Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Intersecting Race and Sexuality

By Nick Webster, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

There has been an unfortunate story from Ohio running through all of the major news sources recently -- police officer from Canton has been charged with the murder of his pregnant girlfriend and her nearly full-term fetus. The woman was missing for a week before her body was found, and the national media has been fanatically following the case throughout the search and the investigation. Although it is difficult to say why any one story becomes media gold, I was struck by this particular story's popularity because it so clearly fits a pattern that seems to unfailingly capture the attention of the American public.

You see, the man accused in this case is Black, and his deceased girlfriend was White. Many commentators have rightly pointed out that searches for missing women of color are rarely publicized to the same degree as those for White women, and that Black-White crime is often sensationalized above crime within minority communities. But in addition to both of these points lies the fact that, like in the recent Duke rape controversy and the O.J. Simpson case, this story involves an interracial sexual relationship. The fascination with which American viewers follow stories involving sex between racial groups (and the persisting social taboo of such actions) points to the salience of intersections between race and sexuality.

Even in today's era of "colorblind" rhetoric, when many Americans claim that they "do not see race," newer, subtler forms of racism continue to incorporate sexual undercurrents. Interracial relationships remain rare and fraught with challenges, racially-charged pornography sells continually well, "sex tours" to a variety of developing countries are packed with eager American citizens, and, of course, news stories with any hint of sexual relations between persons of different races (as long as one participant is White) skyrocket in popularity. Clearly, adding sexuality to the already turbulent waters of race in America can produce a variety of interesting results, from covert disgust to the fetishization of the "exotic."

I believe that the intersection between race and sexuality provides an important avenue for examining the ramifications of "colorblindness" precisely because it can serve to destabilize the foundations of this form of racism (i.e., "colorblindness"). Discussing race and personal sexuality can bring the implications of a racialized society close to home for many White Americans, while adding the sexual dimension to popular discussions of race may help expose some of the more hidden aspects of structural racism. I hope we can continue to take advantage of intersectionality in this and other forms to advance and challenge our work fighting racism.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Can Opportunity Be Defined?

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

It has been over four years since the Institute embarked on its mission “to deepen our understanding of the causes of and solutions to racial and ethnic disparities and hierarchies.” In carrying out this charge an emerging philosophic and empiric tension arises. The activities required for knowing (through analysis) and those for doing (engaging clients in strategic and policy solutions to persistent problems) often require a ‘bridge’–the multiple spatial, psychological, social and spiritual states of opportunity.

As practitioners, our understanding of opportunity centers on a place-based, often regional, interpretation of opportunity and its proximity to households, individuals and neighborhoods. In this form opportunity appears to function as a comprehensive, often interdependent bundle of investments that create wealth and meaningful connections to society as a whole. Over time this understanding, coupled with technology, developed a quantifiable sense of “opportunity.” The opportunity based model over time has been adopted as part of policy-making, advocacy and grass-roots organizing by the legal community, industry, advocacy and academia.

Adoption has further shaped the discussion, challenging supporters and practitioners to examine the merits of defining opportunity. A call by the more skeptical of the Kirwan’s position on “opportunity” frequently asks “what does it mean to be located in, or exposed to, a high (or for that matter a low) opportunity area?” As we have gained an unprecedented amount of experience in the subject matter, additional supporters and resources to explore new applications, it becomes clear that operationalizing opportunity was necessary to convey the importance of the work.

Below you will find the applied definition of opportunity, an attempt to provide a grounded understanding of the relationship between opportunity and its antecedents: people, place and linkages. At a minimum the definition aims to enhance awareness of and the implications for, distribution, proximity and access for communities in your region. At its best, this time also provides a moment where readers can reflect and share how they relate to this definition, and how a definition of opportunity provides value in your own work.

“Opportunity in our definition includes the structures and environmental conditions which contribute to community stability and individual advancement, such as sustainable employment, high quality educational institutions and experiences, healthy and safe communities, stable and safe housing or health care. Expanding and maintaining access to opportunity means deliberately connecting people to the critical resources needed to excel and succeed in our society.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Musings on Linked Fate

This week, Wendy Smooth, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies with a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute wrote a piece on linked fate and the potential implications of applying this concept to politics. The full piece can be viewed in our Notes from Staff and Affiliates section of the website.

“Perhaps the best scenario is to think of linked fate as varying across issues. In the simplest of terms, the type of linked fate I am discussing is much like the common ideal that “I should care about your issue, because if it’s you today, it will be me tomorrow.” A more complex vision of this linked fate is the understanding that what is happening to you right now impacts what is possible for me right now—and I act accordingly.”

Click here to read the piece in its entirety.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A volunteer force: choice or “choice”?

by Daniel Newhart, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

I have a brother in the military. He is currently serving in Iraq, as a combat medic in the United States Army. He has saved many lives, both Iraqi and American, and for that I am proud, even though I do not agree with the war. One thing I keep thinking about, however, is whether his enlistment in the Army was a choice, or a “choice” – an act of perceived agency in light of structures of opportunity that restrict poor and/or minority residents of the United States. Whether or not you agree with the War on/of Terror (depending on your perspective), one would hope that the entrance into the military was a function of choice, rather than a natural progression from structures that determine opportunity. I am beginning to think the military is not a choice, but rather, the only option.

Race and the military has been a subject of study for many years now, and one case that there may be familiarity with is the case of the number of African Americans who disproportionately died in the Vietnam War. Now, in the current war in Iraq, we see that the racial disparity has extended to class disparity, with a number of poor whites entering into the casualty list as well (or potential casualty list, like my brother). The military now describes itself as an “all volunteer force”; however, is this the case? How can an all-volunteer force exist within the current economic structures in our country?

My argument here is the construction of “volunteer” is sometimes nothing more than an illusion of agency. Of the whites and underrepresented soldiers who have died in Iraq, most have been from poor areas of the country (check or for some details). One could make the case that the military was the only option in these low opportunity areas, and for some, an alternative to prison. In the latest proposed immigration bill that was recently withdrawn, citizenship was even going to be granted to those who served in the military. The military is seen as a pathway to mobility in this country for some, but the reality is, once the soldier returns from the military the same socioeconomic structures exist, and the playing field is not made more level. We can begin to see here how something like structural opportunity begins to affect a great deal of the United States population, of all races.

Rather than construct the military as the only option, we need to examine the socioeconomic structures and context in which the “choice” for the military is being made. One could argue that things like structural racism and poverty play a major role in the “decision making process” of individuals who enter the military. While I am not saying their making this decision under these circumstances is a bad thing, I think it is alarming if so many people are choosing the military as an option because they have no other alternative. Entering the military in this fashion does not make these soldiers any less patriotic. Nevertheless, a society that fosters structural disparity and forces its residents to choose service as an alternative to poverty is not patriotic. We can and should do better.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"Ethnic Cleansing" in Los Angeles: Misconstruction or Sensationalism?

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

Mr. Tarso Luís Ramos provides important insights in his recently published piece in ColorLines entitled “L.A. Story” regarding the misconstrue labeling of the violence taking place in Los Angeles as Latin@s "ethnic cleansing" of Blacks. Mr. Ramos, in addition to detailing the genesis of this debate, presents statistical evidence of the violence taking place in Los Angeles among gangs, which debunks the "ethnic cleansing" perspective. He also presents testimony of vested and knowledgeable individuals that debunk and contest the violence taking place in Los Angeles as "ethnic cleansing". Nevertheless, at the same time Mr. Ramos closes his piece by stating "We mustn't turn a blind eye to the bigoted motivations of some Latino gang members who commit violent acts against African Americans. But neither can we allow rightwing interpretations of those dynamics to substitute for a deeper analysis that can give rise to responses that elevate racial and economic justice as their core objectives." What do you think?
"L.A. Story," by Tarso Luís Ramos
ColorLines, Issue #38, May/June 2007

Monday, June 4, 2007

Diverse Women's Research Survey

The Kirwan Institute not only works to eliminate racial and ethnic hierarchy through our work, we also actively support those who are involved in similar pursuits. Thus this week we are highlighting a critical research study taking place at Ohio State University led by PhD candidate Casey Augustus-Horvath in the Counseling Psychology program:

To date, research on eating disorders and body image has relied almost exclusively on findings from samples of overwhelmingly White European, highly-educated, middle-to-upper SES, young undergraduate women. The voice of Women of Color and women of diverse SES, educational backgrounds, and ages continues to be underrepresented and even absent from the research. Therefore, research targeting diverse samples of women is critical. The present research project is an attempt to utilize Internet data collection to specifically target diverse women in order to gain important knowledge regarding their perspectives on eating behaviors, attitudes, and body image. The link for this study is being sent to organizations and listservs nationwide in an attempt to recruit a sample of women who would not normally be represented in the literature. It is hoped that the present study will contribute greatly to the field by demonstrating the significance of utilizing a diverse sample as opposed to merely drawing from overwhelmingly homogeneous samples of convenience. The researcher plans to submit this study to a peer-reviewed journal to share findings and spur similar research. Please consider adding your voice to this study if you are a woman aged 18 or older, and please consider sharing about this study with other women over 18 who may be interested in contributing to such research.

If you choose to participate in the study, please click on the link below. At the end of the survey, participants have the option to provide their e-mail address to be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift card. Due to the nature of Internet research, the security of the survey data during the transmission cannot be guaranteed; however, no identifying information will be collected and e-mail addresses will be separate from data. Security is guaranteed once the researcher receives the data and responses are completely anonymous. For further information about this study or if you experience technical difficulties, please do not hesitate to contact the researcher at The methods of this research and the plan for protection of rights of participants have been reviewed and approved by the Office of Responsible Research Practices, which oversees all research conducted at The Ohio State University. This plan received Institutional Review Board approval on Wednesday, August 9, 2006 (Project #2006E0538). To take the survey now, please click on the URL below:
Thank you for your time and consideration!