Archive for research
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.
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).
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.
There’s new research that sheds some light on the motivation to end racism. Tracie L. Stewart, professor of psychology at Georgia State University, found that whites who both felt guilty about their racial advantage and believed that they could create change, were motivated to do work on ending racism.
Stewart was inspired to conduct the study based on her evaluation of a popular diversity training program. Her experience with the program was that it reduced many white participants’ bias in the short term, “…some white participants later reported that the exercise left them with feelings of guilt and self-directed anger about continuing racial inequality,” she says. “Others talked about how they left feeling helpless about changing institutionalized racism.” And people who feel helpless don’t feel motivated to bring about change. So she and her colleagues, Ioana M. Latu and H. Ted Denney of Georgia State and Nyla R. Branscombe of the University of Kansas, wanted to see if they could change how people act by making them believe their efforts would be successful.
For the experiment, they recruited 82 white university student participants. In a fictional cover story, each participant was told about a pattern of racial inequality at their university, particularly in regard to African American students having fewer African American faculty role models. They were then asked to write a letter to the university administration, expressing the need to hire more African American professors. But first, the experimenter said something about whether the effort was likely to work, ending with, “I’d guess that there’s probably a 95 percent chance that our efforts will affect the administration’s hiring practices.” Other participants were told there was a 50 percent chance of success, and some were told 5 percent.
After hearing that introduction, the participant wrote the letter, filled out some questionnaires, and, finally, was given a chance to take some anti-discrimination flyers out of a folder. The experimenter left the room — so that the volunteer wouldn’t feel obligated to take more flyers than they wanted to — then later counted the remaining flyers to see how many the volunteer had taken. People who believed there was a high chance of success took more flyers, evidence that they were willing to take more action to fight racism. These people also had more positive attitudes toward African Americans.
The most interesting finding to me is that the researchers also found that white participants’ guilt about how their own racial privilege from inequality wasn’t bad; rather, it inspired them to take action. However, participants only felt guilty if they believed that they could be efficacious in fighting institutional racism.
Participants who felt low efficacy to make a difference rejected feelings of guilt and, consequently, exhibited less positive racial attitudes and less engagement in anti-discrimination action. The next step, Stewart says, is to incorporate this sense of efficacy into diversity training programs, to get people out there and acting.
Of course, there are limitations to this study. It’s a small sample, just 82 university students. (Some people have suggested that college students are the most over-studied group anywhere.) The missing piece here, of course, is talking about the wider lens of the pervasiveness of structural, systemic racism, but then that may not be a fair critique for a small psychology experiment. Still, this research offers some intriguing findings that suggest we need to continue to focus attention on changing systems of racial inequality.
Susan Reverby, a Wellesley College professor, recently discovered records that reveal a two-year study designed by white researchers and supported by the U.S. government was conducted in which people in Guatemala were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
This STD study conducted from 1946-48, health researchers from the United States and Guatemala intentionally infected Guatemalan sex workers, prisoners, soldiers, and hospitalized psychiatric patients with gonorrhea, chancroid, and syphilis. Reverby’s student prompted the U.S. Department of Health & Human services to release this information about the study. It is officially referred to as “The 1946 STD inoculation study.” And in an email statement, Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – the current version of the institution that originally ran the study – said this:
The 1946 STD inoculation study should never have happened. We are committed to the respect and safety of research participants. In this spirit, the U.S. government will convene an international group of experts to review and report on the most effective methods to ensure that all human medical research conducted around the globe today meets rigorous ethical standards and how training of researchers will ensure such abuses do not occur. If you have questions or comments regarding ethical human research and this study, please send them to 1946Study@cdc.gov.
This renewed commitment to ethical research by Dr. Frieden is an important one but may fail to persuade skeptical listeners familiar with the history of other ethical violations.
The fact is that the researcher who discovered the Guatemalan study made this discovery in the archived papers of Dr. John Cutler, a U.S. public health researcher who was also involved in the Tuskegee syphilis study. Cutler was white and all the “participants” in the study were African American men. While the Tuskegee study design did not intentionally infect subjects with syphilis (a common misunderstanding), the researchers violated medical and research ethics by withholding treatment – a simple shot of penicillin – that would have effectively cured the disease. Further, the men in the study were never told that they were being used as research subjects. The combination of these two facts (withholding medical treatment that would have cured the disease, and not telling them they were research subjects) are used as textbook examples of ethical violations in research. The additional, and some could argue, central fact that these were white researchers violating the human rights of black subjects is an ethical violation that continues to reverberate today in a variety of ways. (For further research on Tuskegee, see James H. Jones’ classic text, Bad Blood and the more recent, and broader in scope, Medical Apartheid, by Harriet Washington.)
The reality is that the actions of Cutler, in Tuskegee and Guatemala, were not the isolated actions of a “bad apple” working outside the aegis of the CDC (and its predecessor organization, the U.S. Public Health Service). He was a well-respected M.D. and public health researcher who defended his involvement in the Tuskegee study until his death in 2003. (For video footage of Cutler defending Tuskegee on camera, be sure to see the documentary The Deadly Deception, which also includes interviews with a handful of the survivors of the study.)
Both the studies designed by Cutler, in Guatemala and in Tuskegee, Alabama, were premised on several notions that remain with us today. First, is the notion that the pursuit of “scientific knowledge” is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, followed closely by the idea that pursuing this goal justifies almost any means necessary to achieve it. Still with us, too, is the idea that white researchers are somehow entitled to the biological “resource” of others. As a society, we continue to subscribe to the idea that there are some groups of people who, because they are less powerful, it’s okay to conduct research on them. Perhaps the key idea underpinning Cutler’s research was that the “course of the disease” of syphilis would be different in blacks (or Guatemalans) than in whites. Today, many continue to cling to facile notions of racial differences in biology, while research consistently show these are insignificant. These ideas, taken together, share much in common with the worldview of the doctors that Robert Jay Lifton describes in his book, Nazi Doctors, about the physicians who practiced medical experimentation on Jews held in concentration camps. In an interview with Cutler, James H. Jones asked him whether he saw any similarity between his study at Tuskegee and the experimentation in the death camps. Cutler, looking incredulous and wounded, replied, “But they were Nazis!”
When the panel Frieden is convening comes together, they would do well to not only review the historical legacy of racism in public health, but keep in mind the way these ideas continue to permeate public health research today.
The reaction of Tea Party defenders, including Sarah Palin, to the NAACP’s calling out some Tea Party members and leaders for their racism calls to mind a fine book by Jane Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism. She has many insights in the book – which I highly recommend to you – but one that fits this calling out of racism by Black Americans at the NAACP is this one on how whites often react to being called out with a line of reasoning about white innocence like this:
I am a good and normal mainstream sort of White person. I am not a racist, because racists are bad and marginal people. Therefore, if you understood my words to be racist, you must be mistaken. I may have used language that would be racist in the mouth of a racist person, but if I did so, I was joking. If you understood my meaning to be racist, not only do you insult me, but you lack a sense of humor, and you are oversensitive.
Hill adds that this “chain of reasoning makes the speaker the sole authority” over what her or his racist commentaries actually mean. Not surprisingly, many whites are today unwilling to listen to the views of those Americans who are regularly targeted by white racism–even to views about the reality and pain of that everyday racism. I also deal with these important listening and empathy issues in the newsecond edition of my Racist America book.
Hernan Vera and I have written about the importance of the break down of empathy as part of the creation of racist systems, including discrimination and its racial framing. Discover magazine’s blog has reported recently on research study by the Italian scientist Alessio Avenanti, who
recruited white and black Italian volunteers and asked them to watch videos of a stranger’s hand being poked. When people watch such scenes, it’s actually possible to measure their brain’s empathic tendencies. By simulating how the prick would feel, the brain activates the neurons of the observer’s hand in roughly the same place. These neurons become less excitable in the future. By checking their sensitivity, Avenanti could measure the effect that the video had on his recruits …. most interestingly of all, he found that the recruits (both white and black) only responded empathetically when they saw hands that were the same skin tone as their own. If the hands belonged to a different ethnic group, the volunteers were unmoved by the pain they saw.
Interestingly, like we have argued,
Avenanti actually thinks that empathy is the default state, which only later gets disrupted by racial biases. He repeated his experiment using brightly coloured violet hands, which clearly didn’t belong to any known ethnic group. Despite the hands’ weird hues, when they were poked with needles, the recruits all showed a strong empathic response, reacting as they would to hands of their own skin tone. … strong evidence that the lack of empathy from the first experiment stems not from mere novelty, but from racial biases.
He also gave the recruits the Implicit Association Test
which looks for hidden biases by measuring how easily people make positive or negative connections between different ethnic groups. For example, white Italians are typically quicker to associate positive words with the term “Italian” and negative ones with the term “African”. And the faster they make those connections, the greater the differences in their responses to the stabbed black and white hands. … All in all, Avenanti says when we see pain befall a person from our own racial group, it immediately triggers resonant activity in our own nervous system. When we see the same event happening to someone of a different race, these simulations are weaker and take longer to form.
These anti-empathetic reactions are most serious for those who have the greatest power to oppress others, to cause great, routine, and recurring pain in racialized others, which is typically whites in Europe and the United States.
In the U.S. case whites’ recurring discriminatory actions targeting Americans of color require a breakdown of normal human empathy. Most social theorists have missed the importance of the fact that all human life begins in empathetic networks–the dyad of mother and child. Usually central to these first networks is basic human empathy, a desire and ability to understand the feelings of others. Without empathy on the part of mothers and other relatives, no child would survive. As it develops, racial oppression severely distorts human relationships and desensitizes the minds of those oppressing others.
Oppression requires in oppressors a lack of recognition of the full humanity of racialized others. Psychiatrists use the term alexithymia to people unable to understand the emotions of, and empathize with, others. Hernan Vera and I have suggested going beyond this individualistic interpretation to a concept of social alexithymia. Essential to being an oppressor is a significantly reduced ability to understand or relate to the emotions, such as recurring pain, of those targeted by oppression. Social alexithymia thus seems essential to the creation and maintenance of a racist society.
What needs most to be explained is not the reality of human empathy and solidarity—the problem often stated by western philosophers–but rather how this empathy for others gets destroyed and how human beings develop anti-empathetic inclinations essential to racial oppression.
A new study of Filipino Americans by researchers at San Francisco State University demonstrates that confronting racism helps boost self-esteem for some.
The study was conducted by Alvin Alvarez, professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and Linda Juang, associate professor of psychology. They are co-authors on a new article, “Filipino Americans and Racism: A Multiple Mediation Model of Coping,” which appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology. Alvarez surveyed 199 Filipino American adults, both men and women, in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that 99 percent of participants had experienced at least one incident of everyday racism in the last year. The study focused on “everyday racism” — subtle, commonplace forms of discrimination, such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently. In an interview, lead researcher Alvarez explained:
“These are incidents that may seem innocent and small, but cumulatively they can have a powerful impact on an individual’s mental health. Trying to ignore these insidious incidents could become taxing and debilitating over time, chipping away at a person’s spirit.”
For men in the study, dealing with racism in an active way, such as reporting incidents to authorities or challenging the perpetrator, was associated with decreased distress and increased self esteem. The authors caution that what makes a healthy coping mechanism is influenced by such factors as gender, socioeconomic status, age, English language capacity and length of residency in the United States. There seems to be a different dynamic at work for women in the study who did not report the positive self-esteem boost associated with “active coping,” in the same way that men did. For women, the “avoidance” coping strategy increased psychological distress and decrease self-esteem.
“What’s striking is we found that racism is still happening to Filipinos. Therapists need to look beyond the frequent portrayal of Asian Americans as model minorities and help clients assess what their best coping strategy could be, depending on their resources, what’s feasible and who they could turn to for support.”
Of course, this new research lends further support to the argument that Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin have done in their book, The Myth of the Model Minority, in which they document the widespread experience of everyday racism among Asian Americans.
Inside Higher Education has a summary piece by Scott Jaschik on a national data analysis by Cornell Ph.D. student, Joshua Price:
A constant theme of reports about math and science is that the United States will have a large enough supply of scientists only if it does a better job of attracting black and Latino scientists …. Many of these reports note that large shares of black and Latino high school students don’t receive the kind of preparation they should in math and science.
This lack of preparation and/or related role model and mentoring factors likely extends to the college level, as Price’s research clearly suggests:
The study finds a statistically significant relationship between black students who plan to be a science major having at least one black science instructor as freshmen and then sticking to their plans. The finding could be significant because many students (in particular members of under-represented minority groups) who start off as science majors fail to continue on that path — so a change in retention of science majors could have a major impact.
Price analyzed data on more than 157,000 students who enrolled as first-time freshmen in one of the 13 four-year universities in Ohio between 1998 and 2002 and who said that they intended to major in science, technology or mathematics. He then examined whether those black students who had a black instructor … were more likely to stick with their planned STEM major than those who did not. For purposes of the study, “instructor” had to be the person — typically but not always a professor — who was responsible for a course.
Price found no gender effects, but he did find another significant effect, after controlling for various factors:
… black students who had at least one black science instructor as freshmen were statistically more likely to continue on as STEM majors than those who did not. … black STEM students were more likely than white students to end up in STEM courses or sections led by black instructors, again suggesting a key role for these black science professors. … In an interview, Price … [said] that the impact of having a black instructor could come from a “role model effect” or from a mentoring effect.
Neither the article nor the study mentions the numerous other factors that enter into this institutional-racism reality in our historically white colleges and universities. There is the problem of the hostile racial climate that scattered evidence suggests is strong in departments where there have historically been few students of color. This doubtless greatly affects the persistence of many. (To my knowledge, there is no systematic research on variation in this climate by department in historically white institutions–another area for research if you looking for an important project.) Still, our field research on several historically white universities shows that it is a common problem generally for black students, undergraduate and graduate.
Researchers have also shown that this hostile racial climate also affects, often greatly shapes, the reality of too few faculty of color in most departments, not just so-called STEM departments. Since faculty of color often find these historically white campuses difficult places to teach, indeed to be at, it is not surprising that students of color frequently find few faculty of color there. Research indicates, again and again, that the U.S. higher educational system is still fundamentally and deeply racist in its structures and everyday operations. No post-racial America there.
Prejudice and Conflict Reduction Online Database. The database is bibliography of approximately 1,000 empirical reports of interventions to reduce prejudice and/or intergroup conflict. The database consists of laboratory and field-based studies, examining interventions from priming to affirmative action policy. Visitors can do a keyword search to find specific types of interventions or outcome measures. Using the advanced search option, users can also search by study methodology. Users can export the studies they select into a bibliographic list in APA format, post comments on references, and sign up for an RSS feed to receive updates of new references added to the database. The database includes unpublished dissertations and policy reports. Users are encouraged to email new dissertations, unpublished reports, and any studies we may have missed. The database is meant to be a pragmatic resource for scholars and practitioners interested in evidence-based theory and intervention. The database is available at www.betsylevypaluck.com under the heading “Online Database.” Contact: Betsy Levy Paluck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Researchers at Kansas State University have found that racial bias affects people’s perceptions of those in need. Researchers Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology, and psychology graduate students Sara Smith, Topeka, and Jessica McManus, Maineville, Ohio, surveyed undergraduate students a year after Hurricane Katrina to examine their perceptions of the hurricane victims and the helping response. Here’s a brief recap of the study from Science Daily:
The researchers created a questionnaire that evaluated the participants’ perceptions of Hurricane Katrina victims. The questionnaire evaluated whom the participants perceived to be the victims based on measures like gender, race and socioeconomic status. The results showed that participants generally thought people impacted by Hurricane Katrina were black and lower class.
“What we wanted to do was see how perceptions of victims of Hurricane Katrina would interact with things like racism,” Saucier said. “We wanted to look at how much the participants felt that the victims may have been to blame for their own situation in Katrina.”
The researchers measured differences in the participants, including their levels of conservatism, empathy and racism. The findings showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation. The survey also asked questions that measured whether the participants thought the victims had enough time to evacuate and whether they had enough resources to get out before the hurricane hit.
“We asked the participants to make personality attributions about individuals, such as whether they thought the victims were lazy, stupid, sinful or unlucky,” Saucier said. “If they said they were lazy, stupid or sinful, they were putting more blame on the victims for the situation. If they said they were unlucky, they took away the blame.”
The results of the study showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation.
Their findings are not surprising but disturbing nonetheless given the continued harrowing news out of Haiti. Recent news from Democracy Now confirms what I anticipated last week, namely that racism is hindering relief efforts in Port-au-Prince.