Monday, April 30, 2007

Market Tools, Constructive Competition, and Communities of Opportunity

by Denis R. Rhoden, Jr., Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Much of the attention paid to the liberalizing of international markets and economies has focused, rightly, on dramatic changes in the distribution of resources between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’. There is a plethora of statistical evidence supporting the decade-long trend of increasing disparity and wealth concentration.

Nevertheless, increasingly relevant is the wide-reaching significance of how access and proximity intersect, relative to disparate conditions to impact households, neighborhoods, and regions. At Kirwan this topic is explored in-depth based on the bundle of assets we call ‘opportunity’. Outside Kirwan, from academics to practitioners, research on the subject of opportunity, particularly for the disadvantaged, is vast both in terms of its empirical depth and curiosity in shaping the challenges associated with an existence devoid of opportunity. Largely, these explorations focus on household conditions in terms of ultra haves and haves-not – a dichotomy of proverbial proportions. Hernando de Soto’s The Mystery of Capital underscores that capitalism, with all its promise and failures, is the dominant system going forward. We are charged with exploring how to expand the notion of capitalism from its distributive present to a potentially more integrative and expansive future. Late president Gerald Ford once urged America to do more to encourage constructive competition. Although vaguely defined, for our purposes, constructive capitalism reflects an attempt to make room for social equity and market efficiency as succinct, equal, and measurable goals. Recent efforts at Kirwan have tried to catalogue such practices at the state and regional level around the United States, which is by no means an admission that constructive capitalism rests at these levels alone.

Two examples from these findings are:

- The development of business accelerators (e.g., Minority Business and Rural Business) modeled after the Cincinnati-based Minority Business Accelerator, which along with corporate partners, this legislation in part creates value by engaging emerging-industry firms in Ohio to consider establishing participation targets and accountability systems to inform the operation of Business Accelerators.
- California and major institutional pension funds like TIAA-CREF provide investment managers with the latitude to direct asset allocation based on broader return measures that include social impact filters.

These are just a few of the types of interventions, institutions, and policies being offered today. Much more research needs to be done to uncover the realities of undercapitalized neighborhoods. In addition, more research investment needs to be directed towards illustrating the conditions, organizational linkages, implementation, and measurement strategies of constructive competition policies and practices.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Opening or obscuring the discussion around race?

by Rajeev Ravisankar, Research Assistant at the Kirwan Institute

Today, I came across an article about the first integrated prom at Turner County High School in Ashburn, Georgia which took place over this past weekend. According to the article, despite the school being integrated, “white students had raised money for their own unofficial prom and black students did the same to throw their own separate party.” However at the beginning of the school year, four senior class officers approached the administration and requested an inclusive prom, which the school decided to sponsor. While the integrated prom is considered by the high school as a landmark event, it did not mark the end of “tradition.” It seems there was a separate party for whites a week earlier that many attended.

When many people think of race and racism, these are the stories that come to mind in addition to the many “slips” by pop culture icons, stereotypical costume parties at college campuses, and other personal experiences. Although these stories are all telling of the different ways in which race operates in society, they are often viewed as individual, isolated incidents.

This raises some interesting questions about how to address race within the current social context. How do we include and incorporate these stories and incidents into a more encompassing racial discourse? Or, do we in fact obscure the depth of racism by focusing energy on countering these examples?

It might be useful to think about these “isolated” incidents as entry points to promote a different understanding of race. It is important to recognize the gap that exists between the conventional, mainstream understanding of racism and an institutional or structural approach. One way to bridge this gap is to draw upon these incidents and connect them to the broader arrangement of society. This can help take the discussion away from a solely individual level analysis which promotes notions of blame and guilt and toward a more inclusive understanding.

On the other hand, maybe it is just a waste of time to get bogged down worrying about these specific cases. Either way, what do you think?

Link to the article:
Ga. School throws first integrated prom;_ylt=AiWLaSpM4320Et_mq7AUL7tvzwcF

Monday, April 16, 2007

Migration: the pitfalls of duality!

by Hiram José Irizarry Osorio, Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute

Over the last year the immigration issue in the U.S. has been projected as a duality, but with a focus only on one side of that duality. I propose thinking about migration instead of immigration. This is not to argue that immigration is not taking place, but by framing the discussion in solely immigration terms, the understanding of social reality becomes so partial that it promotes a mental scenario of fear, lending itself nicely to demarcate a starker bordering of “the other”.

Framing the discussion as a migration issue sheds light on what really is at stake: movement of people. The direction of those moves, immigration or emigration, would depend on the analytical gaze we assume and where we position ourselves as social spectators and citizens of the world. Immigration becomes a problem when “those entering our community” are perceived as toxic elements. This focus does not gaze at the other side of the duality. A complete gaze uncovers the reality that our fates are linked and that the problems taking place elsewhere are not disconnected from “our community”.

This is why we should push ourselves to be forward looking, while remaining contextualized when we think about migration. The reason the migration issue has become salient does not lie within any “oddities” of “those coming in”, but within an incomplete reading and appreciation of what is at stake: the reasonable expectation of human beings to live a life that they have reason to value.

My purpose here is to exhort ourselves to question how we organize our society. This requires courage, humility, and a complete willingness to work for and within a democratic society. It is a call to embrace and welcome a reassessment of our societal arrangements, which takes courage because there can be no courage while “residing” within our comfort zones. Fear of the unknown can push us either to seclusion-exclusion or to openness-inclusion. I propose the openness-inclusion path, which requires courageous acts and thoughts.

This is why we need to create spaces for dialogue across those constructed borders that divide us. This is not for reifying them, but for acknowledging their existence because they organize our current understanding of reality. At the same time we should collectively pursue their expansion without losing sight of the objective to make real our common humanity and without this implying a simplistic seeking of homogeneity. Heterogeneity and homogeneity are both socially constructed and paying attention to just one side of this duality distorts our gaze of reality and obstructs our quest to live a life that we have reason to covet.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Importance of Intersectionality: Race & Gender

by Rebecca Reno, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Recently at the Kirwan Institute several staff members (including myself) led a discussion about the importance of pursuing and implementing an intersectional race-gender analysis in our work. This included an explicit focus on the relationship between racial disparities and gender in issue areas such as education, technology, politics, international work, healthcare, housing and opportunity. In short, we demonstrated that including gender leads to a more nuanced analysis, and subsequently more inclusive and effective remedies.

This dialogue opened up a broader conversation on intersectionality. Intersectionality denotes the ways in which factors such as race, gender, class, sexuality, age, religion, culture, among others, interact to shape the experiences and realities of individuals. These complex interactions and relationships directly influence an individual’s life chances and opportunities, and thus must often be studied in concert. Often times, academics and social justice advocates treat these categories as though they were mutually exclusive, and thus fail to reach an accurate understanding of the causes of and solutions to inequity.

The inclusion of additional research criteria such as gender does not take away from the explicit study of race and ethnicity; rather it adds to it. Much as studying any singular opportunity structure (such as education) in isolation leads to an incomplete analysis and a masking of the cumulative effects of structural racism, studying any singular identity factor conceals the ways that other identities also influence life outcomes. For example, studying the effects of housing mobility programs without understanding the unique experiences of women who relocate may mask specific gendered challenges such as the difficulty in obtaining affordable, available childcare in those opportunity-rich suburbs.

Excitement and thought-provoking conversations emerged from this discussion, as the staff considered future projects to study the intersection between race and gender across a range of topics, and how current projects could be enhanced. The issue of intersectionality is not new, but surprisingly there are large gaps in the research and relatively few scholars focusing on the relationship between race and gender, and even fewer research and policy-oriented groups committed to it. A more nuanced understanding of the relationship between race, gender and opportunity is long overdue, and it is critical that it be given a place on any serious race or gender research agenda.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Beyond a Myopic View of Identity and Towards Social Inclusion

by Daniel Newhart, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

This past weekend, I watched a very interesting documentary about the Columbus area titled “Flag Wars.” The main premise of this film was that the GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) community was moving into dilapidated neighborhoods and running out the African American community who was not able to afford bringing their houses up to “code.” One major conflict in the movie was between some GLBT residents and an African American man who wanted his own hand-painted sign placed above his door. The African American man’s claim was that his ability to express his identity was being infringed upon by the requests to remove his sign; and, he thought, it was quite contradictory that the GLBT residents were able to express their identity by hanging their rainbow flags.

While it is important not to ignore the fact that gentrification is a serious issue, one worthy of examining, there may be another issue here. The myopic approach taken towards identity in this situation (as well as others) may be leading to more conflict, and simultaneously be marginalizing a community that shares identity with both “sides” of the conflict. Specifically, I am referring to people of color who are also GLBT. These people may fall through the cracks of both sides, given the stigma they experience as a result of their identities. It could be posited that GLBT people of color are simultaneously “visible” due to their race, but their “invisible” identity, that is, their sexual orientation, is one that they must suppress out of fear of stigma from their community of color.

The potential of GLBT people of color to find a middle ground in the conflict of “Flag Wars” is one that should not be disregarded, but unfortunately it is ignored for the most part. GLBT people of color, since they share facets of identity with both “warring parties” in “Flag Wars”, could be a bridge between the two communities. I am not saying that they should be tokenized, but that an asset approach to these people should be taken by both the GLBT community and African American community. However, both sides of the conflict in “Flag Wars” are suffering from a very shortsighted view of identity that heralds one part of their identity as paramount. Identity is a multitude of interacting factors, of which race and sexual orientation are just two among many others such as class, gender, ability, and religion. In “Flag Wars,” it seems apparent that a myopic view of identity has led to an either/or situation, in which neither side can find a middle ground. If we break free of dualism, it seems that the middle ground could be mediated with people whose respective communities sometimes refuse to see them as assets.
With this in mind, the question is how do we get people to see that identity is a function of multiple facets, rather than one facet at one time, beyond simply the context of “Flag Wars”? Furthermore, is a more complex view of identity necessary for sustainable, transformative change?