Debra E. Thompson Assistant Professor of African American Studies


Dr. Debra Thompson is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies, specializing in Black Politics and Comparative Race and Ethnic Politics. A political scientist with strong interdisciplinary orientations, Thompson’s teaching and research interests focus on the relationships among race, the state, and public policy. Using transnational, diasporic, and comparative analysis, Thompson’s research examines the state’s role in the construction of racial categories, exploring the ways in which the legal demarcation of the boundaries of blackness are imbued with multiple manifestations of political power. Dr. Thompson held a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship with the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University in 2010-2011 and in 2011 received the prestigious Academic Gold Medal from the Governor General of Canada. She teaches courses on Black Political and Social Life, The Racial State, and Race and the American Constitution.

Dr. Thompson’s book, The Schematic State: Race, Transnationalism, and the Politics of the Census (Cambridge University Press, 2016) is a study of the political development of racial classifications on the national censuses of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. The book maps the changing nature of the census from an instrument historically used to manage and control racialized populations to its contemporary purpose as an important source of statistical information, employed for egalitarian ends. Through a careful comparative analysis of nearly two hundred years of census-taking in these three countries of the Black Atlantic, Thompson argues that census schemas are driven by the interaction between transnational ideas about race/racial difference, the ways that they are tempered and translated by nationally distinct racial projects, such as colonialism and legacies of racism, and the configuration of political institutions involved in the design and execution of census policy. Ultimately, this research exposes race-making as a process marred by contradiction and demonstrates that the primary goal of the schematic state is to make the population legible, turning the fluid and politically contested substance of race into stable, identifiable categories to be used as the basis of law and policy.

Dr. Thompson is currently working on two additional book projects. The first explores the Black Lives Matter movement through the lens of American exceptionalism. The book analyzes the global appeal of Black Lives Matter, including how the current framing of police brutality as exclusively American obscures the transnational dynamics of racial domination and anti-racist activism, as well as the ways that the structure of political institutions can facilitate and intensify the institutional racism of the criminal justice system. The second project, co-authored with Keith Banting of Queen’s University, explores the puzzling persistence of racial inequality in Canada, which continues despite a social safety net and model of diversity governance that many assume is far more robust, redistributive, and egalitarian than those that exist in the United States.

Research Interests:

  • Black Politics
  • Race and Ethnic Politics
  • Comparative Race Studies
  • Racial Inequality
  • Race and Public Policy
  • Diaspora and Transnational Studies
  • American Political Development


AFAM 101: Black Lives Matter and the Struggle for American Democracy
AFAM 214: Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies
AFAM 215: Introduction to Black Social and Political Life
AFAM 380: Topics in African American Studies: The Racial State
AFAM 319: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Constitution


Ph.D., Political Science, University of Toronto, 2010
M.A., Legal Studies, Carleton University, 2005
B.A., Public Affairs and Policy Management, Carleton University, 2003

Recent Publications:


2016. Debra Thompson. The Schematic State: Race, Transnationalism and the Politics of the Census. New York: Cambridge University Press.

2015. Peter Russell, François Rocher, Debra Thompson and Amanda Bittner (eds). Essential Readings in Canadian Government and Politics, 2nd edition. Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications.


2015. “What Lies Beneath: Equality and the Making of Racial Classifications,” Social Philosophy and Policy, Special Issue: Equality and Public Policy 31(2): 114-136.

2013. “Through, Against, and Beyond the Racial State: The Transnational Stratum of Race,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Special Issue: Contesting the Global Colour Line: Race, Space, and Imperial Hierarchies, 26(1): 133-151.

2012. “Making (Mixed-)Race: Census Politics and the Emergence of Multiracial Multiculturalism in the United States, Great Britain and Canada.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Special Issue: Accounting for Racial and Ethnic Diversity 35(8): 1409-1426. 

2011. “A Focusing Tragedy: Public Policy and the Establishment of Afrocentric Education in Toronto.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 44(4): 807-828 [with Jennifer Wallner].

2010. “The Politics of the Census: Lessons from Abroad.” Canadian Public Policy 36(3): 377-382.

2009. “Racial Ideas and Gendered Intimacies: the Regulation of Interracial Relationships in North America.” Social and Legal Studies 18(3): 353-371.  

2008. “Is Race Political?” Canadian Journal of Political Science 41(3): 525-547.

Recent Awards:

  • Closing the Participation Gap for African American Men in Higher Education. Research grant from the Ohio Education Research Center. 1 year; $10,000. Principal Investigator. 
  • Governor General of Canada’s Gold Medal Award (2011)
  • Short –listed for the Vincent Lemieux Prize, Canadian Political Science Association for the best dissertation published in Canada in 2009 and 2010. (2011)
  • SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Center for American Political Studies, Harvard University (2010-2011)
  • John McMenemy Prize for best article published in English or French in the Canadian Journal of Political Science (“Is Race Political?” 41(3): 525-547) (2009)