Mon 3 May, 2010
Tags: Arizona, Immigration, Intelligence, Racial identity, Racial prejudice, Sandra Bullock, Trans-racial adoption, transatlantic slave trade
“Quick Takes” offers brief summaries of recent news, opinion, and research related to race, privilege, and inequality, with a special focus on the history and legacy of slavery and race, which are at the heart of The Living Consequences.
Today’s “Quick Takes” features items on race and intelligence, Arizona’s approach to immigration, trans-racial adoption, memorializing the transatlantic slave trade, and research on racial prejudice and the spread of misinformation in our society.
Readers are encouraged to share these stories, and to comment at the end of the post.
Are black people less intelligent? This perennial issue has been raised yet again, this time by Stephanie Grace, a third-year Harvard Law student who wrote in an e-mail last fall: “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African-Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” In the debate raging on the Internet over the last five days, one camp accuses Grace of being a racist for suggesting blacks might be less intelligent, and notes the long history of such assertions, without evidence, in racist ideology. The other camp reminds us that she is right that researchers have not yet ruled out a genetic link between race and intelligence, although the possibility has become increasingly remote.
Perhaps the most insightful commentary on this issue was published this morning in the Harvard Crimson, by an undergraduate who argues that in a society that is not yet post-racial, we should not forbid the expression of unpopular views so as to “reinforce a binary in which people are either prejudiced or not.” Instead, we should encourage the expression of “possibly prejudiced views,” so that genuine dialogue and learning may occur.
Arizona acts against teachers with heavy accents. In another controversial move in the debate on immigration, Arizona is ordering schools to identify instructors with heavily accented English, who are frequently hired to teach English to Spanish-speaking students, and to remove them from such classrooms. The Arizona legislature has also sent the governor a bill which would would limit ethnic studies classes by prohibiting teaching which encourages “ethnic solidarity” rather than identifying people only as individuals.
“If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem.” In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Frank Rich tried to turn attention away from Arizona’s new “show me your papers” law against illegal immigration. While calling that law “bigoted,” he suggested that it is only part of a broader surge of nativist sentiment driven by our national immigration stalemate, producing a slew of new state immigration laws, and associated with the “birther” phenomenon and the Tea Party movement.
Sandra Bullock adopts a black baby. Actress Sandra Bullock has drawn fierce objections to her decision, announced several days ago, to adopt a baby from New Orleans. Bullock, who won an Oscar in March for her role in The Blind Side, has generally been praised for adopting an baby from the U.S. but others believe her adoption of a black child invokes race and class privilege in the adoption process.
Hollywood’s portrayal of minorities. On the subject of actors, Rob Schmidt of Newspaper Rock (“Where Native America meets pop culture”) has a thoughtful essay on our culture’s insistence that for believability, actors must only play characters of their own race and gender … except that Hollywood often runs roughshod over the identities of minorities in movies and television. The essay is occasioned by the casting of Greg Kinnear as President John F. Kennedy in the History Channel’s upcoming mini-series, The Kennedys.
Growing a Global Heart. Belvie Rooks and Dedan Gills seek to help plant a million trees along the route of the transatlantic slave trade, as a memorial to the victims of the trade, and to help combat global warming through African-inspired sustainable practices. H/t: Inheriting the Trade.
First black person in medieval Britain. Experts on BBC Two’s “History Cold Case” are set to reveal the discovery of the earliest medieval Briton of African descent. The 13th-century skeleton, found in the ruins of a friary in Ipswich, predates by 150 years the earliest black residents of medieval Britain. The man is suspected to have been brought back from north Africa during the Crusades as a servant by Lord Tiptoth, a British noble, in the 1270s, and he seems to have been buried on consecrated ground as a Christian. There were African slaves in the British Isles during Roman rule, but until now there had been no firm evidence of black people in Britain during the millennium between the fall of the Roman Empire and the age of discovery in the 15th century. H/t: BTX3.
How race affects empathy. Research in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that the mental processes by which we experience empathy are activated far more by observing members of in-groups than of out-groups. The researchers, Jennifer Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto, found that white subjects displayed increased motor cortex activity, interpreted as part of the unconscious, sympathetic response of the brain to others by mentally simulating their actions, when observing white people, but not when watching members of other racial or ethnic groups. This failure to respond was especially pronounced among subjects who tested as prejudiced on a “symbolic racism scale.” While this research sheds no light on whether this neural activity is a cause, or a consequence, of prejudice, it does seem to demonstrate the importance of prejudice in emotions like sympathy, and suggests strategies for combating the effects of prejudice on perception and behavior. H/t: Racialicious.
How racial identity affects empathy. Another study, by Joan Chaio of Northwestern University, finds that black subjects display more racial preference in empathy than white subjects. The research used magnetic resonance imaging to measure responses to images of white or black individuals during Hurricane Katrina or in a neutral setting. Chaio says that she expected that white and black subjects would either display no racial preferences, or else similar preferences. Instead, black Americans showed a greater preference in empathy for black victims than white Americans did for white victims. Furthermore, black subjects displayed more empathic preference for black victims the more they self-identified as black, reinforcing the suggestion that the importance of race in an individual’s self-identity may be a key factor in whether, and to what degree, race plays a role in our sympathy towards others. H/t: Prometheus 6.
“Why the “Death Panel” Myth Wouldn’t Die.” Brendan Nyhan has a paper in the current issue of The Forum which suggests ways in which misinformation, and certainty about false information, are spread in our society by party politics and the media. He finds that during the Clinton and Obama health care reform debates, Republicans were more likely than Democrats or independents to hold certain false beliefs about reform proposals (in 1993, misinformation about losing your doctor, and in 2009, myths about “death panels”). His key finding is that Republicans were more likely to hold these false beliefs if they reported being well-informed about the proposals. H/t: The Monkey Cage.