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Nathan, an African man who lived all his life in New Jersey decided to move to North Carolina after his retirement working as a janitor for a number of years. He found his dream house in a warm climate in the rural part of North Carolina and moved with his wife. Nathan loved his power tools and took even his snow blower with him to North Carolina. Nathan loved to talk and was an outgoing person. After moving, he realized that his family was the only Black family in the neighborhood and no Black family ever lived there. His neighbor apprehensive of this Black man moving next door decided to build a fence around his house for protection. He started building the fence by digging a hole in the ground to erect a concrete post.

But, it kept falling because he did not have the tools to make the foundation and erect it properly. Nathan watched him struggle. He told his wife, “I know why he is doing this. Still I need to help him.” He went with his tools and introduced himself and showed him how to make the foundation and erected the concrete post for him. Nathan told him to keep the tools till the completion of the fence and went home. The White neighbor never finished the fence. Still the single white post is standing alone between the houses. The neighbor told the story at Nathan’s funeral. Nathan’s compassion generosity, dignity and authenticity opened the heart and the door of his neighbor and initiated the process of building what MLK called the “Beloved Community.”

This story illustrates some of the burning questions of our time: Why do we build walls that prevent us from connecting to fellow human beings? Why do people mistreat others who are not like them? How do we respond when people treat us differently? What prevents us from seeing our connections to others, and to nature? How can we cultivate compassion and generosity, and realize the interconnected nature of our lives? My research program, in collaboration with my students, explores these questions in empirical studies with men, women, children, youth, transgender, lesbians, gays, transsexuals, and People of Color in different cultural contexts at the intersections of caste, race, ethnicity and immigrant status.

Intersectionality in identity is a central theme of my research. Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) introduced this notion of multiple, interacting personal identities, each with its associated privileges and costs. In my empirical work, I conceptualize intersectionality in three distinct ways (Mahalingam & Rabelo, 2013). First, I view intersectionality as a lived experience, focusing on encounters and stressors for those with marginalized identities based on gender, ethnicity, religion, caste, sexuality, occupation, and class. Second, I study intersectionality as identities in contexts. For example, I studied how intersecting ecological contexts shape beliefs about gender in communities with a history of female infanticide (Mahalingam, 2007b). Third, I view intersectionality as a critical social awareness of privilege and marginality for differing identities. This rich conceptualization of intersectionality connects my specific research projects to answer broader questions.

Current projects:

  • Dignity in the workplace
  • Mindfulness and connection to nature
  • Mindful mindset & well-being
  • Mobile phones & self

If you are interested in joining our lab, please email me for more information at ramawasi@umich.edu.