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

Today’s “Quick Takes” includes discussion of the Ku Klux Klan at the University of Texas, elementary school racial politics, Holly Fulton, Lady Gaga, what it’s like to be of mixed race in the U.S., the short film “White On Infomercial,” and the impact of race on health care.

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

Should a university dorm be named for a Klan organizer? At the University of Texas, Simkins Hall Dormitory is named for a founder of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida. William Stewart Simkins, according to the university’s own description of him, was a Civil War veteran who moved to Florida after the war and, along with his brother, organized the Florida Ku Klux Klan. Thomas Russell, a former faculty member, is pushing for the university to change the building’s name, noting that the building was only named in 1954, as part of the university’s resistance to integration. Simkins was a professor at the university’s law school for thirty years, and although he was known for promoting the Klan on campus, the university is resisting calls for a change, saying that the school “has since moved on.”

Michigan elementary school in hot water over field trip for black students only. Dicken Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan sent a group of thirty black students on a field trip to meet with a black rocket scientist. School officials say that the goal was to motivate under-performing students, and that the group is theoretically open to students of any race. But the students were met with boos from classmates when they returned, and Leon Drolet, former chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, says the trip violates Proposition 2, which bans racial preferences in the Michigan public schools. Proposition 2 was passed by voter initiative in 2006 after a controversy over race-based admissions at the University of Michigan.

Interview with Holly Fulton at the Huffington Post. Sociologist Abby Ferber has an interview at the Huffington Post with Holly Fulton, one of the ten descendants of the DeWolf slave-trading dynasty featured in the PBS documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. Holly shares what it was like to retrace the footsteps of our ancestors across the triangle trade, about the experience of sharing our story with the general public, and about what she gets out of the annual White Privilege Conference.

Just how subversive is Lady Gaga? Over at Racialicious, Thea Lim and Andrea Plaid question whether Lady Gaga is as subversive of traditional norms of gender and race as she is being made out to be. While respecting the views of feminists and queer theorists who see Gaga as transgressing conventional boundaries, and those who see her latest work with Beyoncé in “Telephone” as reversing racial stereotypes, Lim and Plaid suggest that Lady Gaga may be better seen as a white artist who appropriates from others and receives more attention than those she copies, while behaving unconventionally for the attention.

Should Americans of mixed race simply check “Black” for the Census? President Obama generated a fair amount of controversy when it was reported that he checked only “Black, African American, or Negro” on his U.S. Census form. Many people of mixed race find the social pressure, especially for people who are partly black, to report as being solely of one race to be diminishing of their identity. This morning’s Washington Post, however, has a thought-provoking essay from Alex Bledsoe, a student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, on why she checks “black” on Census forms. She self-identifies as being of mixed race and acknowledges the diversity and complexity of racial categorization around the world, but she notes that in our society, she is generally identified and treated based on the traditional “one drop” rule, with all of the social and historical burdens that come with being black in our society.

How our society polices racial identity. In another look at how people of mixed race are socialized in our society, Brenda writes in a guest post at Stuff White People Do about her struggles over how to self-identify as a light-skinned person of mixed race. She recounts years of being pressured to identify as more than simply “mixed,” only to find, after deciding that black was the only monolithic racial identification that she could adopt, that she wasn’t black enough for most people, either. It’s a painful exploration of the ways in which both white and black people attempt to police racial boundaries and pass judgment on the racial identities of other people. The comments on the post are especially interesting, highlighting such issues as whether forcing others to follow the “one drop” rule today is demeaning and the particular pressures on those of mixed race to conform to cultural expectations for one race or another.

Satirical short film about white privilege. Last night at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, guests were treated to the premiere of “White On Infomercial” by director James Yamanoha. The short film provides a brilliant, satirical look at white privilege in the U.S., in terms guaranteed to offend many viewers:

Politicians, police officers, and right-wing pundits all agree: White On™ is the best solution to the race problem since Jim Crow! Never sit through another one of those boring “racial sensitivity trainings” ever again! Give them the gift of White On™ and watch your fears boil away!

Income and segregation, not race itself, determine differences in obesity. Researchers at Johns Hopkins have concluded that racial disparities in obesity among white and black women can be accounted for by differences in socioeconomic status and social environment. In other words, this appears to be an instance where racial disparities in health outcomes are caused by persistent disparities in income and racial segregation, and we need to look to the historical legacy of race, rather than to contemporary factors like racial prejudice or differing community values, to address such health issues.

One Response to “Quick Takes on Race, Privilege, and Inequality for May 7, 2010”

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