Systemic Racism Video: Drug Arrests

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains drug arrests in this short (:52) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that over 40% of drug arrests are not for selling any drugs but just for possession of marijuana? And that White and Black Americans are about equally likely to use marijuana, but Blacks are 3.7 more likely to be arrested for it? And that even if they don’t get convicted of a crime that arrest can stay on their record and affect their chances at good jobs, housing and bank loans for the rest of their lives?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources (a New York Times story and this website). In addition, there’s a vast array of resources at The New York Times on this subject, particularly around racial disparity in marijuana arrests, all driving home the point that although white and black people use marijuana at comparable rates, it’s black folks who end up arrested for simple possession, as illustrated in this graphic:

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests, map and bar graph

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests, Image source: NYTimes Data source: ACLU

There’s also a huge amount of academic research behind this, if you want to dig a little deeper.

  • Beckett, Katherine, Kris Nyrop, and Lori Pfingst. “Race, Drugs, And Policing: Understanding Disparities In Drug Delivery Arrests*.” Criminology 44, no. 1 (2006): 105-137. Abstract:This article draws on several unique data sources to assess and explain racial disparity in Seattle’s drug delivery arrests. Evidence regarding the racial and ethnic composition of those who deliver any of five serious drugs in that city is compared with the racial and ethnic composition of those arrested for this offense. Our findings indicate that blacks are significantly overrepresented among Seattle’s drug delivery arrestees. Several organizational practices explain racial disparity in these arrests: law enforcement’s focus on crack offenders, the priority placed on outdoor drug venues, and the geographic concentration of police resources in racially heterogeneous areas. The available evidence further indicates that these practices are not determined by race-neutral factors such as crime rates or community complaints. Our findings thus indicate that race shapes perceptions of who and what constitutes Seattle’s drug problem, as well as the organizational response to that problem.  (locked)
  • Donohue III, John J., and Steven D. Levitt. “The Impact of Race on Policing and Arrests*Journal of Law and Economics 44, no. 2 (2001): 367-394. Abstract: Race has long been recognized as playing a critical role in policing. In spite of this awareness, there has been little previous research that attempt to quantitatively analyze the impact of officer race on tangible outcomes. In this paper, we examine the relationship between the racial composition of a city’s police force and the racial patterns of arrests. Increases in the number of minority police are associated with significant increases in arrests of whites but have little impact on arrests of nonwhites. Similarly, more white police increase the number of arrests of nonwhites but do not systematically affect the number of white arrests. These patterns are particularly striking for minor offenses. Understanding the reasons for this empirical regularity and the consequent impact on crime is an important subject for future research.  (locked)
  • Levine, Harry G., and Deborah Peterson Small. Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007. New York Civil Liberties Union, 2008. Abstract: From 1997 to 2006, the New York City Police Department arrested and jailed more than 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This was eleven times more marijuana arrests than in the previous decade, and ten times more than in the decade before that. (OA)

  • Levine, Harry Gene, Jon B. Gettman, and Loren Siegel. Targeting Blacks for Marijuana: Possession Arrests of African Americans in California, 2004-08. Drug Policy Alliance, 2010. Abstract: The study found that in every one of the 25 largest California counties, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at double, triple, or even quadruple the rate of Whites; however, U.S. Government studies have consistently found that young Blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young Whites. These racially biased arrests are system-wide, occurring in every county and nearly every police jurisdiction in California. This suggests that the pattern of over-representation of Blacks in arrests for marijuana possession is not due to the bias of individual officers, but rather to a general policy of resource allocation among law enforcement agencies. These marijuana possession arrests have serious consequences. They create permanent “drug arrest” records that can be easily found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards, and banks. The stigma of a criminal record for marijuana possession can create barriers to employment and education for anyone; however, criminal records for marijuana possession severely limit the chances for employment and related economic advancement among the poor and the young, particularly young Blacks and Latinos. (locked)

 

  • Levine, Harry G., Jon B. Gettman, Craig Reinarman, and Deborah Peterson Small. “Drug Arrests and DNA: building Jim Crow’s Database.” GeneWatch (2008). Abstract: DNA databases are increasingly including samples from people with misdemeanor offenses. Expanding the use of DNA databases to include more drug offenses, particularly the large number of drug possession misdemeanors, will add ever greater numbers of Blacks and Latinos to these databases. (OA)

 

  • Parker, Karen F., and Scott R. Maggard. “Structural theories and race-specific drug arrests: What structural factors account for the rise in race-specific drug arrests over time?.” Crime & Delinquency 51, no. 4 (2005): 521-547. Abstract: Studies examining the structural correlates of urban crime have generated a large body of research; however, few studies have linked the structural conditions to race-specific drug arrests. In this study, the authors examine the impact of urban disadvantage, social disorganization, and racial threat indicators on the rise in race-specific drug arrests from 1980 to 1990. They find these theoretical perspectives contribute to an understanding of the change in race-specific drug arrests. Findings indicate that shifts in the urban economy significantly affected Black drug arrests, while having no effect on the change in White drug arrests. In addition, the shift away from manufacturing jobs significantly affected Black arrests for drug possession. Consistent with the theory, social disorganization measures proved equally significant for Whites and Blacks, whereas mixed support was found for racial threat arguments. The importance of a theoretically grounded exploration into the rise in racial disparities in drug arrests is highlighted.(OA)

Next up, immigration policy.

Systemic Racism Video: Incarceration

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains incarceration in this short (1:01) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that back in the 80s there were less than half a million people in the US prison system, but now, thanks to the war on drugs, there are more than 2 million? That out of every 100,000 Americans about 700 are incarcerated, but out of every 100,000 Black men over 4,000 are incarcerated? And one of the many effects of that trend is that combined with felony disenfranchisement laws, it means 13% of Black American men are denied their right to vote?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources including one from The Atlantic, which features this graph:

Incarceration rate, bar graph

Incarceration Rate, per 100,000 Data source: International Center for Prison Studies (2010). Image source: The Atlantic (2014).

This topic, like the others covered in the series, is a well-researched aspect of systemic racism in the U.S. The conversation-changer recently has been Alexander’s book, but the analysis of the prison-industrial complex predates her work, there is some critique of her work (e.g., Forman). If you’d like to read some of the scholarship about this topic, you should see these:

  • Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press (2011). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.” (locked)
The New Jim Crow, book cover

The New Jim Crow

  • Davis, Angela. The Prison-Industrial Complex. New York: The New Press (2000). Abstract: Over the last generation, the U.S. prison systems have grown at a rate unparalleled in history, creating what many call a Prison Industrial Complex. Angela Davis explains what happens to our legal system when we lock up more people for longer sentences, which industries are a part of the Prison Industrial Complex, and how to stop or slow prison growth.  (locked)
  • Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.  (2003). Abstract: In this book, Davis puts forward the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable. In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (OA)
  • Forman Jr, James. “Racial critiques of mass incarceration: Beyond the new Jim Crow.” NYUL Rev. 87 (2012): 21. (OA)
  • Glasser, Ira. “American Drug Laws: The New Jim Crow.” Alb. L. Rev. 63 (1999): 703. No abstract available. (locked)
  • López, Ian F. Haney. “Post-racial racism: Racial stratification and mass incarceration in the age of Obama.” California Law Review (2010): 1023-1074. No abstract available.  (OA)

Next up, drug arrests.

 

Baltimore: Focusing on What Really Matters (not CVS)

Cable News Focuses on Baltimore CVS

Cable News Focuses on Baltimore CVS. Photo credit: Jessie Daniels. Creative Commons-Attribution.

An interesting lingering theme of the Baltimore riots is the narrow focus of the CVS Pharmacy. This may be partially due to the hyper-concentrated media coverage on the destruction of the pharmacy coupled with coaching the viewers to ask the big question of “why” they would destroy a business that “they” (whoever “they” might be) finally got to agree to invest into “this” particular community—as if having a local pharmacy in the community is some sort of special privilege for the largely invisible underclass community members in the U.S.

The awe and outrage shown for the destruction of the pharmacy by outside society highlighted the fundamental human disconnect contemporary privileged U.S. society has with Black America in general. If this level of concern and despair exhibited for the lost pharmacy (as if the pharmacy was more humanized as a tragic victim of an unjust system) was equally shown for Mr. Gray (as well as the thousands of others over the last several decades and the millions over centuries) then perhaps the pharmacy would not have been burnt down (as well as all of the other destruction that occurred with the riot—but the pharmacy is emphasized here because it has received central coverage and has become an icon of the Baltimore riot).

But, unlike Mr. Gray’s life (and the many others), thankfully for those who found themselves in states of complete disbelief, outrage, and even deeply mourning over the loss of the CVS Pharmacy, it can be rebuilt and fully restored (as well as the other establishments and material objects that went up into flames in the surrounding area) and back in service sometime in the future . . . . Or, maybe not, as the media and analysts have expressed concerns that because of this level of violence, the wealthy may now be hesitant to invest in this ill-behaved community (never bite the hand that feeds you now).tsk tsk.

Some may have seen the CVS Pharmacy as a godsend to this neighborhood, both residents and outsiders alike. Such viewpoints most reflect those who can legitimately use the pharmacy (those who have medical insurance and so on) and/or those who are benefiting (those employed) or profiting off the pharmacy in some way. But the question here is, what good are any businesses, CVS or otherwise, to residents who may be unemployed, underemployed, and underpaid? What good is a CVS pharmacy if many of the residents may not have any insurance or healthcare at all?

Some might say, OH, but CVS sells goods beyond pharmaceuticals, such as, milk, toiletries, household cleaning item, and even cosmetics and fragrances. But if you’re living in poverty already, purchasing many goods from a CVS is going to be more expensive than a local grocery store, for example. When living in poverty, every single penny counts (down to fallen change hiding in the couch cushions and car seats if you have one—the quarters are major scores and that ain’t no joke). And forget about getting a healthy home-made meal from the CVS pharmacy for you and your children if applicable—in their modest food isle, you can pick up some overpriced dried and canned goods, as well as some dairy in the refrigerated section.

In that respect, is the CVS pharmacy really a true blessing for this socially neglected U.S. neighborhood? A CVS pharmacy, along with the other businesses and establishments that were destroyed, are only as good as the local residents can equally benefit from their presence and participate as economically consumers. The goal of the businesses is to make profit, which in this case, comes at the expense at those who are most disadvantaged through absorbing the little resources the community members may have. Yet, our nation was more outraged by the loss of profits of this pharmacy rather than the gross injustice involving the loss of Mr. Gray’s life at the hands of the law enforcement officers, whose salaries are paid by the very tax dollars these residents generate through their consumption taking place in their home neighborhood.
Much profit is to be made off the poor, which reflects exploitation and absorbing any and all economic revenue that emerges, rather than honest social and economic investments into individual and community empowerment and a healthy independence (education, housing, employment, and so on). Nobody wants live in poverty and be on assistance (if even a possibility—too many in serious need are denied)—and anybody who truly believes these myths are fundamentally disconnected from the pains of oppression or outright delusional. Yet because of the way this racist and discriminatory society is deliberately set up, assistance is an absolute necessity for many and what little is given to far too few, is indeed precious for those who do receive.

Things as community gardens, apprentice and educational enhancement programs, free recreational and extra-curricular programs for both the youth and adults would be more beneficial to the community than the CVS Pharmacy and other small business, such as the liquor store, predatory lending establishment, and other businesses that were there only to profit off the oppressed. But, exploitation and dependency on the capitalist system, even if that means, you paying into a system with what little you do have or may get, that is designed to destroy your very presence and even existence, comes before individual and community empowerment, independence, and overall health and well-being. But oh yes, let us mourn for the pharmacy and the capitalist system while blaming the oppressed for their conditions and positions in the U.S. without any regard for the irreversible damages that have been done to the human lives that represent the epicenters of the riots that have, and will in the future, take place.

Another major theme was how the community was being “harmed by the people not having jobs to go to due to the rioting.” How can a community be more concerned about the few who do have jobs than with the majority who do not? In other words, again, the critics showed more concern and sympathy for those who were employed than outrageously high number of those who were unemployed while simultaneously questioning why the riots were taking place. In such dire circumstances, it is not incomprehensible that some residents may have never had the opportunity to land a job and see little to no hope of perhaps ever finding employment in the future, even at a minimum wage fast food joint, as if this is supposed to be desirable and overall suitable for minimal legitimate survival (forget about a well-paying stable life-long career) should their immediate realities continue on as white society so desires—ignoring the roots of the problems while demanding that everything quickly returns “back to normal.” Is white society’s conception of “normalcy” the best interest of this community? Or the many other underprivileged communities that reflect the same problems and grievances throughout the nation?

The looting and rioting reflected not only demands to be heard, but also cries for necessary and past due deep structural changes. Many people were honestly perplexed and “boggled” as one young woman put it, asking why they were burning down their own communities. Such questions from some truly seem to be genuinely reflecting the deep seated racial and class divide that exists here in the U.S. And those honest wonders need to be addressed with honest answers.
The rioting and looting can only be understood through a historical and systemic analysis (see Systemic Racism and Ghetto Revolts). When this is understood, the centuries of lethal violence and oppression against Black communities should rather lead people to beg the question of why there isn’t more revolts? Rather than, “why are they burning their town down?!” The rarity of riots, given the dire conditions in which these communities survive coupled with the racist lethal structures and environments in which they cannot escape, speaks volumes. Despite the intensity of these events, the rarity speaks to the contrary—oppressed Black communities are quite non-violent and far beyond patient, which should lead people to question why the riots are not more frequent.

There is no doubt should the more privileged be quickly subjected to the same exact conditions overnight with their children and families, likely more extreme riots would take place demanding justice and equality in the same way that we saw with the recent riots in Baltimore, and all others in the past. Not only would such individuals find their immediate circumstances unjust, but they would likely be burning down their surroundings because of the environmental dangers included (vigilante arsons). It has been suggested that Mr. Gray was a victim of lead poisoning—the poisoning coming from the housing unit he was raised in when a child. When it comes to standards and acceptable limits related to environmental dangers and hazards that white middle class+ will tolerate, the thresholds are much smaller—likely renovations, relocations, and/or demolition and rebuilding the neighborhoods would not just be an expectation, but a relatively quick reality.

The suggestion to move Baltimore and other areas throughout the nation that are demonstrating frustration and unrest back to “normal” is in itself inherently unjust and fundamentally immoral. We as a nation cannot claim to be decent, civil, caring, and equal, when we demand it returns back to “normal.” If the conditions of Baltimore, and beyond, both past and present, coupled with the seriously foul criminal justice system that is in place is truly considered “normal” for most Americans and the U.S. as a nation, then it must be recognized that there is a serious and very dangerous inhumane pathology that is pumping through the heart and veins of this society with every single beat—and every single heartbeat is actively keeping that very pathology alive and well.

Changes are far past due and necessary. Not for the sake of appearances of decency and other flattering terms that make the white society feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but for honest humanity and equality, and an honest and just society.

Systemic Racism Video: Government Surveillance

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains government surveillance in this short (1:12) clip:

The text of the video reads:

You probably know that today’s technology lets the government watch what we do and track where we go more than ever before, so much that privacy’s almost a thing of the past. But did you know the government watches some of us a lot more than others depending on where we come from? That as recently as 2011 the NYPD was exposed for targeting their surveillance specifically at what they called “ancestries of  interest” (Indian, Banglasdesh, Pakistani, Guyanese, Egyptian, Lebanese). Using our tax dollars to spy on these people’s everyday lives just going to the barbershop and the bookstore, and singling them out for this constant invasion of privacy based on nothing but where their ancestors were born?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list two journalism sources (this and this) for government surveillance as a domain of systemic racism, but it’s a vast subject that goes back decades and centuries in the history of systemic racism in the U.S. If you’d like to read some of the scholarship about this topic, you should see these:

  • Browne, Simone. “Digital epidermalization: race, identity and biometrics.” Critical Sociology 36, no. 1 (2010): 131-150. Abstract: This article considers the ways in which what Paul Gilroy terms ‘epidermal thinking’ operates in the discourses surrounding certain surveillance practices and their applications, with a focus on identification documents and biometric technologies in particular. My aim is not to re-ontologize race, but instead to outline the notion of digital epidermalization, stemming from Frantz Fanon’s concept of epidermalization, as it allows for thinking through race, ontological insecurity and the ways in which the body materializes with and against biometric technologies. I examine key research in surveillance studies, governmental policy documents concerning biometric enabled identification documents and the 2003 ‘deportation’ to India of a Canadian citizen through the issuance of an expedited removal order by the US Immigration and Naturalization Services. By interrogating how digital epidermalization gains meaning and is put into practice, this article seeks to posit a space for refusals of such epidermal thinking through a critical biometric consciousness. (locked)
  • Ellis, Mark. Race, war, and surveillance: African Americans and the United States government during World War I. Indiana University Press, 2001. Abstract:  In April 1917, black Americans reacted in various ways to the entry of the United States into World War I in the name of “Democracy.” Some expressed loud support, many were indifferent, and others voiced outright opposition. All were agreed, however, that the best place to start guaranteeing freedom was at home. Almost immediately, rumors spread across the nation that German agents were engaged in “Negro Subversion” and that African Americans were potentially disloyal. Despite mounting a constant watch on black civilians, their newspapers, and their organizations, the domestic intelligence agents of the federal government failed to detect any black traitors or saboteurs. They did, however, find vigorous demands for equal rights to be granted and for the 30-year epidemic of lynching in the South to be eradicated. In Race, War, and Surveillance, Mark Ellis examines the interaction between the deep-seated fears of many white Americans about a possible race war and their profound ignorance about the black population. The result was a “black scare” that lasted well beyond the war years.

  • Nelkin, Dorothy, and Lori Andrews. “DNA identification and surveillance creep.” Sociology of Health & Illness 21, no. 5 (1999): 689-706. Abstract: The use of DNA fingerprinting as a means of identification is expanding. The technology appeals to military, law enforcement, and other government authorities: those seeking evidence to establish the identity of a dead body, a missing person, a relative, or the perpetrator of a crime. The increased use of DNA identification and the development of DNA banking systems have intensified concerns about surveillance and privacy. More than just a source of identification, DNA databanks are also subject to abuse for political or economic ends. This article describes the expansion of mandatory genetic testing focusing on disputes that have occured when those required to provide DNA samples raise concerns about psychological harm and discrimination based on the information revealed by their DNA. We use these disputes to analyse the problems of ‘surveillance creep’ as growing numbers of people have their DNA on file. (OA)
  • Parenti, Christian. The soft cage: Surveillance in America from slavery to the war on terror. Basic Books, 2004. Abstract: On a typical day, you might make a call on a cell phone, withdraw money at an ATM, visit the mall, and make a purchase with a credit card. Each of these routine transactions leaves a digital trail for government agencies and businesses to access. As cutting-edge historian and journalist Christian Parenti points out, these everyday intrusions on privacy, while harmless in themselves, are part of a relentless (and clandestine) expansion of routine surveillance in American life over the last two centuries-from controlling slaves in the old South to implementing early criminal justice and tracking immigrants. Parenti explores the role computers are playing in creating a whole new world of seemingly benign technologies-such as credit cards, website ‘cookies,’ and electronic toll collection-that have expanded this trend in the twenty-first century. ‘The Soft Cage’ offers a compelling, vitally important history lesson for every American concerned about the expansion of surveillance into our public and private lives.  (locked)

  • Wu, Frank H. “Profiling in the Wake of September 11: The Precedent of the Japanese American Internment.” Crim. Just. 17 (2002): 52. Abstract: The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is the obvious precedent for the treatment of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (locked)

  • Zaal, Mayida, Tahani Salah, and Michelle Fine. “The weight of the hyphen: Freedom, fusion and responsibility embodied by young Muslim-American women during a time of surveillance.” Applied Development Science 11, no. 3 (2007): 164-177. Abstract: This article reports on a qualitative investigation of 15 young Muslim-American women living in New York City, after 9/11 and in the midst of the Patriot Act. Participants completed surveys about identity, discrimination, and coping; drew “identity maps” to represent their multiple identities and alliances; and participated in focus groups on several college campuses in the New York metropolitan area. Focus groups were conducted to investigate collectively their sense of hyphenated identities, their experiences of surveillance and their responses to scrutiny in families, communities, on the streets and in the political public sphere. Implications for the theoretical and empirical study of immigrant youth “under siege” are developed, with a particular focus on the burdens and responsibilities embodied by daughters of the second generation of Muslim-Americans. (locked)

Next up, incarceration.

Systemic Racism Video: Housing Discrimination

In the next video in the systemic racism series, Jay Smooth explains housing discrimination in this short (:56) clip:

The text of the video reads:

What would you call it if lifetimes of legal segregation followed by decades of pervasive racist housing policies still, to this day, disadvantage Black people in almost every aspect of life, because where you live can decide everything from how safe you are, to what food you eat, to the quality of your health care to the quality of your job, to the quality of your children’s education?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list two sources for this aspect of systemic racism: the powerful Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “The House We Live In” (Episode 3) of the documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, both are excellent.

If you’d like to read and learn more about housing discrimination and systemic racism in the scholarly literature, see:

  • Bullard, Robert Doyle. Dumping in Dixie: Race, class, and environmental quality. Vol. 3. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000. Abstract: To be poor, working-class, or a person of color in the United States often means bearing a disproportionate share of the country’s environmental problems. Starting with the premise that all Americans have a basic right to live in a healthy environment, Dumping in Dixie chronicles the efforts of five African American communities, empowered by the civil rights movement, to link environmentalism with issues of social justice. In the third edition, Bullard speaks to us from the front lines of the environmental justice movement about new developments in environmental racism, different organizing strategies, and success stories in the struggle for environmental equity.(parts OA)

  • Howell, Benjamin. “Exploiting race and space: Concentrated subprime lending as housing discrimination.” California Law Review (2006): 101-147. Abstract:  At an inner-city intersection, where globalized capital and free-market finance meet America’s shameful history of racial segregation and subordination, a new and insidious form of racial discrimination lurks. Where lending discrimination once took a binary form – bigoted loan officers rejecting loan applicants because of their skin color – the new model of discrimination is exploitation. Unscrupulous lenders now prey on a history of racial redlining by aggressively marketing overpriced loan products with onerous terms in the same neighborhoods where mainstream lenders once refused to lend. Subprime lending, the extension of loans to those with less-than-perfect credit at higher rates, has developed almost overnight into a multibillion dollar industry. (OA)
  • Massey, Douglas S. and Denton, Nancy.  American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard University Press, 1998. Abstract: This powerful and disturbing book clearly links persistent poverty among blacks in the United States to the unparalleled degree of deliberate segregation they experience in American cities. American Apartheid shows how the black ghetto was created by whites during the first half of the twentieth century in order to isolate growing urban black populations. It goes on to show that, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation is perpetuated today through an interlocking set of individual actions, institutional practices, and governmental policies. In some urban areas the degree of black segregation is so intense and occurs in so many dimensions simultaneously that it amounts to “hypersegregation.” (locked)

  • Sharkey, Patrick. Stuck in place: Urban neighborhoods and the end of progress toward racial equality. University of Chicago Press, 2013. Abstract: In the 1960s, many believed that the civil rights movement’s successes would foster a new era of racial equality in America. Four decades later, the degree of racial inequality has barely changed. To understand what went wrong, Patrick Sharkey argues that we have to understand what has happened to African American communities over the last several decades. In Stuck in Place, Sharkey describes how political decisions and social policies have led to severe disinvestment from black neighborhoods, persistent segregation, declining economic opportunities, and a growing link between African American communities and the criminal justice system. As a result, neighborhood inequality that existed in the 1970s has been passed down to the current generation of African Americans. Some of the most persistent forms of racial inequality, such as gaps in income and test scores, can only be explained by considering the neighborhoods in which black and white families have lived over multiple generations. This multigenerational nature of neighborhood inequality also means that a new kind of urban policy is necessary for our nation’s cities. Sharkey argues for urban policies that have the potential to create transformative and sustained changes in urban communities and the families that live within them, and he outlines a durable urban policy agenda to move in that direction. (locked) 

StuckInPlace_Cover_April2013

 

  • Williams, David R., and Chiquita Collins. “Racial residential segregation: a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health.” Public Health Reports 116, no. 5 (2001): 404-16. Abstract: Racial residential segregation is a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health. The physical separation of the races by enforced residence in certain areas is an institutional mechanism of racism that was designed to protect whites from social interaction with blacks. Despite the absence of supportive legal statutes, the degree of residential segregation remains extremely high for most African Americans in the United States. The authors review evidence that suggests that segregation is a primary cause of racial differences in socioeconomic status (SES) by determining access to education and employment opportunities. SES in turn remains a fundamental cause of racial differences in health. Segregation also creates conditions inimical to health in the social and physical environment. The authors conclude that effective efforts to eliminate racial disparities in health must seriously confront segregation and its pervasive consequences. (OA)

Next up in the series, government surveillance.

Systemic Racism Video: Employment

In the next video in the series, Jay Smooth explains the part of systemic racism known as ‘the wealth gap’ in this short (1:00) video:

The text for the video is:

Did you know that no matter what else is going on in America, year in and year out for the last 60 years, Black unemployment is always about twice as high as white unemployment? And even if you just look at Black college graduates, they’re still almost twice as likely to be unemployed as white college graduates? And if you just apply for a job with a white sounding name, you’re 50% more likely to get a callback than with a Black sounding name?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list several sources for the facts in the video, including a Pew Research Center report from 2013 that charts the consistent pattern of high unemployment rates for African Americans.

Unemployment Rates by Race, 1953-2013

Unemployment Rates by Race, 1953-2013 Source: Pew Research Center

If you’d like to read and learn more about employment discrimination and systemic racism in the scholarly literature see:

  • Bertrand, Marianne, and Sendhil Mullainathan. Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. No. w9873. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003. Abstract: We perform a field experiment to measure racial discrimination in the labor market. We respond with fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. To manipulate perception of race, each resume is assigned either a very African American sounding name or a very White sounding name. The results show significant discrimination against African-American names: White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. We also find that race affects the benefits of a better resume. For White names, a higher quality resume elicits 30 percent more callbacks whereas for African Americans, it elicits a far smaller increase. Applicants living in better neighborhoods receive more callbacks but, interestingly, this effect does not differ by race. The amount of discrimination is uniform across occupations and industries. Federal contractors and employers who list Equal Opportunity Employer’ in their ad discriminate as much as other employers. We find little evidence that our results are driven by employers inferring something other than race, such as social class, from the names. These results suggest that racial discrimination is still a prominent feature of the labor market. (OA)
  • Deitch, Elizabeth A., Adam Barsky, Rebecca M. Butz, Suzanne Chan, Arthur P. Brief, and Jill C. Bradley. “Subtle yet significant: The existence and impact of everyday racial discrimination in the workplace.” Human Relations 56, no. 11 (2003): 1299-1324. Abstract:In this article, we argue that research concerning workplace discrimination could be advanced by considering ‘everyday discrimination,’ that is, the subtle, pervasive discriminatory acts experienced by members of stigmatized groups on a daily basis. Three studies are reported which use secondary data analysis techniques to provide evidence for the existence of everyday workplace discrimination against Blacks. In addition to demonstrating the occurrence of such discrimination, evidence is presented which indicates that the experience of everyday discrimination is negatively associated with various indicators of well-being. The implications of these findings for organizations and for discrimination researchers are discussed. (locked)
  • Pager, Devah. Marked: Race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. University of Chicago Press, 2008. Abstract: The product of an innovative field experiment, Marked gives us our first real glimpse into the tremendous difficulties facing ex-offenders in the job market. Devah Pager matched up pairs of young men, randomly assigned them criminal records, then sent them on hundreds of real job searches throughout the city of Milwaukee. Her applicants were attractive, articulate, and capable—yet ex-offenders received less than half the callbacks of the equally qualified applicants without criminal backgrounds. Young black men, meanwhile, paid a particularly high price: those with clean records fared no better in their job searches than white men just out of prison. Such shocking barriers to legitimate work, Pager contends, are an important reason that many ex-prisoners soon find themselves back in the realm of poverty, underground employment, and crime that led them to prison in the first place. (OA)

  • Pager, Devah, and Lincoln Quillian. “Walking the talk? What employers say versus what they do.American Sociological Review 70, no. 3 (2005): 355-380. Abstract:This article considers the relationship between employers’ attitudes toward hiring exoffenders and their actual hiring behavior. Using data from an experimental audit study of entry-level jobs matched with a telephone survey of the same employers, the authors compare employers’ willingness to hire black and white ex-offenders, as represented both by their self-reports and by their decisions in actual hiring situations. Employers who indicated a greater likelihood of hiring ex-offenders in the survey were no more likely to hire an ex-offender in practice. Furthermore, although the survey results indicated no difference in the likelihood of hiring black versus white ex-offenders, audit results show large differences by race. These comparisons suggest that employer surveys-even those using an experimental design to control for social desirability bias-may be insufficient for drawing conclusions about the actual level of hiring discrimination against stigmatized groups. (OA)
  • Pager, Devah, Bruce Western, and Bart Bonikowski. “Discrimination in a low-wage labor market a field experiment.” American Sociological Review 74, no. 5 (2009): 777-799. Abstract: Decades of racial progress have led some researchers and policymakers to doubt that discrimination remains an important cause of economic inequality. To study contemporary discrimination, we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City, recruiting white, black, and Latino job applicants who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. These applicants were given equivalent résumés and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison. Additional qualitative evidence from our applicants’ experiences further illustrates the multiple points at which employment trajectories can be deflected by various forms of racial bias. These results point to the subtle yet systematic forms of discrimination that continue to shape employment opportunities for low-wage workers. (OA)

Next up, housing discrimination.

Systemic Racism Video: Wealth Gap

In the first video in the series, Jay Smooth explains the part of systemic racism known as ‘the wealth gap’ in this short (1:07) video:

The text for the video is:

Did you know that in 2010 Black Americans made up 13% of the population but had only 2.7% of the country’s wealth? That the median net worth for a white family was $134,000, but the median net worth for a Hispanic family was $14,000, and for a Black family it was $11,000? That the median wealth for a single white woman has been measured at $41,000, while for Hispanic women it was $140, and for Black women, $120?  Did you know that? Do you know what that’s called? Systemic Racism, and yes, it’s really a thing.

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list several sources for the facts about the wealth gap, including a report from Demos, The Racial Wealth Gap, which features several bar graphs such as this one:

Net Worth Chart

Share of Net Worth Held by Each Race (2010)

 

If you’d like to read and learn more about the wealth gap and systemic racism in the scholarly literature see:

  • Conley, Dalton. Being black, living in the red: Race, wealth, and social policy in America. University of California Press, 1999. Abstract: This book demonstrates that many differences between blacks and whites stem not from race but from economic inequalities that have accumulated over the course of American history. Property ownership—as measured by net worth—reflects this legacy of economic oppression. The racial discrepancy in wealth holdings leads to advantages for whites in the form of better schools, more desirable residences, higher wages, and more opportunities to save, invest, and thereby further their economic advantages. A new afterword by the author summarizes Conley’s recent research on racial differences in wealth mobility and security and discusses potential policy solutions to the racial asset gap and America’s low savings rate more generally. (locked)
  • Crowder, Kyle, Scott J. South, and Erick Chavez. “Wealth, race, and inter-neighborhood migration.” American Sociological Review 71, no. 1 (2006): 72-94. Abstract: Racial differences in wealth have often been thought to underlie racial differences in residential segregation and neighborhood attainment, but research supporting this claim is limited. The authors of this article use data from the 1989–2001 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), in conjunction with tract-level decennial census data, to examine the effects of household and parental wealth on the migration of black and non-Hispanic white families between neighborhoods comprised of varying percentages of Anglos (i.e., non-Hispanic whites). They find generally modest effects of wealth on these patterns of inter-neighborhood migration. Consistent with one version of the place-stratification model of locational attainment, the effects of both household and parental wealth are stronger among blacks than among non-Hispanic whites, with the sharpest racial difference emerging among renters. Racial differences in household and parental wealth, however, can account for only a trivial portion of the pronounced racial difference in migration into neighborhoods containing larger percentages of Anglo residents. The authors conclude that explanations for the racially stratified inter-neighborhood migration streams that underlie and reinforce black-Anglo residential segregation will need to look beyond the influence of wealth and other socioeconomic resources. (locked)
  • Feagin, Joe. Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. Routledge, 2013. Abstract: In this book, Feagin develops a theory of systemic racism to interpret the highly racialized character and development of this society. Exploring the distinctive social worlds that have been created by racial oppression over nearly four centuries and what this has meant for the people of the United States, focusing his analysis on white-on-black oppression. Drawing on the commentaries of black and white Americans in three historical eras; the slavery era, the legal segregation era, and then those of white Americans. Feagin examines how major institutions have been thoroughly pervaded by racial stereotypes, ideas, images, emotions, and practices. He theorizes that this system of racial oppression was not an accident of history, but was created intentionally by white Americans. While significant changes have occurred in this racist system over the centuries, key and fundamentally elements have been reproduced over nearly four centuries, and US institutions today imbed the racialized hierarchy created in the 17th century. (locked)

 

  • Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, current realities, and future reparations, 3rd. Routledge, 2014. Abstract: This third edition is significantly revised and updated, with an eye toward racism issues arising regularly in our contemporary era. This edition incorporates more than two hundred recent research studies and reports on U.S. racial issues that update and enhance all the last edition’s chapters. It expands the discussion and data on concepts such as the white racial frame and systemic racism from research studies by Feagin and his colleagues. The author has further polished the book to make it yet more readable for undergraduates, including eliminating repetitive materials, adding headings and more cross-referencing, and adding new examples, anecdotes, and narratives about contemporary racism. (locked)

 

  • Keister, Lisa A. “Race and wealth inequality: The impact of racial differences in asset ownership on the distribution of household wealth.” Social Science Research 29, no. 4 (2000): 477-502. Abstract: What accounts for persistent racial differences in wealth ownership? Previous research has debated the role that differences in asset ownership play in creating and maintaining wealth inequality. I use survey data to model the ownership of seven assets and find that whites are indeed more likely than blacks to buy high-risk, high-return assets. I then use a simulation model to explore the effect that these differences have on the distribution of wealth. I separate the effects of asset ownership from the effects of racial differences in family wealth history, earnings, education, marital behavior, fertility, and other influences on wealth inequality. I find that removing racial differences in asset ownership reduced wealth inequality drastically, but not completely, and that racial differences in educational attainment account for much of the remaining difference. I estimate how changes in historical patterns of portfolio behavior and educational attainment would have reduced inequality, and I explore the implications of these findings for reducing wealth inequality in the future.  (locked)
  • Oliver, Melvin L., and Thomas M. Shapiro. Black wealth, white wealth: A new perspective on racial inequality. Taylor & Francis, 2006. Abstract: The award-winning Black Wealth / White Wealth offers a powerful portrait of racial inequality based on an analysis of private wealth. Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro’s groundbreaking research analyzes wealth – total assets and debts rather than income alone – to uncover deep and persistent racial inequality in America, and they show how public policies have failed to redress the problem. (locked)

  • Shapiro, Thomas M. The hidden cost of being African American: How wealth perpetuates inequality. Oxford University Press, 2004. Abstract: Over the past three decades, racial prejudice in America has declined significantly and many African American families have seen a steady rise in employment and annual income. But alongside these encouraging signs, Thomas Shapiro argues in The Hidden Cost of Being African American, fundamental levels of racial inequality persist, particularly in the area of asset accumulation–inheritance, savings accounts, stocks, bonds, home equity, and other investments. Shapiro reveals how the lack of these family assets along with continuing racial discrimination in crucial areas like homeownership dramatically impact the everyday lives of many black families, reversing gains earned in schools and on jobs, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty in which far too many find themselves trapped. Shapiro uses a combination of in-depth interviews with almost 200 families from Los Angeles, Boston, and St. Louis, and national survey data with 10,000 families to show how racial inequality is transmitted across generations. We see how those families with private wealth are able to move up from generation to generation, relocating to safer communities with better schools and passing along the accompanying advantages to their children. At the same time those without significant wealth remain trapped in communities that don’t allow them to move up, no matter how hard they work. Shapiro challenges white middle class families to consider how the privileges that wealth brings not only improve their own chances but also hold back people who don’t have them. This “wealthfare” is a legacy of inequality that, if unchanged, will project social injustice far into the future.  Showing that over half of black families fall below the asset poverty line at the beginning of the new century, (locked)

 

Next in the series, employment.

Video Series Focuses on Systemic Racism

The folks at Race Forward have released a video series focusing on systemic racism. The videos, featuring DJ and blogger Jay Smooth, are great. They are mostly a minute or so long and cover a wide range of topics such as employment discrimination, housing, and disparities in infant mortality.  The videos include citations, but we thought they could use some augmenting with some additional scholarly reading for people who might want to use them in the classroom or just to do a deeper dive on the many topics they cover.

Here is Rinku Sen, President of Race Forward, introducing the series:

 

Next up, the wealth gap.

White people want to find heroes among their ancestors and this shapes marketing campaigns, archival practices

American celebrity Ben Affleck was invited to be a guest on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots,”  but the slave-owning ancestory the genealogical researchers discovered in his lineage got scrubbed from the show at Affleck’s request, leaked emails have revealed. The show’s host, Harvard Professor of History Skip Gates, along with the show’s producers, acquiesced to Affleck’s request, saying they chose to focus on “the most interesting” aspects of the star’s background including “a Revolutionary War ancestor, a third great–grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for civil rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.” It was these elements of Affleck’s life that were part of the fall 2014 episode when it aired. The show would have easily slipped from popular attention and memory except for the leaked emails charting Affleck’s attempt – and Gates’ complicity – in hiding these facts. In a statement released in the aftermath of the leak, Affleck said he regrets the move and said  “I was embarrassed” by the revelation of slave-owning ancestors. (A subsequent report quibbles with the claim of ‘ownership’ – but the overall facts of Affleck’s ancestors’ involvement in the slave trade remain unchanged.)

The reality that Affleck couldn’t face personally scales to a social level. In the U.S., there are hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of people alive today who are the direct descendants of slave-owners and millions of others who benefit from this architecture of inequality. In fact, as a growing field of historical scholarship demonstrates once more that slavery gave capitalism its start. All of our lives are shaped by the legacy of slavery in this country, as Heather McGhee recently pointed out.  The legacy of slavery also shows up in how we approach ancestry work, in how it is sold to us, and in how ancestry archives are created.

The Business of ‘Roots’ 

Make no mistake, once the domain of hobbyists genealogy is now big business. People spend upwards of a billion dollars each year at sites like MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, and Ancestry.com.  Affleck, like many non-famous people, wanted and perhaps expected to find heroes among his ancestors. Marketing campaigns for genealogy firms help perpetuate this mythology of heroic white ancestors, whether for ancestry-themed television shows like PBS’ “Finding Your Roots,” or TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” or for the online databases themselves. The television program “Who Do you Think You Are,” is actually produced by Ancestry.com, making it, in effect, one big commercial for the online database. (For scholarship on “Who Do You Think You Are,” see Kramer, 2011, and a more extensive, but still partial, review of the ancestry literature here.).

‘Discover Your Family Heroes’ 

The marketing from the online genealogical juggernautAncestry.com encourages people to “find the heroes in your family” by searching publicly-available analog records that have been digitized and locked behind the proprietary paywalls that Ancestry.com engineers have created. Scholar Graeme Davison wonders if this transformation in family history research may be subtly changing what was once a kind of secular pilgrimage into a series of financial transactions. But the pursuit of family history in these online databases are not the same for everyone. In the Australian context, the iconography of their advertisements suggest that would-be researchers “Discover your family heroes” in honor of ANZAC Day, an Australian and New Zealand commemoration of World War I.

"Discover your family heroes"

Ancestry.com ad: “Discover your family heroes”

Such an ad assumes the prospective researcher is a white person and aligns the “heroic” past with the settler-colonial history. At the same time, it excludes the indigenous and aboriginal Australians and New Zealanders from the pursuit of this digital genealogical quest.

There are similar ads for U.S.-based audiences, which feature exclusively or mostly white images of soldiers, alongside the caption, “Discover the heroes in your family.” As with the Australian context, this kind of image suggests a heroic past of settler colonialism that denies the indigenous experience of Native Americans.

‘Ancestors Worthy of a Status Update’ 

As Alondra Nelson and Jeong Won Hwang have pointed out in “Roots and Revelation” (2012), genealogical research was once predominantly the pursuit of older people, but social media status-sharing is driving renewed interest in searches that are then shared online. In their work, Nelson and Hwang focus on the “revelation” on YouTube, similar to the “reveal” in reality-based television program, when African American roots-searchers share their DNA results suggesting where their ancestors where from. Savvy marketers know this and are leveraging this connection in ads like this one:

Find Status-Update-Worthy Ancestors

Ancestry.com ad: “Find ancestors worthy of a status update”

 

But, as researchers at Stanford have found — and probably anyone with a Facebook account can attest — there is a skew toward “happy news only” on Facebook, that has a negative impact on us. This kind of tilt toward happy-news-only is also built into the archives that online databases like Ancestry.com draw on for their service.

‘The 1870 Wall’

The business people behind online genealogical tools also want to market to researchers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, but these researchers are confronted by gaps in the historical record. For many African Americans, genealogical research that relies on official documents is difficult, if not impossible, because there simply are no records. Their ancestor were not regarded as full citizens – nor fully human beings – worthy of record keeping. This painful past presents a marketing dilemma for online databases like Ancestry.com.  They are undaunted, however, refering to this gap in records euphemistically as  ‘The 1870 Wall’ – by which of course, they mean that prior to that time African Americans were enslaved to other Americans and there was often incomplete data.

Ancestry ad - African American face the 1870 wall

Ancestry.com ad: “African Americans face the 1870 wall”

Given the history of very real history of material oppression and diaspora, finding documentation and crafting stories out of those documents can be a form of resistance by reclaiming some of what has been erased. Stories like the inspirational Delaney sisters memoir Having our Say (later a Broadway play), draw on oral history to re-tell the history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation through a retrospective lens of triumph over evil. But there is much that is missing from the digital archives at online genealogical databases.

The Wall Hiding White (heterosexual) Supremacy in the Archives

The archival practices that form the basis of the popular genealogical databases help perpetuate a one-sided retrospective reading of history, in which white people are configured as paragons of virtue.  Missing from most of these online databases are any systematic records of slave-owners, of Klan membership, organizers of lynch mobs, or bank executives that decided on red-lining and racial segregation. It is possible to create searchable online databases from existing records for these kinds of records.

Legacies of British Slave-owners

Source: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/search/

The University College of London has done precisely this with their Legacies of British Slave-ownership, but this database is not integrated into any of the main genealogical services, nor is there a U.S. counterpart to this. It could be different – Ancestry.com or other services like this – could develop these databases or acquire them, but it’s unlikely given the desire to “find the heroes” in the family. It’s many ways, it’s similar to narratives of the Holocaust, in which everyone imagines themselves to be the descendants of the heroic Schindler, of  “Schindler’s List,”  rather than descendants of an SS officer. (And of course, Spielberg’s version of this history is an altered and sanitized version that ignores Schindler’s collaboration with the Third Reich.)

The default genealogical researcher invited to create a ‘family tree’ at the LDS-created Ancestry.com is also heterosexual. Within the past few years, a growing series of complaints have noted that people who want to record marriages of family members who are the same sex cannot because the software won’t record the union. Which is to say, the family tree database won’t allow users to report a marriage unless it takes place between a man and a woman. In addition to offering a very heteronormative view of our current times, it makes it impossible to find queerness historically.

What this lopsided collection of material in the commercially available genealogical archives means is that the casual individual (white) researcher is unlikely to stumble upon any “bad news” about their ancestors. To find those connections to slave-owning ancestors – or Klan members, or organizers of lynching mobs or bank executives drawing red-lines on a map, that is, to find the legacies of how white ancestors contributed to building the architecture of white supremacy, you really have to dig deep. Or, in the case of celebrities like Ben Affleck, have someone else dig deep for you. Pity he wasn’t able to face up to what a team of genealogical researchers found for him.

Facing History, Facing our Families

With rising popularity of genealogical research, and the increasing availability of digitized databases, it is likely that even if they are hard to find for the individual researcher, we will have more revelations of prominent people with slave-owning pasts and their connections to descendants of people once enslaved by their families. Recently, reporters learned that the slave-owning ancestors of the actor Benedict Cumberbatch are also the ancestors of NYC Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch. This brings discussions of slavery, rape, ownership, colonialism and racism front-and-center into contemporary politics and popular culture, and in general, we are ill-equipped to deal with these discussions. One news outlet ran a Cumberbatch-related story with the headline, “Should Benedict Cumberbatch say sorry for the slave-owners in his family?” 

 

Stacey Cumberbatch

Stacey Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch

In 2007, the news carried a number of reports that genealogical researchers uncovered a connection between the families of Rev. Al Sharpton, African American civil rights leader, and Strom Thurmond, former U.S. Senator and ardent segregationist. While Sharpton was open to and intrigued by this revelation, Thurmond’s descendants’ response has been denial and, then ultimately, silence. In the wake of his discovery that his family had once been owned by Strom Thurmond’s family, Al Sharpton said: “I wrote my name and … had to come to terms with the fact that this was a name given to me by slaveholders.” The Thurmond family issued no similar statement reflecting on their slaveholding past. The different responses from Sharpton and Thurmond’s family reflect the asymmetry in excavating the racial past.

It’s incredibly rare to see a white person who looks this history in the face and tells the story. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Ed Ball traces his family lineage to their slave-owning past, in his Slaves in the Famiily. Tom DeWolf and members of his family do it in the documentary Traces of the Trade, and Mab Segrest does it in her book, Memoir of a Race Traitor.

Even on Gates’“Finding Your Roots,”  CNN Anchor and New Year’s Eve bon vivant Anderson Cooper learned on the show that his family, the Vanderbilts, were slave owners. Unlike Affleck, Cooper allowed producers to leave this fact in the show, which they highlighted as a “discovery of a dark past”. Cooper, for his part, said that he was “ashamed” to learn this.

Given the history of racial oppression and white domination, doing ancestry work is an asymmetrical process that has a differential effect in the present depending upon one’s standpoint. For those who were victims of oppressive systems, revisiting history as Weems does in her work, reclaims those lives and resituates them in a different context. While for those who have been architects and benefactors of oppressive systems, such as Affleck, revisiting a history of unearned privilege based on racial inequality may result in shame at what their ancestors perpetrated as white slaveowners.