Race & Ethnicity

The Urban Poor Shall Inherit Poverty

Sociologist Patrick Sharkey proves a mother’s insecure upbringing harms her child as surely as a neighbor’s broken window.   

An apparent conundrum bedevils our understanding of African American students’ inadequate school performance: Blacks from low-income families have worse academic outcomes—test scores and graduation rates, for example—than similarly low-income whites. To some, this suggests that socioeconomic disadvantage cannot cause black student failure; instead, poorly motivated and trained teachers must be to blame for failing to elicit achievement from blacks as they do from whites. This was the theory motivating the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program.

What Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson Can Teach Us about Empathy

Yes, I have something to add to the Duck Dynasty controversy, wherein reality TV star Phil Robertson got in trouble for expressing anti-gay views, was suspended by A&E, and has now become the cause celebre of nitwit conservative politicians from across the land. This won't take long.

I'm not even going to bother addressing the idiocy of the "constitutional conservatives" who think the First Amendment guarantees you the legal right to a cable reality show. Nor am I going to talk about Robertson's anti-gay statement, except to say that nobody buys you couching your bigotry in "biblical" terms just because you call yourself a Christian and throw out some scriptural references. Once you start campaigning to have people who eat shellfish and the sinners who work on the Sabbath executed (the Bible says so!) then we'll accept that you're just honoring your religion.

It's Robertson's comments about how happy black people were living under Jim Crow that deserve our attention, because they have something to teach us about empathy and individual change.

Meet the GOP's New Black Friend

Mia Love in one of her many appearances on Fox News.

When Allen West was defeated in the 2012 election and Tim Scott was appointed to serve out the term of retiring South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, that left Republicans back where they had usually been in the past, with not a single black Republican in the House of Representatives. This is something they aren't particularly pleased about, which is why in the coming year you're going to be hearing a lot about Mia Love, a candidate from Utah's 4th district. Barring some shocking scandal, come November she'll be bringing that number from zero up to one, and she's going to become a right-wing celebrity. Mia Love is the Republicans' New Black Friend.

You may remember Love from the 2012 Republican convention, where she gave a not-particularly-memorable speech. She couldn't beat Jim Matheson, the conservative Democrat who represented the district, despite the fact that Mitt Romney won there by a 37-point margin. But now Matheson has just announced that he's retiring, which makes Love's election in what was supposed to be a rematch all but certain. So get ready: Mia Love is going to be the most famous Republican House candidate in the country. She'll be on Fox News more often than Sean Hannity. She'll be touted by all the conservative radio hosts. I'm betting they'll put her on the cover of National Review. Because that'll show those liberals.

White Like Me

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

It might seem that an argument about whether Santa Claus and Jesus are "really" white is nothing more than an opportunity for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to make fun of people on Fox News, and not a matter with actual political consequences. After all, Santa is a fictional character whose current visual representations here in America have their origins in early 20th Century newspaper and magazine illustrations, but he's portrayed in different ways around the world. But before you dismiss this as just silliness, let me suggest that it does have important political effects.

Conservatives Struggle with Mandela Tributes

Nelson Mandela in 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)

If you've been perusing conservative web sites, Facebook pages, and the like since Nelson Mandela's death was announced, you would have seen two things: some kind of tribute to Mandela, and a series of comments following that tribute denouncing Mandela as a communist, a terrorist, or worse, and expressing all kinds of vile racist sentiment. It's happening not just at magazines and blogs, but to politicians as well, who are getting denounced by some small minority of their supporters for praising Mandela. That's not really their fault; no one is completely responsible for their fans, after all. And as I've read through a few of these threads I've also seen some people pushing back against the racist comments. Even if, say, the National Review was for many years a fierce defender of white supremacy in both South Africa and the United States, if nothing else they're doing their best to claim that they were on the side of the angels all along, which is better than nothing.

Reversing Broward County's School-to-Prison Pipeline

AP Images/Phil Sears

When, after a nationwide search, he was hired two years ago to serve as superintendent of Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, Robert Runcie began brainstorming ways to close the racial achievement gap. At the time, black students in the sixth-largest district in the country had a graduation rate of only 61 percent compared to 81 percent for white students. To find out why, Runcie, who once headed a management-consulting firm, went to the data.

America in Words and in the Crosshairs

AP Images/Alex Brandon

This has been a week in the crosshairs of history past and present. A century and a half ago the most besieged president ever, under whom half the country went to war against the other half, made the most compelling case since the Declaration of Independence not only for union but for union’s noblest requisites. Now this week is haunted equally by that declaration spoken at the edge of the Gettysburg killing field and the cruel rejoinder to it almost exactly a hundred years later, by another assassin’s shot echoing the one that murdered Abraham Lincoln. Apparently gunfire is the common American answer to those who call upon a common destiny for the America of our dreams.

Civil-Rights Law Dodges a Bullet in Mount Holly

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File

Late last week, there was a very rare piece of good news involving civil rights and the Roberts Court. The news was good because a crucial civil-rights case will no longer involve the Roberts Court. The township of Mount Holly, New Jersey settled a lawsuit brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and in so doing thankfully deprived the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court of another opportunity to take a meat axe to federal civil-rights protections.

The Radicalism of Dallas, 1963

Extremism was in the city's air when John F. Kennedy was killed, fed by rhetoic not unlike that of today's Tea Party. The authors of Dallas 1963 on the city's social turmoil.

AP Images

By early 1963, Dallas was the most singular city in America—it had become, without question, the roiling headquarters for the angry, absolutist resistance to John F. Kennedy and his administration.

A confederacy of like-minded men had coalesced in Dallas: the anti-Catholic leader of the largest Baptist congregation in America, the far-right media magnate who published the state’s leading newspaper, the most ideologically extreme member of congress, and the wealthiest man in the world—oilman H.L. Hunt. Together they formed the most vitriolic anti-Kennedy movement in the nation. And they began to attract others who were even more extreme to the city.

12 Years a Female Slave—Not Coming to a Theatre Near You

We can't fully understand American slavery and its legacy without mining the diversity of enslaved experience in scholarship as well as film.

AP Images/Fox Searchlight

Once again, America is reckoning with its original sin of slavery—this time with the critically-acclaimed movie, Twelve Years a Slave, which had its nationwide release last week. The movie has been lauded for its uniquely unflinching look at the brutality and inhumanity of slavery. What is not so unique about the unquestionably affecting film is that it tells the story of an enslaved man. When will we see a mainstream, big screen film that explores American slavery from an enslaved black woman’s perspective?

Soul Food's Contested History

Does a new account with recipes get it right?

AP Images/ Jeff Roberson

AP Images/ Jeff Roberson

The kitchen of Sweetie Pie's in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Supreme Court v. Civil RIghts

The disturbing failure to prosecute alleged rapists in Maryville, Missouri, represents an all-too-common failure of American legal systems. In The Nation, Jill Filipovic has a must-read article highlighting another part of the problem: the Supreme Court. The Court's conservative justices have taken a federal remedy away from sexual-assault victims, in a case that represents a pattern in the Republican war on civil-rights enforcement.

When Kids Stand Their Ground

AP Photo/Mike Brown

On September 20, 21-year-old Bryon Champ was shot at by rival gang members, who grazed his leg with a bullet. That night, Champ and three allies allegedly went to the other gang’s neighborhood and opened fire on a crowd with an assault rifle, wounding 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy. They have been charged with multiple counts of attempted murder.

Our libertarian approach to guns has exacted a terrible toll on young people. The U.S. firearms homicide rate is 20 times that of other industrialized countries. But for those ages 15 to 24, it’s an off-the-charts 43 times higher. And until this year, a 17-year congressional ban on federally funded firearms research wrecked efforts to systematically understand the links between state gun laws and gun casualties. (The Obama administration lifted the ban in January.)

Violence and easy access to guns have especially created a lethal witches’ brew in poor neighborhoods. Crime experts agree on the need for more violence-prevention efforts that reach youth and young adults at an earlier stage before they get into serious trouble.

Jezebel Grew Up

Nikola Tamindzic

The website Jezebel was born in 2007 out of the idea that the urban (or at least urbane) American woman was a ripe demographic, yearning to read about pop culture, fashion, and sex in a more skeptical way than the package provided by the traditional glossy women’s magazine. “In media, men are not a coherent sect,” Internet entrepreneur and Machiavellian overlord of Gawker Media Nick Denton told The New York Times in 2010. “You go into a magazine store and see rows upon rows of women’s magazines. [With women], there’s a much clearer collective.”