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Sociologist Sarah Willie-LeBreton Explores African American Support of NYC's Cordoba House

Sociologist Sarah Willie-LeBreton Explores  
African American Support of NYC's Cordoba House

by Alisa Giardinelli

Sarah Willie-LeBreton
Sarah Willie-LeBreton

As the debate over the plans for the Cordoba House Islamic Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan continues, some researchers are looking at how differently black and white Americans view the controversy, and why. As noted in The Root, a recent Pew Research Center study found that 51 percent of Americans now oppose the plans, while 34 percent approve. However, the study found that support for the project among African Americans outstrips support for it in the white community by double digits.

Sociologist Sarah Willie-LeBreton theorizes in The Root that President Obama is having an impact on the black community's willingness to embrace Islam:

"I actually think African Americans have been playing a little closer attention to domestic brouhahas because of their support for the president," she says, referencing Obama's sky-high approval ratings among blacks. "They're interested to see what Obama's response is. I think because the president came out and said that this Islamic-center fight is a tempest in a teapot, I think that some of it is a positive response to his response."

Willie-LeBreton also believes that African Americans empathizing with another oppressed culture may be underpinning their feelings about Cordoba House. "Some of this has to be identifying with another marginalized group," she says. "I think there's an appreciation of what it means to be on the outside and misunderstood."

An authority on African American culture, politics, and literature, Willie-LeBreton is the author of Acting Black: College, Identity and the Performance of Race (2003), a study of college-educated African Americans in the post-civil rights movement era. Since joining Swarthmore's faculty in 1997, she has also served as associate provost and as coordinator of Black Studies. A frequent media commentator, her recent discussion of a study that considered whether conservative students are an oppressed minority on college campuses appeared in USA Today.