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 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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The U.S. Census has just (January 2009) released their annual report: Educational Attainment in the United States: 2007 [pdf]. As usual it includes a wealth of data.  In terms of general education attainment:

  • 84% of adults age 25 and older have a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • 27% of adults age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The report breaks down educational attainment by a number of variables. The image below provides a thumbnail of the graph presented (see page 5 of the full report) regarding both high school and college completion for race and ethnicity:

Educational Attainment by Race/Ethnicity (2007)

They also provided a map of the U.S. showing where state averages fell relative to the overall national mean. Below is a thumbnail of the map regarding High School completion (p. 6). They also include a map regarding college completion (p. 7).

Educational Attainment - U.S. map of states relative to the mean

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The New York Times has posted a story, “Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers,” about a small study regarding educational performance, race, and the impact of Barack Obama’s election as president. They report:

Educators and policy makers, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have said in recent days that they hope President Obama’s example as a model student could inspire millions of American students, especially blacks, to higher academic performance.

Now researchers have documented what they call an Obama effect, showing that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on a 20-question test administered before Mr. Obama’s nomination all but disappeared when the exam was administered after his acceptance speech and again after the presidential election.

The ScientificBlogging.com site reports on the steps used in the research:

In the study, tests were administered to a total of 472 participants using questions drawn from Graduate Record Exams (GREs) to assess reading comprehension, analogies and sentence completion. The tests took place at four distinct points over three months during the campaign: two when Obama’s success was less prominent (prior to his acceptance of the nomination and the mid-point between the convention and election day) and two when it garnered the most attention (immediately after his nomination speech and his win of the presidency in November).

The nationwide testing sample of 84 black Americans and 388 white Americans – a proportion equivalent to representation in the overall population – matched for age and education level. It revealed that white participants scored higher than their black peers at the two points in the campaign where Obama’s achievements were least visible. However, during the height of the Obama media frenzy, the performance gap between black and white Americans was effectively eliminated. In addition, researchers pinpointed that black Americans who did not watch Obama’s nomination acceptance speech continued to lag behind their white peers, while those who did view the speech successfully closed the gap.

According to this report, they have submitted their study for peer review and publication to The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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Thanks to a comment posted by TeacherJay on one my recent posts, I went in search of more information about Paul Tough’s book, Whatever It Takes, and I am glad I did. The first thing I discovered was that the Amazon link includes an interview with both author Paul Tough and with the main person behind the story in the book, education innovator Geoffrey Canada.

The book description was intriguing enough:

What would it take?

That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children–not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children’s Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives–their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.

A google search led me to an NPR story from This American Life titled “Going Big” (Episode #364). The first 30 minutes or so of the show deal explicitly with the book, the program, and the issues surrounding it and are well worth a listen. They describe that segment this way:

Act One. Harlem Renaissance.

Paul Tough reports on the Harlem Children’s Zone, and its CEO and president, Geoffrey Canada. Among the project’s many facets is Baby College, an 8-week program where young parents and parents-to-be learn how to help their children get the education they need to be successful. Tough’s just-published book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem’s Children Zone is called Whatever It Takes.

On the face of it, the argument sounds so profoundly sociological. Children in such circumstances lack access to sufficient social and cultural resources that children in middle-class and higher circumstances take for granted. As such, a comprehensive program is necessary to level the playing fields. One of the red flags that might be raised, however, is whether or not this represents a form of class-based cultural imperialism. It does look like the early signs of success for the program are positive, but what are the costs for the parents and families of these children? It would make for some interesting discussion, and I look forward to reading the book.

The possible debate reminds me of the tension I found recently while reading the newly realeased (3rd) edition of Jay MacLeod’s classic Ain’t No Makin’ It, which provides an update on the Brothers and Hallway Hangers, now at middle-age, and concludes that one of the keys to adult success was leaving community and family behind. The problem was that social resources were the only real resource the Hallway Hangers had while growing up and turning your back on each other was the exact opposite of what they stood for.

Sara Mosle’s review in Slate, “How Children Stop Failing“, gives a sense of this tension:

Indeed, in many ways, Tough’s book is an inadvertent defense of “helicopter parenting.” It turns out that all that angst-ridden, middle-class negotiation with kids about rules (instead of simply laying down the law with a spank), the music lessons and summer camps, the absence of free time—even middle-class kids’ sense of entitlement—are what help them hone the kind of cognitive skills that our increasingly intellect-based economy (unlike the manufacturing economy of the 1950s) rewards. The idea that what goes on in the home is what matters is not, of course, new. It dates back as far as the 1960s, to the Moynihan and Coleman Reports, which stirred controversy by suggesting that such attitudes and practices were more important than school quality.

What is new is Canada’s idea that by blanketing a limited geographic area with dawn-to-dusk, cradle-to-high-school social services, in addition to better schools, an all-encompassing program like the Children’s Zone can serve as a kind of substitute for such parental attitudes and practices where they don’t exist. He’s also arguing that intervening when the most disadvantaged children are already in middle school or high school is too late—as, in a way, his own middle-school endeavor confirms. Rather than await the broader societal changes that many progressives call for, Canada wants, in essence, to create a European-style social democracy within Harlem.

Canada also appeared on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central on December 8, 2008, available here.

more about “Geoffrey Canada | Monday December 8th…“, posted with vodpod

Geoffrey Canada is also the author of Fist Stick Knife Gun. For a 2005 bio of Geoffrey Canada from Current Biographies: Geoffrey Canada, social activist

Paul Tough did earlier related stories in the New York Times, including “The Harlem Project”  (June 20, 2004), and “Whatever It Takes to Make a Student” (November 26, 2006). He also provides additional background information on his website dedicated to the book, including this question and answer section. He also has a blog available here.

My thanks to TeacherJay (click to visit his education blog). His blog is definitely worth checking out, and he has a blogpost up about Whatever It Takes too.

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