13 – Race & Ethnicity


A report by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy concludes: The Racial Wealth Gap Increases Fourfold [pdf]. The report was authored by Thomas M. Shapiro, Tatjana Meschede, and Laura Sullivan. They found that:

  • The wealth gap between whites and African Americans increased more than 4 times, from $20,000 to $95,000.
  • Middle income white households had greater gains in financial assets than high income African Americans; by 2007, they had accumulated $74,000, whereas the average high income African American family owned only $18,000.
  • At least 25% of African American families had no assets at all to turn to in times of economic hardship.

IASP - Median Wealth Holdings

The Washington Post has an article up on African American unemployment rates: “Blacks hit hard by economy’s punch“.  The numbers are particularly bad for young African American males:

Joblessness for 16-to-24-year-old black men has reached Great Depression proportions — 34.5 percent in October, more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population. And last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment in the District, home to many young black men, rose to 11.9 percent from 11.4 percent, even as it stayed relatively stable in Virginia and Maryland.

The article also includes quotes from sociologists Devah Pager and Algernon Austin.

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Sociologists Douglas Massey and Jonathan Rothwell have published an article looking at patterns of residential segregation titled “The Effect of Density Zoning on Racial Segregation in U.S. Urban Areas” (Urban Affairs Review, 44: 779-806).  In a presentation at Fordham University, Massey summarized some of their findings. In a story regarding the presentation, Sociologist Warns of New Form of Segregation, he is quoted as saying that, while progress has been made on racial and ethnic integration, segregation on the basis of income and wealth has increased:

The period from 1970 to the present was one of tremendous socioeconomic change. The United States became a vastly more unequal society over this period. . . . By the present time, we are more unequal in terms of income and wealth than any time since 1929. It’s as if all the equalizing policies of the New Deal have been wiped out, and in fact, many of those policies have been wiped out.

In other words, the average person is more likely to live in a neighborhood with others that are also poor than was the case in the past. As the author of the article puts it:

whereas in 1970, the average poor person lived in a neighborhood that was about 13 percent poor, by 1990 the average poor person lived in a neighborhood that was 28 percent poor.

Massey recommends that we need to consider more seriously the intersection of both race and class if we are to understand issues of segregation.

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Comedian and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, who is white, visits an African American barber shop to talk about handshakes and race.  The piece suggests that norms we use to greet others vary by race. I wonder what consequences such differences might have for casual interaction across racial boundaries.

Later, Jamie Foxx appears on Kimmel’s show and they continue on the same topic.

If such differences are widespread, to what extent might it help to be more open and up front about their existence and possible consequences?

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The latest Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage has been released: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008 [pdf]. This is one of my favorite annual report because it provides detailed statistics on the distribution of  these resources.

A few highlights for 2008:

  • Median household income was $$50,303 (a 3.6% decline  from 2007)
  • There was significant income variation by race/ethnicity (Asian households: $65,637; non-Hispanic White: $55,530; Hispanic: $37,913; and, Black: $$34,218
  • The gender wage gap got wider with women earning, on average, 77 cents for every $1 men earn (a 1% increase over 2007)
  • The poverty rate increased to 13.2%
  • The poverty level for a family of four was $22,025
  • There were 46.3 million people without health insurance in 2008 (15.4% of the population)

A link to the press release, including more summary statistics, is available here.

Income, Poverty, & Health Insurance Coverage: 2008

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Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested in his own home on suspicion of breaking and entering. According to a story from The Washington Post, Gates described his experience as:

part of a “racial narrative” playing out in a biased criminal justice system. Shortly before the charge against him was dropped this afternoon, the Harvard professor who has spent much of his life studying race in America said he has come to feel like a case study.

“There are one million black men in jail in this country and last Thursday I was one of them,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday morning. “This is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It’s one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it.”

According to the story, a neighbor called the police to report that two Black men were trying to force their way into Gates’s house (he’d had trouble getting the front door open after returning from a trip to China). Even after showing the police his I.D. that included his picture with his home address on it, he was still arrested, placed in handcuffs, taken to the police station, and placed in a jail cell.

According to the article, the experience has inspired his idea for his next PBS documentary:

His next project on race, he said, will be rooted in his arrest. “I hope to make a documentary about racial profiling for PBS,” he said. “[The idea] had never crossed my mind but it has now.”

He said the documentary will ask: “How are people treated when they are arrested? How does the criminal justice system work? How many black and brown men and poor white men are the victims of police officers who are carrying racist thoughts?

An interview with Gates about the experience appears on The Root, a site for which he is the Editor-in-Chief.

The New York Times has a post up with responses from a variety of professionals titled The Gates Case and Racial Profiling.

[h/t to BoingBoing]

The New York Times has an article up, “A Prom Divided” about the continuing tradition of racially segregated proms. Here’s a snippet:

Racially segregated proms have been held in Montgomery County — where about two-thirds of the population is white — almost every year since its schools were integrated in 1971. Such proms are, by many accounts, longstanding traditions in towns across the rural South, though in recent years a number of communities have successfully pushed for change. When the actor Morgan Freeman offered to pay for last year’s first-of-its-kind integrated prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi, his home state, the idea was quickly embraced by students — and rejected by a group of white parents, who held a competing “private” prom. (The effort is the subject of a documentary, “Prom Night in Mississippi,” which will be shown on HBO in July.)

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The New York Times has an article up,  “Obama Is Nudging Views on Race, a Survey Finds,” with results from a study that touches on the impact Barack Obama’s presidency is having on race in the U.S.:

Barack Obama’s presidency seems to be altering the public perception of race relations in the United States. Two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good, and the percentage of blacks who say so has doubled since last July, according to the latest New York Times/ CBS News poll.

There is also a link on the side that includes the full results from the survey.

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A few years ago Oprah Winfrey featured a story in which students from a Chicago public high school (Harper) exchanged places for a day with students at a suburban Chicago school (Neuqua Valley in Naperville). It shows a significant contrast in the facilities that are available. The YouTube video is available here. There is also a series of related slides (starting here) at Oprah.com as part of a larger report on education called Failing Grade. It provides some brief statististics describing the differences between the schools:

The difference between the two schools can also be seen in their scores on state exams. At Neuqua Valley, 78 percent of students meet Illinois’ reading standards, 76 percent meet the science standards, and 77 percent meet the math standards. At Harper, 16 percent meet the reading standards, 1.5 percent meet the science standards and just .5 percent meet the math standards.

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Today is the birthday of W. E. B. DuBois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963).  DuBois made numerous contributions to sociology. For example, his book, The Philadelphia Negro, is a classic case of research that combines both quantitative and qualitative data. His most famous work, The Souls of Black Folk, provides core insights into the operations of race in the United States including observations about the color line, the veil, and twoness.

He made many other contributions, as well, including the fact that DuBois was one of the co-founders of the NAACP (they have a bio here). Also, WEBDuBois.org has additional links.

In one of my favorite DuBois quotes, he calls us to be more than just a “car-window sociologist.”  It is not enough, he suggests, to devote “the few leisure hours of a holiday trip to unravelling the snarl of centuries” (from Souls of Black Folk).

A treasure trove of DuBois photos is available at the UMass DuBois Photos collection.

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