Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC
Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC

A lot of things go into making your appearance – fashion, accessories, grooming … and race? As described in an article on Vox, research by Duke sociologist Robert L. Reece shows that black people are seen as more attractive if they tell others that they’re mixed-race. A research team conducted over 3,200 interviews with black people and ranked their attractiveness on a scale of 1-5. Those who said they were mixed-race received a higher score. Reese concluded that these findings are not a result of physical attributes or colorism; rather, they are about perceived racial identity. Vox reports,

“[Reece said] results could be partially explained by the fact that people think ‘being exotic is a compelling idea.’ But, he added, ‘It’s also partially just racism — the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.'”

This is not the first research to address this troubling dynamic; numerous studies have shown that resumes with white names are more likely to receive callbacks than those with black names. Other research has shown similar results for college applicants, those seeking health care, and people looking for mortgages or loans. This new research, however, shows that the effects of race go beyond the above-described settings, and that who’s considered “good-looking” is itself a product of racial hierarchies. 

Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC
Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

We tend to think of the world wide web as a place of equal opportunity, granted everyone has access to it. But NYU’s At A Glance recently covered Charlton McIlwain’s new study that reveals how systemic racial inequality forms and operates on the internet. The study looks beyond lone bigots who make racist comments and analyzes how site traffic steers users to certain kinds of pages. People who visit non-racial sites tend to visit other non-racial sites, more than just by chance, while those who browse pages with race-specific content find themselves jumping to other race-specific sites. McIlwain says,

“The evidence suggests a tendency toward racially segregated site navigation. Web producers seem to build pathways providing equitable access to sites, without concern for the racial nature of the site.”

While segregation may not be the intention of site builders, user’s personal preferences and search engines intervene to influence how web surfers get from point A to point B.  

“These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, show how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence, and power that exist within the web environment.”

https://flic.kr/p/C1sEq2
Al Sharpton speaks outside the Supreme Court as it hears arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas Austin. Photo by Jordan Uhl, Flickr CC.

After a series of decisions and appeals, Abigail Fisher’s infamous case against UT Austin (dating as far back as 2008) concluded with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision that the school’s admission policies were constitutional. Fisher had made the case that her rejected application was due to her race, as minority applicants who were supposedly less deserving had taken spots from her. This case is one in a long line of litigation by white women against affirmative action, as discussed in an article on Vox; ironically, however, white women are among affirmative action’s primary beneficiaries.

As detailed in the article, research shows how affirmative action for women translated into job advances: as benchmarks for gender enrollment are met, representation for white women has increased dramatically in certain sectors. Often, opponents of affirmative action state that race shouldn’t play a factor in application decisions, but research from sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford shows how this works against Asian-Americans, who are three times less likely than whites to be admitted to selective schools even with the exact same scores. Furthermore, affirmative action has also enabled the existence of legacy application processes, meaning people whose parents went to a certain school are more likely to be accepted there—a system that disproportionally helps whites. It seems affirmative action is safe for the time being, but the details may still need an overhaul.

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

Some believe Asian-Americans face a “gentler” sort of racism than other minority groups—that they are even treated with admiration as a “model minority” group. That said, the “model minority” stereotype doesn’t have negative consequences. In an Atlantic article, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses the multiple ways Asian identities are subject to subtle but impactful experiences in everyday life.

For example, consider the “model minority” stereotype, especially as it pertains to how Asians are supposed to excel at school. What this can mean, however, is that Asian-American high school students can feel deterred from seeking help when they need it, which can lead to peer isolation, among other problems, as in research by UW Madison’s Stacy Lee. Furthermore, Asian Americans are more likely to downplay racism that they face due to the implicit understanding that Asians are stereotyped in “good ways”, as descried by the Georgia State University sociologist Rosalind Chou.

That second dynamic is a part of The Racial Middle by Eileen O’Brien of Saint Leo University, a book that tackles some arguments that non-white, non-black racial identities will be subsumed into black and white, though these groups, like Latinos and Asians, are made up of sub-groups with unique histories and challenges. Consider that Asian Americans do not have a long history of organized struggle or civic action, which may reinforce the caricature of Asian groups as passive and well behaved. Collective action may raise racial consciousness in more ways than one.

To read more about Asian Americans and the Model Minority myth, see Jennifer Lee’s TSP special features “From Unassimilable to Exceptional” and “Asian American Exceptionalism and “Stereotype Promise.‘”

Ban the Box via PBS

As noted by Harvard sociologist Devah Pager, experimental evidence indicates that the presence of a criminal record reduces one’s application callback likelihood by 50% for whites and 64% for African Americans. To potentially mitigate this employment discrimination, 23 states have adopted “ban the box” policies—the removal of the criminal history question on first-round job applications. However, a pesky question remains in the minds of many employers: do felons make good employees?

National Public Radio’s Planet Money Podcast, hosted by Keith Romer, asked Pager how felons fare if they gain employment. To get at the answer, Pager has been studying felon enlistment in the military (5,000 enlistees between 2002-2009 had felony records). She finds that those with felony records are no more likely to get kicked out before the end of their term than their clean-record counterparts. In fact, those with felony records are not only promoted faster, they are also promoted to higher ranks. Pager contends that “employers are probably missing a lot of talent when they exclude people with criminal records” (notably, with few exceptions, the military is not currently accepting felons). Because it is often so hard for ex-cons to get a job, they seem to work particularly hard to keep that job. Overall, Pager’s evidence appears to show that steps to “ban the box” will bring qualified applicants rather than unwanted mischief to employers.

Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC
Integrated kids become integrated adults. Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Beverly Daniel Tatum released her groundbreaking book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race. In it, she examines how and why black youth often segregate themselves in middle and high school, arguing that engagement in meaningful conversations about race can help deconstruct such racial barriers. While many may have lost hope in the Civil Rights-era dream of school integration, today, new sociological research demonstrates the importance of integration and the positive long-term effects it provides for working adults. A recent article in The Atlantic reveals that students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to work in diverse employment settings.

Adam Gamoran, Sarah Barfels, and Ana Cristina Collares tracked over 10,000 black and white high school students during the 1980s and 1990s, then recorded the racial make-up of their current work environment. White and black students who attended predominantly white schools were more likely to work in predominantly white work settings. Regardless of the various methods behind the integration (including busing and neighborhood development), the students from racially diverse high schools were more likely to work today with a diverse group of coworkers. The authors suggest that “Interactions with a diverse student body may mean that individuals are more likely to live in communities that are more diverse, or [are] more willing and comfortable in racially diverse settings later in life.” While they are reluctant to conclude that attending a diverse high school or working with diverse coworkers will eradicate the economic and social disparities of life in the U.S., it is safe to say that both provide a strong step in the right direction.

Photo by The Great 8, Flickr CC.
Photo by The Great 8, Flickr CC.

Income inequality is a hot topic this election, and the Panama Papers have added fuel to the fire. Indeed, it seems that there’s no end to the data that shows the discrepancy between the 1% and the rest of us. What will it to start seeking solutions to extreme income disparities?

New research by TSP contributor Kevin Leicht of Urbana Champaign (available in an article in The Sociological Quarterly) points us in the right direction. As he explains in an interview with The Atlantic’s Gillian B. White, the way social scientists and others conceptualize inequality is too tied to trying to increase diversity at the top rather than studying the economy as a whole. Furthermore, while we’ve been very interested in inequality by race, we don’t do enough to consider gender inequalities, particularly as they exist within racial groups. The popular narrative is that hard work can jettison anyone to the top, but research like Leicht’s shows how outdated this notion is.

To read more of Leicht’s work, see his TSP papers, “Has Borrowing Replaced Earning?”, “Economic Decline and the American Dream,” and “Old Narratives and New Realities,” or check out our volume on the new sociology of debt, Owned.

The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.
The 2015 Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

The U.S. presidential election is beginning to take on issues of poverty and class. Such conversations often look at “the poor” from a careful remove, but work by Thomas Hirschl of Cornell and Mark Rank of Washington University says that outsider angle is a comfortable farce. As explained by an article in Salon, the unpleasant fact is that over fifty percent of Americans will experience poverty during our lifetimes. Impoverishment and “the poor”—and the politics and policies that affect them—are actually very close to home.

Of course, demographic factors are a big part of predicting one’s likelihood of experiencing poverty. (If you’re interested in calculating your own odds, check out Hirschl and Rank’s poverty calculator!) Education is one big factor, as is race: white people are half as likely as non-white people to fall into poverty. And married people are less likely to become poor than singles. Still, as candidates and voters debate nature of class and poverty in America, we would do well to remember that they affect us all. To pretend like anyone’s above poverty would be a poor show.

pushout coverOver the last year, bystanders have recorded numerous instances of confrontation between police and black students, from one officer pointing his gun at an unarmed black youth during a pool party in Texas to another officer flipping over a black girl still seated in her desk in a South Carolina high school. Media reports often blame black girls for defying authority figures while excusing the behaviors of school officials and law enforcement officers. Recent reports including Kimberlé Crenshaw’s, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” contextualizes the serious effects of harsh punishment as black girls disproportionately enter the school-to-prison pipeline.

Monique Morris sheds additional light on the topic in her new book, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” Morris interviewed several young black girls in group homes, foster care, and juvenile detention centers in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Boston. She discovered that several girls experienced various forms of physical and sexual violence. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, praised the book, calling it “A powerful indictment of the cultural beliefs, policies, and practices that criminalize and dehumanize Black girls in America,” while activist Gloria Steinhem wrote that Morris “tells us exactly how schools are crushing the spirit and talent that this country needs.”

Photo by brandbook.de, cropped. Flickr CC.
Photo by brandbook.de, cropped. Flickr CC.

In many fields—especially those that require more degrees or a longer resume—diversity remains a lofty goal. Claire Jean Miller writes in the New York Times that some unconventional thinking may help make that goal a reality, suggesting the practice of “blind hiring,” wherein those who review employment criteria are unable to see prospects’ race, gender, or similar factors.

Miller looks to research from sociologists Maya A. Beasley (University of Connecticut) and Lauren Rivera (Northwestern University). One of the more common reasons cited for companies’ lack of diversity is that there are not enough minorities and women in the “pipeline” who have sufficient skills or qualifications. Beasley’s research shows, however, a greater amount of people with those qualifications are minorities or women. Rather than overt discrimination in the hiring process, Rivera sees companies stressing “fit” and, in this way, contemporary employment is more like finding a romantic partner. A match between leisure activities and hobbies is a strong predictor of who gets hired where; because those factors are inherently raced and gendered, organizations that are disproportionately white and/or male are likely to stay that way.

“Blind hiring” means shifting early hiring processes to consider skill first. For example, after facing litigation for its historically disproportionately white male ensemble, the Boston Symphony orchestra moved to blind auditions, putting aspiring orchestra members behind a screen while they played. The new procedure led to a demonstrably more diverse orchestra. In tech, blind hiring might mean critiquing applicants’ code or software before examining their resume. Though this idea clearly can’t be applied to all fields with equal ease, blind hiring might let us see workplace diversity.