How Race-Studies Scholars Can Respond to Their Haters

Posted in Articles, Campus Life on 2014-06-29 19:39Z by Steven

How Race-Studies Scholars Can Respond to Their Haters

Vitae
A service of The Chronicle of Higher Education
2014-06-27

Stacey Patton, Senior Enterprise Reporter

Graduate school prepares students for a range of intellectual and professional endeavors. Unfortunately, responding to scholarly insults and academic shade-throwing isn’t one of them.

But for scholars in the fields of race and ethnic studies—including those who work outside the ivory tower—dealing with snide questions, nasty comments, and occasional name-calling is just part of the job description. Over the years, these academics have repeatedly told me that their work is uniquely misunderstood and dismissed by students, fellow faculty, and the general public. The election of Barack Obama, some say, has only made it tougher to defend ethnic studies: Amid declarations of a “post-racial” America, how do you explain why you study and write about racism?

Nearly every race-studies scholar—white professors included—can identify a phrase that drives them uniquely nuts: “Stop playing the race card.” “What about white studies?” “Racism is no longer an issue. Why are you beating a dead horse?”…

…“We were hoping for a black candidate.” —Matthew Pratt Guterl, Professor of Africana studies and American studies,  Brown University

…“Ethnic studies isn’t a real discipline.” —David J. Leonard, Associate professor of critical culture, gender, and race studies, Washington State University at Pullman

…“Do you have a Ph.D.?”  —Kerry Ann Rockquemore, CEO and president, National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity

Read the entire article here.

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‘Good Hair': A Cape Verdean Struggles With Her Racial Identity

Posted in Africa, Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive on 2014-05-29 21:32Z by Steven

‘Good Hair': A Cape Verdean Struggles With Her Racial Identity

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2014-05-27

Ana Sofia De Brito

Ana Sofia De Brito graduated from Dartmouth College in 2012 with a major in Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean studies. This essay is adapted from a chapter in the book Mixed: Multiracial College Students Tell Their Life Stories, edited by Andrew Garrod, Robert Kilkenny, and Christina Gómez (Cornell University Press, 2014).

The issue of race has always been a problem in my Cape Verdean family—and in my life. We constantly argue about whether we’re white or black. My dad says he stayed with my mom to better his race, by lightening the color of his children, and I’d better not mess up his plan by bringing a black boy home.

It wasn’t until I was away at college that I started to question him seriously about his past. It was in Mozambique that my father’s views about race were formed. As the Cape Verdean son of an official in the administration of a Portuguese colony, my father led a privileged life, living in a big house with many servants.

All of that changed when he went away to a boarding school attended almost entirely by the children of white Portuguese settlers. My dad was neither Portuguese nor white, so he was constantly bullied, beaten up, made fun of, and humiliated. The whiter students called him “nigger” and other epithets, the very names he now calls people who are darker than he is. Had my dad’s family stayed in Cape Verde, where color lines are blurred and there is no outright racism, I believe my dad would not be the way he is.

My mother is the lightest in our family, and her thin, fine hair goes with the rest of her features. She has round dark eyes and a straight, European-­looking nose, the thin lips associated with being white, and a pale complexion. My brother and I both inherited many of her features, but our noses differ. Mine is broader and his is straighter, on account of our having different dads. And even though we have similar features and complexions, we have different mind-sets. We both identify strongly as Cape Verdean; he, however, identifies with being white, whereas I identify with being black.

It gets complicated when my family talks about skin color. They believe that black is ugly, but so is being “too white”; our Cape Verdean color is just right. The reality is that Cape Verdeans are mixed both culturally and racially, and are many different shades…

Read the entire article here.

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What Does the Education Dept. Know About Race?

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, United States on 2014-04-29 00:29Z by Steven

What Does the Education Dept. Know About Race?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2014-04-28

Johnah Newman, Database Reporter

Our post last week on minority enrollment and diversity at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor sparked a lively debate in the comments section about demographic data and diversity.

“I must admit that I am scratching my head,” one reader, Candis Best, wrote in response to the post. “Minority enrollment is down, but the school isn’t less diverse?,” she asked. “Diversity isn’t about statistics. It is about relationships.”

Ms. Best is, of course, correct that diversity is more than percentages and bar charts. “Diversity” includes identities that cross genders, cultures, and other ways people define themselves. A diverse campus involves interactions among students and faculty and staff members, all trading and sharing points of view and gaining understanding as they learn from others’ backgrounds.

Nevertheless, data and statistics are able to provide some insights into the makeup of a population and the degree to which that population consists of people associated with various groups.

Before we explore some different ways of measuring diversity through data and statistics, it’s worthwhile to look first to the demographic data themselves. What do the data show? What can’t they measure? And what are some of the complications and pitfalls of using such data to measure racial and ethnic diversity?

Categorizing Race and Ethnicity

The first factor that complicates any discussion of race and ethnicity is how to categorize a person’s race in the first place. Before the 2000 Census, people were asked to check a box indicating their race. The selections were mutually exclusive. You were either white or black. Hispanic or Asian. By 2000, though, a cultural shift had caused people to think about racial categories not as distinct groups but as elements that can combine to form a person’s identity. People could now check multiple boxes…

…So a drop in the number of black students reported at a university from 2009 to 2010, as we noted at the University of Michigan, doesn’t necessarily mean that there were actually fewer black students. It could also mean that some of the students who would have been counted in the black category before 2010 were instead counted in the two-or-more-races category under the new reporting methods…

Read the entire article here.

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We Are all Mutants: Uncovering humanity’s vast diversity

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-03-24 20:42Z by Steven

We Are all Mutants: Uncovering humanity’s vast diversity

The Chronicle Review
The Chronicle of Higher Education
2014-03-24

Paul Voosen, Senior Reporter

On the hunt for disease genes, researchers uncover humanity’s vast diversity

The first people to set foot on Barbados, a wind-battered eastern spur of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, came from the south, and relatively recently, no more than 1,700 years ago. Little remains of them: enough to know they were skilled farmers from the Orinoco Basin, in modern Venezuela. And like those of all humanity, their journey had started far earlier, when their ancestors, tens of thousands of years before, ventured out of Africa, across Asia, and into the Americas.

More people rolled in: The Lokano, clustered in scattered villages, hauling whelk and conch from the sea; and, in the 13th century, the Kalinagos, slipping on to the horizon in 50-foot-long dugout canoes. The Kalinagos reigned until the conquistadors. Hounded by European slavers, they fled windward to better defenses. By 1536, a Portuguese explorer could report Barbados as “uninhabited.”

It didn’t last. The English landed a century later and soon began importing slaves, ripped from their Ga, Igbo, and Ashanti communities in West Africa. By 1700, some 134,500 Africans lived in Barbados, in bondage; soon enough, 90 percent of Barbados’s population could claim African heritage, a percentage that holds true today.

A couple of decades ago, there was one more arrival: Kathleen C. Barnes, a graduate student and biological anthropologist from the University of Florida, who one day in 1991 walked into the emergency room of Barbados’s main hospital, the Queen Elizabeth. Throughout its human history, the island had had its share of plagues and troubles. Now Barnes was there to study a modern, quiet epidemic.

In a dedicated bay, child after child sat listless, worried mothers by their sides. The children were masked, inhaling medication for their wheezing, swollen airways. The machines hissed. Nearly one-fifth of Barbadians had asthma, far above the global average. Barnes wanted to find out why.

A native of a Virginia tobacco town known for housing the “Last Capitol of the Confederacy,” Barnes, who is white, grew up a witness to the civil-rights movement; in second grade, her school was forcibly desegregated. Trained initially as a nurse, she was troubled by the health disparities she saw in the United States. For example, African-Americans suffered from asthma far more than white populations did. There were many possible socioeconomic reasons. But Barnes thought it was mostly about pests.

Past research had tied some of the asthma rate in African-Americans to dust mites and cockroach feces, exposures that are more likely in poor communities. Barnes saw many similarities between African-Americans and the Afro-Caribbeans of Barbados, with one important caveat: Unlike residents of Baltimore, where she would go to work for decades as a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, the Barbadians had only just begun to live in homes conducive to household pests. A natural experiment had begun.

Barnes lived in Barbados for a year, running a lab across the street from the Queen Elizabeth, visiting homes to gauge their exposures. At the time, many Barbadians lived in chattel houses, movable wooden homes to which many residents had added bit by bit, enclosing them in concrete structures, with indoor plumbing. Dust mites loved the enclosed homes: Some of the levels Barnes measured were the highest ever recorded, she says. Surely that had to explain some of the asthma rate.

It probably did, as did other factors in a rapidly modernizing country: shifting diet and microbiome, rising obesity, wealth—the type of influences that are often lumped together as “environment.” But controlling for those, Barnes saw that a disparity still remained between people descended directly from Africa and those who came through Europe. Something more fundamental was at play, she realized. Something that would shape the next 20 years of her work.

“It seemed like the missing piece,” she said, “was understanding the genetic basis for these complex diseases.”…

…Let’s stop here to note: If you took any section of a person’s DNA and compared it with a stranger’s, no matter their ethnic background, odds are high they’d be identical. This is not platitude: These odds guide large-scale genome sequencing. They are fundamental. Humanity is deeply shared. It just happened that when it comes to asthma, for this one gene variant, people of European and African descent are distinct. At some point, after they diverged in ancient times, a mutation had taken hold. It wasn’t about race. It was about contingency. History.

“One thing we can’t do is use race as a proxy,” says Carlos D. Bustamante, a genetics professor at Stanford University and a Barnes collaborator. “It’s a very blunt tool. But we also can’t say there are no genetic differences across populations. Because it’s just not true.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The End of the ‘Postrace’ Myth

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-07-06 18:13Z by Steven

The End of the ‘Postrace’ Myth

The Conversation: Online opinion on ideas and higher education
The Chronicle of Higher Education
2013-01-14

Pamela Newkirk, Professor of Journalism
New York University

Over the past four years, it had become increasingly difficult to mount a public discussion about how racial bias continues to permeate our society, North and South, in boardrooms and newsrooms. Despite glaring signs of racial segregation in our schools, prisons, and pews, many commentators—including some scholars—idealistically clung to President Obama’s 2008 election as evidence of a new, postracial era.

John H. McWhorter, a linguist and fellow at the Manhattan Institute, was among the first to proclaim that Obama’s 2008 election proved that we had moved beyond race as a major impediment for black people. His optimism was widely embraced by the media…

…Now, as President Obama is set to begin his second term, after an election marred by blatant forms of black and Latino voter suppression that evoked post-Reconstruction practices, our blinders have been yanked aside, exposing claims of a postracial nation as premature.

What can be said of the spectacle of prominent men reduced to “birthers” demanding that the nation’s first black president reveal his birth certificate and college transcript? Or state officials and a defeated presidential candidate openly lamenting the strength of black and Latino voter turnout? Residents of some states have called for secession rather than face the reality of a multiracial America. White college students in Mississippi rioted over Barack Obama’s re-election…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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Pacific Islanders: a Misclassified People

Posted in Census/Demographics, New Media, Oceania, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-06-03 19:19Z by Steven

Pacific Islanders: a Misclassified People

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2013-06-03

Kawika Riley, Chief Executive and Founder
Pacific Islander Access Project
also adjunct lecturer at George Washington University

Imagine that you’re a parent, teacher, or counselor who helped a promising student apply for financial aid. She’s an underrepresented minority, so you encouraged her to apply to several scholarships for minority students. A few weeks later, she receives a wave of responses from them, all saying the same thing: She’s not eligible to apply. Why? Because the colleges have misclassified her; even though she’s an underrepresented minority student, they’ve decided to treat her as if she’s not.

Now imagine that instead of one student’s being misclassified, this is happening to every student who belongs to one of the fastest-growing minority groups in America. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders don’t need to imagine any of this. This is their reality.

For more than 20 years, U.S. Census data have shown that Pacific Islanders are far less likely to graduate from college than is the general population. The statistics have fluctuated slightly over time, but the trend is that Pacific Islanders are about half as likely as the general population to hold bachelor’s degrees, and even less likely to receive advanced degrees.

…Before 1997, the federal standard for racial classification grouped Asians and Pacific Islanders together. But 16 years ago, the standards were updated, and Pacific Islanders and Asians were recognized as two distinct groups. Unfortunately, the myth of a homogeneous “Asian Pacific” race persists, and the use of “API” data suggests that statistics on “Asian Pacific Islanders” reflect the conditions of both Asians and Pacific Islanders.

They don’t….

Read the entire article here.

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Brazil’s Affirmative-Action Quotas: Progress?

Posted in Brazil, Campus Life, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, New Media, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-11-06 19:24Z by Steven

Brazil’s Affirmative-Action Quotas: Progress?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2012-11-05

Ibram H. Rogers, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
State University of New York, Albany

Brazil recently passed what was probably the most sweeping affirmative-action law in the modern history of higher education. While the livelihood of affirmative action in the United States is in the hands of the Supreme Court, Brazil now requires its public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for its low-income students and compels its institutions to diversify significantly.
 
Yes, Brazil instituted what was firmly resisted by liberals and conservatives in the post-civil-rights-American push for affirmative action—quotas. The law comes after Brazil’s Supreme Court in April unanimously upheld the racial quota at the University of Brasilia, enacted in 2004, reserving 20 percent of its spots for black and mixed-race  students. The Law of Social Quotas will most likely face a challenge in the courts but, based on this earlier decision, it seems likely to stand.
 
The law forces the nation’s superior and largely free public universities to assign spots according to the racial makeup of each of the 26 states and the capital. Lawmakers and educators know that will lead to a surge in diversity in states with large black or mixed-race populations (well, surge may be putting it mildly). Officials expect the number of black students to jump nearly sevenfold, from 8,700 to 56,000.
 
The law gives public universities just four years to ensure that half of their entering classes come from public schools, which low-income students disproportionately attend. (Middle- and upper-class students, who are more likely to be white, typically attend private elementary and seconday schools.)
 
The law is nearly universally popular among Brazilian lawmakers. Only one out of 81 senators voted against it last month. President Dilma Rousseff signed it into law on August 29. Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told The New York Times he is “completely in favor” of quotas.
 
“Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty,” Da Silva said. “It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”…

…For scholars of race, Brazil and the United States present a fascinating contrast, despite some similarities. The United States and Brazil have the two largest populations of people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. A slight majority of Brazil’s 196 million people identify as black or mixed-race. Like in the United States, many of these black and mixed-race people are subjected to forms of racism that prevent access to higher education. Unlike in the United States, however, denial of this reality is not a problem. There is a vibrant national mainstream discussion of racism, and new dynamic legislators and laws to undo its effects…

Read the entire article here.

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Deep Roots and Tangled Branches

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-10-05 03:34Z by Steven

Deep Roots and Tangled Branches

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2006-02-03

Troy Duster, Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley
Also Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge
New York University

People who know their biological parents and grandparents typically take the information for granted. Some have a difficult time empathizing with the passionate genealogical quests of adoptees and, increasingly, products of anonymous sperm banks and other new technologies where one or both genetic contributors are unknown. In recent years, new legislation has enabled people to search for information about genetic progenitors – even in cases where there had been a signed agreement of nondisclosure. The laserlike focus of that search can be as relentless as Ahab’s hunt for the white whale.

Mystery of lineage is the stuff of great literature. Mark Twain made use of it for biting social commentary in his Pudd’nhead Wilson, a story about the mix-up of babies born to a slave and a free person. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Molière, and Dickens built grand tragedy and enduring comedy on the theme. In England in 2002, a white Englishwoman gave birth to mixed-race twins after a mix-up at an in vitro fertilization clinic. Imagine what Shakespeare would have done with that!

If one person’s passions can be so riled by such a puzzle, imagine the emotions involved when the uncertainty applies to a whole group – say, of 12 million people. The middle passage did just that to Americans of recent African descent. Names were obliterated from record books, and slaves were typically anointed with a new single first name. Sometimes no names were recorded, just the slaves’ numbers, ages, and genders. Some African-Americans have deliberately and actively participated in the erasure, showing no desire to pursue a genealogical trail. For others, fragments of oral history generate a fierce longing to do the detective work.

That is the case among the prominent subjects featured in “African American Lives,” a two-night, four-part PBS series scheduled for February 1 and 8. The host and executive co-producer is Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the department of African and African-American studies at Harvard. Gates has assembled eight notably successful African-Americans, among them the media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, the legendary music producer Quincy Jones, and the film star Whoopi Goldberg. Each participant, along with Gates, is the subject of some serious professional family-tree tracing. There are surprises for each of them, and the series has undeniable human-interest appeal…

Read the entire article here.

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Race (Part 1)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive on 2012-04-22 15:05Z by Steven

Race (Part 1)

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Blog: Brainstorm—Ideas and culture.
2012-04-09

David Barash, Professor of Psychology
University of Washington, Seattle

Here’s a delicate subject, especially given the nationwide anguish over what appears to have been the cold-blooded, racially lubricated if not racially motivated murder of Trayvon Martin: race itself. More specifically and more delicately: whether race is a “socio-cultural construct.” My response, and one that may well disappoint and annoy many readers, regardless of their ideology (but perhaps especially my fellow travelers on the left): It is and it isn’t, but mostly isn’t. That is to say, an objective, science-based look at the subject and at its use in other contexts requires us to conclude that race is both socially constructed and biologically “real,” but probably more the latter than the former.

Of course, in the old days of racist pseudoscience, it was universally assumed that the human races were genuine biological entities, and moreover, that they were linearly arrayed with whites on top, then Asians, then blacks at the bottom. From that bizarre and altogether unscientific misuse of biology, there was, not surprisingly, a backlash that went overboard in the other direction, maintaining as a matter of faith that there is simply no such thing as human races, that they are purely an arbitrary figment of our sociocultural proclivities. Sad to say, this is arrant nonsense … just as was the earlier insistence that the human races could be evaluated in terms of “modernity,” “distance from the apes,” or simply, “degree of advancement” or “intelligence.”

If we’re going to talk about the alleged reality or unreality of human races, we need first to discuss the meaning of “race” itself. When biologists talk about races in other species, they are essentially concerned with a convenient grouping of individuals that comprise phenotypically distinguishable populations characterized by some consistent genetic differences between themselves and other, comparable populations, and that typically inhabit different geographic regions, and are therefore normally prevented from interbreeding (which was essential to the initial distinctiveness of each race in the first place). Of course, human races are all capable of interbreeding; hence, we know for certain that they are all members of one species, Homo sapiens. Moreover, we are not restricted to separate, non-overlapping (“allopatric”) populations. Nonetheless, there is no question that what are generally identified as different human races have historically been allopatric, with much of the geographic and genetic mixing being a comparatively recent phenomenon…

…When Barack Obama identifies himself similarly, only an idiot would deny him the right to make such a self-designation. Clearly the President had a choice, and thus his identification as “black” is also to some degree a socio-cultural decision: his. But equally clearly, it was made possible by the fact that his biological father was black (which is why, incidentally, the president noted that if he had a son, he would “probably look like” Trayvon). On the other hand, if Obama’s mother had reproduced with someone as Caucasian as she was, their offspring would most certainly have been Caucasian, not black. Moreover, when Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton our “first black president,” it was obvious to everyone that she was speaking allegorically: Bill Clinton is no more African-American than Trayvon Martin was Caucasian…

Read the entire article here.  Read “Playing With Fire: Race (Part 2)” here.

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Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2012-02-06 00:45Z by Steven

Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2008-02-29

David A. Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History
University of California, Berkeley

The Obama candidacy challenges our notions of identity politics

In their support for Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack Obama, prominent black leaders have made it clear that black skin color itself is not as big a deal in American politics as it once was. The spectacle of John Lewis, Charles B. Rangel, and Andrew Young, among others, trying to persuade black Americans to vote for a white woman rather than the first black man with a real chance at the White House is a striking example of how the Obama campaign has become a postethnic phenomenon.

There are plenty of other signs as well. In a society long accustomed to a sharp black-white color line — and to relying on the rule of “one drop of black blood” to locate that line — commentators are discussing the choices of identity available to the mixed-race Obama. In a recent video on The New York Times Web site, Glenn C. Loury and John H. McWhorter, two prominent black intellectuals, casually reviewed Obama’s range of options. Yet it was not so long ago that the lightskinned Colin Powell declared matter-of-factly: “When you look like me, you are black.”…

…Obama’s mixed ancestry, however, is not what most generates the new uncertainty about blackness. Much more important is the fact that his black ancestry is immigrant rather than American-born. Before getting to that, however, let me clarify the postethnic flavor of the support for Clinton on the part of a substantial segment of the black political establishment…

Read the entire article here.

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