Black People Still Poor in Obamerica

More damning statistics on the state of race in Obama’s America. This recent report from the Pew Institute demonstrates yet again that post-racial America did not arrive via the 2008 election of the first black president. At least in terms of household/family wealth, being black or brown in America still means being broke. The average black household only held $5,600 in wealth in 2009, down from $12,124 in 2005!

The black-white comparisons in the two charts show that being white in America still comes with huge advantages.

Wealth, as opposed to income, is an important indicator of social inequality.

Income is what you use to buy a loaf of bread, Patron bottle service at the club, or a Mercedes.

Wealth is what you use to buy opportunity: to live in a safe neighborhood, to ensure that your children get a quality education, to live a healthy life.

Thus, these huge wealth differences indicate that the average Black or Latino still lacks access these benchmarks of the American dream.

Yes, black America has it’s Jay-Z and Oprah, but while the Obama’s live in the White House a large swatch of black America still lives paycheck-to-paycheck. The recent recession has destroyed the new black middle class. This population remains at risk of losing their jobs and houses, and falling back into poverty. Look at chart #2, black folks lost 53% of their nest eggs since the housing crash.

Where is the outrage? And perhaps more importantly, when will we hold those in the highest offices of the nation–those who look like us–responsible? I don’t want to hear another song about Maybachs or G6 private jets. I need a 2Pac Rebel of the Underground 2011 remix.

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Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics


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Why Google + Is Not an Education Game Changer

My July mornings have been filled with +1s, circles, reshares, and streams. Yes, I’ve been playing around with Google’s new social network Google +. It’s neat, and it’s better than the failed Wave and Buzz properties. One plus is that it sits in my main email box. So far, it is a good tool for sharing articles and short messages with friends and family. I’ve used Gmail since 2004, and have about 5Gbs of email. This makes adding everyone I know to Google + very easy and seductive. Since I never used Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook, Google + could become the first social network in my personal life.

However, I am skeptical about using Google + in my classes. I am not sure that Google + will continue to hold my attention after September 1, 2011, when the fall semester begins.

Liz Dwyer has declared Google + a game changer in education:

“There’s a good chance that Google+ is going to become a powerful communication and collaboration tool in the classroom. In fact, it could end up being a serious education game changer…Even at the college level, Google+ seems like it’s poised to revolutionize things.”

Really? Also, The Good Doctor imagines at least four ways Google + could become part of the academic’s work flow:

“Using Sparks to collect research-related web items

Using Circles to create networks of academic interest

Using Google Docs to share content

Using hangouts to teach, host mini-conferences, and host writing groups”

Is Google + really poised to revolutionize education? And is there a compelling reason to incorporate Google + into our professional, academic lives?

My gut reaction so far is…probably not. And here are my reasons why, in no particular order:

1.There is nothing really new about Google +. Beyond the hype, Google + is just another social networking platform, or if you will, a cloud application package. All functionality of Google +, besides those pretty circles, can be duplicated using other services. Putting aside public services like Facebook, Dropbox, or Twitter, many institutions already have purchased expensive services like BlackBoard that contain blogging software, collaboration tools, study groups, gradebooks, chatrooms, etc. Other places use OpenSource programs similar to blackboard. Cornell, my home institution, pays for Edublogs, a great place for sharing web items, allowing students to comment on each other’s papers. Everything that Google + offers is already available through the university.

2.Google + doesn’t deal with the problem of privacy or security. One argument is that the circles will make it easier for teachers/professors to firewall their personal lives from their students’ lives. I doubt it. I predict that too many students will accidently make their drunken photos “public,” or a student will reshare nasty comments about the professor to other circles. Google + is no more “private” or “secure” than anything else, because all social networks are inherently non-private and insecure.

3. Requiring every student to sign up for Google+ is questionable. Professors weld a great deal of power over young people, and it is my experience that most students will do anything you tell them to if you use the magic phrase: “this will be on the exam.” However, should we require students to sign over their identities to Google in order to take a class?

Google is a company, and its business is selling our private thoughts, identities, and habits to advertisers. Google wants to track everything you do online (not necessarily evil). Those advertisers want to trick us into buying crap that we don’t need. In essence, turning over important classroom functions to Google + could become another example of the corporatization of education. Why should students have to agree to have their online movements tracked so that they can join a classroom discussion? It is against Google’s TOS to create fake accounts on Google +, so using fake names and information is out.

At my university, requiring Google + accounts would seem to be against the rules, because it would raise serious concerns about ensuring student privacy, especially when it comes to grades. Also, office hours and student advising must be done “face-to-face,” according to my reading of the faculty handbook, so yet-to-be-tenured-facutly should ask around before adding Google + to the syllabus.

4. Google + in the classroom assumes that all students possess digital literacy. Like other professors, I am OLD. As such, we assume that young whipper-snappers are all about their Tweeters and Texters. Young people, with their hippie-hop music! However, research demonstrates that there is a huge “digital divide” along the lines of race, social class, gender, and family background. Adding Google + this fall, especially in freshman level classes, may put first-generation/minority students even further behind their peers. Most first-generation college-students don’t finish college, so we need to think this through. In addition to the digital divide, research also shows that there is a serious “participation gap.” This means that black and Latino kids, especially males, don’t know how to use social media tools. These gaps have been shown to persist among middle school, high school, and college students. Arguably, adding Google + might just advantage the already-advantaged students. All kids aren’t “growing up digital,” so using Google + will come at a cost: a substantial amount of class time will have to be spent teaching students how to use Google +. Some of that time will be spent on teaching students how to use it responsibly.

5. Collaborative research on Google+ may reinforce the status hierarchy among faculty. I like Lester Spence’s idea about hosting mini-conferences and writing groups using Google +. For minority faculty members in particular, this could help ease the feeling of isolation, and foster collaboration with folks at other institutions. Plus +1. Still, Google + can also reinforce the elite cliques and social groups who dominate the peer review process, conferences, and the like. Unless these are public groups and discussions, Google + can be just another site exclusion. Reproducing the good ole’ boys club, the faculty club, locker room, or golf course: minus -1. How do junior faculty members, minorities, etc find out able and join the “right” circles?

6.The problem of social media and technology fatigue. Finally, I have to admit that I am usually “technologied out” by 3:00pm on most days. Emails, tweeters, IPODs, Ipads, TVs everywhere at the gym. It would be my guess that many students are overwhelmed with their Facebook updates and YouTube as well. Some of the most important memories I have from college remain those face-to-face interactions with professors. Google + seems a poor replacement for having coffee with students, or giving a lecture on the quad on a sunny afternoon. Having taught at Williams College, an elite liberal arts college in New England, I know that many students/parents believe they are paying good money ($70,000+) to interact in “real life” with professors, not by email, Gmail or plusses. At Cornell, I regularly stop students on campus, ask them to take off their IPods, and talk to me about anything. Whatever Google + turns out to be, we need to unplug (from the Matrix) some of the time.

What do you think? Will you be using Google + in your classes this fall? Leave feedback or talk to me on Google + ( or the Tweeters (@basedprof)

Mental Health and Black Youth

Just like here in the US, black and minority youth are in serious need of support and resources.

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Young black man with head in his hands

A report launched today by the Afiya Trust raises serious questions about the extent to which mainstream public provision meets the mental health needs of black and minority ethnic (BME) children and young people.



The Question of Faculty Diversity at Predominately White Colleges and Universities


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EZRA, Cornell’s Quarterly Magazine just featured a cover story and 12 page article on faculty diversity at Cornell. Big shot out to Anne Ju, Rich Allmidinger, Lance Collins.  Overall, I found their writing on diversity at the College of Engineering to be insightful. Their features on “Why Cornell has Become a Better Place to Go,”“Faculty: The Next Frontier for Diversity,” and “A Landmark Appointment,” respectively, provide in-depth perspectives on the challenges facing minority faculty at Cornell and the issue of diversity at elite, predominantly white institutions of higher learning (“EPWI’s” for short!).

In this blog entry, I want to reflect on the question of faculty diversity. If we are really serious about changing the dynamics of race/privilege in our nation’s top-tier universities, we have to begin by rethinking what we mean by “diversity.”

I am, of course, a faculty member of color at Cornell. Young, black, and just don’t give a f educated, What? I don’t think Cornell is a unique place, at least in terms of diversity (or lack thereof). My view on the topic is derived from my time at Cornell, as well as my previous time teaching at Williams College (yes, that elite liberal arts school in Mass.) and doing my graduate research/teaching at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. EPWI’s like Cornell, Harvard, Yale, etc seem similar enough. Reading the articles in the EZRA magazine suggests that the situation facing minority faculty at Cornell reflects the larger experience of minority faculty elsewhere. After being at Cornell for two years, it is my personal feeling that it may be doing a better job than peer institutions at tackling the issue of diversity. I have no particular beef with Cornell.

What, Exactly, Does Diversity Mean?

It might be useful to make problematic the discourse surrounding faculty diversity at colleges and universities. What, exactly, does “diversity” mean at a place like Cornell? Or Harvard? Or Luxury Brand University?

The meaning of diversity at any university is a slippery concept. Cornell, or any big institution, doesn’t represent “one place.” Here in Ithaca, NY, there are many “Cornells,” plural. My experience of working at the Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC), for example, means that I am surrounded day-in and day-out by people and intellectual work based in African-diasporic culture. What does diversity in my little nook mean?  It is likely that minority faculty in Nano-Technology would have a different of experience and outlook on the meaning and implication of diversity.

Diversity seems to be a “concern” at Cornell. These recent articles provide some evidence of what you will read on similar college campuses:

Survey reveals that minority professors’ satisfaction with jobs has decreased since 2005

Survey: Cornell’s Female Faculty Less Satisfied

Cornell Lags Behind in Faculty Diversity

Campaign to Save the Africana Studies and Research Center

Any search of the Cornell Sun [insert Student Newspaper name here] will turn up the same type of discourse.  As you can see, the politics of identity are alive and well on college campuses. Dream of Post-racial America, deferred. Sigh.

Arguably, though, this is the perfect time in America to start a dialogue about issues of diversity. I am happy that EZRA magazine dedicated the summer issue to this question. The special EZRA issue is a good start, and I want to use this blog as a way to throw in my 2 cents on the topic, and hopefully spark some constructive conversations in the comments section.

Diversity as a Numbers Game

Usually by “diversity,” people mean the physical presence of non-white, non-male, non-tweed sports-coat wearing, non-heterosexual adults on campus. Diversity is usually about socio-economics, specifically race-ethnicity, religion, gender-sexuality, nationality, etc. Faculty diversity denotes a quantitative assessment of the faculty composition: how many black professors are there? How many female engineering professors are there?


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Sometimes academics get fancy with numbers, and refer to ratios and percentages, change over time, trend lines, or even hierarchical linear regressions (HLM, represent, son!). Diversity is about absolute numbers, though it may be based on a comparison of similar institutions/peer institutions/competitors: How many Latino faculty members do we have as compared to Stanford University?

Quantitative discussions of faculty diversity tend to stay away from absolute quotas or minimums, and nobody wants to use the “A Word”: Affirmative Action.

But when we talk about diversity, we assume that “something is wrong” if there is not at least one (1) fill in the blank faculty minority member.

For example: “There are no professors of Mexican descent in the Philosophy Department at Big Cash University. Whoa, that department at BCU must be a bunch of Xenophobic, Eurocentric racists!”

On the flip side, if there is exactly one minority faculty member, there is also a problem with diversity.

For example: “Was Professor Hawks Blood hired as the token Native American Jazz professor? Must have been that affirmative action [hushed tone].


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To note, according to other professors I’ve talked to, being the “only one” in your department/university seems to be the worst situation.

There also seems to be a tipping point problem with diversity: Too many minority faculty members, especially in one building, can also become problematic. Research shows that the magic number seems to be 3 or 4, especially if they eat in the faculty club together.  (Fake citation, 2011).

For example, “The political science department hired three African American males last year. Black people got Obama and three professors; that should end the debate on reparations for slavery…

If there are 3-4 minority profs in the same (non-ethnic studies) department, then there is a sense that the university is uber-diverse, a post-racial heaven. Or this is an indication of reverse discrimination, or the administration’s pandering to “white guilt”/”identity politics.”

Thinking about faculty diversity in terms of numbers alone is a pretty narrow conception of diversity. Here are some problems with thinking about diversity simply in terms of numbers:

You never know “how many are enough.” Do we need 20 _____ professors? Should the faculty demographics be proportional to the student body composition? How about relative to the National population? Should we count Professor Alliboo over in Policy Studies–a lesbian, Nigerian, atheist—as a quadruple underrepresented minority (race, immigrant status, gender, religion)?

Also, the emphasis on numbers also tends to limit discussions about meaning of diversity. There is a tendency to always think more is better. Who is going to stand up at a faculty senate meeting and declare, “I think we have enough Native Americans now that Prof. Hawks Blood is teaching Jazz…In fact, we could use 3.2% fewer Asians up in this piece!” Conversations about diversity will always go like this: “we need more ______ faculty members,” and people will applaud in agreement, as not be seen as racist/sexist/homophobic. Even when people are sincere in their concerns about diversity, the efforts end up as being symbolic gesture.

Diversity As A Feelings Game

In addition to counting the number of faculty members from disadvantaged backgrounds, we also tend to think about diversity as something more than just numbers: diversity is how “we feel,” perceptions of “inclusion,” “comfort,” “campus climate.” Are black faculty members “satisfied at Cornell?” Are they “happy”? Or sad? Qualitative subjectivities comprise a second way of thinking about the issue of diversity at EPWIs. Supposedly, we can quantify this through opinion surveys of faculty members, then figure out if female professors are getting happier or sadder, over time, controlling for their background characteristics.


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Again, there are several limitations to this way of thinking about and measuring diversity. Any student in introduction to social statistics can probably point to the obvious. Here are a few:

Opinions are highly sensitive to time, context, and phrasing of question. For example, how might black faculty respond to a diversity survey in late December 2010, after a black professor was attacked by neo-Nazis on the quad (hypothetical story)? What if the same survey was given in September of 2010?

Also, the reliability of climate surveys is complicated by issues of trust and power. Simply put, there are reasons to believe that minority professors could be less than forthcoming when responding to surveys, despite assurances of confidentially. Part of it is fear of retribution, another part is fear of being seen as an ungrateful, trouble maker (“Shouldn’t you be honored that School X hired you in the first place? You’re the first ______ professor at this college.)  Another part is feeling powerless (“Why should I bother complaining, nothing going to happen anyway, except perhaps another committee on diversity! And I’m not trying to be the token Asian female on that committee, I have too much work to do!”)

A big issue with diversity surveys is the problem of individual identity (“I”) versus collective identity (“we”). Many minorities posses both and often see no binary distinction between the two. That is, as a black male, I may have never been called the N-Word by the dean of engineering, but I could still feel that “black people are disrespected at Cornell.” This affective feeling might be based on the experience of other black men we know (“My colleague Prof. Gosa is constantly followed by Cornell police! It’s because he is black and male.”) Likewise, it is conceivable that other black professors don’t possess any significant collective identity or sense of “what it’s like for black professors at School X) and/or have no opinion about race on campus. The process of survey research either forces this last group of professors to adopt an opinion, or self-select out of the survey (by not responding to it).

Or more complex, it could be based on the collective identity of black maleness at Cornell that has no relationship to everyday experience of discrimination. It is possible that “weness” of black masculinity–the shared identity used to create a sense of solidarity at Cornell—is based on the belief that “people like us are devalued.” In this later case, black men would say they are unhappy at Cornell, but have few empirical examples, no burning cross, to point to.

Last, I suspect that respondents simply lie or lie by omission. Growing up in the black community, I learned two basic rules to success: (1) First, you have to work 10 times harder than white people to get the same rewards, so work 20 times harder. (2) Second, never, ever, tell white people the truth. A healthy mistrust of white people and/or white institutions (schools, your boss, the police) is key to survival in an unfair, often hostile society.

Professors, like students, are not consumers of a campus experience product, so it makes little sense to overemphasize satisfaction reports. Consumer report tabulations are useful when you are evaluating which car or refrigerator to buy, but diversity surveys yield much more nebulous ideas about the quality of campus life.

What it is like to live in Ithaca and work at Cornell cannot be completely captured by likert scale questions.  These measures can help paint a picture, but they are just measures.  The goal of diversity isn’t to boost satisfaction scores. Likewise, the goal of education is not to boost test scores. In the case of schools, testing, when used in moderation, can help keep us on track towards making sure that students are really learning valuable skills.

Toward a More Complex Conversation about Faculty Diversity

These quantitative and qualitative notions of diversity provide some convenient tools for thinking about the issue of diversity. I like the idea of working around lots of people with diverse life experiences, backgrounds, etc. And I want same-sex-loving-folks at my university to be happy. Accomplishing these two things under the banner of diversity seems like a win. However, the idea of diversity can be about more than numbers and satisfaction.

In no particular order, here is an annotated list of ideas that complicate the issue of faculty diversity:

1. Diversity initiatives must interrogate privilege and advantage.

Who benefits from the status quo? How do members of historically privileged groups benefit from excluding faculty of color, women, etc?  How does whiteness/maleness operate at the university? How are privileged faculty harmed by this process? ( For example, I’ve had two white professors lament that they wish they could be more “hip” and “laid back” and study things like ‘rap music,’ but can’t, because of their whiteness.) Related, we need to think about how increasing “diversity” is incompatible with certain models of education. Achieving diversity in the increasing corporate, capitalist logic of academia seems impossible. If prestige, exclusion, competition, opportunity hoarding, elitism, profits, etc are the benchmark of success, then adding more minorities to that system will do little to change how higher education operates.

2. Notions of diversity cannot be separated from theorizing about organizational structure.

The idea of diversity seems to imply some ideas about democracy, voice, procedure and due process. Diversity, beyond bodies in the room, is predicated that there are safeguards in place to prevent unfair treatment, and that there are structural rewards in place to encourage members of the majority/privileged groups to play nicely. Without a system in place, a diversity that depends on good hearted people will quickly devolve back into non-diversity.  Sustainable diversity requires institutional change. How might we change the process of hiring, firing, recruitment, retention, promotion, and measuring productivity (teaching, publishing, service to field, public) to achieve and maintain diversity?

All of these things sound great, right? But…

3. The issue of faculty diversity most also include redefining the social norms or the ideologies surrounding professional academia.

What it means to do “good research” or to be a “good teacher,” for example, tend to put severe limits on the types of people hired, supported, and promoted in academia.  The implication is that we tend to set up minority faculty for failure. We say in effect, “we value your socioeconomic demographics, now act like a good professor (read: middle aged, heterosexual white male who publishes in the flagship journals, read: journals and presses controlled by middle-aged, heterosexual white males) or get fired in 7 years.” Diversity of professorship must include some reconsideration of the meaning of professing. This includes reassessing what we mean by teaching, by research, by knowledge, etc.

4. We have to be honest about the expected value and outcomes of diversity.

Why do we want diversity? And are we willing to sacrifice other desirables to achieve this goal? Serious conversations about diversity might begin with an introspective look at why we want diversity in the college faculty. Do we really believe that diversity increases student learning? Do we really expect a black chemistry professor who went to Harvard to contribute something special to chemistry, versus a white professor who also went to Harvard? Or, are we primarily concerned with higher notions of social justice, and the university’s role in bringing about progressive change in society?

Colorism in the criminal justice system

People talk a lot about the racism that poisons the criminal justice system, sending African-Americans to jail more often … Read more

New report shows that dark-skinned women are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system. The original report referenced in the article looks pretty solid. I was left wondering why these differentials exist. Is it old school colorism or discrimination, or is there something else going on?

Michelle Obama, Africa, and Race


Though a descendant of slaves and spouse of the first African American president, Obama is more likely to opine on healthy eating than controversial racial divides.


During the 2008 presidential election, the (rightwing) media painted Michelle Obama as a race-woman, at least vis-a-vis her husband Barack. However, this article on her recent visit to Africa reminded me how both have maintained a consistently post-racial image over the first term. With the exception of Michelle doing the Dougie (a hip hop dance), she has not used the bully pulpit of first-lady to do or say much about the plight of black children, women, or people of color…