How much has racial prejudice hurt President Obama?

Posted July 11th, 2014 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: , , ,

President Barack ObamaThere are two new studies out on public opinion and voting behavior which shed light on persistent questions about how much racial prejudice hurts black politicians, and in particular, President Obama’s approval ratings and his vote totals in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The first new study, “The cost of racial animus on a black candidate,” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz and slated for publication in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Public Economics, asks a relatively simple question: how much did racial prejudice affect Barack Obama’s vote share?1

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  1. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “The cost of racial animus on a black candidate: Evidence using Google search data,” Journal of Public Economics 118: 26-40 (2014). []

50th anniversary of the War on Poverty

Posted January 8th, 2014 by
Category: History, Living consequences Tags: , , , ,

Lyndon Johnson delivers his State of the Union, January 8, 1964Today is the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty.

On January 8, 1964, Lyndon Johnson, in his State of the Union address to Congress, dramatically announced:

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

On this occasion, I think it is worth remembering that Johnson was intimately familiar with poverty, having had what biographer Robert Caro calls a “terrible boyhood” filled with the insecurity and humiliations of poverty: living in a home that could be taken by the bank at any time, and often depending on neighbors to bring dishes of food to eat. This seems to have filled Johnson with a passion to fight poverty, which he began planning with his advisers within hours of the assassination of President Kennedy.1

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  1. See Robert A. Caro, Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). []

Office holiday parties aren’t as good for diversity as you might think

Posted December 11th, 2013 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: , ,

Office holiday partyDiversity experts often recommend that employers foster a variety of behaviors in racially diverse workplaces aimed at bringing employees closer together. These techniques can include hosting social gatherings and encouraging the informal sharing of personal information, and are intended to overcome racial and sociocultural barriers and to strengthen interoffice relationships.

At this time of year, the office holiday party is the best example of this sort of practice aimed, at part, at addressing issues of diversity in a positive, proactive way.

Yet research from the Columbia Business School indicates that social interactions at work, rather than promoting racial harmony and cooperation, are ineffective at reducing discomfort and racial tension in the workplace, and can further isolate employees based on racial difference.

This research doesn’t mean that employers should avoid hosting holiday parties and encouraging other forms of socializing, but it does suggest that these events can be problematic, and that attention is better paid to an organization’s attitude towards issues of diversity and towards ensuring positive experiences for all employees, while working and while socializing with co-workers.

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Juror B29’s full interview airs on ABC; comments “devastating” to Trayvon Martin’s family

Posted July 26th, 2013 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: ,

Juror B29, "Maddy," speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America"This morning, as ABC airs its full interview with juror B29 in the George Zimmerman case for the first time, Trayvon Martin’s mother says the juror’s most explosive comment, that Zimmerman “got away with murder,” is “devastating” for their family.

A portion of ABC’s interview with juror B29, a 36-year-old nursing assistant and mother of eight named Maddy, aired last night and has already generated considerable controversy.

Juror B29’s revelations about the Zimmerman case

This morning, the full interview revealed more about the jury’s deliberations, juror B29’s views on the case, and how well the jury verdict reflected an impartial view of the law. We also learned that she is of Puerto Rican descent and, until recently, lived in Chicago.

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What did the Supreme Court just do to the Voting Rights Act?

Posted June 25th, 2013 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: , ,

In 2006, the U.S. Congress voted 98-0 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another quarter-century.

This re-authorization included Section 5, which requires certain states (or parts of states)  to seek federal approval, in advance, for any changes to their voting procedures (known as “preclearance”). It also included Section 4, which provides the “coverage formula” defining which states (or parts of states) are subject to preclearance, based upon their historic use of voting procedures to discriminate against black voters.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the coverage formula is no longer unconstitutional constitutional. The majority opinion found that the formula was justified in 1966, by the “‘blight of racial discrimination in voting’ that had ‘infected the electoral process in parts of our country for nearly a century.'” Today, however, a majority of the justices agreed that “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

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What does the Court’s decision on affirmative action mean?

Posted June 24th, 2013 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: , ,

The U.S. Supreme Court has finally issued its ruling in this year’s affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, voting 7-1 to send the case back to the Court of Appeals for further review.

The Court’s decision upholds, at least for now, the use of race as a factor in admissions, while applying a more skeptical analysis than the lone dissenting justice, Justice Ginsburg, believes is appropriate. (Justice Kagan recused herself and took no part in the case.)

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy and supported by the other six justices, holds that the Fifth Circuit failed to properly ask whether the university’s use of race in its admissions policy meets the standard of “strict scrutiny,” the especially demanding standard which applies to the use of race in governmental actions.

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“Accidental racists” should search for southern pride beyond the flag

Posted April 9th, 2013 by
Category: Living consequences, Popular Culture, Race and Ethnicity Tags: , , , ,

Growing up in Nashville, Tenn., my sister and I spent hours on end listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter, Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks, and other female country artists of the 1990s. With this soundtrack I came to believe all country music was about falling in love, getting treated badly by men, hating other women, and finding revenge. As a child I had no idea how many people in America associate country music with “Southern Pride” and the complex issues of race, history and identity that term entails. I only knew Confederate flags were bad. One of my best friends from elementary school, the daughter of a prominent African-American author and songwriter, told me the flags meant people wanted to bring slavery back. Naturally I henceforth regarded it with revulsion and fear.

When Brad Paisley begins his song “Accidental Racist” by saying his confederate flag t-shirt only means he’s a Skynyrd fan, I can’t help noticing how he disproves his entire point in the following verses of the song. He calls himself “a proud rebel son” and “a white man livin’ in the southland” and admits how he is unable to understand southern history from a black perspective. He understands how the confederate flag is offensive and yet still brandishes it across his chest out of a sense of pride in a past he knows was at least partially wrong.

Some lines in the Brad Paisley/LL Cool J collaboration are worthy of some praise for their apparent thoughtful consideration of how to remember the past whilst “caught between southern pride and southern blame.” Paisley is not proud of everything past generations of done, and he knows the nation is still “paying for mistakes that a bunch of folks made long before we came.” But despite this acceptance of the past as imperfect, both Paisley and LL Cool J express a disturbing desire to let bygones be bygones, sweep history under the rug, and attempt to solve the problems of today without engaging with the traces of the trade. Brad Paisley’s aversion to “walking on eggshells” reminds me of statements I’ve heard white southerners make when they don’t want to talk about slavery because they feel they can’t express opinions they know to be offensive or hurtful. For these people, avoiding the eggshells is an excuse for ignoring the issue all together.

Like Paisley and Cool J, “I just want to make things right,” which is why I study the history of the slave trade and work at the Tracing Center. I am a southerner with a strong sense of pride towards my region and my identity, but I refuse to let the Confederate flag be the symbol of that pride. I am proud of bluegrass music, Harper Lee, Alex Haley, Ray Charles Mardi Gras, and cornbread. I am proud of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement and less proud of how long it took us to get there. If our shame is located in our history, our pride can be found in how we engage with the traces of that history today. I therefore wholeheartedly disagree with the “Accidental Racist” verse, “the past is the past, you feel me,” and encourage country music fans everywhere to think critically about the problems in this song (aside from its melody and tempo, which are also worthy of criticism).


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