López serves as co-chair of the 2020 Census Complete Count Committee for UNM


She stressed the importance of the ocular and corporeal dimension of the social construction of race, specifically in terms of lived race and street race. In order to understand street race — a term López coined herself — López posed the question: What race do you think other Americans see you as when you are just walking down the street?


An individual’s race as perceived by others has major implications for the amount of racism and discrimination that a person may face on a daily basis and over their life — lived race. This is why López advocates that we should never use one question to collect data on two analytically distinct concepts. She said that race — a social status that is based on the meanings ascribed to a conglomeration of a person’s physical appearance— should not be confused for ethnicity, national origin, ancestry or geographic DNA genetic markers. 


López advocates for the Census to rephrase the current race question to clarify that the survey is not asking about ancestry, but rather your street race when you go vote, look for an apartment, seek employment, access health care and policy-relevant civil rights outcomes. 


In Lopez’s 2018 article “The U.S. Census Bureau keeps confusing race and ethnicity,”  she poses the questions: Who benefits when we have power and color-evasive data systems? Why does the Census keep confusing Race and ethnicity? 


López said the U.S. Census directly dismissed social science research that confirms the existence of a “color line” that maps on to inequities in housing, employment, education and other social outcomes. W.E.B. DuBois coined the concept of “color line” as the problem of the 20th century when his research found entire racially stigmatized groups are subjected to unequal treatment based on what they look like. 


López said this dynamic is particularly salient in families, such as many Latinx families where some are very light skinned and seen as white, others are dark-skinned and seen as black or brown. She also said it is important for families, particularly Latino and Hispanic, to know that they can and should mark the race question differently to reflect their different street races. 


According to López, both street-race and self-identified race have different implications for the community health outcomes, both mentally and physically, along with other implications. Therefore, she argues that the U.S. Census needs to measure race in more than one way.  


During her presentation, López encouraged the researchers and UNM faculty in attendance to be critical of themselves and to implicate themselves in historic and contemporary systems of inequality, such as settler colonialism, heteropatriachy, and capitalism. She also urged attendees to not only recognize intersectionality in themselves, but in their research. 


“Our hope is to really create a community of practice — an invitation for everyone to embrace this complexity instead of saying ‘no, it’s too complicated, we’ll just look at gender. No, it’s too complicated, we’re just going to look at class. No, it’s too complicated we’re just going to look at race,’” López said. “We need to look at all those things together for advancing equity-based policy and practice that is anchored in transformational social justice.”  



The UNM 2020 Complete Count Committee will hold several events leading up to the official count for the census. “Census and Civil Rights Use of Race, Gender, Class Data” will be on Wednesday Feb. 19 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in ECON 1004. On March 4, the committee will host a press conference on the urgency of the complete count from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in Smith Plaza. Lastly, a block party to mark the official count day for the 2020 Census will happen on April 1 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in Smith Plaza.