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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

February 4, 2011

Written by C.N.

10 Notable Statistics for Black History Month

To commemorate February as Black History Month, the U.S. Census Bureau has again compiled a fact sheet with some interesting statistics about the Black population in the U.S.:

Black History collage © Fred Otnes, National Geographic Society, & Corbis

To commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent, American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week. The first celebration occurred on Feb. 12, 1926. For many years, the second week of February was set aside for this celebration to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist/editor Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, the week was expanded into Black History Month. Each year, U.S. presidents proclaim February as National African-American History Month.

41.8 million
As of July 1, 2009, the estimated population of black residents in the United States, including those of more than one race. They made up 13.6 percent of the total U.S. population. This figure represents an increase of more than a half-million residents from one year earlier.

38%
Percentage of Mississippi’s population that was black in 2009. Although New York had the largest number of blacks of any state, Mississippi had the largest share of blacks in its total population. Blacks also made up more than a quarter of the population in Louisiana (33%), Georgia (31%), Maryland (31%), South Carolina (29%) and Alabama (27%). They comprised 55% of the population in the District of Columbia.

19%
Percentage of blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2009.

11.5 million
Among blacks 25 and older, the number who had an advanced degree in 2009 (e.g., master’s, doctorate, medical or law). A decade earlier, in 1999, about 900,000 blacks had this level of education.

2.5 million
Number of black college students in fall 2008. This was roughly double the corresponding number from 25 years earlier.

55%
Turnout rate in the 2008 presidential election for the 18- to 24-year-old citizen black population, an 8 percent increase from 2004. Blacks had the highest turnout rate in this age group.

65%
Turnout rate among black citizens in the 2008 presidential election, up about 5 percentage points from 2004. Looking at voter turnout by race and Hispanic origin, non-Hispanic whites and blacks had the highest turnout levels.

$32,584
The annual median income of single-race black households in 2009, a decline of 4.4 percent (in 2009 constant dollars) from 2008.

28%
The percentage of single-race blacks 16 and older who worked in management, professional and related occupations.

$137.4 billion
Receipts for black-owned businesses in 2007, up 55.1 percent from 2002. The number of black-owned businesses totaled 1.9 million in 2007, up 60.5 percent.


January 21, 2010

Written by C.N.

New Books: Immigration

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its complete contents.

This is the first week of classes for many colleges and universities around the country, including here at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This semester I am teaching a new course: “The Sociology of Immigration” (in case you’re curious, you can download a PDF of the syllabus). It’s a topic that is central and directly relevant to many issues that I cover in this blog, and a course that I have always wanted to teach but haven’t had the opportunity to do so until now.

President Obama has also recently suggested that immigration reform is one of the next major policy issues that he and his administration want to address next (although he said this before the upset victory of Republican Scott Brown in MA). Presuming that he follows through on this promise, immigration is set to again move to the front burner of American discussion and controversy.

With these things in mind, I plan on writing a more detailed post about immigration reform soon but in the meantime, I would like to highlight some new books on different aspects of the immigration issue that I will be using as source material for my “Sociology of Immigration” course and that will hopefully provide some sociological data and analysis to help us tackle the question of immigration reform.

The first book, Reinventing the Melting Pot, is the textbook that I have assigned to my students in my “Sociology of Immigration” course.

Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means To Be American, edited by Tamar Jacoby (Basic Books Publishing)

Reinventing the Melting Pot, edited by Tamar Jacoby

In Reinventing the Melting Pot, twenty-one of the writers who have thought longest and hardest about immigration come together around a surprising consensus: yes, immigrant absorption still works-and given the number of newcomers arriving today, the nation’s future depends on it. But it need not be incompatible with ethnic identity-and we as a nation need to find new ways to talk about and encourage becoming American.

In the wake of 9/11 it couldn’t be more important to help these newcomers find a way to fit in. Running through these essays is a single common theme: Although ethnicity plays a more important role now than ever before, today’s newcomers can and will become Americans and enrich our national life-reinventing the melting pot and reminding us all what we have in common.

The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in Twenty-First Century America, by Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean (Russell Sage Foundation)

The Diversity Paradox, by Lee and Bean

African Americans grappled with Jim Crow segregation until it was legally overturned in the 1960s. In subsequent decades, the country witnessed a new wave of immigration from Asia and Latin America—forever changing the face of American society. In The Diversity Paradox, Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean take these two poles of American collective identity—the legacy of slavery and immigration—and ask if today’s immigrants are destined to become racialized minorities akin to African Americans or if their incorporation into U.S. society will more closely resemble that of their European predecessors.

The Diversity Paradox uses population-based analyses and in-depth interviews to examine patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans. Lee and Bean . . . show that Asians and Latinos with mixed ancestry are not constrained by strict racial categories. Racial status often shifts according to situation. Individuals can choose to identify along ethnic lines or as white, and their decisions are rarely questioned by outsiders or institutions. These groups also intermarry at higher rates, which is viewed as part of the process of becoming “American” and a form of upward social mobility.

African Americans, in contrast, intermarry at significantly lower rates than Asians and Latinos. Further, multiracial blacks often choose not to identify as such and are typically perceived as being black only—underscoring the stigma attached to being African American and the entrenchment of the “one-drop” rule. Asians and Latinos are successfully disengaging their national origins from the concept of race—like European immigrants before them.

The Diversity Paradox is an extensive and eloquent examination of how contemporary immigration and the country’s new diversity are redefining the boundaries of race. The book also lays bare the powerful reality that as the old black/white color line fades a new one may well be emerging—with many African Americans still on the other side.

Beyond a Border: The Causes and Consequences of Contemporary Immigration, by Peter Kivisto and Thomas Faist (Pine Forge Press)

Beyond a Border, by Kivisto and Faist

As the authors state in Chapter 1, “[T]he movement of people across national borders represents one of the most vivid dramas of social reality in the contemporary world.” This comparative text examines contemporary immigration across the globe, focusing on 20 major nations.

Noted scholars Peter Kivisto and Thomas Faist introduce students to important topics of inquiry at the heart of the field, including: (a) Movement: explores the theories of migration using a historical perspective of the modern world; (b) Settlement: provides clarity concerning the controversial matter of immigrant incorporation and refers to the varied ways immigrants come to be a part of a new society; and (c) Control: focuses on the politics of immigration and examines the role of states in shaping how people choose to migrate.

Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age, by Philip Kasinitz, Mary C. Waters, John H. Mollenkopf, and Jennifer Holdaway (Russell Sage Foundation)

Inheriting the City, by Kasinitz, Waters, Mollenkopf, and Holdaway

Immigrants and their children comprise nearly three-fifths of New York City’s population and even more of Miami and Los Angeles. But the United States is also a nation with entrenched racial divisions that are being complicated by the arrival of newcomers. While immigrant parents may often fear that their children will “disappear” into American mainstream society, leaving behind their ethnic ties, many experts fear that they won’t—evolving instead into a permanent unassimilated and underemployed underclass.

Inheriting the City confronts these fears with evidence, reporting the results of a major study examining the social, cultural, political, and economic lives of today’s second generation in metropolitan New York, and showing how they fare relative to their first-generation parents and native-stock counterparts. The authors studied the young adult offspring of West Indian, Chinese, Dominican, South American, and Russian Jewish immigrants and compared them to blacks, whites, and Puerto Ricans with native-born parents.

They find that today’s second generation is generally faring better than their parents, with Chinese and Russian Jewish young adults achieving the greatest education and economic advancement, beyond their first-generation parents and even beyond their native-white peers. Every second-generation group is doing at least marginally—and, in many cases, significantly—better than natives of the same racial group across several domains of life. Economically, each second-generation group earns as much or more than its native-born comparison group, especially African Americans and Puerto Ricans, who experience the most persistent disadvantage.

Inheriting the City shows the children of immigrants can often take advantage of policies and programs that were designed for native-born minorities in the wake of the civil rights era. Indeed, the ability to choose elements from both immigrant and native-born cultures has produced, the authors argue, a second-generation advantage that catalyzes both upward mobility and an evolution of mainstream American culture. . . . Adapting elements from their parents’ cultures as well as from their native-born peers, the children of immigrants are not only transforming the American city but also what it means to be American.


December 18, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Barack Obama & American Race Relations

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its complete contents.

A year after Barack Obama’s historic election as President of the United States of America, the following books examine the larger sociological context of his campaign and election, with a particular focus on the question of to what extent does his election signify any important change or improvement in race relations in the U.S.

Yes We Can?: White Racial Framing and the 2008 Presidential Campaign, by Adia Harvey Wingfield and Joe Feagin (Routledge)

Yes We Can, by Wingfield and Feagin

This book offers one of the first sociological analyses of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 campaign for the presidency of the United States. Elaborating on the concept of the white racial frame, Harvey Wingfield and Feagin assess the ways racial framing was deployed by principal characters in the 2008 election. This book counters many commonsense assumptions about race, politics, and society, particularly the idea that Obama’s election ushered in a post-racial era. Readers will find this book uniquely valuable because it relies on sound sociological analysis to assess numerous events and aspects of this historic campaign.

Barack Obama and African American Empowerment: The Rise of Black America’s New Leadership, edited by Manning Marable and Kristen Clarke (Palgrave Macmillan)

Barack Obama and African American Empowerment, edited by Marable and Clarke

Barack Obama and the African-American Empowerment examines the evolution of black leadership and politics since the Civil Rights Movement. It looks at the phenomenon of Barack Obama, from his striking emergence as a successful candidate for the Illinois State Senate to President of the United States, as part of the continuum of African American political leaders. The reader also examines the evolving ideals about the roles of government and the economy in addressing the historic disadvantages experienced by many African Americans. Here, some of the nation’s most influential intellectuals bring together original scholarship to look at the future of national politics and American race relations.

The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, by Gwen Ifill (Anchor Publishing)

The Breakthrough, by Gwen Ifill

In The Breakthrough, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential victory and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.

Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation of men and women who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama (all interviewed for this book), and also covers numerous up-and-coming figures from across the nation.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with power brokers such as President Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, his son Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict, the race/ gender clash, and the “black enough” conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history.


February 23, 2009

Written by C.N.

Religious Portrait of African Americans

As we continue to commemorate February as Black/African American History Month, we should recognize that throughout American history, religion has played a very powerful and important role in the Black community. More recently, the issue of religion among African Americans became prominent news in this past election, evidenced by the controversy regarding Barack Obama’s association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and how many gay/lesbians expressed resentment and anger toward the Black community for their overwhelming support of Proposition 8 that led to the reversal of same sex marriage in California.

Since these two events seem to be located at different ends of the political spectrum, this should prompt us to understand in more detail the characteristics and complexities of religion among African Americans. Toward that end, the Pew Research Center, Forum on Religion and Public Life, has released a new study entitled, “A Religious Portrait of African Americans.” Some excerpts:

African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life. . . . [N]early eight-in-ten African-Americans (79%) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% among all U.S. adults. . . .

Compared with other groups, African-Americans express a high degree of comfort with religion’s role in politics. In fact, . . . African-Americans tend to closely resemble white evangelical Protestants on that score, with roughly six-in-ten among both groups saying that churches should express their views on social and political topics, and roughly half saying that there has been too little expression of faith and prayer by political leaders. . . .

According to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in the summer of 2008, nearly two-thirds of African-Americans (64%) say they oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, a significantly higher level of opposition than among whites (51%). . . .

Regardless of their religious background, African-Americans overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. . . . Three-quarters of all African-Americans (76%) describe themselves as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party, while just 10% favor the Republicans. . . . This unity of partisanship among African-Americans carries over into the voting booth, where they have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections (95% for Barack Obama in 2008 and 88% for John Kerry in 2004).

So on the surface, these findings about religion among African Americans may seem rather contradictory, at least from a political point of view. Specifically, it is understandable that African Americans tend to be more religious than the general population and as a direct result of that, they overwhelmingly oppose same sex marriage.

But with that in mind, how can it be that African Americans are also consistently and overwhelmingly Democratic in terms of political identification? In other words, how can a group be so strongly opposed to same sex marriage but at the same time, so strongly support the political party that tends to favor same sex marriage?

There is likely a variety of reasons for this apparent paradox, but my purpose here is not to delve into them in great detail, nor to explore the morality of the opinion among many African Americans in opposition to same sex marriage — other academics and commentators have much more expertise than me in that regard.

Instead, I would just point out that this phenomenon shows us that the African American community is not simplistic and unidimensional. Rather, it is quite complex and even at times, contradictory. In this sense, it is much like the White population, the Asian American population, the Latino population, and pretty much all kinds of human social groups.

That is, much of American society can be accurately categorized and predictable but on the other hand, much can also be quite contradictory and confusing at times as well. In either case, studies like this should prompt us to look beyond simple generalizations and instead, to recognize and examine the multiple dimensions of characteristics, experiences, and attitudes among African Americans or any other racial, ethnic, or cultural group in contemporary American society.


February 2, 2009

Written by C.N.

12 Stats for Black History Month 2009

February is Black/African American History Month and the Census Bureau has again provided us with an historical summary and a few noteworthy statistics for this occasion:

To commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent, American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week. The first celebration occurred on Feb. 12, 1926. For many years, the second week of February was set aside for this celebration to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist/editor Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, the week was expanded into Black History Month. Each year, U. S. presidents proclaim February as National African-American History Month.

40.7 million
As of July 1, 2007, the estimated population of black residents in the United States, including those of more than one race. They made up 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population.

65.7 million
The projected black population of the United States (including those of more than one race) for July 1, 2050. On that date, according to the projection, blacks would constitute 15 percent of the nation’s total population.

38%
Percentage of Mississippi’s population that is black, highest of any state. Blacks also make up more than a quarter of the population in Louisiana (32%), Georgia (31%), Maryland (30%), South Carolina (29%) and Alabama (27%). They comprise 56% of the population in the District of Columbia.

2.4 million
Number of single-race black military veterans in the United States in 2007. More military veterans are black than any other minority group.

19%
Percentage of single-race blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2007.

1.2 million
Among single-race blacks 25 and older, the number who had an advanced degree in 2007 (e.g., master’s, doctorate, medical or law). In 1997, 717,000 blacks had this level of education.

$88.6 billion
Revenues for black-owned businesses in 2002. The number of black-owned businesses totaled nearly 1.2 million in 2002. Black-owned firms accounted for 5 percent of all non-farm businesses in the United States.

$33,916
The annual median income of single-race black households in 2007, up from $32,876 (in 2007 constant dollars) in 2006.

24.5%
Poverty rate in 2007 for single-race blacks, statistically unchanged from 2006.

64.5%
Percentage of families among households with a single-race black householder. There were 8.5 million black family households.

46%
Nationally, the percentage of households with a householder who is single-race black who lived in owner-occupied homes. The rate was higher in certain states, such as Mississippi, where it reached 59%.

27%
The percentage of single-race blacks 16 and older who work in management, professional and related occupations. There are 49,730 black physicians and surgeons, 70,620 postsecondary teachers, 49,050 lawyers, and 57,720 chief executives.


October 20, 2008

Written by C.N.

Racists Who Support Obama

I’ve written several times recently about how the issue of race has affected the presidential campaign. Much of the conventional wisdom, on which many of my posts are based, is that Whites who hold racist views would never consider voting for Obama. However, as CBS News reports, a new study argues that “racism” not so cut and dry and that quite surprisingly, many Whites who hold racist views actually support Obama:

The poll asked voters whether they agreed with the statement that “African Americans often use race as an excuse to justify wrongdoing.” About a fifth of white voters said they “strongly agreed.” Yet among those who agreed, 23 percent said they’d be supporting Obama.

“This result is reasonable if you believe that race is not as monolithic an effect as we might easily assume,” Franklin said, noting that 22 percent of those who “strongly disagreed” said they’d be supporting McCain. . . .

Some argue that elements of Obama’s story and persona make him specifically acceptable to voters who hold broadly negative views of African Americans. “Not all whites associate the generic African American with Obama,” said Ron Walters, an aide to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns. “They give him credit for having half a Caucasian ancestry, and give him credit for his education, and give him credit for his obvious ability to take complex subjects and parse them.” . . .

“Obama’s personality – his speech, his look – he provides [white voters] with a non-threatening way to move forward on this issue, and that’s a very positive development,” said David Waymire.

Those last two paragraphs that I quoted above are worth highlighting. They suggest that while many Whites hold racist views of African Americans, they don’t see Obama as a “typical” African American — he is not uneducated, or on welfare, or a street criminal like what they tend to see in the media.

Instead, they see Obama as “not like the rest of them” — he breaks the mold of their traditional, stereotypical image of Blacks.

In fact, my guess is that many Asian Americans have probably been in situations in which Whites may be criticizing Asians/Asian Americans but will turn to them and say, “But you’re not like them — you’re different.”

Obama seems to be in that position. Combined with economic concerns being at the topic of the list for many White voters, that may explain why so many Whites who would otherwise have quite racist views of Blacks are willing to support Obama.

So the question becomes, is this situation good or bad for American society? Does the fact that so many “racist” Whites see Obama as an “exceptional” Black mean that the glass is half full or half empty?

To be honest, I’m still thinking this through. In the meantime, let me know what you think, and whether that means American society is becoming less racist, or just more of the same kind of racism.


July 31, 2008

Written by C.N.

Congress Apologizes for Slavery and Jim Crow Segregation

In an earlier post, I wrote about how the Australian government has issued an official apology to their native aborigine population over the historical and systematic practice of forcibly separating aborigine children from their parents and subsequently trying to raise and socialize them as Whites.

That post also included a news story describing Senator Sam Brownback’s (R-Neb) introduction of legislation that would officially apologize to the Native American Indian population over our country’s systematic discrimination of them over the decades and centuries.

Along the same lines, as MSNBC reports, the House of Representatives has just passed legislation that officially apologizes to African Americans for the history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation:

The resolution, passed by voice vote, was the work of Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, the only white lawmaker to represent a majority black district. Cohen faces a formidable black challenger in a primary face-off next week.

Congress has issued apologies before — to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893. In 2005, the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws.

Five states have issued apologies for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled, partly over concerns that an apology would lead to demands for reparations — payment for damages. The Cohen resolution does not mention reparations. It does commit the House to rectifying “the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.”

It says that Africans forced into slavery “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” and that black Americans today continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that fostered discrimination and segregation.

My first reaction is — to echo Jay Leno’s comments in his monologue yesterday — wow, it’s not a moment too soon! What’s it been — a 150 years now? It’s a good thing they did this right away, so that there wouldn’t be any lingering problems or bad feelings, right?

More seriously, as I wrote in that earlier post, I commend the House for taking this courageous, albeit largely symbolic step. As I and many other human beings can attest to, one of the hardest things to do in any kind of relationship is to apologize.

In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the severity of the wrong committed and the likelihood that the perpetrator will apologize for it. With that in mind, Rep. Cohen and all those who voted in favor of the resolution have earned my gratitude.

I will also point out that this apology actually seem to go against the larger trend in American society in which many Americans (particular White Americans) increasingly see the U.S. as a “colorblind” society in which racial minorities are perceived to be equal to Whites in terms of their socioeconomic opportunities. This mindset is reflected in recent opinion surveys which seem to show a lingering divide between Whites and Blacks over various social issues and perceptions about American society.

As I’ve written before about this colorblind trend, in theory, the motivation to be colorblind is very noble — treating people equally without regard to their skin color, race/ethnicity, or national origin. The problem is that this individual-level motivation is not reinforced at the institutional level, where people of color are still disproportionately underrepresented in positions of power and in fact, still encounter many forms of discrimination and inequality.

It is worth noting that as quoted from the MSNBC article above, the apology resolution explicitly acknowledges this ongoing inequality. In other words, it seems that at least in this case, Congress actually seems to know more than what many Americans would probably give them credit for.

With that in mind, my hope that our government can once again lead the way in facilitating a more racially equal society has been rekindled — for now.