“Quick Takes” offers a mix of news, opinion, and research related to race, privilege, and inequality.

Today’s “Quick Takes” includes the death of Lena Horne, the blocking of a federal racial discrimination settlement, a controversy over President’s House in Philadelphia, the depiction of slavery and black citizens in elementary textbooks, and the role of privilege in college education.

Readers are encouraged to share these stories and to comment at the end of the post.

Lena Horne dies at age 92. Lena Horne, the jazz singer and actress who transformed the role of black performers in Hollywood, died yesterday at the age of 92. Her career in musicals in the 1940s was ground-breaking, as audiences saw a glamorous black actress singing with leading white stars for the first time. At the same time, she was billed as a “chocolate chanteuse” and was segregated onscreen so that she could be edited out of her films for southern movie theaters. Ms. Horne was also a committed activist for civil rights, speaking out against the treatment of black soldiers in World War II and participating in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Halle Berry memorably cited Horne as an inspiration in accepting the 2001 best actress Oscar for “Monster’s Ball.”

Federal discrimination settlement blocked. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blocked legislation for one of the largest civil rights settlements in the nation’s history, calling it a “racially-charged measure.” The $1.15 billion congressional appropriation would have settled a long-running discrimination lawsuit by black farmers against the Agriculture Department for excluding them from federal farm loan and disaster-relief programs. If the funding for the Pigford II settlement is not approved this month, the farmers can resume the class-action lawsuit, which seeks $2.5 billion.

President’s House draws firestorm of controversy. At a community meeting at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Friday evening, officials updating the public on plans for President’s House, a memorial on the site of the home used by the nation’s first two presidents, were met with anger over the project’s portrayal of enslaved blacks at the site. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the meeting was loud, “raucous and sometimes profane,” with activists denouncing plans for an outdoor installation hinting at the design of the nation’s first Executive Mansion and its slave quarters, with interpretive panels describing the history of the house and slavery. President’s House has been the subject of a series of controversies, beginning with the discovery that a public toilet had been built on the site, adjacent to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and community activists want a commemoration for the enslaved who toiled for the nation’s first president and a focus on the horrors of slavery.

Establishing that black people are capable of being civilized. A fourth-grade history textbook in Virginia during the early days of school desegregation referred to slavery as “an unlovely but necessary element of the Negro’s transition from savagery to civilization.” Thirty years later, a former student located the author, by then eighty years old, and tried to take her to task for writing it. Here is what she said in response:

I’m proud of that sentence. It was the first sentence in a Southern public school textbook to ever imply that black people had the capacity for civilization. We took small steps back then.

Who benefits most from college? A college education costs time and money, and economists typically assume that those who attend college are the ones who will benefit most from these sacrifices. In a new study in the American Sociological Review, however, Jennie Brand and Yu Xie find evidence that those who are least likely to attend college are the ones who would, in fact, benefit most from attending. They explain this apparent paradox by pointing to social and cultural factors: for those from socially privileged backgrounds, for instance, there may be a cultural norm that they attend college, while those from less privileged backgrounds may face both economic and non-economic barriers to attending college. One conclusion Brand and Xie draw is that “college education may be particularly beneficial among groups targeted by educational expansion efforts—that is, individuals who are otherwise unlikely to attend college.”

One Response to “Quick Takes on Race, Privilege, and Inequality for May 10, 2010”

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