Why isn’t College for Learning About Mixed-Race Identities?

Learning

There are some incredible opportunities out there right now to get certificates, higher ed and even advanced degrees specializing in the experience of Americans of color. Want a degree in Asian American Studies? Sure. How about African American, Native or American Indian, Latin American, Mexican American or Chicano studies? Absolutely. Google all of these and you’ll find brilliant choices to be credentialed in these heritage experiences at very fine colleges and universities.

But what if you ID as mixed-race multicultural across any of these racial lines? Is there a degree for that?

“Not that I’m aware of,” writes Steven F. Riley of MixedRaceStudies.org (46), “The vast majority of courses on mixed-race studies are within the disciplines of Sociology, Psychology, History and Literature, etc.” Despite the fact that the crop of students moving through college today is the largest group of self-identified mixed-race people ever to come of age in the U.S., “In traditional Ethnic Studies,” writes University of California, Berkeley: Center for Race and Gender, “Mixed race scholarship has often been marginalized, misappropriated, tokenized or simply left out.”

Indeed it has only been in recent history that an arena for multi-race discourse has even forcibly begun construction mostly due to multiracials themselves. In the US this is because we have (a) not only a history of denying mixed race which persists but (b) a habit of continuing to operate under the assumption that race can be easily identified and filed away. Anyone who can’t be instantly categorized by visual scanning either gets shoved into something that kinda sorta fits, shows up as a mere blip on the cognitive-radar screen or flies under it completely. Case in point, whether by choice or lack of choice, some of the more visible mixed-race Asian scholars/authors right now are embedded in other departments at their campuses: Laura Kina (Art, Media, & Design, DePaul University), Leilani Nishime (Dept of Communication, University of Washington), Stephen Shigematsu-Murphy (Asian American Studies, Stanford University), Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain (Sociology, University of Ireland).

I woke up one morning and had this great idea to write a post on multiracial studies, classes and programs in higher ed. The first day I sat in front of the screen I naively believed I could come up with some sort of beginner, working list through a neat Google Search. Within 15 minutes I had searched about five or six variations of “mixed race studies,” found shockingly little, threw up my hands, and was so irritated I gave up. In fact after that quarter hour I was pretty sure I didn’t want to write this post at all. I supposed stuff was out there but felt confounded to find it without launching an epic dissertation-level exhaustive research project.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “Why don’t I just leave it to college counselors, professors and academics who have the inside scoop.” But then I thought twice. What about the exploding number of young people such as mixed race high schoolers (one day my son) who are starting to think about college, have a blossoming awareness of their multiraciality and would like to be in an environment that supports them, even allows them to pursue degrees along those lines? For that matter, what about any number of mixed race folk wanting to pursue professional certificates or advanced degrees along those lines, or the millions of others increasingly vested in mixed race issues? Are any of these folks going to sit at a computer for hours on a fruitless wild-goose chase that dead-ends in needing to rely on others “more in the know”?

Now I’m not talking student interest clubs and groups here. Those seem to abound and admittedly, are deeply important. But such involvement may or may not be resume material and, let’s be honest, in our society extracurricular certainly doesn’t hold the weight of alphabet soup like B.A. M.A. Ph.D. etc. I also suspect such groups centrally revolve around offering social support, which is of course extremely critical, but may not offer the mixed young person academic space to round-out by learning deeply and reflecting critically upon the construction of race mixing in the US. No. What I’m talking about is also giving mixed race students the space/option to explore their history and identity in their studies, and to become credentialed experts of their own experience.

So what happens when the historically overlooked and unrecognized mixed-race person hops on Google to figure out if they can spend thousands of dollars (they probably don’t have) on an education that would enrich their existence in a racially policed/divided world? It’s not good, people. It’s not good. The average Google Search garners 92% of all its traffic on Page 1. Page 2 only sees about 5%, Page 3 about 1%, and by Page 4 – well, just forget it. In the interest of posterity, let’s take a look at the critical first page of my Google Searching for mixed race studies at college and university campuses across the US:

Search phrase: degree mixed race studies

Of 10 first page results**: The top 3 results turned up this hub, a seriously great and well-known hub of mixed race research. But a quick perusal does not immediately show a listing of places to pursue such research and as we saw earlier, Riley himself states very clearly that he knows of no specific mixed race degree program. Following the top third, 2 results turned up a fairly new endeavor spearheaded by Laura Kina (among others) out of De Paul Unviersity. It is an expanding multiracial academic community that currently includes a biannual conference and academic journal. The website certainly lists organizations and hubs but again, I didn’t see a list of schools to pursue studies.

Following this, 2 search results turned up San Francisco State University’s Master’s in Ethnic Studies which is “increasingly concerned with mixed race studies” but obviously not a mixed race degree. Of the remaining, 1 search result was a write-up of the first Critical Mixed Race Studies postgraduate symposium ever offered at the University of Leeds in May of this year, 1 search result was a graduate thesis, 1 search result was a graduate student bio and 1 search result was a listing for a design-you-own-Master’s at Southern Methodist University.

Of course we see the obvious inability to obtain a specific critical mixed-race studies degree. But also notice the heavy, heavy emphasis on graduate, postgraduate and doctoral level research. In my view this does not allow very accessible entry points into the field of multiracial studies at all. We see a possible end result – but how to even begin? And what if a person does not aspire to become a researcher? Can there be an option to learn without the pressure to contribute to a growing body of mixed-race scholarship that’s struggling to exist? Search phrases like degree multi-ethnic studies or degree multiracial studies and the outcome isn’t much better. Personally I love researching and am excited by finding any results at all. But as the mother of a mixed race child who may or may not follow in his mother’s footsteps, I always have an eye to his future and best interests too. If my 4 year old goes to college one day, I want to feel less nervous and way more comfortable that wherever he goes as a new “legal” adult and young person existing across racial lines, he will find a place to learn more about himself in a life-giving way. I think we’re headed there but we still have a long way to go. I hope to see before my son fills out his first college application (aside from maybe no racial checkboxes to deal with), at least one campus that boasts an entire Critical Mixed Race Department. Pipe dream? We’ll see…

**(Note: I recognize that Google Search results change rapidly and the first page I analyze here is only a snapshot. Subsequent searches by others may turn up different, even very different results.) See my blog, too.

Livestreaming Now: Whiteness & Health Roundtable Today at CUNY Graduate Center (Updated)

The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion

is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):

The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.

The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.

Follow the livetweeting on Twitter at @jgieseking (Jen Jack Gieseking) and @SOSnowy (Collette Sosnowy), and via the #DigitalGC. You can also view the compilation of those Tweets on Storify here.

The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).

Mapping Racism Through Digital Media

With the re-election of President Obama, white people who rooted for the other guy took to various forms of digital media and unleashed their disappointment. Some white folks went a good deal farther than disappointment into overt racism, like this white woman from California who posted her racism on Facebook.  Jezebel pulled together a rogues’ gallery of racist tweets.

The gallery at Jezebel prompted some geographers to create a map of all the racist tweets.

The enterprising folks at Floating Sheep used software they created called DOLLY to collect geocoded tweets for the week beginning November 1. In other words, it’s possible to search Twitter by both location and key word (some other examples here). If I understand it correctly, the DOLLY software allows this search process to be further refined to get data at a more granular level.

What they came up with is a map that allows us to understand, at a glance, how these everyday acts of overt racism are spatially distributed in the U.S.

(Map from Floating Sheep; Interactive Map here.)

This is valuable work and just the kind of thing that I’d think sociologists would be interested in doing (but I digress, slightly). The methodology here, buried in the footnotes on the original post, is a worth exploring a little further.

The research questions they pose are: “Are racist tweets relatively evenly distributed?  Or, do some states have higher specializations in racist tweets?”

To answer these questions, they sampled the universe of tweets.  Specifically, they: “collected tweets that contained the text ‘monkey’ or ‘nigger’ AND also contain the text ‘Obama’ OR ‘reelected’ OR ‘won.’ A quick, and very unsettling, examination of the search results revealed that this indeed was a good match for our target of election-related hate speech. We end up with a total of 395 of some of the nastiest tweets you might possibly imagine.  And given that we’re talking about the Internet, that is really saying something.”

Following that, they took the number of “hate tweets” by state and divided by the total number in the U.S., that became the numerator. Then, they got their denominator by doing the same for all the tweets in the state, divided by all the tweets in the U.S., which is easier to understand expressed as a formula:

(# of Hate Tweets in State / # of Hate Tweets in USA)
————————————————————

(# of ALL Tweets in State / # of ALL Tweets in USA)

Based on this, they assign a number, or a Location Quotient (LQ), for “Post Election Racist Tweets.”  They then rank order states based on their LQ’s.

The results they end up with (Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia end up with 3 highest LQ scores) are less interesting than their map and clever methodology. In their analysis, the writers do well to note that the “prevalence of post-election racist tweets is not strictly a southern phenomenon,” but the ranking of the LQ scores by states makes the opposite case.

I want to suggest here that the problem is two-fold: 1) the way the research question is posed and 2) the state-level of analysis.

The researchers here frame their question in terms of state boundaries and posit something of a false dichotomy between “even distribution” of racist tweets on the one hand, and, “states that specialize” in racist tweets on the other hand.  As anyone who has taken an undergraduate methods class can tell you, this research question shapes the kind of data collection you do, and the analysis you come up with at the end.

The state-level of analysis here is something of a distraction. I understand that since we just went through a presidential election, people are thinking in terms of “states” – swing states, blue states, red states, who carried the state – but here, it makes less sense.

What I see when I look at this map are population centers. Take my home state, of Texas.  The red dots there are clustered around places where there’s population density – Houston, Dallas, and more along the I-35 corridor.  And, compare that to where I live now, on the East Coast. There are red dots all along the Northeast corridor of I-95. At a glance, it looks like racist tweets are not evenly distributed across the U.S. but are concentrated where white people live.

Again, let me say, I appreciate this work immensely, but I think that the state-level questions are the least interesting, and ultimately least revealing set of questions for mapping racism through digital media. Instead, I’d be interested in seeing some other basic demographic info about percentage of white people in the population and the proportion of racist tweets. My guess is that the LQ is highest where there is the highest proportion of white people, but that, as academics are so fond of saying, is an empirical question worth investigating.

More in posts to come on calling out racism in digital media, and the growing backlash against it.

Race, Digital Divides & Mobile Technology: What the Research Tells Us

In the early days of the Internet, there was a lot of talk about “access” to technology.  Alongside that was a lot of concern that only people who are white and rich had access to technology, while people who were poor and/or black or brown (and sometimes women) didn’t have access to technology.  This concern about who had technology and who didn’t got called “the digital divide” and lots of research got done on it.

World Connection
Creative Commons License photo credit: Digitalnative

Digital Divide(s)? In an initial study conducted by the Census Bureau under the direction of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, African-Americans were found to have lower rates than whites in both computer equipment ownership and telephone service (“Falling Through the Net,” NTIA, 1995).  Even though the original report was subtitled, “A Survey of ‘Have Nots’ in Rural and Urban America,” the findings about race are what made headlines.  The finding about differences in computer ownership between whites and blacks was widely reported and quickly became known as ‘the digital divide.’  It also sparked an entire subfield of research within Internet studies relating to race.  The initial focus on computer ownership shifted in subsequent versions of the study to Internet access and the second report included “digital divide” in the title (“Falling Through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide,” NTIA, 1998).  These initial “divides” in ownership and access have largely vanished now (for example: Leggon, 2006, ““Gender, Race/Ethnicity and the Digital Divide,” in edited by Mary Frank Fox, Deborah G. Johnson, and Sue V. Rosser, (eds.) Women, Gender and Technology, University of Illinois Press, 2006).   Still some researchers subsequently identified “second level divides” that focused on the relationship between skills, “Internet literacy” and Internet usage (Hargittai, “Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People’s Online Skills,” First Monday 7(4), 2002).

he rhetoric of “digital divides” has also been heavily critiqued by some scholars as a “disabling rhetoric” that marginalizes people of color as technological innovators (e.g., Anna Everett, (2004) ‘On Cyberfeminism and Cyberwomanism:  High-Tech Mediations of Feminism’s Discontents’, Signs 30(1):1278-86; Michelle Wright, (2005) ‘Finding a Place in Cyberspace:  Black Women, Technology and Identity,’ Frontiers 26(1):48-59).

Selwyn (“Apart from technology: Understanding people’s non-use of information and communication technologies in everyday life,” Technology in Society, 25 (1), 99-116.) contends that digital divide formulations rely on the assumption that Internet access and usage is desirable for everyone, when in fact, people might not be using the Internet because they don’t see a social benefit in doing so.  Brock (2006) extends this argument to race and explains that slower Internet adoption rates among Blacks may have more to do with the lack of culturally relevant content online for Blacks rather than any lack of “Internet literacy.”

Then came Mobile Technology. Much has changed since the mid-1990s when ‘digital divide’ research began and computer ownership and Internet access meant sitting before a desktop machine with a wire plugged into a wall.  Today, being connected to the Internet often means having a “smart phone” (e.g., a phone that enables users to access the Internet).

Samsung Star 3G S5603
Creative Commons License photo credit: liewcf

Ten years ago, Howard Rheingold (2002) accurately predicted the ‘next social revolution’ in computing would be the advent of mobile technologies, and this development has had important implications for race, racism and Internet studies.

Mobile phones enabled with Internet access are approaching ubiquity and with that, bridging some of the divides noted in an earlier era.  According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (a rich resource of data), cell phone and wireless laptop Internet use have each grown more prevalent between 2009-2010.  African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile web, for example:

  • Mobile phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos (87%) than among whites (80%)
  • African-American and Latino mobile phone owners take advantage of a much greater range of their phones’ features compared with white mobile phone users
  • Among Latinos, 29% of mobile-phone users surf the Internet on their device, compared to 12% of mobile-phone-owning whites.

So what does all this research tell us about race and technology?   It’s still way too early to know how these patterns might shift again, but it seems clear that early predictions about “digital divides” between technological “haves” and “have nots” – especially along stark racial lines – were overstating what the evidence suggested.  It also seems very likely that many of those dire early reports about “minorities left behind” were engaging in the disabling rhetoric of racism’s low expectations.  As African Americans and Latinos lead the adoption of mobile technology here in the U.S. is among the more fascinating developments as it over turns those expectations.

Race and Racism Online: What the Research Tells Us

The Internet is changing us.  It’s changing how we acquire knowledge, how we communicate, how we connect with one another.   Today, some 15 years into the scholarship of the Internet, researchers are just beginning to look at how race and racism are (and are not) changing by and through the way we use the Internet.  Over the next week or so, I’m going to be writing a series of posts about what the research tells us about race and racism online.   I’ll also point out spots along the way that, in my view, are understudied and need someone to turn a critical eye toward.

40/365
(Creative Commons License photo credit: Xelcise )

RACE & STRUCTURE OF THE INTERNET. While we may not think of the Internet as having been invented, but in fact it was, at a particular place and time.   The combination of technologies that has come to be known as the popular Internet was developed in a number of specific geographic places, institutional contexts and historical moments.  For more about this history, see  Berners-Lee, T. and M. Fischetti  Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).   This narrative is compelling, but to date, no one has offered a thorough examination of the ways that race was, and continues to be, implicated in the structure of the invention of the Internet.
INFRASTRUCTURE & DESIGN. Scholar Tyrone Taborn notes that the role of black and brown technology innovators has largely been obscured (Taborn, 2007). As Sinclair observes, “The history of race in America has been written as if technologies scarcely existed, and the history of technology as if it were utterly innocent of racial significance” (Sinclair, B. (ed.) (2004) Technology and the African-American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p.1).

Yet, race is implicated in the very structure of the “graphic user interface” (GUI).  For example, Anna Everett observes that she is perpetually taken aback by DOS-commands designating a “Master Disk” and “Slave Disk,” a programming language predicated upon a digitally configured “master/slave” relationship with all the racial meanings coded into the hierarchy of command lines (Everett, 2002, ‘The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere’, Social Text 20(2):125-146., p.125).

Nakamura writes that the drop-down menus and clickable boxes that are all too often used to categorically define `race’ online are traced back to the fact that race is a key marketing category (Nakamura, 2002). Beyond the selection and targeted-marketing via race, elements of the interface are racialized.  The nearly ubiquitous white hand-pointer acts as a kind of avatar that in turn becomes ‘attached’ to depictions of white people in advertisements, graphical communication settings, and web greeting cards (White, M., The body and the screen: theories of Internet spectatorship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). The images of racial or ethnic minorities and their relationship to IT infrastructure and design is either to the role of consumers or of operators of the technological wizardry created by whites.

Assumptions about the whiteness embedded in the infrastructure and design gets spoken when there are ruptures in that sameness, such as the introduction of an African-American-themed web browser, Blackbird which I wrote about here in 2008.   While Blackbird caused quite a stir among those who had operated on the assumption of a race-blind Internet,  the development of a racially-themed browser is not qualitatively different from, but rather an extension of, the racially targeted marketing facilitated by drop-down menus and clickable boxes.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back tomorrow to discuss some of what the research tells us about race and mobile technology.

Racist Cupcakes? Ministrelsy Persists



The Vancouver Sun has a story about a new cupcake/cake glaze product. The commercial company DH had the film company Filmaka create some YouTube commercials

designed to portray how the new product “makes dessert sing.” The first video in the series was themed “hip hop”, created by director Josh Biner. In it, a series of vanilla cupcakes sit on a counter until topped with the chocolate flavoured Amazing Glazes – as the glaze hits them they sprout lips and eyes and break into singing and dancing.

Clearly, the company’s media staff is not familiar with (or did not think it serious racism) the long racist tradition of blackface minstrelsy– in which images of Black Americans (such as big lips and buggy eyes) are stereotyped in extreme and degrading ways for white entertainment—now for at least 180 years or so

The Sun notes too the music that went with the commercials, which were quickly pulled from Youtube when there were protests:

[They] chose not to soundtrack the commercial with hip hop, but an instrumental electronic and beatbox track. Hip hop magazine The Source furthers the argument: “First, they aren’t even rapping! If you’re going to have inanimate food objects make music then they should at least have a real song or beat.”

Reportedly, nearly 20,000 people viewed these racist-image commercials. Was this commonplace ignorance of our extremely racist history, or much more? I suspect many whites (and some others) today do not see this type of conventional racial imagery as racist mocking and like old minstrelsy.