Huge Racial Disparities Found in Deaths Linked to Pregnancy

Yet another example of racial disparities. Have not seen and comparative Canadian studies and grateful if any readers can direct me accordingly:

African-American, Native American and Alaska Native women die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate about three times higher than those of white women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday.

The racial disparity has persisted, even grown, for years despite frequent calls to improve access to medical care for women of color. Sixty percent of all pregnancy-related deaths can be prevented with better health care, communication and support, as well as access to stable housing and transportation, the researchers concluded.

“The bottom line is that too many women are dying largely preventable deaths associated with their pregnancy,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C.

“We have the means to identify and close gaps in the care they receive,” she added. While not all of the deaths can be prevented, “we can and should do more.”

Maternal health among black women already has emerged as an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, have both raised the glaring racial discrepancies in maternal outcomes on the campaign trail.

“Everyone should be outraged this is happening in America,” Ms. Harris recently said on Twitter. She blamed the deaths on racial bias in the health system.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which was not involved in the C.D.C. report, recently acknowledged that racial bias within the health care system is contributing to the disproportionate number of pregnancy-related deaths among minority women.

“We are missing opportunities to identify risk factors prior to pregnancy, and there are often delays in recognizing symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum, particularly for black women,” Dr. Lisa Hollier, immediate past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement.

The United States has an abysmal record on maternal health, compared with other high-income countries. Even as maternal death rates fell by more than one-third from 2000 to 2015 across the world, outcomes for American mothers worsened, according to Unicef.

The C.D.C. examined pregnancy-related deaths in the United States from 2011 to 2015, and also reviewed more detailed data from 2013 to 2017 provided by maternal mortality review committees in 13 states.

The agency found that black women were 3.3 times more likely than white women to suffer a pregnancy-related death; Native American and Alaska Native women were 2.5 times more likely to die than white women.

[The topics new parents are talking about. Evidence-based guidance. Personal stories that matter. Sign up now to get NYT Parenting in your inbox every week.]

Obstetric emergencies involving complications like severe bleeding caused most of the deaths at delivery. Disorders related to high blood pressure accounted for most deaths from the day of delivery through the sixth day postpartum.

A leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths was cardiovascular disease, which is not typically associated with young pregnant women.

Heart disease and strokes caused more than one-third of pregnancy-related deaths, the C.D.C. found. Cerebrovascular events, such as strokes, were the most common cause of death during the first 42 days after the delivery.

Cardiac disease, which disproportionately affects black women, may be present in a woman before pregnancy, but it also may appear during pregnancy. If heart disease goes undetected, it may become acute after the baby is born.

Suspensions Are Down In U.S. Schools But Large Racial Gaps Remain

Not sure what the latest Canadian trends are but in Toronto, believe overall pattern similar:

Students in U.S. schools were less likely to be suspended in 2016 than they were in 2012. But the progress is incremental, and large gaps — by race and by special education status — remain.

This data comes from an analysis of federal data for NPR in partnership with the nonprofit organization Child Trends. And it comes as the Trump administration is preparing the final report from a school safety commission that is expected to back away from or rescind Obama-era guidance intended to reduce racial disparities in school discipline.

The commission, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is expected to release its final report in the coming days.

The Child Trends analysis highlights findings that when a student disrupts class, a school can disrupt that student’s education — and his or her entire life. Research suggests suspension and expulsion, arrests and referrals to law enforcement, is associated with dropping out of school and going to jail. All of these consequences happen more frequently to black students, even in preschool. Sometimes they are punished more harshly for the same behavior as white students; often for nonviolent offenses. Students with disabilities are also punished more often and more harshly.

In 2014, with this body of evidence growing, the U.S. Department of Education issued detailed guidance on “how to identify, avoid, and remedy” what they called “discriminatory discipline.” They promoted alternatives to suspension and expulsion, and opened investigations into school districts that had severely racially skewed numbers.

In the wake of that guidance, more than 50 of America’s largest school districts instituted discipline reform. More than half the states revised their laws to try and reduce suspensions and expulsions. And, our indicators are, they succeeded.

At NPR’s request, the nonprofit Child Trends analyzed the federal Civil Rights Data Collection, which includes reports from every public school in the nation, over three years — the 2011-2012, 2013-2014, and 2015-2016 school year. They caution that this analysis, which is based on numbers self-reported by schools, can’t cover every possibility — for example, if schools are calling parents to pick students up instead of putting an official suspension on the books. Or if they are suspending fewer students, but suspending them for longer periods of time.

Still, they documented some heartening changes between 2012 and 2016.

  • The proportion of all students suspended from school at least once during the year fell from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent.
  • Among high school students, the percentage suspended fell even more, from 9.6 to 7.6 percent.
  • Suspension rates fell around the country, in each of the biggest-population states. Only one state, Mississippi, saw a persistent increase year by year.
  • Hispanic students experienced the largest decrease –a 30 percent drop in suspensions.
  • Suspension rates fell faster for those most often suspended — Black students and students with a disability.

But, on the flip side:

  • Black high school students are still twice as likely (12.8 percent) to be suspended as white (6.1 percent) or Hispanic (6.3 percent) high school students.
  • And students with a disability are also twice as likely (12.8 percent) to be suspended as those without a disability (6.9 percent).

“This progress is incremental and large gaps by race and disability still remain,” says Kristen Harper, who directs policy development for Child Trends. She says there’s “a long way to go” and a continuing need for federal leadership. “Any efforts that could suggest that these issues are not important could undermine the work of states and districts.”

We should note that NPR previously collaborated with Child Trends on a look at the Civil Rights Data Collection’s school shooting indicator. That analysis found serious problems with the data reported. But Harper says that the out of school suspensions indicator is far more robust and reliable, partly because the data has been collected for longer, and also because suspensions are more common than shootings, so a few data entry errors are less likely to skew the overall trend.

Source: Suspensions Are Down In U.S. Schools But Large Racial Gaps Remain

USA: Yes, Jury Selection Is As Racist As You Think. Now We Have Proof

Similar to the concerns raised over the jury selection process in the trial of Gerald Stanley for the murder of Colten Boushie (Government proposes changes to jury-selection process after the …):

Race, as a matter of constitutional principle, cannot factor into the selection of jurors for criminal trials. But in the American justice system, anyone with a bit of common sense and a view from the back of the courtroom knows the colorblind ideal isn’t true in practice.

Racial bias largely seeps in through what’s called “peremptory” challenges: the ability of a prosecutor — and then a defense attorney — to block a certain number of potential jurors without needing to give the court any reason for the exclusion.

The number of challenges allowed varies by state, but commonly 15 or more are permitted. Folk wisdom, among those familiar with the song and dance, is that prosecutors use these challenges to remove nonwhite jurors, who are statistically more likely to acquit, while defense attorneys — who can step in only after the pool has been narrowed by prosecutors — typically counteract by removing more white jurors.

For a long time, the opacity of court records rendered the dynamic as only that — folk wisdom — which has made it difficult to articulate the urgent need to reform this understudied aspect of our system. But now, this informal knowledge has been empirically confirmed, and the case for change couldn’t be more compelling.

My recently published research on juror removal in North Carolina conducted with colleagues at the Wake Forest University School of Law proves — for the first time with statewide evidence — that peremptory challenges are indeed a vehicle for veiled racial bias that results in juries less sympathetic to defendants of color.

Based on statewide jury selection records, our Jury Sunshine Projectdiscovered that prosecutors remove about 20 percent of African-Americans available in the jury pool, compared with about 10 percent of whites. Defense attorneys, seemingly in response, remove more of the white jurors (22 percent) than black jurors (10 percent) left in the post-judge-and-prosecutor pool.

The data also show variety within the state: Prosecutors in urban areas, which tend to have larger minority populations, remove nonwhite jurors at a higher rate than prosecutors do in other parts of the state. Finally, we discovered, to our surprise, that judges also remove black jurors “for cause” about 20 percent more often than they remove available white jurors.

When the dust settles at the close of jury selection, defense attorneys’ actions in the last leg of the process do not cancel out the combined skewed actions from prosecutors and judges. The consistent result is African-Americans occupying a much smaller percentage of seats in the jury box than they did in the original jury pool.

This winnowing of nonwhite jurors is not a quirk of just one state. Earlier this year, investigative journalists in Mississippi and Louisiana collected and published jury data from public records that confirmed similar practices in some areas within those states. And given the parallel results identified in county-level studies and in death penalty cases, the pattern probably holds true for jury selection in most states.

It is not possible, even with this new data, to say exactly why a prosecutor, defense attorney or judge decides to remove any particular juror in a single case. But this racially skewed trend, played out across many cases, is persistent. And it has two especially pernicious effects on the quality of criminal justice.

First, the defendant is not judged by a jury that reflects a cross-section of his or her community — a violation of the courts’ interpretation of the Sixth Amendment. In a system that already disproportionately prosecutes people of color, hedging the constitutional rights of defendants can be particularly harmful.

Second, excluded parts of the community become more cynical about the justice system when they repeatedly see barriers to jury service. If people from certain similar neighborhoods are constantly getting booted from juries, then it’s tempting for residents there to view the police — and prosecutors — as hostile occupiers rather than partners in public safety.

In theory, the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, as interpreted in Batson v. Kentucky, prevents attorneys from removing jurors on the basis of race. But “Batson claims” rarely succeed because they require the judge to declare the proposed stated reason for removal was only a pretext hiding discriminatory intent — a notoriously steep standard.

To address the problem, state courts could adopt rules such as the one that the Washington Supreme Court approved last April. The new rule makes it easier to stop juror removals rooted in implicit racial bias by outlawing peremptory challenges defended with explanations highly correlated with race, like “prior contact with law enforcement” or “living in a high-crime neighborhood.”

There are now over half a dozen states completely controlled by Democrats, whose ascendant progressive wing would presumably support such nondiscrimination protections.

Another answer — which could gain support in even the toughest of “tough on crime” red states — is simply to publish more information on jury selection. The details of judge and attorney removals of jurors is already public record, but those details usually remain buried in the hard-copy files of court clerks across the country.

While this year’s successful research shows how journalists and scholars can collect these far-flung records into a useful database, the process can take months or years of driving from courthouse to courthouse, digging out the files of cases that went to trial, recording the clerk’s notations from those files and turning to online resources for background information on judges and lawyers.

States could instead — without much work — just plainly make all jury selection information available online and keyword searchable, easing access for journalists and voters alike.

In most states, voters choose their prosecutors and their judges; and with journalists on hand to swiftly analyze digitized public records of the jury selection habits of prosecutors and judges, citizens could evaluate incumbents’ tendencies as a measure of success or failure.

These two reforms alone would greatly aid efforts to hold prosecutors and judges accountable as well as shore up public trust in the criminal justice system.

The status quo shows that a barely enforceable constitutional doctrine isn’t enough. It’s time to bring this vital process of justice from behind closed doors and into the sunlight. It’s the only way to ensure that defendants are judged by a representative cross section of their community, not the filtered few that litigants want to see in the jury box.

Source: Yes, Jury Selection Is As Racist As You Think. Now We Have Proof

‘Farming While Black’: A Guide To Finding Power And Dignity Through Food

Interesting:

Leah Penniman was told she wasn’t welcome, from her first day in a conservative, almost all-white kindergarten.

“I remember this one girl teasing me and saying brownies aren’t allowed in this school … and that really continued, that type of teasing,” she recalls. “Every time I walked into an honors classroom, they would ask me if I was in the right room,” she says.

She enjoyed learning and did well, but she also found solace in the natural world.

“No one taught me what African traditional religion was when I was little, but my sister and I intuited it and so we would spend a lot of time in the forest giving reverence to mother nature as we called to her in the trees.”

Penniman later got a summer job farming in Boston, and she was hooked. She learned about sustainable agriculture and the African roots of those practices, but she also moved to Albany, N.Y., to a neighborhood classified as a food desert. To get fresh groceries from a farm share, she walked more than two miles with a newborn baby in a backpack and a toddler in the stroller, then walked back with the groceries resting on top of and around the sleeping toddler.

She made it her goal to start a farm for her neighbors, and to provide fresh food to refugees, immigrants and people affected by mass incarceration. She calls the lack of access to fresh food “food apartheid” because it’s a human-created system of segregation.

Penniman and her staff at Soul Fire Farm, located about 25 miles northeast of Albany, train black and Latinx farmers in growing techniques and management practices from the African diaspora, so they can play a part in addressing food access, health disparities, and other social issues. Penniman’s new book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, details her experiences as a farmer and activist, how she found “real power and dignity” through food, and how people with zero experience in gardening and farming can do the same.

Back when Penniman was a beginner at various farms in the Northeast, she realized she was in a field where almost all people were white, and that the sustainable and organic farmers were using African techniques, without knowing where those came from.

For example, farmers grow marigolds and other beneficial flowers next to crops because those attract insects like ladybugs to do natural pest control. That’s called polyculture now, but it’s a practice that came from Nigerian and Ghanaian farmers, and Penniman’s book traces techniques like that back to their historic roots.

Farming While Black“A lot of the folks in the sustainable farming world get a lot of information through these conferences and sort of assume that … it’s either ahistorical or originated in a European community, which is an injustice and a tragedy,” Penniman says.

There are other instances of African contributions to farming technology that are not widely known.

Edda Fields-Black, an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University, studies the history of West African rice farmers. She says the rice industry in South Carolina and Georgia would not have been possible without West African techniques of irrigation so that the rice fields have a good balance of salt water and fresh water to stop weeds from growing and keep the rice alive.

“We don’t always understand enough about all of the things that enslaved people built in the U.S. It’s not just brute labor, it’s not just brawn. This is technology, this is ingenuity, this is engineering, this is hydraulics. It’s all rooted in west Africa,” says Fields-Black.

She cites a 2018 report from the Southern Poverty Law Centerdetailing the “dismal” results of how little high school seniors know about the history of slavery, and says her work is about celebrating African technology, and “recovering the humanity of the enslaved.” That’s something she and Penniman have in common, she adds.

Penniman also writes that she would like her experience to help African-Americans heal from the trauma associated with farming. She details how black visitors to her farm almost all say they associate farming with slavery and plantations. One black farmer I interviewed in the past said that when he decided to quit a job in the tech industry to start a farm, part of his family thought he had lost his mind and was “going back to the plantation.”

That’s the universal experience … of being black in this country,” says Chris Bolden-Newsome, a farmer and educator at Sankofa Community Farm in Philadelphia, whom Penniman interviewed for her book.

Therefore, learning about Penniman’s book was “like a breath of fresh air,” Bolden-Newsome says. “High time that something like this be written to lift up the stories, the lived experiences and lived stories of black farmers and their descendants who are the powerhouse in America.”

Penniman and her coworkers at her farm also try to address social issues more directly. For example, she has a sliding scale of prices, where a third of her customers make more money and pay more, and that subsidizes prices for another third of her customers, who struggle to make ends meet. She has written a manual for how to develop such a system, and says that she knows of at least two farms in New York state with similar programs for low-income customers.

She says that just as her African ancestors braided seeds into their hair before boarding transatlantic slave ships, she hopes her book will inspire more people toward “picking up those seeds and carrying on that legacy about not forgetting where we come from and who we are.”

Her farm also started a youth justice program in 2013, which let young people from Albany County courts work on the farm for 50 hours in exchange for prison time.

“What was really powerful about it was these young folks said things like, ‘I’ve never been welcomed into someone’s home before, or this is the first time I’ve seen folks who look like me running their own businesses and following their dreams and owning their land,'” says Penniman.

“There’s a lot of crying that happens on our farm,” she adds.

Source: ‘Farming While Black’: A Guide To Finding Power And Dignity Through Food

How Police Killings Lead To Poor Mental Health In The Black Community

Yet another example of the effects of systemic racism on African Americans:

A recent study published in The Lancet Medical journal shows that police killings of unarmed black men leads to poor mental. NPR’s Michel Martin talks with study co-author Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we’re going to talk about a subject that has become one of this country’s flashpoints – police shootings of unarmed black men. It happened again last Tuesday in Pittsburgh, where Antwon Rose Jr. was shot three times as he ran away from police during a traffic stop. A neighbor caught it all on camera. The video was widely shared and inspired three straight days of protests in Pittsburgh.

But the negative effects of that shooting won’t end whenever the demonstrations stop or the reporting ends – this according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal. That study looked specifically at states that had a police killing of an unarmed black man in the three months leading up to the survey. And it found that these violent encounters have a direct effect on the mental health of black Americans living in communities that have experienced police violence. The telephone survey asked respondents how many days their mental health was not good. Black respondents in states with recent police shootings were found to have significantly more of those not good days.

Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani is one of the study’s authors. He’s an assistant professor in medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. He joined me from member station WBUR in Boston, and I started our conversation by asking him why he and his fellow researchers wanted to look into the link between police killings and mental health.

ATHEENDAR VENKATARAMANI: My co-authors and I were very struck by the images of police killings of unarmed black Americans, and we had seen in some small, local studies, as well as through our social networks and on social media, the kinds of things that black Americans who weren’t directly part of the event but had heard about it or read about it or seen it through the videos that were released – the kinds of things they were saying about how they felt – what it made them feel and what their mental state was after viewing or hearing about such an event. And for us, it made us wonder do events like this cross the line from just being upsetting to being something that make us sick? And that’s what really motivated our study.

MARTIN: The facts are that black Americans, as you point out in the study, are nearly three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police. They are five times more likely than are white Americans to be killed unarmed. I just think that’s important to point out because it’s important to note that white Americans are also killed by the police, but it is far more likely that an African-American male particularly will be unarmed when that occurs.

So part of the reason that I raised that is to ask whether you saw any similar effects of other groups? Like, did, for example, killings of white Americans stimulate a similar effect? Do we have any comparison that we can draw upon?

VENKATARAMANI: Absolutely. So we looked at the police killings of armed black Americans and the police killings of unarmed white Americans, which don’t necessarily have that same kind of salience to people as far as their relationship to structural racism. And when we looked at the impacts of those kinds of events, we didn’t find any impact on mental health nor did we find any impact on mental health of white Americans who were exposed to police killings of unarmed black Americans.

MARTIN: And you know, the survey focused on people and communities where these shootings occurred. But we live in a time when many of these deaths were caught on camera. They’ve been widely shared. Do you feel comfortable extrapolating that this effect may be broader than the people who actually lived in the places where these incidents occurred?

VENKATARAMANI: Yeah, I think we do. And so for example, Eric Garner’s killing was seen by everybody in the country. And for the purposes of our statistical design, we considered people in New York State exposed. So one of the things we think is striking is that we find these large population-level effects even when we know that we are likely to be underestimating the true burden.

MARTIN: The summary says that, you know, the interpretation is that, you know, police killings of unarmed black Americans have adverse effects on mental health among black American adults and the general population. And it suggests that programs should be implemented to decrease the frequency of police killings and to mitigate adverse mental health effects.

What would that look like? I mean, what do you hope people will do as a result of this study which validates what, frankly, has been sort of widely discussed informally among many people for some time?

VENKATARAMANI: We don’t believe we’re telling people in the black American communities something that they don’t know. I think what this study does is provides a public health rationale to further try to understand why police killings occur of unarmed black Americans. And it further motivates policies and programs that would try to reduce those events.

And from the clinical side, as a physician, these events really kind of show you that when something happens in a community that there is a trauma that is a pathology, meaning it’s a true illness, and that health systems – community health centers, public health organizations – can try to rally around people to make sure that people are OK and that we’re treating the burden of disease that’s there.

So I think that’s why it’s useful to put numbers around something that many people have noted anecdotally because it sharpens the case for action, and it also lets us know the scope of the problem and potentially how we would need to address it.

MARTIN: That’s Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani. He’s one of the authors of a study published in The Lancet which looked at the mental health effects of police shootings on black Americans.

Thanks so much for speaking with us.

VENKATARAMANI: Thank you.

MARTIN: I also want to mention that the study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The latter is also a supporter of NPR.

Source: How Police Killings Lead To Poor Mental Health In The Black Community

USA: Suicide rates for black children twice that of white children, new data show

Significant study and yet another example of racial disparities:

African-American children are taking their lives at roughly twice the rate of their white counterparts, according to a new study that shows a widening gap between the two groups.

The 2001-2015 data, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, confirm a pattern first identified several years ago when researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that the rate of suicides for black children ages 5 to 12 exceeded that of young whites. The results were seen in both boys and girls.

Although suicide is rare among young children, the latest findings reinforce the need for better research into the racial disparities, lead author Jeffrey Bridge said Monday. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for older children and adolescents in the United States.

“We can’t assume any longer that suicide rates are uniformly higher in white individuals than black,” said Bridge, an epidemiologist who directs the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Columbus hospital. “There is this age-related disparity, and now we have to understand the underlying reasons. . . . Most of the previous research has largely concerned white suicide. So we don’t even know if the same risk and protective factors apply to black youth.”

Historically, suicide rates in the United States have been higher for whites than blacks across all age groups. That remains the case for adolescents, ages 13 to 17, according to the new study. White teens continue to have a 50 percent higher rate of suicide than black teens.

Overall between 1999 and 2015, more than 1,300 children ages 5 to 12 took their own lives in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers translate into an average of one child 12 or younger dying by suicide every five days. The pace has actually accelerated in recent years, CDC statistics indicate.

The researchers based their latest analysis on the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, which does not include geographical or socioeconomic data.

Although the study was unable to provide a cultural context for the racial difference in suicide rates, psychiatrist Samoon Ahmad thinks a number of reasons could account for the disparity.

“To me, the 5-12 range is more related to developmental issues and the possible lack of a family network, social network and cultural activities,” said Ahamad, a clinical associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “And with the introduction of social media, there is more isolation with children, not as much neighborhood play. Kids are more socially in their own vacuum.”

Ahmad described this age group as “probably the most vulnerable.” Yet adults tend to think the children are somehow too young to experience such depths of despair, he noted.

“No one talks about that with them. We tend to put them in silos, and don’t discuss these things because we think it’s too traumatic,” he said. “Instead, there must be a slow and steady flow of communication.”

Previous studies have looked at some of the characteristics and circumstances surrounding children’s suicides.

In 2017, research by Bridge and colleagues found that among children, ages 5 to 11, and young adolescents, ages 12 to 14, those who took their own lives were more likely to be male, African American and dealing with stressful relationships at home or with friends. Children who had a mental health problem at the time of death were more likely than young adolescents to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Young adolescents who killed themselves were more likely to have had relationship problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend. They also had higher rates of depression, according to last year’s study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.

That 2017 report found more than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved black children compared to just 11.6 percent of early adolescent suicides.

Bridge said his motivation for delving into this issue was a suicide in a town not far from Columbus. The child was not yet 10.

“We went into the original study because suicide rates were increasing among adolescents in the United States,” Bridge said. The local death “made us think if there was a change in the suicide rate of children, and that’s what made us look into it.”

Source: Suicide rates for black children twice that of white children, new data show

The Historian Behind Slavery Apologists Like Kanye West – The New York Times

Useful history:

A video of the rapper Kanye West discussing slavery is a sad reminder of America’s historical amnesia about the brutal realities of that institution. “When you hear about slavery for 400 years,” he said in the clip, which was widely circulated on Twitter, “that sounds like a choice.”

Mr. West seemed to suggest that enslaved African-Americans were so content that they did not actively resist their bondage, and, as a result, they bear some responsibility for centuries of persecution.

He’s not alone in his thinking. In 2016, the former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asserted that slaves were “well fed and had decent lodgings.” Last September, the Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore deemed the antebellum era the last great period in American history. “I think it was great at the time when families were united,” he declared. “Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another.”

Modern scholarship has debunked such whitewashing, accurately depicting slavery as an inhumane institution rooted in greed and the violent subjugation of millions of African-Americans.

Yet countless Americans have not learned these lessons. They cling, instead, to a romanticized interpretation of slavery, one indebted to a book published 100 years ago.

In the spring of 1918, the historian Ulrich Bonnell Phillips published his seminal study, “American Negro Slavery,” which framed the institution as a benevolent labor agreement between indulgent masters and happy slaves. No other book, no monument, no movie — save, perhaps, for “Gone With the Wind,” itself beholden to Phillips’s work — has been more influential in shaping how many Americans have viewed slavery.

Born in 1877 into a Georgia family with planter roots, Phillips developed an abiding sympathy for the Old South. He studied history at the University of Georgia and then as a graduate student at Columbia University under the tutelage of William A. Dunning, a scholar with a pro-Southern bent.

After earning his doctorate in 1902, Phillips set out to correct the slanted picture of the Southern past that he believed prevailed at the time. “The history of the United States has been written by Boston and largely been written wrong,” he lamented. “It must be written anew before it reaches its final form of truth, and for that work, the South must do its part.”

Phillips certainly did his. During his 30-year career, he published nine books and close to 60 articles, earning a series of prestigious professorships that culminated in a “very flossy job,” as he put it, at Yale University. This 1930 appointment reflected his stature as the country’s leading historian of slavery and the South, as well as the influence of his most important book, “American Negro Slavery.”

He was a prodigious, albeit selective researcher. Phillips found evidence in plantation records and Southern travelogues that bolstered the book’s benign interpretation of slavery, while downplaying evidence that did not. In his hands, plantations became idyllic sites where white families had modeled the habits of civilized life for their childlike black charges. “The plantations,” Phillips wrote, “were the best schools yet invented for the mass training of that sort of inert and backward people which the bulk of the American negroes represented.”

According to Phillips, slaveholders provided the enslaved with comfortable living quarters and plentiful rations and eschewed physical discipline. They rarely sold slaves, especially if it meant breaking up families. Slave owners’ rule “was benevolent in intent” and “beneficial in effect.”

Phillips’s use of the passive voice — “in March the corn fields were commonly planted” — further distanced the reader from slaves’ coerced labor. Enslaved African-Americans, in turn, displayed gratitude and loyalty to their masters. Phillips concluded that, while slavery may have been economically inefficient, “the relations on both sides were felt to be based on pleasurable responsibility.”

“American Negro Slavery” won widespread acclaim in the North and the South. Reviewers praised Phillips for his thorough research, charming style and lack of bias. In the words of the historian John David Smith, an expert on Phillips, the book served as “the definitive account of the peculiar institution” from World War I into the 1950s.

The book set the tone for the treatment of slavery in classrooms and textbooks across the country. “There was much to be said for slavery as a transition status between barbarism and civilization,” maintained a 1930 best seller, echoing Phillips almost verbatim. “The majority of slaves were … apparently happy.”

From the beginning, however, Phillips had his critics, who insisted on telling a more truthful, unvarnished history of slavery. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a scathing review of “American Negro Slavery,” observing, “It is a defense of American slavery, a defense of an institution which was at best a mistake and at worst a crime.” Drawing on interviews with ex-slaves, sources Phillips rejected, the historian Frederic Bancroft published a 1931 book that exploded Phillips’s misrepresentations of the domestic slave trade.

Phillips’s critics grew more vocal in the 1950s and 1960s, as a new generation of scholars challenged his benign reading of slavery and the racism that stained almost every page of “American Negro Slavery.”

Yet while Phillips’s most egregious claims fell out of favor, the legacy of “American Negro Slavery” has proved tenacious.

According to a new Southern Poverty Law Center report on how slavery is taught in public schools, current pedagogy continues to focus on slavery from the perspective of whites, not the enslaved, while failing to connect the institution to the white supremacist beliefs that supported it. Textbooks often ignore slaveholders’ desire to make money and too easily slip into grammatical constructions — Africans “were brought” to America — that absolve enslavers of their actions.

Last year, a Charlotte, N.C., teacher asked her middle-school students to list “four reasons why Africans made good slaves.” An eighth-grade teacher in San Antonio recently sent students home with a work sheet titled “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View.” It prompted students to list the “positive” aspects of slavery along with the “negative.”

We must confront mischaracterizations of the nature of slavery, whether nurtured in the classroom or broadcast on Twitter. After all, historical accuracy on this topic is not just about getting the past right; it is also about understanding the challenges of the present.

The persistence of racial inequality in America — from police brutality and school segregation to mass incarceration and wealth disparities — reflects, to some degree, the persistence of the Phillipsian take on slavery. If the institution were little more than a finishing school for African-Americans, then why acknowledge or address its pernicious legacies today?

Google’s Algorithm: History of Racism Against Black Women | Time

Interesting and convincing study of embedded bias in algorithms by Safiya Umoja, author of  Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism:

…Although I focus mainly on the example of black girls to talk about search bias and stereotyping, black girls are not the only girls and women marginalized in search. The results retrieved two years into this study, in 2013, representing Asian girls, Asian Indian girls, Latina girls, white girls, and so forth reveal the ways in which girls’ identities are commercialized, sexualized or made curiosities within the gaze of the search engine. Women and girls do not fare well in Google Search — that is evident.

Of course, these problems extend to non-gendered racism, as well. On June 6, 2016, Kabir Ali, an African American teenager from Clover High School in Midlothian, Va., tweeting under the handle @iBeKabir, posted a video to Twitter of his Google Images search on the keywords “three black teenagers.” The results that Google offered were of African American teenagers’ mug shots, insinuating that the image of Black teens is that of criminality. Next, he changed one word — “black” to “white” — with very different results. “Three white teenagers” were represented as wholesome and all-American. The video went viral within 48 hours, and Jessica Guynn, from USA Today, contacted me about the story. In typical fashion, Google reported these search results as an anomaly, beyond its control, to which I responded, “If Google isn’t responsible for its algorithm, then who is?” One of Ali’s Twitter followers later posted a tweak to the algorithm made by Google on a search for “three white teens” that now included a newly introduced “criminal” image of a white teen and more “wholesome” images of black teens.

What we know about Google’s responses to racial stereotyping in its products is that it typically denies responsibility or intent to harm, but then it is able to “tweak” or “fix” these aberrations or “glitches” in its systems.

What we need to ask is why and how we get these stereotypes in the first place and what the attendant consequences of racial and gender stereotyping do in terms of public harm for people who are the targets of such misrepresentation. Images of white Americans are persistently held up in Google’s images and in its results to reinforce the superiority and mainstream acceptability of whiteness as the default “good” to which all others are made invisible. There are many examples of this, where users of Google Search have reported online their shock or dismay at the kinds of representations that consistently occur. Meanwhile, when users search beyond racial identities and occupations to engage concepts such as “professional hairstyles,” they have been met with the kinds of images seen below. The “unprofessional hairstyles for work” image search, like the one for “three black teenagers,” went viral in 2016, with multiple media outlets covering the story, again raising the question, can algorithms be racist?

Where are black girls now?

Since I began the pilot study in 2010 and collected data through 2016, some things have changed. In 2012, I wrote an article for Bitch Magazine, which covers popular culture from a feminist perspective, after some convincing from my students that this topic is important to all people — not just black women and girls. I argued that we all want access to credible information that does not foster racist or sexist views of one another. I cannot say that the article had any influence on Google in any definitive way, but I have continued to search for black girls on a regular basis, at least once a month, and I can report that Google had changed its algorithm to some degree about five months after that article was published. After years of featuring pornography as the primary representation of black girls, Google made modifications to its algorithm, and the results as of the conclusion of this research can be seen here:

No doubt, as I speak around the world on this subject, audiences are often furiously doing searches from their smart phones, trying to reconcile these issues with the momentary results. Some days they are horrified, and other times, they are less concerned, because some popular and positive issue or organization has broken through the clutter and moved to a top position on the first page. Indeed, as my book was going into production, news exploded of biased information about the U.S. presidential election flourishing through Google and Facebook, which had significant consequences in the political arena.

I encourage us all to take notice and to reconsider the affordances and the consequences of our hyper-reliance on these technologies as they shift and take on more import over time. What we need now, more than ever, is public policy that advocates protections from the effects of unregulated and unethical artificial

via Google’s Algorithm: History of Racism Against Black Women | Time

Liberals say immigration enforcement is racist, but the group most likely to benefit from it is black men

Not quite sure whether the studies cited represent a consensus view or not. Look forward to any comments by those more familiar with the various studies:

President Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton seemed to herald a new era for border security and immigration enforcement. But his polarizing and occasionally ignorant comments about immigrants have handed his adversaries a convenient pretext for stymying compromise on immigration reform: racism.

Left-leaning advocacy groups and a host of Democrats all too often shy away from the specifics of the debate and instead lean on cries of bigotry, resorting to claims like that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has described Trump’s approach to immigration reform as an effort to “make America white again.”

Claims that immigration enforcement equals racism ignore the reality that the group most likely to benefit from a tougher approach to immigration enforcement is young black men, who often compete with recent immigrants for low-skilled jobs.

This dynamic played out recently at a large bakery in Chicago that supplies buns to McDonald’s. Some 800 immigrant laborers, most of them from Mexico, lost their jobs last year after an audit by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Cloverhill Bakery, owned by Aryzta, a big Swiss food conglomerate, had to hire new workers, 80% to 90% of whom are African American. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the new workers are paid $14 per hour, or $4 per hour more than the (illegal) immigrant workers.

In this case, and in many others, the beneficiaries of immigration enforcement were working-class blacks, who are often passed over for jobs by unscrupulous employers.

The labor force participation rate for adult black men has declined steadily since the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ushered in a new era of mass immigration. In 1973, the rate was 79%. It is now at 68%, and the Bureau of Labor projects that it will decline to 61% by 2026.
The beneficiaries of immigration enforcement [are] working-class blacks, who are often passed over for jobs by unscrupulous employers.

In 2016, the Obama White House produced a 48-page report acknowledging that immigration does not help the labor force participation rate of the native-born. It concluded, however, that “immigration reform would raise the overall participation rate by bringing in new workers of prime working age.”
Although the report used the term “new workers,” Democrats may also be tempted by the prospect of new voters. But they should be aware that in courting one group, they risk losing others.

African Americans tend to be a reliable voting bloc for the Democratic Party, but they have repeatedly indicated in public opinion surveys that they want significantly less immigration.

A recent Harvard-Harris poll found that African Americans favor reducing legal immigration more than any other demographic group: 85% want less than the million-plus we allow on an annual basis, and 54% opted for the most stringent choices offered — 250,000 immigrants per year or less, or none at all.

These attitudes are rational.

In a 2010 study on the social effects of immigration, the Cornell University professor Vernon Briggs concluded: “No racial or ethnic group has benefited less or been harmed more than the nation’s African American community.”

The Harvard economist George Borjas has found that, between 1980 and 2000, one-third of the decline in the employment among black male high school dropouts was attributable to immigration. He also reported “a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates.”

In a 2014 paper on neoliberal immigration policies and their effects on African Americans, the University of Notre Dame professor Stephen Steinberg argued that, thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, “African Americans found themselves in the proverbial position of being ‘last hired.'” Steinberg also noted that “immigrants have been cited as proof that African Americans lack the pluck and determination that have allowed millions of immigrants from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to pursue the American dream.”

The struggles of black men obviously cannot all be linked to immigration, but it’s clear that the status quo does not benefit them.

As elected leaders consider changing our immigration laws, the interests of America’s most vulnerable citizens shouldn’t be overlooked. The first step toward honest reform is for the Democratic Party to admit that while liberal immigration enforcement might help them win new voters, it also harms and disenfranchises their most loyal constituency.

via Liberals say immigration enforcement is racist, but the group most likely to benefit from it is black men

Black Cancer Matters – Susan Gubar, The New York Times

I started following Susan Gubar’s columns during my cancer journey and continue to find them interesting. This column is no exception with its focus on how African Americans are disproportionately affected by cancer with higher mortality rates:

Like many people, I attribute my cancer to bad luck. So the feature-length documentary “Company Town” shocked me. It contends that the economic consequences of racial discrimination increase cancer risk. Watching the movie led me to realize that wretched statistics on cancer mortalities are also linked to racial inequalities. Black cancer should matter, but has it mattered in the past and will it matter in the future?

Company Town,” released in 2016 and available March 20 on iTunes, was co-directed by Natalie Kottke-Masocco and Erica Sardarian. It opens with gospel vocalists singing the words “run down to the river,” a deeply ironic injunction in Crossett, Ark., a setting where a Georgia-Pacific paper and chemical plant — owned by the billionaire Koch brothers — stands accused of polluting local waters. The movie depicts rural people dependent for a livelihood on an industry that they believe is sickening them by contaminating their environment. Most of the men and women dealing with cancer in the area are African-Americans.

We see David Bouie, a Baptist minister who worked in the facility for 10 years, pointing out the houses on his lane. “It’s all around us … cancer, cancer,” he says. “Door-to-door cancer.”

It is difficult to establish a causal connection between hazardous wastes and cancer; however, “Company Town” presents a formidable case. The air, earth and water of Crossett, with its population of about 5,500 people, have been spoiled by harmful fumes and vapors, by chemicals discharged into unlined basins, by fiber products and ash hidden in fields beneath a few inches of dirt and behind fences that do not solve the problem of carcinogens leaching into creeks and wells. Congregants in Pastor Bouie’s church speak as or about the children and adults dying in what amounts to a lethal cancer cluster.

Pastor Bouie organizes his neighbors with the help of a woman who serves as the Ouachita Riverkeeper and a whistle-blower who had been a safety coordinator in the mill. Together, they gain the attention of representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. At hearings, a number of these officials proffer placating but prevaricating reassurances.

Somehow a few days before the arrival of one set of bureaucrats, the smoke from the Georgia-Pacific facility decreases and the air smells better. After the meeting, the noxious plumes reappear.

Government spokespeople, the Koch brothers and the supervisors of Georgia-Pacific dispute the directors’ argument and evidence. Yet “Company Town” mounts a passionate protest on behalf of overlooked victims of corporate negligence and greed.

By putting into play the words “race” and “cancer,” the film motivated me to ponder the impact of race on cancer outcomes nationally — and therefore disentangled from local ecological factors. The big picture is grim.

A 2016 report of the American Cancer Society states that the “five-year relative survival is lower for blacks than whites for most cancers at each stage of diagnosis.” African-American men, for example, are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer. Experts continue to debate why, even as many ascribe this scandalous phenomenon to inequalities in access to screening and treatment.

In women’s cancer, the mortality gap has widened. According to the 2016-18 report on Cancer Facts and Figures for African-Americans, “despite lower incidence rates for breast and uterine cancers, black women have death rates for these cancers that are 42 percent and 92 percent higher, respectively, than white women.” Investigators connect the ghastly numbers to the usual socioeconomic discrepancies but also to biological differences in the malignancies of black women.

With regard to breast cancer, is the mortality gap related to a greater percentage of black women than white women contending with an aggressive form of the disease that lacks estrogen receptors?

Dr. Otis Webb Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, rejects an explanation based on “biological difference,” pointing instead to dietary disparities.

Disadvantaged Americans consume more calories and carbohydrates, “the sort of food that is available in poor areas of inner cities,” Dr. Brawley writes in his book “How We Do Harm.” Greater body weight means African-American girls menstruate earlier and the number of uninterrupted menstrual cycles increases the risk of breast cancer: “The black-white gap in the onset of menstruation and body weight has dramatically widened, which means that the disease disparities will widen also.”

Dr. Brawley quotes an all-white study in Scotland that “found evidence pointing to a correlation between social deprivation and incidence of breast cancer that lacks estrogen receptors.” In addition, he cites the insight of his friend Dr. Samuel Broder, a former director of the National Cancer Institute: “Poverty is a carcinogen.”

Given the mortality discrepancies, it is disturbing that African-Americans are underrepresented as subjects in cancer research, as are other minorities. According to research by Dr. Narjust Duma of the Mayo Clinic, only 6 percent of participants in clinical trials are black, although African-Americans make up approximately 12 percent of the population; Hispanics amount to 3 percent of participants, although they make up about 15 percent of the population.

“If our government doesn’t fix this,” one protester in “Company Town” says, “then I don’t know what kind of government they are.” If we don’t fix this, I chime in, what sort of people are we?

via Black Cancer Matters – The New York Times