Monday, March 30, 2009

The Geography of Opportunity: Building Opportunity in Massachusetts

The Kirwan Institute recently completed a new report for the state of MA assessing the geographic of opportunity for Massachusetts neighborhoods.
To see our new report, please follow the link below:

The Geography of Opportunity: Building Opportunity in Massachusetts
Full Report (large file 29MB) and Summary Report
Jason Reece and Samir Gambhir (January 2009)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Confronting Racism and Apathy

By Cheryl Staats, Research Assistant at the Kirwan Institute

Despite the intense stigma that the label of ‘racist’ carries, racism continues to pervade our society, including many not-so-subtle manifestations. A recent study published in Science magazine sought to understand why blatant racism persists in spite of the strong condemnation that accompanies overt prejudice by considering how individuals respond when they witness an incident of racism. Using an experimental design with multiple conditions, an inconsistency emerged. While participants anticipated feeling upset and taking action when witnessing a racial slur, in reality they experienced less emotional distress than they had predicted, often reacting with indifference.

While professed egalitarian values led participants to foresee feeling distressed when witnessing a racial slur, the spontaneous responses they exhibited often failed to align with these values. Researchers concluded that, “despite current egalitarian cultural norms and apparent good intentions, one reason why racism and discrimination remain so prevalent in society may be that people do not respond to overt acts of racism in the way that they anticipate: They fail to censure others who transgress these egalitarian norms.”

Two points:

1) Studies such as this focus largely on racism at an individual level. Declaring that the racism that continues to exist in society may be a byproduct of individuals’ actions (or, in this case, inactions) ignores the larger structures, policies, and practices that affect people’s lives. Recognition of interpersonal racial bias within a larger context of institutional forces provides a more comprehensive view of how and why racism subsists.

2) This study provokes questions regarding the causes that underlie this failure to react to a racial slur. Why is it that people who may have the best of intentions are apathetic when the situation arises? The authors speculate that some of this hesitation can be attributed to the expense of mental and emotional energy necessary to address the situation, or that participants may have reconstrued the slur as a joke or harmless comment in an effort to counteract the negative emotions activated by the slur. I would assume that other factors influence the decision for inaction outside of an experimental setting, including feeling unequipped to adequately address race or uncertain about how the other individual may respond. Regardless of the justification, this study reminds us that we need to deliberately act on our egalitarian values in order to bring those principles to fruition.
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Full text of article:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Race, Public Policy, and the White House Council on Women and Girls

By Angela Stanley, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

On March 11, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. According to the president, “the purpose of this council is to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in matters of public policy.” Acknowledging that women and girls have unique experiences and challenges that also need to be addressed helps the process of moving toward more targeted public policy interventions. For those of us interested in studying race, addressing intersections such as race and gender helps us gain a more holistic approach to better understanding and contributing to the field of research and scholarship on race, ethnicity and social justice.

More information about the White Houses Council on Women and Girls can be found at the following locations:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Has the “Talented Tenth” already arrived with Obama or is it still a “dream deferred”?

By Michele Battle-Fisher, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

I, along with many citizens, listened with great anticipation to hear President Obama’s speech to the combined Congressional assembly on February 24, 2009. His eloquence was apparent, but I had another issue in mind. How can others in the black community find venues to voice concerns to such a captive audience as he? Perhaps if WEB Dubois were still with us today, he would shout to the rafters “the talented tenth has arisen!” The idea of the “Talented Tenth” espouses that there will be a select number of leaders of color who will serve as the rhetors of the black nation.

They will be articulate.
They will have the best education offered and the capacity to think and express.
They will be given the credibility by others to assume such a position.
Historic election- check.

But though I was moved by the President’s words, I was most moved by the young black student who wrote her letter to Congress and was given a hero’s greeting while sitting next to the First Lady. Poised with the nation’s eyes upon her, she simply asked the legislators that she should no longer be deemed invisible. She, like many other young people, seek hope for a better future but sadly realize that grave injustices still exist that can deter that dream. Yes, she simply asks for parity without the worries of substandard social conditions that could get in her way. I wish her the opportunity to assume her role as a “rhetor” for young people of color, a role she never would have imagined when she penned her letter. This is if she accepts that challenge.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

“Gone With the Wind,” And What It Says Today about How Americans Think About Race

By Stephen Menendian, Senior Legal Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Despite being an avid film buff, I watched “Gone With the Wind” for the first time recently. I was caught off guard by not only the degree of racism in the film (and not just the obvious stuff), but in particular by how closely the film resembles D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” and yet how differently the two films are regarded, even today.

The depiction/glorification of the antebellum south and reconstruction in GWTW is almost identical to BOAN, and not simply in substance and storytelling, but in tone and genre creation. Both films are adaptations of sweeping, romantic, 20th Century Southern apologist narratives: GWTW was an adaptation of the Margaret Mitchell novel by the same name, and BOAN of Thomas Dixon’s “The Clansman.” Evidently, all of the KKK scenes were left out of the film adaptation of GWTW, the main difference between the two films.

GWTW is widely regarded not only as a technical masterpiece, but as a great American film. It is hailed as a film that moves and inspires generations of American movie-watchers for Scarlett’s fortitude and perseverance. The American Film Institute lists it variously as the 4th or 7th greatest film of all time, and as one of the greatest romantic films of all time. In contrast, BOAN is taught in introductory film classes for its technical achievements, its ground breaking cinematic techniques and masterful direction. Although BOAN was originally listed as the 44th greatest American film in the 1998 list, it was – revealingly -- removed from the 2007 list and replaced by D.W. Griffith’s apologetic thematic sequel, “Intolerance.” Given that GWTW was made three decades later, I didn't quite expect it to be as blatantly racist as BOAN, and yet the two films are so similar in style and substance.

The difference in how the two films are regarded is revealing to me in what it says about how Americans today think about race and racism. When I returned the film to the movie store, the clerk was surprised when I said that I was taken aback by the film’s racism. The racism in GWTW seems to be so easily elided or explained by GWTW apologists as an unfortunate incident to the film’s setting rather than an integral part of its meaning. Does it really take a man in a white robe before an American sees racism? Is it really that hard to see that the ideology of the film, the nostalgia and romanticism of the antebellum south that underpins the film was itself a virulently racist worldview?