Thursday, April 5, 2012

ALTERNET: "Let’s Be Honest, Trayvon Martin is Dead Because Black People are “Scary”"

This was posted on ALTERNET March 26, but I have just found it and feel the need to share.

Let’s Be Honest, Trayvon Martin is Dead Because Black People are “Scary”
by Chauncey DeVega 

(Below is not an excerpt, just my own thoughts. Please follow the above link to read Chaucey DeVaga's piece)

Personally, I have not written about Trayvon Martin's death because I have just been too angry to put any coherent words down. All I can say is that it is disgusting.

It is disgusting that a grown man can kill a child with no recourse.
It is disgusting that people feel the need to reach for random tweets, common suspensions and stereotypes to defend his murderer.
It is disgusting that when the people demand justice no one listens.
It is disgusting that in 2012 being black in the wrong neighborhood will still get you killed.
It is disgusting that this is seen as a singularity. How many black and brown lives have been lost to this type of racism?

We cannot only blame George Zimmerman; he is a product of our racist society. Nothing drives home how insidious colorblind racism is more than a Intro to Sociology or Race class. Many white students argue that institutional racism does not exist, or that the news is not biased. Some of them will be invoke their sociological imaginations and see the connections between media portrayals of black men--both in popular media and new sources-- and see how being black means being suspicious. Dangerous. A few will begin hearing these code words in their own conversations, falling out of their mouth or of friends and family, and change.

Some will become George Zimmerman. They will live in fear of Other. For them a black teen is dangerous simply because he is black. They actually will fear for their lives. And the state may say they are right.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Whiteness in the U.S. and South Africa

The color of one’s skin, shape of one’s eye, and texture of one’s hair may vary across the globe, but these physical attributes have no meaning in and of themselves, simply what we assign to it. We decide which physical attributes are important, draw boundaries around them, organize people according these boundaries and then behave in a way which gives the categories meaning, thus creating races. The proof that race is a social construction can be found in the fluidity of the meaning we assign to these categories, changing them when it is in the best interest of those in power. Whites have maintained power in both the United States and South Africa since their inception through the creation of whiteness as a hegemonic power structure. In this post I will argue that whiteness in the U.S. and South Africa is similar in how it developed from slavery, has used extreme forms of segregation to maintain white superiority and in how it currently uses post-racial rhetoric to maintain the status quo.
The construction of race as we know it (as binary black and white) began with expansion of European colonialism (Winant, 2001). As Europeans arrived across the globe they brought with them Western ideals and a hunger for resources which provided the reasoning behind and the motive for deeming native peoples as different and inferior. Slavery provided a means to attaining natural resources and build colonies with minimal output from the colonizers. Slavery existed in various forms prior to the chattel slavery that came with the Atlantic slave trade; some groups took prisoners of war as slaves, while for others it took a form closer to indentured servitude (Winant, 2001:53). As Europeans began transporting slaves from Africa to the New World, slavery became racialized—chattel slavery was permanent and transgenerational (meaning that slaves bore slaves) and Africans became identified with slavery (Winant, 2001:54). The connection between color and freedom became a basis for white superiority myths.
Both the U.S. and South Africa used this white superiority myth to create societies in which whites dominated and exploited blacks (in addition to other racial groups such as Native Americans, Indians and Asians) (Duster, 2001, Winant, 2001). Due to the fluidity of race, it became necessary to create and maintain racial borders in order to uphold both the myth and the domination. In both countries various borders between whiteness and blackness have been established throughout its history to protect resources and power for whites, such as: creating racial definitions and classifications, the legislation of blackness through the one-drop rule, anti-miscegenation laws and the perpetuation of the racialized space established in slavery through Jim Crow and apartheid (Hale, 1998; Posel, 2001; Goodman, 2004).
The creation of racialized space in the U.S. began with slavery and the separation of white master and black slave. This separation was perpetuated in the post-slavery era as Jim Crow—a series of laws which enforced segregation, legislated the treatment of whites by blacks and instated poll taxes and literacy tests which effectively disenfranchised African Americans (Hale, 1998). Although Jim Crow existed largely in the American South, segregation was also maintained in the North. Large cities such as Chicago and Detroit contained massive black belts—crowded, congested areas which became ghettos. On a federal level the adoption of the racially based red-lining system by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) set the groundwork for establishing a white suburb and a black inner-city as well as resource rich white schools and poor black schools.
Since the arrival of the Dutch in 1652, racialized space has existed in South Africa. When Jan Van Riebeeck arrived he did two things, planted a thorny impenetrable bush around himself to keep Africans away and requested slaves (Goodman, 2001). Afrikaners had one clear border between themselves and the arriving English immigrants, as well as native African tribes—language.  This is one of the reasons whiteness is fragmented in South Africa. Another was the English approach to slaves, Britain abolished slavery in 1833 (Goodman, 2001). Although Slavery was abolished, this did not mean that the English pushed for equal rights; both the English and Afrikaners establish laws and policies which “undermined the economic and political power of Africans (Goodman, 2004:137).”
In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed and “founded on the premise that Africans would be denied voting rights in all but the Cape Colony… (Goodman, 2004:146).” Shortly after this both the Boars and the English worked to establish the 1911 Mine and Works act, which reserved higher paying skilled labor for whites, the 1913 Land Act, which restricted blacks to 7% of the land, and the 1923 Natives Act, which forced native blacks to carry passes and live in segregated spaces outside the cities (Goodman, 2004). When the National Party, a solely Afrikaner government, came to power in 1948 they quickly set about laying the foundation for apartheid—banning interracial marriage and sex, as well as mandating that every South African was to be categorized by race and segregated, in housing, public places and transportation (Posel, 2001; Goodman, 2004). Apartheid would find South Africa divided into racial “homelands” and would see over four million blacks removed from their homes and placed in congested reserves (Goodman, 2004). ). In 1990 the process of dismantling apartheid began, but it has left the country an extreme imbalance of power, as well as economic and cultural capital due to the increased access to wealth and education for whites (Duster, 2001).
One large difference in the whiteness in America and South Africa is in the divide which exists within South African whiteness. Although whiteness in the U.S. is not homogenous, it presents a much more unified front than the stratified language and country of origin based whiteness that exists in South Africa (Lewis, 2004; Salusbury & Foster, 2004; Steyn, 2004). Whiteness in the U.S. was originally Anglo-Saxon, but it grew to incorporate various white ethnics in response to a growing black population. Whiteness in South Africa originally referred to the Boers (Afrikaners), immigrants from Holland, but as the English (WESSAs) and other Europeans entered the continent and became the ruling elite they became incorporated into whiteness (Salsbury & Foster, 2004). Apartheid served to unify whiteness as a power structure in South Africa because of shared privilege.
In both the U.S. and South Africa post-racial rhetoric has been adopted in an attempt to maintain white privilege. Within the U.S rhetoric comes under the title of colorblindness, and in South Africa, nonracialism (Lewis, 2004; Dalmage 2011).  Whites in both countries claim that in their new post-Civil Rights and post-apartheid societies, people must be treated as individuals without any attention to race. While this may seem like a well-meaning and lofty goal, it serves the purpose of ignoring what served as affirmative action programs for whites and lead to the accumulation of generational wealth, cultural capital and unearned privilege for whites (Lewis, 2004; Dalmage 2011).
One way this is evident is in the propensity for whites in both countries to claim that current affirmative action programs (U.S.) and black employment equity (South Africa) are unjust because they give an “unfair advantage” to blacks based on race (Lewis, 2004). Both countries also seem to have taken a neoliberal approach; focusing on the individual (this is more evident within WESSA whiteness in South Africa) and individual responsibility rather than looking at structural causes for success and failure (Salusbury and Foster, 2004). This may lead to a larger investment in the discourse of meritocracy in South Africa, as meritocracy is already a dominant ideology in the U.S.
In the both U.S. and South Africa the imbalance of power associated with race is inextricably entwined in history, culture and legislation. Both have created and maintained racist legislation and policy that perpetuated the white superiority myth for the past four hundred years, denying blacks the ability to build economic, cultural and social capital, maintaining this racial power imbalance.  Both countries have created whiteness as a hegemonic power structure through the construction of a binary and stratified racial system, segregation through Jim Crow and apartheid and the use of post-racial rhetoric which continues to build privilege for whites while simultaneously denying privilege still exists. To truly build a post-racial society we must focus on extending privileges of whiteness to all people and making it what it should be—a basic human right.

Dalmage, Heather. 2011. Lecture Notes, Global Whiteness. January 2011-Februrary 2011.
Duster, Troy. 2001. “ The ‘Morphing’ Power of Whiteness.” Pp. 113-137 in The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Edited by Birgit Brander Rasmussen, et al. Durham, NC: Duke University Press
Goodman, David. 1999. Fault Lines: Journeys into the new South Africa. CA, Berkely: University of California Press.
Hale, Grace. 1998. Making Whiteness. NY. Vintage Books
Posel, Deborah. 2001. “Race as Common Sense: Racial Classification in Twentieth-Century South Africa.” African Studies Review. 44(2):87-113.
Salusbury, Tess  &  Don Foster. 2004. “Rewriting WESSA identity.” Pp.93-109. In Under Construction. Edited by N. Distiller. & M. Steyn. Sandton: Heinmann.
Steyn, Melissa. 2004. “Rewriting WESSA identity.” Pp.93-109. In Under Construction. Edited by N. Distiller. & M. Steyn. Sandton: Heinmann.
Unknown. 2010. The Scramble for Africa. Al Jazeera. Accessed Feb 1, 2011 <>
Winant, Howard. 2001. The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II. New York: Basic Books. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Racialized Group Identities (Focus on Japanese in Hawai`i and Afrikaners)

Racial identity construction establishes a line which separates “us” from “them” by creating boundaries and assigning meaning to those boundaries and the people described by them. These boundaries and meanings can be asserted internally, by the group, or they may be assigned externally, by outsiders. They are created over time and are influenced by a mixture of historical, political, social and cultural factors which each affect identity construction by varying degrees and in different ways. Due to the influence of these factors, identity construction is an ongoing process; boundaries and meanings shift and change in light of new information, policies, norms and cultural ideals (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). In this post I will explain the importance of these historical, political, social and cultural factors to the development of racialized group identities by focusing on the racial identity formation of Japanese in Hawai`i and Afrikaners in South Africa. I will highlight the critical arenas in which construction occurred and use the examples to illustrate the importance of history to the creation of racial identity formation.
Racial identities are, in part, the products of interactions between social actors, and although construction may occur anywhere within the social realm, there are six arenas in which these interactions are critical to formation: politics, labor markets, residential space, social institutions, culture and daily experience (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007:170).  It is within these arenas that boundaries are created, defined, defended and broken down; it is also where meaning is ascribed, asserted and internalized—most often within several arenas at once.  It can be difficult to isolate the effect of one arena from another as they are often linked and overlap, as will be illustrated within the example of the Japanese in Hawai`i.
In order to discuss the construction of a group racial identity for Japanese Americans in Hawai`i, one must have an understanding of the history of the islands. The children of these white missionaries began sugar plantations, which would create a white oligarchy and change the racial and ethnic make-up of the islands forever. Due to the introduction of European diseases Native Hawaiians were unable to supply a large enough labor force, so plantation owners used their economic wealth and political power to bring in laborers from China, Japan and other Asian countries. Plantation owners segregated their housing by ethnic group because each group was given different wages and there was fear that these groups would unite and demand equal wages. In order to distinguish the various ethnic groups from one another, they instated a system of differently shaped identification badges (Kinzer, 2006; Okamura, 2008; Miyares, 2008).  Through their use of segregation and classification, plantation owners created two boundaries; the first was racial, between the Asian plantation workers and the white plantation owners which was reinforced by a large power differential, it drew a firm line between “us” and “them” (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007).  The second boundary was along ethnic lines and was reinforced by residential space; because ethnic groups were segregated in ethnically dense housing it reinforced ethnic divisions despite the small power differential between the groups (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007)
The first two generations of Asian laborers on the plantation maintained separate social institutions (often promoted by the plantation owners), such as houses of worship and very small amounts of outmarriage. By the third generation this began to change, the small power differential between the laborers resulted in the formation of a laborer culture, or “local” culture—although it would not totally erase the ethnic boundaries that had been established through segregation (Cornell and Hartman, 2007; Miyares, 2008). What resulted from this “local” awareness was a stronger understanding of the laborers’ position and status within the larger culture of Hawai`i, as well as the challenges and discrimination they faced (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).
By 1905 the Japanese population, with their large numbers (159,000 arrived between 1868 and 1907) had become had become competition for the resident white population (Okamura, 2000; Takaki, 1982). This resulted in an anti-Japanese sentiment that took hold of the islands in the early 1900s and remained in effect through World War II.  In the 1930s the question of “The Japanese Problem” was raised and concerns over Japanese loyalties flamed anti-Japanese sentiment.  This discrimination became part of the daily experience of the Japanese, reinforcing the boundary between not just powerful whites, but also other “local” groups (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). Although there was discussion of deporting or interning Japanese Americans during World War II, the citizenry of Hawai`i was not behind the movement, and many local Japanese even enlisted and served overseas.
When they returned Japanese veterans refused to remain second-class citizens as their parents were. These veterans were largely responsible for the “Democratic Revolution” of 1954 when the Democratic Party gained control of both houses of the territorial legislature from the Republican white oligarchy for the first time since their overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy (Okamura, 2000). It was this entry into politics which ultimately paved their path to the middle class by placing decreasing the power differential between whites and the Japanese. Japanese Americans did not join the middle class en masse until the 1970s. Currently, Japanese, along with Chinese and Koreans are at the top of the SES ladder. These groups have a high rate of intermarriage and intermarriage with whites, their boundaries being blurred by the now small power differential between them.
 Through this discussion of identity formation one is able to identify how construction occurred within the critical areas and how these arenas have continued to influence formation. It is also possible to see how these arenas overlap in their affect on racial identity formation, such as the labor markets and residential space. It was not any arena in particular which formed Japanese racial identity, but rather the combination. This is also evident in Afrikaner identity.
The history of the Afrikaners begins with the colonization of the southern tip of South Africa , the Cape of Good Hope, by Dutch, German and French settlers who described themselves as “Boers”. These colonizers began to move inland in an attempt to expand, interacting with assorted African people and in the process created a racial boundary between themselves and Africans; a strong sense of “us” versus “them” (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).  One aspect which was central to this boundary was a judgment of worth—the idea that Europeans were “fundamentally different from” and superior to Africans, the Boers often enslaved Africans as well (Cornell and Hartman, 2007:137).
After the British gained control of the Cape and the political arena in 1806 they began to reorganize Boer political and social institutions. They forced schools to teach English rather than Afrikaans and used English proficiency tests to exclude the Boer population for full civic participation, which reinforced the boundaries between the English and Boer/Afrikaner groups. Animosity between the groups was furthered by the ideological divide between the British’s liberal policies toward black Africans and the racist ideology of the Boer/Afrikaners. These cultural and ideological differences would ultimately lead to exodus of 12,000 Afrikaners from the Cape seeking a life outside of British rule (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).
            This migration resulted in two violent interactions, the Battle of Blood and The Boer War, both of which contributed for the formation of the Republic of South Africa (Cornell and Hartman, 2007). Another result of The Boer War was a more unified and nationalistic Afrikaner racial identity and in 1948 the National Party was voted in, giving Afrikaners political power which they used to enact apartheid. Apartheid was a rigid government enforced system of racial separation based on the racial boundaries created by the Boer/Afrikaner colonizers and supported by their white supremacist ideology. It established segregated residential spaces, social institutions and maintained boundaries through maintained of a large power differential (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).  
            The fall of Apartheid has found the power differential has shifted. Although in a color based system one would think that the boundaries between whites in South Africa would have blended, but this has not been the case. The English still hold the majority economic wealth which allowed them to maintain power, while Afrikaners, now competing in a more integrated job market, have found the power differential to be increasing in comparison to other whites and decreasing in comparison to Africans, Coloreds and Indians (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).
            By viewing racial formation through a historical lens it is possible to see how combinations of critical arenas are involved in the construction of a group racial identity; allowing one to see exactly how multidimensional identity formation is. Although racial identity construction of Japanese in Hawai`i and Afrikaners in South Africa occurs within the same critical arenas of politics, labor markets, residential space, social institutions, culture and daily experience, one is able to see how the formation of the two groups has been distinct to each.

Cornell, Stephen and Douglas Hartmann. 2007. Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
Kinzer, Stephen. 2006. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawai`i to Iraq. New York: Times Books.
Miyares, I. 2008. “EXPRESSING LOCAL CULTURE IN HAWAI`I.” Geographical Review. 98(4), 513-531. 
Okamura, J. 1994. “Why There Are No Asian-Americans in Hawai`i: The Continuing Significance of Local Identity.” Social Process in Hawaii. 35:161-178. 
_____. 2000. “Race Relations in Hawai`i during World War II: The Non-internment of Japanese Americans.” Amerasia Journal. 26(2):117-141 
______. 2008. "Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai'i." Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 
Takaki, Ronald. 1982. “An Entering Wedge: The origins of the sugar plantation and a multi-ethnic working class in Hawaii.” Labor History. 23(1):32-46.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Race, Housing and Privilege, or More Reasons Why Race Still Matters

Malcolm X stated that segregation and separation had one key difference, “It’s only segregated when it’s controlled by someone from the outside (Dalmage, 2006:303).” The United States has a long history of using law and public policy to maintain the dominant power structure and aggregate power in the hands of whites. Much of this has played out in housing; making race and housing intrinsically tied to privilege. In this post I will discuss how social structures and individual actions were influential in shaping racial conflict, perpetuating and challenging inequality and establishing boundaries. I will also explore how this influenced our ideas about race, inequality and social justice.
In order to discuss the issues of race and housing I think it must first be established that race is, as Baldwin stated, not a biological reality, but a political one (Maly, 2011). Skin color, eye shape and hair texture vary across the globe, but these physical attributes have no meaning in and of themselves, only what we assign to it. We choose which physical attributes are important, organize people according these boundaries and then behave in a way which gives these categories meaning, thus creating races (Maly, 2011).  Proof of social construction can be found in the fluidity of the meaning we assign to these categories, changing them when it is in the best interest of those in power.
The construction of race as we know it, the hierarchy of white over black, began with expansion of European colonialism. As Europeans arrived they brought with them ethnocentric ideals and a hunger for resources which provided the reasoning behind and the motive for deeming native peoples as different and inferior. The European entrance into the Atlantic world, including the U.S., brought slavery. Although slavery had existed in various forms prior to the chattel slavery that came with the Atlantic slave trade, it was chattel slavery’s permanent and transgenerational nature which lead to Africans being identified with slavery. To be black was to be a slave and to be white was to be free, thus began the myth of white superiority.
                Although the idea of slavery seems far removed from the contemporary issue of housing, it is important to note how slavery and the notion of white superiority have influenced our ideas about race and in turn our public policy. First we must look at the creation and maintenance of racial borders. According to Heather Dalmage, racial boarders are created to protect goods and power and are maintained by “laws, language, cultural norms, images and individual action, as well as by interlocking with other borders, including the nation, religion, politics, sex, gender, race and age (Dalmage, 2006:302).” Racial borders are insidious because they are products of our history and seep into our socialization. They appear to be natural and normal, simply the way things have always been (Dalmage, 2006; Maly, 2011). Various borders between whiteness and blackness have been established to protect resources and power for whites, such as the legislation of blackness through the one-drop rule, anti-miscegenation laws and the perpetuation of racialized space (established in slavery) through Jim Crow.  Other ways in which the black/white border is maintained is through ideas about success and citizenship.
                In the U.S. homeownership is a sign of success (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996; Keflas, 2003; Guglielmo, 2004; Maly, 2005). This was especially true for white ethnics in the 1930s. For these white ethnics home ownership was an outward sign of their community, respectability and status in a society which had labeled them as outsiders and “questioned their ability and worth (Hirsch, 1983:188).” It was a way to become American (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996). Here we see the intersection of racial and national borders: to be an American was to be white and middle-class and white middle-class families owned homes. White ethnics did not have complete access to whiteness due to their connection to their ethnicity, such as the language they spoke, their religion and their tight-knit ethnic based communities. Their ability to gain high income jobs was curtailed by language barriers, low education levels and discrimination on the part of employers.
                White ethnics were largely able to purchase homes due to policy set in place by the government. Following the Great Depression, the Hoover administration identified the housing industry as a way to rebuild the badly bruised economy and went about establishing polices to encourage homeownership (Jackson, 1985).  In 1933 President Roosevelt established the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), which introduced the long-term, self amortizing mortgage, which had standardized payments extended over the life of the loan and extended loan life to 20 years (Jackson, 1985). This released the stigma that had been attached to mortgages, in the past middle-class families were expected to purchase a home out-and-out (Jackson, 1985).
                During this time the U.S. was also experiencing the Great Migration, when African Americans arrived in northern cities in droves seeking a new life with more opportunity away from racism in the Jim Crow south (Hirsch, 1983). African Americans would find that segregation and racism was still present in northern cities like Chicago and Detroit.  By 1920 in Chicago 85% of blacks lived in segregated housing in the large ghetto referred to as the South Side Black Belt (Hirsch, 1983).  Blacks also faced barriers to gaining homeownership. In 1939 only 9% of Chicago blacks owned their own home, this is in comparison to 21.7% of whites and 41.3% of foreign born whites who owned homes (Hirsch, 1983). Aside from racist hiring policies which relegated most blacks to low-end service sector positions with little upward mobility, government policy was also largely to blame for the large discrepancy in ownership.
                Home Owner's Lown Corporation (HOLC) created a uniform system of appraising how housing would be eligible for financing. It devised a system where there were four quality categories, labeled with a letter and color: A/green, B/blue, C/yellow and D/red, with A/green being the most favorable.  Housing which was densely populated, racially mixed, non-white racially segregated or aging was devalued under the HOLC system. HOLC did not start the practice of considering race and ethnicity in appraisal, real estate agents had a long history of racism, but it did apply notions of racial worth on national scale –influencing various financial and government institutions (Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996; Maly, 2005).
                The HOLC system was adopted by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which was formed largely to spur home construction as a way to ease unemployment. In 1944 the Veterans Administration (VA) instated the GI Bill,  a program which assisted World War II veterans in purchasing housing after their return to the states by offering federally backed, low interest 30 year mortgages. They also adopted FHA appraisal standards, which included red-lining or labeling racially mixed, or non-white segregated neighborhoods as class D, or red, housing and therefore not eligible for financing or re-financing (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996; Maly, 2005).
                The adoption of red-lining by the VA and FHA lead to two primary outcomes which created an affirmative action program for whites. First, because red-lining barred loans in black and mixed neighborhoods it was essentially useless for black GIs. They could not buy in their current neighborhood, but they also could not move into a white neighborhood because, their presence alone would reclassify the neighborhood. Second, the HOLC, FHA and VA appraisal system devalued older housing stock and only allowed small short-term loans for existing structures, making the purchase of a new home more affordable than the maintenance of an older home. This system resulted in higher purchases in newly developed suburban areas, which due to red-lining, were overwhelmingly white. As whites began to move into the suburbs, industry moved with them, providing suburban residents with jobs, slowly turning the inner-city into a ghetto (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996; Maly, 2005).
                This coincided with the Second Great Migration, when a new wave of southern black immigrants arrived in northern cities. The South Side Black Belt was quickly pushed to its limits, as blacks struggled to find housing. Conditions quickly became congested and many middle-class blacks looked to urban white ethnic neighborhoods to purchase homes (Hirsch, 1983). Real estate agents had realized that there was a great deal of money to be made by purchasing houses at low costs from whites and selling them at inflated costs to blacks. Once an African American moved onto a white block, whites would generally flee, selling at lower and lower prices, leaving more profit for agents and speculators. This created the dual housing market (Hirsch, 1983; Maly, 2005).
                For ethnic whites their house was generally their primary investment and core savings which is why whites felt that they had to protect their homes from blacks. They knew that property values would drop once an African American moved onto the block and their house would be worth less, but the need to protect their home went beyond money. For these lower-class white ethnics it was their connection to whiteness and “Americaness” through their home ownership that was also being threatened (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996; Maly, 2005; Maly, 2011). This lead many whites to act out against blacks with violence, such as the Chicago riots in Fernwood and Englewood (Hirsch, 1983). 
                This era also saw the rise of individual acts aimed at barring blacks from home ownership. One example is restrictive covenants—agreements made by homeowners within a certain neighborhood stating they would not sell to non-whites. Often this included agreeing to not post for sale signs on lawns or advertise in newspapers as an attempt to control who would purchase in the neighborhood. Neighborhood associations often pushed members to police each other and maintain segregation (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Segrue, 1996; Maly, 2005). 
                There also were several neighborhoods which pushed for integration, although this does not mean that they were without prejudice. For example, in integrated Hyde Park residents used their political clout to bar a housing project from their community because they did not want to live near poor blacks (Hirsch, 1983). Many communities pushed for integration not out of any desire for equal rights, but as a way to stabilize and protect housing prices (Maly, 2005).
                In 1968 congress passed the Fair Housing Act as part of the Civil Rights bill. Unfortunately, this did not lead to the mass integration of housing across the country. Housing remains largely segregated with African American having the highest levels of segregation and whites the lowest (Charles, 2003; Maly, 2005). In her 2003 article, “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation” Camille Charles discusses that national and local-level studies have found housing discrimination still exists, such as racial steering by real estate agents, and denial of financing based on race. This information is confirmed by Judith DeSensa’s ethnographic study of Greenpoint, where she discusses how the residents set up and informal housing market in order to keep Latinos out of their neighborhood (DeSenna, 1994).
                While organizing this post I made the decision to start with the construction of race so that it would be possible to see how the idea of white superiority (and black inferiority) is the foundation of our institutions and public policy. Throughout our history the U.S. has denied African Americans citizenship, the ability to marry, the ability to learn to read, voting rights and the ability to occupy the same space as whites. Some discount our history and say we must begin our analysis of race and housing after the Civil Rights era, which makes it easy to fall into the trap of colorblind ideology. The problem with this is that it does not take into account the generational accumulation of white wealth and privilege through the denial of equal rights for blacks.
                The creation of the suburbs and FHA loans fashioned an affirmative action program for lower-class whites and white ethnics, allowing them to gain one of the key assets responsible for creating generational wealth: a house. These programs have also maintained segregated black neighborhoods, which have serious restricted the ability of African Americans to gain mobility and improve their life chances (Hirsch, 1983; Jackson, 1985; Charles, 2003). By denying to acknowledge the white privilege that exists because of this, we are perpetuating the myth of white superiority.
We cannot see how our current laws and policy are racist if we refuse to look at how race shaped the past and how a precedent has been created through past legislation, attitudes and beliefs which continue to inform the current moment. This includes our ideas about meritocracy, and the idea that anyone should be able to achieve success. If anyone can achieve the same level of success that most whites have, then for those who do not it is purely their fault—and they alone should bear the stigma attached to failure. This allows whites to maintain power through shaping the hegemonic discourse surround race and success; essentially stating that blacks simply do not work hard enough to gain the same success that whites have. To twist the quote by Baudelaire slightly: the best trick the whiteness ever pulled was convincing the world privilege did not exist.

Charles, Camille Zubrinsky. 2003. “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation.” Annual Review of Sociology. 29:167-207.
Dalmage, Heather. 2006. “Finding a Home: Housing the Color Line,” in D. Burnsma (ed), Mixed Messages: Multiracial Identities in the "Color-Blind" Era. Lynne Rienner Publishers.
DeSenna, Judith. “Local Gatekeeping Practices and Residential Segregation.” Sociological Inquiry. 64(3): 307-321.
Guglielmo, Thomas. 2004. White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945. Oxford University Press.
Hirsch, Arnold. 1983. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960. University of Chicago Press.
Jackson, Kenneth. 1985. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. Oxford University Press.
Kefalas, Maria. 2003. Working-Class Heroes: Protecting Home, Community, and Nation in a Chicago Neighborhood. University of California Press.
Maly, Michael. 2005. Beyond Segregation: Multiracial and Multiethnic Neighborhoods in the U.S. Temple University Press.
Maly, Michael. 2011. Lecture notes from Race in the City. January 13, 2011- February 3, 2011.
Sugrue, Thomas. 1996. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton University Press.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why Race and Ethnicity Continue to Matter

Karl Marx, Max Weber and Robert Park all argued that race and ethnicity would cease to matter, yet almost a hundred years later race and ethnicity are still indicators of life chances, still influence policy and law and are still used as justification for genocide, hatred and fear (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). Race and ethnicity have shaped the way the world is organized; they have contributed the formation of both global and local societies including establishing systems of privilege and denial (Dalmage, 2010a). The concepts of race and ethnicity are so imbedded in the structures of society that it is not just a matter of “seeing past race” or “moving beyond race” but looking at the way these concepts have been institutionalized and have shaped individuals, beliefs and ideals. In order to explain why race and ethnicity still matter, I will define these terms, explore their historical construction and discuss how this effects the current moment.
According to Cornell and Hartmann, ethnicity is a relational construct used to distinguish one group from another on the assumption that one group shares something that the other does not (2007:20). Ethnicity does not exist by itself, like all social constructions, it can only be seen in relation to what it is not, therefore it is a portion of the whole population with some perceived difference between itself and the remainder.  Cornell and Hartmann make an important distinction between an ethnic category and ethnic group, a category being ascribed to a portion of the population by outsiders and a group is when the ethnic identity is subscribed to by the population itself (2007:21).
Cornell and Hartmann define race as a “human group defined by itself or others as distinct by virtue of perceived common physical characteristics that are held to be inherent” (2007:25). Skin color, eye shape and hair texture vary across the globe, but these physical attributes have no meaning in and of themselves, only what we assign to it. We choose which physical attributes are important, organize people according these boundaries and then behave in a way which gives these categories meaning, thus creating races.  Proof of social construction can be found in the fluidity of the meaning we assign to these categories, changing them when it is in the best interest of those in power.
There are two major differences between race and ethnicity. The first is that while both are used to describe some perceived difference, ethnicity does not have to be hierarchical, while race is inherently hierarchical (Dalmage, 2010b). Cornell and Hartmann point out that race was generally assigned by a dominant group to a less powerful one as a way of othering (2007:28). This was by and large done by Europeans during their expansion and colonization and by the act of labeling and designating race they were establishing a social hierarchy—placing themselves at the top and labeling others as inferior, implying they had less worth.
The second difference is that ethnicity can be, and often is, assigned as a category, but frequently it is asserted by the group itself. An ethnic identity can be used to affirm a common culture, history and sense of community. Ethnicity is not necessarily about the power dynamic between ethnic groups, although it can be. In some cases a group can be both a race and an ethnicity, in they have been assigned a hierarchical place as a race, but have self identified as an ethnic group as well, subscribing to their own culture and shared history (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007).
According to Banton the academic classification of humans did not necessarily begin in an effort to establish a hierarchy of races, although one can see Eurocentric discrimination in the writings of people like Buffon and Kant (1987:46). It was in 1774, in Edward Long’s History of Jamaica, that placed what we would now refer to as racial groups into a hierarchy with, of course, white Europeans at the head (Banton, 1987:50). It was not until the 1830s that a real school developed which supported the idea that blacks were inherently inferior to whites and were a separate species developed (Banton, 1987:54). Most current academics have rejected the idea that there is any biological significance to race.
The construction of race as we know it began with expansion of European colonialism (Winant, 2001; Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). As Europeans arrived they brought with them ethnocentric ideals and a hunger for resources which provided the reasoning behind and the motive for deeming native peoples as different and inferior. Without doubt the construction of the black and white races is the best example of this.
Slavery existed in various forms prior to the chattel slavery that came with the Atlantic slave trade; some groups took prisoners of war as slaves, while for others it took a form closer to indentured servitude (Winant, 2001:53). As Europeans began transporting slaves from Africa to the New World, slavery became racialized—chattel slavery was permanent and transgenerational (meaning that slaves bore slaves) and Africans became identified with slavery (Winant, 2001:54). To be black was to be a slave and to be white was to be free, thus began the myth of white superiority.
As these varied ethnic groups of enslaved Africans journeyed to and arrived in the New World, they resisted their white captors in various ways: attempting mutiny on slave ships; creating maroon communities; or participating in what Winant calls “foot dragging” or work slowdowns (2001:60). As a result of these acts of resistance and the shared goal of attaining their freedom, blacks, although diverse racial category, also became an ethnic group (Winant, 2001; Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). In various countries this division of power associated with race effects the futures and life chances of their citizens up to the current day, creating a color line which marks the boundaries of race, and therefore power. These boundaries are patrolled by both blacks and whites, although for different reasons, as Dalmage states, “whites patrol to protect privilege, blacks as they struggle for liberation” (2000:34).
In the U.S. the imbalance of power associated with race is inextricably entwined in our history, culture and legislation. Europeans created a Eurocentric culture and norm to which others were, and still are, expected to assimilate (Cornell and Hartmann; 2007) Blacks were legislated as property, treated as livestock and denied citizenship, and after emancipation from slavery they were again subjected to legislated violence, segregation and discrimination under Jim Crowe. They were denied equal wages and education—even after defending their country in World War II, blacks were denied the G.I. Bill and affordable mortgages. By creating and supporting racist legislation and policy that perpetuated the white superiority myth for the past three hundred years, the U.S. has denied African Americans the ability to build economic, cultural and social capital, maintaining this racial power imbalance.  
In Africa the modern day effects of colonization and the construction of race by Europeans is also evident. Besides establishing the white superiority myth and racial borders, Europeans also established national borders; effectively shaping physical boundaries of African countries regardless of the cultures and language of the people they contained (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007:46). Colonizers cast their lots with various tribes, shifting the balance of power from one ethnic group to another or at times helping to establish new ethnic and/or racial divides (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007).
In South Africa whites established western cultural norms which Africans had to conform to in order gain legal rights, such as to hold property (MacDonald, 2006:96). They established an apartheid system, which legislated racial classification and segregation. Under the system a minority of whites retained power and citizenship while blacks were stripped of citizenship and relegated to ghettos or removed from the country. In 1990 the process of dismantling apartheid began, but it has left the country an extreme imbalance of power, as well as economic and cultural capital due to the increased access to wealth and education for whites (MSU, 2010). Even in the face of a new racially integrated government strong racial divisions exist, as MacDonald points out, new policy may dictate equality, but “…the ANC could not and can not [sic] prevent South Africans from harboring racial affinities” (2006:112).
            Race and ethnicity still matter because they are central to the organization of societies across the globe. They have established power dynamics which are still maintained by legislation, policy and public opinion and are so embedded in our society and individual lives that it can be hard see the influence they have on us. Ultimately, race and ethnicity still matter because power and privilege is still concentrated within the confines of race and as long as there is racial inequality race and ethnicity will be important.

Banton, Michael. 1987. “The classification of races in Europe and North America: 1700-1850.” International Social Science Journal, 39(1):45-60.
Cornell, Stephen and Douglas Hartmann. 2007. Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
Dalmage, Heather. 2000. Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families in a Racially Divided World. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
----- 2010a. “Week Two Overview of Questions.” Retrieved June 15, 2010:
-----.2010b. “Week Three Overview of Questions/Comments.” Retrieved June 15, 2010:
MacDonald, Michael. 2006. Why Race Matters in South Africa. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Michigan State University (MSU). 2010. South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid. “Introduction.” Retrieved, June 16, 2010:
Winant, Howard. 2001. The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II. New York: Basic Books.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Relationship Between Whiteness, Citizenship, Racial Categories and Shifting Racial Discourse

             Whiteness has been synonymous with citizenship (if not legally, then in popular thought) in European colonized countries, like the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, since their inception. In the United States full civil, political and social citizenship has largely been restricted to free white men, denying the rights and protections of citizenship to white women, both free and enslaved blacks, Native Americans and aliens (Glenn, 2002). Across the globe, the Union of South Africa was formed and “founded on the premise that Africans would be denied voting rights in all but the Cape Colony,” connecting whiteness and citizenship for generations to come(Goodman, 2004:146).  In this post I will explain how whiteness has been inextricably tied to citizenship, both formal and substantive, through racial categorization. I will also discuss how shifting racial discourse affects the way societies view race which in turn affects racial categorization, whiteness and access to citizenship.
            Just as whiteness has been formed in opposition to non-whites, citizenship has been created in opposition non-citizens—both are social constructions which are fluid and shift to protect the rights and privilege of those in power (Glenn, 2002; Dalmage, 2011). In European colonized countries like the United States, South Africa and Brazil, whites formed new colonizer governments which would establish rights for themselves over those of the indigenous people, and create a claim on land, resources and labor (Glenn, 2002). Although all three began as colonies of a monarchy, each eventually established themselves as independent nations, consisting of citizens rather than subjects (Glenn, 2002).  Citizenship means that you have “full membership in the community in which one lives,” providing certain rights for the citizen in exchange for certain duties (Glenn, 2002:19).
            According to T.H. Marshall, citizenship has three types of rights: civil, political and social (Glenn, 2002). Civil rights are “the rights necessary for individual freedom,” which include freedom of religion, speech and thought, as well as the right to justice, to own property and the form contracts (Glenn, 2002:19). Political rights are the rights necessary to participate in the governance of the community, this includes the right to vote or exercise political power (Glenn, 2002).  Finally, social citizenship or the ability to have one’s basic needs met, this includes the right to some degree of economic security, ability to participate in society and to “live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in the society” (Glenn, 2002:19; Dalmage, 2011). Full citizenship is the ability to participate in all three of these rights. This makes social citizenship vital to being a full citizen because it is what allows individuals to turn formal rights into substantive rights—meaning without social citizenship, the ability to provide for yourself and your family and the ability to participate in social life, one is unable to exercise their other rights (Glenn, 2002).
            Substantive access to citizenship has often been curtailed by using racial categorization to control access to social rights either implicitly or explicitly. Racial categorization is more than just sorting individuals by shared phenotypes like skin color, hair texture or facial features; it is about creating systems of privilege and denial. Race is socially constructed, meaning that phenotype has no significance in itself, only what society attributes to it; therefore it is not fixed and can change according to the popular beliefs and discourse at the time. In the U.S. black Americans have explicitly been excluded from citizenship based on their race, as well as implicitly through Jim Crow and mass incarceration (Waquant, 2005; Alexander, 2010).        Although blacks were granted civil and political citizenship in 1870, after being deemed subhuman and incapable of citizenship during slavery, Jim Crow effectively barred them from social citizenship—many were unable to vote due to restrictive poll taxes, reading tests and violence (Glenn, 2002; Alexander, 2010). Today many African Americans are barred from full citizenship by state laws which limit the social rights of formerly incarcerated by supporting restrictive employment laws and rescinding the ability of those convicted of a felony to vote (Alexander, 2010). These restrictions are not explicitly based on race, but African Americans are disproportionately affected due to the denial of privilege based on race. The fluidity of racial categories can be seen in census categories (Nobles, 2004).
            Census categories themselves are a form of racial discourse (Nobles, 2004). The U.S. census enumerates by race, while the Brazilian census enumerates by color—both reflect political and popular ideas about race and the construction of difference (Nobles, 2004). Although their beliefs were grounded in the idea of white supremacy, both countries took different tactics to support it. Brazil promoted the idea that through intermarriage indigenous people, descendents of African slaves and European colonizers would meld into one white race—therefore color was more important to account for (Nobles, 2004). The U.S. took this approach when dealing with Native Americans, but when it came to other racial groups the prime tactic was exclusion (Nobles, 2004). The U.S. denied citizenship to non-whites, used miscegenation laws, exclusionary immigration policies,  and reconstructed ideas about familial lineage in order to exclude people of color from citizenship—because of this the identification of race was important (Pascoe,1996; Nagel, 2003; Nobles, 2004).
            If one takes the U.S. census as an example it is possible to see how popular ideas about race have been reflected in the census, which in turn affect government policy (Noble, 2004).  There were eighteen changes to the twenty censuses that occurred between 1790 and 2000 (Noble, 2004). One example is  how polygenists lobbied congress for, and received, the inclusion of the term “mulatto” in the 1850 census in order to support their claim that the offspring of two different races, black and white, would be infertile (Nobles, 2004; Dalmage, 2011). This both reflected one “scientific” approach to race at the time and had an influence on the way race was discussed in society. According to the “one-drop rule” which had dominated popular thought prior, and deemed anyone with “one-drop” of “black blood” black, the term “mulatto” differentiated between levels of blackness.
            Racial discourse is not only restricted to the census. It is also seen within policy. After the Civil Rights Amendment was passed in 1964 racial discourse began to move away from overt racism and the census was needed to identify whether historical inequalities were being addressed in a meaningful way through the group rights won by activists (Dalmage, 2011). As the U.S. moved into the 70s and 80s, neoliberalism began to take hold of policy, including a movement away from group rights and towards individual rights and racial discourse began to shift to colorblind ideology. Colorblind ideology states that society is beyond race and to have truly fair society we must omit race from our policies, including efforts to address historical inequality (Dalmage, 2011). Now right wing activists are asking if we even need to enumerate race in the census. Colorblind ideology works to defend white privilege by limiting citizenship through the family ethic and the idea of the deserving poor (Glenn, 2002; Dalmage, 2011).
            Colorblind ideology is informed by the neoliberal idea of personal responsibility. Everyone is responsible for their own lives and choices and no attention is paid to the circumstances under which you were born. The historical lack of access to citizenship and privilege blacks have had is discounted and instead there is a focus on “bad choices.”  Common arguments for larger amounts of black poverty are connected to ideas about the family ethic, what “good citizens” strive for: women who are chase and bound to the private sphere (home) and men who are breadwinners and bound to public space. Many African Americans do not fit into this ethic because due to the historical inequalities women have been forced to leave the home to work and men are often incarcerated, ironically often times for participating in the underground economy to provide for their families (Dalmage, 2011). Meanwhile white ethnics are used as a defense of neoliberal ideas and the family ethic. They are held up as people who have been discriminated against and through “hard work” have raised themselves up by their bootstraps and accomplished what blacks could not (Guglielmo, 2003; Maly, etal., 2010).  Of course, the fact that they were not denied citizenship for near 200 years is neatly forgotten.
            It is not difficult to see the myriad of ways that whiteness has been tied to citizenship. People of color have been explicitly denied citizenship based on their race and commonly held popular and scientifically held beliefs that they were inferior to whites. They have also been denied citizenship implicitly through racist policies like Jim Crow and the Rockafeller drug laws which have targeted African Americans, as well as through miscegenation laws and exclusionary immigration policies (Pascoe, 1996; Nagel, 2003; Alexander, 2010). One only has to look at current policy, like Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which allows police officers to ask anyone who looks illegal for their U.S. identification. If not in law, in popular thought to be American is to be white.
Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow. New York: The New Press.
Dalmage, Heather. 2011. Lecture Notes, Global Whiteness, Roosevelt University. February 2011- March 2011.
Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2002. Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor.
Guglielmo, Thomas. 2003. White on Arrial: Italians, Race, Color and Power in Chicago, 1890-1849. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hale, Grace. 1998. Making Whiteness. NY. Vintage Books
Maly, Michael, Heather Dalmage and Nancy Michaels. 2010. “The End of an Idyllic World: Race Memory, and the Construction of White Powerlessness.”
Nagel, Joane. 2003. Race, Ethnicity and Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Nobels, Melissa. 2004. “Racial Categorization and Censuses.” In Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity and Language in National Censuses. Edited by David I. Kertzer and Dominique Arel.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pascoe, Peggy. 1996. “iscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America.”  The Journal of American History.83(1):44-69.
Waquant, Loïc. 2005. “Deadly Symbiosis.” Boston Review.
Zaal, Frederick Noel. 2008. “The Ambivalence of Authority and Secret Lives of Tears: Transracial Child Placements and the Historical Developments of South African Law.” Journal of Southern African Studies. 18(2):372-404.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Avoiding the Monoculture through Homeschooling?

I recently read the Newsweek article "Why Urban Educated Parents are Returning to DIY Education" at The Daily Beast. It grabbed my attention because my husband and I have been been discussing it as an option for when we have children. Since neither of us were enamored with our own school experiences and we both hold graduate degrees in differing fields, we feel it is a viable option for our family. Linda Perlstein's piecean interesting readreiterated some of the concerns I have heard about homeschooling such as the possible social and psychological effects on children and parents.

The concern I have heard voiced most often about homeschooling is that the social skills of these children may be retarded. Frankly, my social skills were retarded by attending public school (a very good one, in fact). Through peer bullying I learned that expressing dissenting opinions and unusual interests would result in name calling and isolation. Through in-class shaming by teachers I learned that saying, "I don't know," is a fault, and that asking for help is a weakness. I was constantly afraid of speaking up because I might be made fun of, or told I was wrong, or called stupid. What I learned in school was that if you wanted  to be left alone, you had to seem like everyone else.

The sociologist in me says that this is simply part of socialization, implicitly and explicitly giving students tools to navigate the larger society. I certainly learned what was acceptable and what was deviant. I suppose if I wanted to take a traditional route in life, the tools I learned in school would serve me well, but as I attempt to carve my own path I find it difficult to put those tools down. After all, when all you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail.

I am not a fan of monoculture and what our public, and many private, schools are producing is a monoculture. Teachers are handed a test booklet and a overfilled classroom and told to make it work. Children and teens who do not learn the same way as the majority of the student body get left behind and told it is their default; while special, sensitive or curious students get beaten down. They have become factories, mass producing bodies for the service sector and managerial positions.A monoculture is great for standardization and mechanization, but what about innovation?

Homeschooling can allow for innovation. As a parent you can follow your child's curiosity wherever it may lead. Parents can tailor lessons to a child's learning style and inspire them to become their own teachers-- a feat most of us do not master until college or graduate school. I think one of the greatest gifts I could give my child is to deprive them of in-school socialization. Innovators are not afraid to ask questions, offer opinions or be wrong. Failure becomes a learning tool, not an ascribed status.

There seemed to be two primary psychological concerns for homeschooled children mentioned in the article. The first comes from Psychologist Wendy Mogel, who "wonders how kids who spend so much time within a deliberately crafted community will learn to work with people from backgrounds nothing like theirs." I would ask the same question about school students from the racially segregated suburbs (and yes I am also aware that many large cities are just as racially segregated--I live in one). We, unfortunately, do not live in a society which embraces diversity on a large scale, most schools give it the same lip-service corporations do, all talk and no real change or action. If you want your children to be able to interact with people from varied backgrounds, then make an effort. Commit to meeting with as many people as possible and to be candid and honest with question about race, religion and culture, regardless of whether your child is homeschooled. 

The second concern is that parents may spend "too much" time with their children. This, I take some issue with. I have never heard and adult say, "I just wish my parents did not spend as much time with me when I was a kid." Having recently lost my father, I know that memories are precious and the opportunity to create more for my children if a great gift. Yes, I agree that controlling your child's life through scheduling and demands for perfection can be crippling to a child, but that is just as large a concern in families who chose traditional education. I think that part of homeschooling is getting to know your child and their desires, interests and needs--not foisting yours upon them.

Finally, the effects on the parent. First of all I do not think everyone is cut out for homeschooling and there is nothing wrong with that. If it is not something you are interested in or suited to, than do not attempt it. I do think that for those of us who may choose to home school it is a disservice to assume it will lead to an unfulfilled life. I think that these arguments come down to a difference in perception. Happiness is not a fixed point, is very personal and looks different for everyone. If becoming a CEO for a Fortune 500 company makes you happy than good luck with that. It would make me miserable. I may find that teaching my children and writing blog posts make me happy. When we project our own very personal idea of happiness onto others, no one wins. 

All in all, I do not know if homeschooling is the route our family will take. We are no where near making that decision. Life changes quickly, and with it so do our desires and abilities. More than anything else I think children need to be taught how to be be happy and define success for themselves--that is one commitment I can put in stone.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"System D" and the Lack of Sociological Discourse in Popular Media.

Business Insider (BI) published the article "Forget China, 'System D' Is the World's Second Largest Economy", on the worldwide black market, or secondary economy, now dubbed "System D". I am always surprised (although I know I should not be) at how these stories never seem to address the "why" of the secondary economy. The article, and infographic below, frames the discussion through lost tax revenues and "black market entrepreneurs" who have higher profit margins than those in the legitimate economy.

What stories like this fail to look at is why the secondary economy exists. Yes, there are those who are driven by the prospect of high profit margins and are willing to take on the risk associated with large scale black market operations in order to obtain them, but I have no doubt that the majority (of people, not money) do not fall into this category. I think the larger issue is that those who work in the secondary economy  do so to support themselves and their families, because for one reason or another they are not able to within the primary economy. They may be barred by poverty, lack of education, lack of resources, former incarceration, racism, sexism, religious oppression or just plain prejudice.

When we look at countries with the largest black markets (see Shadow Economies all Over the World: New Estimates from 162 Countries from 1991-2007 an updated version of the IMF paper linked to in the article), we see corrupt and poor governments, with even poorer populations. We also see a concentration of brown and black peoples in most of these countries--which historically means countries and peoples who have been mined for resources and left to fend for themselves with alien cultures foist upon them.

If we look at the U.S. and who participates in the secondary economy we see, again, largely black and brown bodies who are barred from participation in the primary economy. We can look at several sociological papers and books written by Waquant, Pitts, Wilson.... and so on which point out that participation in the secondary economy is not usually by choice. Institutional racism has concentrated blacks and other minorities in certain geographic areas and then systematically denied those areas public services such as access to public transit, competitive schools, road repairs, etc. The private sector abandoned these areas as well, despite a real demand in the market for services. These things work in concert to bar involvement in the primary economy and, as if this is not enough, when caught participating in the secondary economy  these individuals are incarcerated. Incarceration, besides the abuse and emotional toll, means that one is further barred from participation in the workforce. It is no wonder the mass incarceration is considered the New Jim Crow.

As I read the comments on the BI article many point to high taxes and the "welfare state" as a reason for the secondary economy, I would have to argue the opposite. It because these governments do not provide basic services to these communities that secondary economy flourishes. The smallest secondary economies exist in countries with higher tax rates. Although I do not have the numbers to back myself up here, I am also willing to bet that the secondary economy in those countries, the U.S. included, are peopled by those segments of the population which fall through the cracks and are not provided their basic needs.

At the end of the day I suppose I am just thankful for my sociological education, that I can supplement popular media claims with sociological research and look at the "why." I just wish that as a society we tried to take a more holistic view of our problems and culture. Hopefully we will get there.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” App: Racism Built into Technology- RACISM REVIEW

This is a great post at Racism Review by Dr. Jessie Daniels about the new "Avoid Ghetto" Microsoft GPS app.   She says it all and much better than I could.

Microsoft has developed and filed a patent for a new “Avoid Ghetto” GPS app. The app connects to your smartphone (or dashboard GPS) and let’s you know when you’re getting close to a neighborhood with high rates of (street) crime.
A story about this dreadful new technology appeared in this piece by Ross Kenneth Urken, who talked to a CUNY colleague of mine, Sarah E. Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism. Chinn observes:
“It’s pretty appalling. Of course, an application like this defines crime pretty narrowly, since all crimes happen in all kinds of neighborhoods. I can’t imagine that there aren’t perpetrators of domestic violence, petty and insignificant drug possession, fraud, theft, and rape in every area.”
Of course, Sarah’s absolutely right about this. (Strangely, The Root mentions her book, uses the same quote, but totally mangles attribution.)
Here’s the way this app is supposed to work, according to the white-fearful-of-crime-imagination (again from Urken):
On the other hand, consider how this app could potentially help wayward drivers in some cities. In Detroit, for example, the city has a central downtown from General Motors headquarters up Woodward Avenue to Ford Field and Comerica Park where comparatively little crime happens. But just a few blocks outside that area, and a driver can find himself amidst streets of abandoned buildings and street-gang territory.
Although this is speculation, I’m sure this is just what the app developers had envisioned when they created this bit of software.  It’s all very Bonfire of the Vanities, really.  Why if Sherman McCoy had this app, he’d have never gotten into all that trouble in the Bronx. But that’s just it, the app doesn’t track the kind of crimes that are really damaging to society as a whole, say, like bank fraud or subprime mortgage scams by “Masters of the Universe” like McCoy.  No, in this app, crime only happens one way: between dangerous street thugs (read: black and brown people) and drivers (read: white people).
This Way
(Creative Commons License photo credit: dblstripe )
Urken goes on to downplay the racial implications of the “Avoid Ghetto” app, by turning to Roger C. Lanctot, a senior analyst at someplace called “Strategy Analytics,” who views the “Avoid Ghetto” app as potentially useful.  Lanctot asserts that “drivers” should have a right to know when they are passing “high-risk” areas. Here’s what Lanctot had to say:
“We’ve all had that experience when you take the wrong exit and go, ‘Oh shoot,’ because you end up in a neighborhood you shouldn’t be in. Should you look down at the GPS and have a red flag with an exclamation point, ‘Get out!’? I hate to say it because of the racial implication element, but what father wouldn’t want such a capability for their daughter. I’ve seen plenty of dads having their daughters call them every half-hour: ‘Where are you?’ ‘Where are you?’ They would have more piece of mind if they knew their daughters had an app to avoid driving through bad areas.” [emphasis added]
This quote is an interesting rupture in the usually ‘colorblind’ discussions about technology, yet the element of race is so clear, Lanctot wants to distance himself from the implications of what he’s saying.  It some ways it’s also a revealing moment about the white fear of crime (part of the white racial frame) and the construction of so-called ‘bad’ neighborhoods as always black or Latino. The reality is that “high risk” neighborhoods are most dangerous to those who are living in them (that is, predominantly black and brown people), not the white people who are driving through them.