Research Brief: The Latest Research in the Field

Here’s your Monday research brief.

Today, we’re featuring this new book by Charles Hyde, professor emeritus of history at Wayne State University, Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II  (h/t @KidadaEWilliams).

Arsenal of Democracy Book Cover

 

 

 

Here’s the abstract for the book:

Throughout World War II, Detroit’s automobile manufacturers accounted for one-fifth of the dollar value of the nation’s total war production, and this amazing output from “the arsenal of democracy” directly contributed to the allied victory. In fact, automobile makers achieved such production miracles that many of their methods were adopted by other defense industries, particularly the aircraft industry. In Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II, award-winning historian Charles K. Hyde details the industry’s transition to a wartime production powerhouse and some of its notable achievements along the way.

Hyde examines several innovative cooperative relationships that developed between the executive branch of the federal government, U.S. military services, automobile industry leaders, auto industry suppliers, and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union, which set up the industry to achieve production miracles. He goes on to examine the struggles and achievements of individual automakers during the war years in producing items like aircraft engines, aircraft components, and complete aircraft; tanks and other armored vehicles; jeeps, trucks, and amphibians; guns, shells, and bullets of all types; and a wide range of other weapons and war goods ranging from search lights to submarine nets and gyroscopes. Hyde also considers the important role played by previously underused workers-namely African Americans and women-in the war effort and their experiences on the line.

Arsenal of Democracy includes an analysis of wartime production nationally, on the automotive industry level, by individual automakers, and at the single plant level. For this thorough history, Hyde has consulted previously overlooked records collected by the Automobile Manufacturers Association that are now housed in the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Automotive historians, World War II scholars, and American history buffs will welcome the compelling look at wartime industry in Arsenal of Democracy.

 

You can listen to a podcast with the author here.

Research Brief: New Research in the Field

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for a research brief, our roundup of some of the latest publications about race, ethnicity and racism.  Whenever possible, I’ll include an abstract or brief description about each piece of research.  I’ll also note which citations are Open Access (OA) or locked behind a paywall or otherwise not available on the open web (locked).

research_graphic

Here’s today’s round up:

This essay contends that the digital debates over Islamophobia show a curious resemblance to pre-existing American folk theories of racism. The outcry surrounding the reality show All-American Muslim is the case study, but the argument applies to a broader development of cultural racism and Islamophobia in American society. Starting from a discussion of the politics of racialization and ‘post-civil rights’ racism in the USA, the article outlines the mediation of racial politics through reality television and online commenting in relation to Islamophobia. Finally, appropriating the work of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Jane Hill on the underlying theories of American racism, I examine two seemingly opposing discourses entailed in the AAM controversy, and demonstrate that the entire online outcry has closely followed the old paradigms through which Americans talk about racism.

There’s a new edited volume out that has several pieces about race, racism and the intersection with queer politics that looks interesting:

  • Bassichis, Morgan, and Dean Spade. “Queer politics and anti-blackness.” in Queer Necropolitics (2014): 191. (locked)
    • About Queer Necropolitics, edited by Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kuntsman, Silvia Posocco (Routledge, 2014).  The book will appeal to activist scholars and students from various social sciences and humanities, particularly those across the fields of law, cultural and media studies, gender, sexuality and intersectionality studies, race, and conflict studies, as well as those studying nationalism, colonialism, prisons and war. It should be read by all those trying to make sense of the contradictions inherent in regimes of rights, citizenship and diversity.

There is a special issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine that focuses on structural racism, here are a few key articles:

Although New Zealanders have historically prided ourselves on being a country where everyone has a ‘fair go’, the systemic and longstanding existence of health inequities between Māori and non-Māori suggests something isn’t working. This paper informed by critical race theory, asks the reader to consider the counter narrative viewpoints of Māori health leaders; that suggest institutional racism has permeated public health policy making in New Zealand and is a contributor to health inequities alongside colonisation and uneven access to the determinants of health. Using a mixed methods approach and critical anti-racism scholarship this paper identifies five specific sites of institutional racism. These sites are: majoritarian decision making, the misuse of evidence, deficiencies in both cultural competencies and consultation processes and the impact of Crown filters. These findings suggest the failure of quality assurance systems, existing anti-racism initiatives and health sector leadership to detect and eliminate racism. The author calls for institutional racism to be urgently addressed within New Zealand and this paper serves as a reminder to policy makers operating within other colonial contexts to be vigilant for such racism.

This article draws upon a major social science theoretical approach–systemic racism theory–to assess decades of empirical research on racial dimensions of U.S. health care and public health institutions. From the 1600s, the oppression of Americans of color has been systemic and rationalized using a white racial framing–with its constituent racist stereotypes, ideologies, images, narratives, and emotions. We review historical literature on racially exploitative medical and public health practices that helped generate and sustain this racial framing and related structural discrimination targeting Americans of color. We examine contemporary research on racial differentials in medical practices, white clinicians’ racial framing, and views of patients and physicians of color to demonstrate the continuing reality of systemic racism throughout health care and public health institutions. We conclude from research that institutionalized white socioeconomic resources, discrimination, and racialized framing from centuries of slavery, segregation, and contemporary white oppression severely limit and restrict access of many Americans of color to adequate socioeconomic resources–and to adequate health care and health outcomes. Dealing justly with continuing racial “disparities” in health and health care requires a conceptual paradigm that realistically assesses U.S. society’s white-racist roots and contemporary racist realities. We conclude briefly with examples of successful public policies that have brought structural changes in racial and class differentials in health care and public health in the U.S. and other countries.

There is a growing research literature suggesting that racism is an important risk factor undermining the health of Blacks in the United States. Racism can take many forms, ranging from interpersonal interactions to institutional/structural conditions and practices. Existing research, however, tends to focus on individual forms of racial discrimination using self-report measures. Far less attention has been paid to whether structural racism may disadvantage the health of Blacks in the United States. The current study addresses gaps in the existing research by using novel measures of structural racism and by explicitly testing the hypothesis that structural racism is a risk factor for myocardial infarction among Blacks in the United States. State-level indicators of structural racism included four domains: (1) political participation; (2) employment and job status; (3) educational attainment; and (4) judicial treatment. State-level racial disparities across these domains were proposed to represent the systematic exclusion of Blacks from resources and mobility in society. Data on past-year myocardial infarction were obtained from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (non-Hispanic Black: N = 8245; non-Hispanic White: N = 24,507), a nationally representative survey of the U.S. civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 18 and older. Models were adjusted for individual-level confounders (age, sex, education, household income, medical insurance) as well as for state-level disparities in poverty. Results indicated that Blacks living in states with high levels of structural racism were generally more likely to report past-year myocardial infarction than Blacks living in low-structural racism states. Conversely, Whites living in high structural racism states experienced null or lower odds of myocardial infarction compared to Whites living in low-structural racism states. These results raise the provocative possibility that structural racism may not only harm the targets of stigma but also benefit those who wield the power to enact stigma and discrimination.

 

This paper merges critical White studies with the sociological field of criminology as a means to progress understanding of criminal behavior, justice, and social control. Up to this point, criminology has largely neglected the significance of whiteness within its boundaries of study. Thankfully, a strong foundation of research and theoretical statements has been completed in the interdisciplinary field of critical White studies. The formation of criminal law can be more clearly understood through the inclusion of frameworks offered by critical White studies. Additionally, nuanced explanations of criminal behavior and hate crime among Whites can be attained through this perspective.

Race, Racism & Social Networking Sites: What the Research Tells Us

I’ve been doing a series about what academic research on race and racism on the Internet.    The series continues today with a look at what researchers are finding about one the most talked about aspects of the popular Internet: Social Networking Sites.

(Creative Commons License Image source)

Social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook and MySpace, are phenomenally popular and important to the field of Internet studies, (Boyd and Ellison, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” JCMC, 2007, Vol.13(1):210-230).    According to a recent report, the top SNS is currently Facebook, with over 65 million unique visitors per month.  Facebook has displaced the former leader in the field, MySpace, which still currently gets about 58 million unique visitors per month.  These are staggeringly high numbers of people participating in these sites.    But what does this phenomenon have to do with race and racism?

(Source: Complete Pulse, 02/09/09)

White Flight? Perhaps the most talked about finding about race and SNS has to do with the move of whites from MySpace to Facebook.  Researcher danah boyd’s  ethnographic research indicates that it may be “white flight” that led to Facebook’s success over MySpace.  There are also class politics at play here, which boyd has also noted in her research.    This complex interplay of race and class surrounding Facebook and MySpace is also something that Craig Watkins examines in his book, The Young and the Digital (Beacon Press, 2010).   From 2005 to 2009, Watkins explored the movement of young people, aged 15 to 24 from MySpace to Facebook (97).  Watkins found that the same racialized language used to differentiate between safe and unsafe people and communities was used to describe Facebook and MySpace. The participants in his study described MySpace as “uneducated, trashy, ghetto, crowded, and [filled with] predators,” while they described Facebook as “selective, clean, educated, and trustworthy” (80, 83).  Watkins (2010) suggests that the young people in his study associate MySpace with the uneducated and unemployed while Facebook’s uniformity conveys upward mobility and professionalism. Watkins observes that “the young people surveyed and spoke with are attracted to online communities that connect them to people who are like them in some notable way,” most notably race (97).

There’s been some additional research recently which suggests that “friend” selection on Facebook is not solely attributable to race, but that selection is complicated by other variables such as ethnicity, region, and membership in elite institutions (Wimmer and Lewis, 2010).

Race, Identity & Community.  The fact is that people go online to affirm their identity and to find community, often along racial lines.  In the chart of popular sites above, note #13 is BlackPlanet.com.   Scholar Dara Byrne notes that offline social networking traditions among young black professionals, such as First Fridays events, have in many ways shifted to include online engagement at Blackplanet.com (Bryne, (2007). “Public discourse, community concerns, and civic engagement: Exploring black social networking traditions on BlackPlanet.com.” JCMC, 13(1), article 16).

African Americans who are searching for genealogical roots, also use social networking sites to affirm identity and find community.  For example, research by Alondra Nelson and Jeong Won Hwang’s research explores the proliferation of YouTube videos by genetic genealogists (in Nakamura and Chow’s, Race After the Internet, forthcoming from Routledge) . African American genealogists in the Internet era are enabled by developments such as Google’s personal genomics company 23andMe, which sells consumers genetic inferences about their “health, disease and ancestry,” with a social networking component.  In the videos people make of themselves, they reveal and react to the results of their DNA testing in “roots revelations” and viewers respond to the videos.   Nelson and Hwang theorize that these roots revelations, and the call-and-response that follows in the YouTube comments, are premised on a type of racial sincerity in which identities are drawn not only from genetic ancestry results, but also from the networked interaction between broadcasters and their audiences.

Here again, like with BlackPlanet.com, people are going online specifically to affirm racial identity and to seek community around that identity.   In many ways, SNS function in ways that newspapers used to function, creating “imagined communities” among those who engage with them (Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 1991).   Following on Anderson’s concept of imagined communities, André Brock looks at online news sites as an important venue for creating racial meanings through a discussion of the series “The Wire” staged by a sociologist and blogger at the New York Times (Brock, “Life on the Wire: Deconstructing Race on the Internet,” Information, Communication and Society, 12 (3):344-363).

Grasmuck, Martin and Zhao (2009) take a different approach to race and SNS and explore the racial themes associated with injustice frequently included by the African American, Latino, and Indian students on their Facebook wall.  They theorize that these wall postings convey a sense of group belonging, color consciousness, and identification with groups historically stigmatized by dominant society. In contrast, the profiles of white students and Vietnamese students rarely signaled group identification or racial themes, reflecting ‘‘strategies of racelessness.’’

Racism & Social Networking Sites. Social networking sites are not only a place where people affirm identity and seek community.  These sites are also a venue where racism regularly appears.   Research by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne L. Markoe of the University of California, Los Angeles, is published in the March issue of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, explores how young people negotiate racism in SNS.

The study, which examined the relationship between responses to racial theme party images on social networking sites and a color-blind racial ideology,  found that white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties.  In other words, the more “color-blind” someone was, the less likely they would be to find parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (e.g., photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a “gangsta party” to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day) offensive.

They look at associations between responses to online expressions of racism and color blind racial attitudes.  Tynes and Markoe operationalize racism by using photos of racially themed parties (e.g., blackface or “ghetto” themes) and asking study participants to respond.  They showed 217 African American and white college students images and prompted them to respond as if they were writing on a friend’s “wall” on Facebook or MySpace. The researchers also measured self-reported racial color blindness.  Their findings indicate that those who scored lower in color blindness were more vocal in their opposition to the images and were more likely to say that they would “defriend” someone who engaged in the practice.   White participants and those who scored high in racial color blindness were more likely to be in the not bothered reaction group. Further, these students were more likely to condone and even encourage the racial theme party practice by laughing at the photos and affirming the party goers.  Although both studies use small samples, Grasmuck, Martin and Zhao’s work along with Tynes and Markoe’s research moves the field of race and Internet studies a step beyond which social networks people join and why to how race (and racism) shapes what they do once in those networks. (I wrote more about this important research back in April, 2010).

Future Research. There’s still a lot missing from our understanding of race, racism and SNS.   One area that I expect will yield a lot of interesting research has to do with race, racism and Twitter.  Current estimates that approximately 8% of all people in the U.S. are using Twitter, a combination microblogging and social networking site where users post 140-character updates.   Twitter also appears to be more popular with blacks than with whites, There are interesting racial ‘eruptions’ here, such as the #browntwitterbird hashtag and with user handles like @whitegirlproblems.   To date, there is nothing in the peer-reviewed literature about race, racism and Twitter and this will no doubt change soon.

For the next installment of this series, I’ll be back with a discussion about race and online dating.

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.

Motivation to Work on Ending Racism

There’s new research that sheds some light on the motivation to end racismTracie 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.

(via James Callan Flickr CreativeCommons)

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.

Guatemala: New Research on Ethical Violations by White Researchers

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.

White Reaction to Being Called Out on Racism: Jane Hill’s Research



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.

Racial Bias and the Ability to Feel Others’ Pain



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.

New Research: Confronting Racism Boosts Self-Esteem

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.

Role Models and Mentors for Black STEM Students: College Racial Climates



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.

Jaschik continues:

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.