Biden Is Reviving An Effort To Change How The Census Asks About Race And Ethnicity

Of note (as Canada continues its review):

President Biden’s White House is reviving a previously stalled review of proposed policy changes that could allow the Census Bureau to ask about people’s race and ethnicity in a radical new way in time for the 2030 head count, NPR has learned.

First proposed in 2016, the recommendations lost steam during former President Donald Trump’s administration despite years of research by the bureau that suggested a new question format would improve the accuracy of 2020 census data about Latinos and people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa.

The proposals also appear to have received the backing of other federal government experts on data about race and ethnicity, based on a redacted document that NPR obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The document lists headings for redacted descriptions of the group’s “recommended improvements,” including “Improve data quality: Allow flexibility in question format for self-reported race and ethnicity.”

Stalling by Trump officials, however, sealed the fate of last year’s census forms. With no public decision by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the bureau was forced to stick with previously used racial and ethnic categories and a question format that, the agency’s studies show, a growing number of people find confusing and not reflective of how they identify.

That has raised concerns about the reliability of the next set of 2020 census results, which are expected out by Aug. 16 and face a tangle of other complications stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration’s interference with the count’s schedule and the bureau’s new privacy protection plans. That detailed demographic data is used to redraw voting districts, enforce civil rights protections and guide policymaking and research.

The review continues under Biden’s OMB

The proposals, however, may be approved by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget under the Biden administration, which has been calling to change how the government produces and uses data about people of color and other marginalized groups.

“We are continuing to review the prior technical recommendations and public comment, and the extent to which those recommendations help advance this Administration’s goal of gathering the data necessary to inform our ambitious equity agenda,” Abdullah Hasan, an OMB spokesperson, tells NPR.

Hasan did not provide a timeline for the current review of the proposed changes to the government’s standards for data about race and ethnicity, which are set by OMB and must be followed by all federal agencies, including the bureau. OMB had previously planned to announce a decision in 2017, before the bureau had to finalize the 2020 census forms.

Other recommended changes include no longer officially allowing federal surveys to use the term “Negro” to describe the “Black” category. Another proposal would remove the term “Far East” from the standards as a description of a geographic region of origin for people of Asian descent.

Support from Biden’s pick for Census Bureau director

This month, Biden’s nominee for Census Bureau director, Robert Santos, pledged to lawmakers that, if confirmed, he would support one of the major recommendations, which would allow census forms to combine the separate race and Hispanic origin questions into one. A combined question, tests by the bureau’s researchers show, would help the bureau address the problem of increasingly more people leaving the race question unanswered or checking off the box for “Some Other Race”— the third-largest racial group reported in 2000 and 2010.

“The census director doesn’t have the authority to include any specific questions,” Santos said in response to a question from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “But I can use my own personal perspective as a Latino and use my research experience and my leadership position to work with OMB to make sure that the proper attention is given to that specific issue.”

An expert in designing surveys and currently the Urban Institute’s chief methodologist, Santos has written about the need for questions and categories on census forms to “evolve and adapt to ensure everyone is fairly represented,” including the Latinx population, one of the country’s fastest-growing groups.

“Racial and ethnic categories are social constructs, defined and designed by those who have historically held positions of influence,” Santos said in a 2019 blog post co-written with Jorge González-Hermoso, an Urban Institute research analyst. “The policy implications of using inadequate methods to collect data on identity are not trivial.”

During the hearing, Santos suggested that if OMB ultimately approves the proposed policy changes, the bureau may not have to wait until the 2030 census to use a combined race-ethnicity question, which Santos said could potentially be incorporated into the bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey.

Diversity and Racism in Canada: Competing views deeply divide country along gender, generational lines

Summary of latest Angus Reid survey, with the usual clever segmentation. Glass half full or half empty?:

These are times of deep reckoning over issues of race and identity, hatred, and violence in Canada.

Against the backdrop of the London, ON, attack that targeted and killed a Muslim family, the deep pain associated with revelations about the hundreds of children buried on the grounds of former residential schools, and ongoing reports of discrimination against Canadians of Asian origin, many are attempting to reconcile the realities of the nation’s attitudes towards diversity and equality with national mythologizing about multiculturalism.

The second report from a comprehensive research series from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the University of British Columbia dives deeply into the sentiments of those living in this country – to illuminate perceptions and attitudes towards diversity and racism.

For 85 per cent of the population, that Canada is home to people from different races and ethnicities betters the nation. Canadians of all regions of the country, age groups, political ideologies and ethnic backgrounds agree on this point.

But does everyone feel it? Contradictions abound. Fully one-in-three (34%) say “Canada is a racist country.” Among those who believe this most keenly: visible minorities (42 per cent of whom say so) and women, particularly those under the age of 35, who are much more likely than men to hold this view (54%).

On the other hand, however, fewer than one-in-eight (12%) say they believe some races are superior to others. Further, 41 per cent of Canadians say that people seeing discrimination where it does not exist is a bigger problem for the country than people not being able to see where it does.

These perspectives coalesce to form four mindsets with which Canadians view diversity. This report analyzes each – the Detractors, Guarded, Accepting and Advocates – to better understand the expectations of Canadians heading into the second half century of official multiculturalism.

More Key Findings:

  • Three-quarters of Canadians over the age of 55 disagree that Canada is a racist country, while 54 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 say that it is
  • One-in-five Canadians (21%) say that they feel like they are treated as an outsider in Canada. This proportion is 17 per cent among Caucasians, 30 per cent among Indigenous respondents and 29 per cent among visible minorities.
  • The Advocates, one-quarter of Canadians, are very concerned about racism and discrimination, to the point that they are twice as likely as visible minorities themselves to say that police are prejudiced or racist toward the latter demographic (83% vs 42%)
  • The Detractors, made up of older and more conservative Canadians, are also one-quarter of the population. This group is distinct in that it is more likely than others to say that immigration levels are way too high, and that racism is not a problem in Canada
  • One-quarter of Canadians feel “cold” toward Muslims, more than any other group asked about in the survey. Men over the age of 55 (42%) and Quebecers (37%) are among the most likely to say that.
  • Most Albertans (54%) and Saskatchewanians (57%) believe exaggerating racism is a bigger problem in Canada than not seeing racism where it exists.
  • Yet residents of Saskatchewan (44%) were the most likely to agree that Canada is a racist country. Residents of Quebec (24%) were the least likely.

Source: Diversity and Racism in Canada: Competing views deeply divide country along gender, generational lines

Full survey: click here

State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, racism

Of note (and of course, the states are preserving existing indoctrination):

Teachers and professors in Idaho will be prevented from “indoctrinating” students on race. Oklahoma teachers will be prohibited from saying certain people are inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. Tennessee schools will risk losing state aid if their lessons include particular concepts about race and racism.

Governors and legislatures in Republican-controlled states across the country are moving to define what race-related ideas can be taught in public schools and colleges, a reaction to the nation’s racial reckoning after last year’s police killing of George Floyd. The measures have been signed into law in at least three states and are being considered in many more.

Educators and education groups are concerned that the proposals will have a chilling effect in the classroom and that students could be given a whitewashed version of the nation’s history. Teachers are also worried about possible repercussions if a student or parent complains.

“Once we remove the option of teachers incorporating all parts of history, we’re basically silencing the voices of those who already feel oppressed,” said Lakeisha Patterson, a third-grade English and social studies teacher who lives in Houston and worries about a bill under consideration in Texas.

At least 16 states are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit the teaching of certain ideas linked to “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history. Its proponents argue that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor.

Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The latest state to implement a law is Tennessee, where the governor this past week signed a bill to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

The legislative debate over that bill caused a stir earlier this month when a Republican lawmaker who supports it, state Rep. Justin Lafferty, wrongly declared that the Constitution’s original provision designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for “the purpose of ending slavery.” Historians largely agree that the compromise gave slaveholding states more political power.

Some other states have taken steps that fall short of legislative change.

After Utah’s Republican governor blocked a vote on a set of similar bills, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a symbolic resolution recommending that the state review any curriculum that examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp wrote in a letter to state education board members that they should “take immediate steps to ensure that Critical Race Theory and its dangerous ideology do not take root in our state standards or curriculum.”

Montana’s attorney general issued a binding decision Thursday declaring that certain teachings violate the U.S. and state constitutions and that schools, local governments and public workplaces could lose state funding and be on the hook for damages stemming from lawsuits if they provide critical race theory training or activities.

The National Education Association and the National Council for the Social Studies oppose legislation to limit what ideas can be presented inside a classroom.

“It creates a very chilling atmosphere of distrust, educators not being able to be the professionals they are not only hired to be but are trained to be,” said Lawrence Paska, a former middle school social studies teacher in New York and executive director of the council.

Republicans have said concepts suggesting that people are inherently racist or that America was founded on racial oppression are divisive and have no place in the classroom.

Earlier this month, Republicans in the North Carolina House moved to prohibit teachers from promoting seven concepts that critically examine race and racism, including the belief that a person’s race or sex determines their moral character, that people bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex, and that they should feel guilty because of those two characteristics.

Rep. John Torbett, a Republican who leads North Carolina’s House education committee, said the legislation was intended to promote equality, not rewrite history.

“It ensures equity,” Torbett said during a hearing this month. “It ensures that all people in society are equitable. It has no mention of history.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum, was among those who helped popularize critical race theory in the 1970s and 1980s as a response to what she and others felt was a lack of progress following passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

She said Republicans are twisting the concept to inflame racial tensions and motivate their base of mostly white supporters.

“This is a 2022 strategy to weaponize white insecurity, to mobilize ideas that have been mobilized again and again throughout history, using a concept or set of ideas that they can convince people is the new boogeyman,” Crenshaw said.

The boundary between teaching ideas and promoting them has stirred concern among teachers and racial justice scholars.

Uncertainty about that boundary could cause teachers to avoid difficult conversations about American history, said Cheryl Harris, a UCLA Law School professor who teaches a course on critical race theory.

“For anybody who’s ever taught in a classroom, the idea is to get the conversation flowing, and you can’t do that if you’re preoccupied with which side of the line are you going to be on,” Harris said. “That is a chilling effect, and that is every bit as offensive to the First Amendment as a direct ban.”

Opponents of the North Carolina bill say it’s a solution in search of a problem. Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the bill’s promoters could not point to any school in the state where students were being indoctrinated in certain racial concepts.

That’s just one reason the bill faces an uphill climb. The press secretary for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said the governor believes instruction should be honest and accurate, and that students need to be taught to think critically.

The legislation also faces skepticism from the Republican leader of the state Senate, where it will be considered next.

“I don’t like making it illegal to teach a certain doctrine, as wrong as that doctrine may be, while saying the reason for that ban is freedom of thought,” Sen. Phil Berger said in a statement. “That strikes me as a contradiction.”

Source: State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, racism

Wells: Who should get a monument? Meet the Canadian man trying to answer the question.

Of interest and relevance given ongoing debates and discussions:

Circumstances have a way of giving meaning to seemingly odd choices. Ten years ago, Ken Lum was an important figure in the Vancouver art scene. Then, without much fanfare, he wasn’t around anymore. But when the long summer of 2020 turned into a global debate about race, memory and commemoration, it turned out Lum was in a vital, important place. In fact, he’d been getting that place ready for years.

In 2012, Lum and historian Paul Farber co-founded Monument Lab, a think tank in Philadelphia that asks what we’re trying to do when we build monuments in public places to historical figures and events.

In the United States in 2012, the political purpose of monuments was already a long-standing debate. It’s just that a lot of people hadn’t noticed. In the years that followed, as controversies over the Confederate flag and monuments to Civil War-era secessionist generals took centre stage in a succession of national controversies, it became harder to ignore the questions Monument Lab exists to raise.

“It started as a pedagogical project,” Lum says in an online interview from his home in the Philadelphia Main Line, a suburb where the 1940 Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant comedy The Philadelphia Story was set.

“I was teaching a class on observations I had made on my first visit to Philadelphia as a new Philadelphian, regarding the unevenness of the monumental inventory, if I can put that way, of the city.”

Lum had moved to Philadelphia in 2012 to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s school of design. Over the course of his first summer in the city where the Liberty Bell resides, he had a chance to see many of Philly’s most famous monuments. Ben Franklin, William Penn, Commodore John Barry, all the greats.

Except maybe not all of them? “Philadelphia had over a thousand statues and, at that time, not a single officially sanctioned full-figure African American—in a city that’s 40 per cent African American,” Lum recalls. “And also in the city where John Coltrane, Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson”—the legendary jazz saxophonist and three singers, each among the greatest American artists, all Black—“grew up or spent a lot of time. So I became very interested in who gets heeded and who doesn’t get heeded.”

In various ways, Lum has made a career of asking questions about who gets heeded and who doesn’t. If such things can be measured and quantified, Lum was one of Vancouver’s leading artists when he left for Philly. A soft-spoken man with a subtle but persistent mischievous streak, he grew up in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood and started studying art in his spare time near the end of a difficult undergraduate degree in other subjects. His early experience in art had not been encouraging. “I took art class from Grades 8 to 9 but stopped when the art teacher admonished me for making what he called ‘weird’ images,” Lum writes in the preface to Everything Is Relevant, an essay collection he published in 2020. His teacher “had very strong ideas about what art was and would criticize me harshly for not following his instructions to the letter.” Young Ken would have needed his teacher’s permission to study tenth-grade art, so he gave up.

Eventually he made a career doing the sort of thing that infuriated that middle-school art teacher. Lum’s art is, to some extent, a set of challenges to other people’s strong ideas about what art is. Uninterested in displays of technical skill, he hires tradespeople or buys commercial products to complete his works. His “furniture sculptures” are just that, arrangements of rented furniture. His best-known piece in his hometown is his 2010 Monument for East Vancouver, a neon cross in the form of an image from graffiti art that’s been scrawled on walls and underpasses in the city’s east side since before Lum was born. The A in EAST intersects with the A in VAN, as on a Scrabble board. For a decade the monument has served as a kind of gateway to the neighbourhood.

At times, Lum has seemed to be involved in the design of monuments even without meaning to. In 1990, he was invited to contribute to the opening exhibition of a new contemporary art centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art. One piece he contributed was billboard-sized, a photo of a young woman working an old-fashioned adding machine. The caption is as big as the photo and not subtle: “MELLY SHUM HATES HER JOB.” It was a wry commentary on contemporary workplaces, and its tenure in Rotterdam was meant to be temporary. The museum hung it on the street outside. When the exhibit ended, people called to complain that Melly had vanished. “Every city deserves a monument to people who hate their job,” one caller said. So the museum put Lum’s piece of art back up.

Then, quite recently, things took a surprising turn. The Witte de With Centre was named after the street it is on, which in turn was named after a 17th-century colonial Dutch naval officer who got rich ensuring the Netherlands could efficiently plunder various colonial territories. (As a grim bonus, his name translates as “Whiter Than White.”) The museum decided to change its name, and asked visitors for ideas. The winning suggestion was that it be named after Melly Shum. So since the beginning of 2021, it’s been called the Kunstinstituut Melly, or the Melly Art Institute.

While that entirely accidental process was playing out, Lum and Farber were setting up the Monument Lab. At first the organization was nothing more than a set of questions: what’s a monument? Who decides? Could it be done better? Farber is an academic historian; he wanted to write something. “I was more interested in, ‘Well, how can we make an exhibition out of it?’ ” Lum says. What would the venue be? Lum said the city of Philadelphia itself could be the venue.

In 2015, they set up an office outside city hall and asked visitors, “What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?” Eventually teams of volunteers fanned out across the city to ask the same question. Participants wrote their ideas on file cards. Eventually, more than 4,000 ideas were collected.

Eleven of the proposals were for monuments to soldiers of one kind or another. Sixty-eight proposed monuments to peace, and the word “peace” appeared in 168 proposals. Education was a topic in 173 proposals, the environment in 342. The proposals were sometimes highly specific, and suggested an idea of history at times starkly at odds with the one generations of Philadelphia city elders had promoted. Thirty-five people suggested a monument to commemorate the 1985 firebombing of MOVE, a Black separatist group. During an extended standoff, police helicopters dropped incendiary bombs onto the group’s headquarters. The resulting fire killed 11 people, including five children, and destroyed 65 houses.

To Lum and his colleagues, the desire for a MOVE commemoration suggested people wanted more than a procession of ramrod-straight soldiers in their public squares. “That suggested to us that the citizens, members of a public, which is heeded enough—they have longer memories and a greater sense of decency than the city itself, right?”

A man takes a selfie in front of Thomas’s sculpture of a 12-foot Afro pick, called All Power to All People, in view of a statue of Philadelphia’s former mayor and police commissioner Rizzo (Matt Rourke/AP/CP)

Monument Lab’s staff published the results of its inquiries as a report to the city. “The way we often talk about existing monuments and public history may severely limit our perception and reinforce the status quo,” they wrote. “We contend that it is not enough to simply say this knowledge is obscure or lost, or that it needs to be discovered or recovered by someone in the future. We must listen and take in what is already common knowledge: an expanded field of history that lives within people and places throughout the city.”

That’s one of the questions you can ask about monuments: who gets heeded, in Lum’s phrase. Another question is how. Big, realistic full-body statues sometimes make sense. There’s been one of those for Joe Frazier in Philly since 2015, an overdue real-life counterpart to the statue of Rocky, the movie boxer, that’s stood in various parts of the city since 1980. But sometimes the depiction can be more oblique or allusive. In 2017, Monument Lab invited 20 artists to build temporary new monuments around the city. Detroit artist Tyree Guyton put dozens of paintings of clocks around every side of a five-storey building: a meditation on time and its different meanings for different people.

Hank Willis Thomas, from Brooklyn, made a 12-foot Afro pick, the distinctive comb that became a symbol of Black pride in the 1970s, and stuck its tines into the ground in front of the Philadelphia municipal services building. For a time it stood within sight of a long-standing statue of Frank Rizzo, a brutal former police commissioner who was Philadelphia’s mayor through the 1970s. Running for a third term, Rizzo urged supporters to “Vote white.” In June 2020, the Rizzo statue came down; the current mayor, Jim Kenney, called his predecessor’s rule “among the worst periods” in the city’s history. Thomas’s giant Afro pick, meanwhile, is part of the permanent collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The debates that fuel Monument Lab’s work have their parallels in Canada. As a Canadian, Lum follows these debates closely. Dundas Street and Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto are named for a Scottish politician who is viewed by many historians as having delayed the end of the British slave trade. James McGill owned slaves. Egerton Ryerson helped design the residential school system. “Canadians overestimate their benign circumstances,” Lum says, “but there’s a lot of pernicious harm that’s been done.” Should statues come down? Lum isn’t categorical on the question, but whatever happens in every case, there should at least be more discussion and fewer resorts to the notion that monuments, as “history,” are eternal and inviolate.

“I think it’s a testament to a country’s fortitude and character that you can actually say something that is actually true” about the checkered past of previously lionized figures, he says. “It’s not like it’s being made up, or we’re impugning a country for its own sake, right? It’s not like these facts are somehow contrived.”

As most historians would acknowledge, history is about the present as well as the past. Perspectives change. “The whole project” of Monument Lab “is to un-fix the monument, right?” Lum says. “The authority of the monument. I think that’s really important because we tend to bestow this authority upon monuments, as something consensually derived, when in fact it’s particular to certain interests over other people. It’s a reflection of the distribution of power.”

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The Book That Should Change How Progressives Talk About Race

Helpful suggestions to reduce polarization and build more shared narratives:

When Heather McGhee was a 25-year-old staffer at Demos, the progressive think tank she would eventually lead, she went to Congress to present findings on shocking increases in individual and family debt.

“Few politicians in Washington knew what it was like to have bill collectors incessantly ringing their phones about balances that kept growing every month,” McGhee writes in her new book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

Demos’s explanatory attempts failed. When Congress finally took action in 2005, it made the problem worse, passing a bankruptcy bill that made escaping unsustainable debt harder than ever. For McGhee, the disaster was an education in the limits of research, which is often no match for the brute power of big money. But as she was walking down the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building, she learned something else.

Stopping to adjust her new shoes near the door of a Senate office, she wrote, she heard “the bombastic voice of a man going on about the deadbeats who had babies with multiple women and then declared bankruptcy to dodge the child support.” She doesn’t know whether the man was a Democrat or a Republican, but when she heard him she realized she and her allies might have missed something. They’d thought of debt and bankruptcy primarily as a class issue. Suddenly she understood that for some of her opponents, it was more about race.

She wondered how, as a Black woman, she’d been caught off guard. “I hadn’t even thought to ask the question about this seemingly nonracial financial issue, but had racism helped defeat us?” she wrote.

McGhee’s book is about the many ways racism has defeated efforts to create a more economically just America. Once the civil rights movement expanded America’s conception of “the public,” white America’s support for public goods collapsed. People of color have suffered the most from the resulting austerity, but it’s made life a lot worse for most white people, too. McGhee’s central metaphor is that of towns and cities that closed their public pools rather than share them with Black people, leaving everyone who couldn’t afford a private pool materially worse off.

One of the most fascinating things about “The Sum of Us” is how it challenges the assumptions of both white antiracism activists and progressives who just want to talk about class. McGhee argues that it’s futile to try to address decades of disinvestment in schools, infrastructure, health care and more without talking about racial resentment.

She describes research done by the Race-Class Narrative Project, a Demos initiative that grew out of her work for the book. McGhee and her colleagues, she writes, discovered that if you “try to convince anyone but the most committed progressives (disproportionately people of color) about big public solutions without addressing race, most will agree … right up until they hear the countermessage that does talk, even implicitly, about race.”

But McGhee, who leads the board of the racial justice organization Color of Change, also implicitly critiques the way parts of the left talk about white privilege. “Without the hostile intent, of course, aren’t we all talking about race relations through a prism of competition, every advantage for one group mirrored by a disadvantage for another?” she asks.

McGhee is far from an opponent of the sort of social justice culture sometimes derided as “wokeness.” But her work illuminates what’s always seemed to me to be a central contradiction in certain kinds of anti-racist consciousness-raising, which is that many people want more privilege rather than less. You have to have an oddly high opinion of white people to assume that most will react to learning about the advantages of whiteness by wanting to give it up.

“Communicators have to be aware of the mental frameworks of their audience,” McGhee told me. “And for white Americans, the zero-sum is a profound, both deeply embedded and constantly reinforced one.”

This doesn’t mean that the concept of white privilege isn’t useful; obviously it describes something real. “What privilege awareness does, at its best, is reveal the systematic unfairness, and lift the blame from the victims of a corrupt system,” McGhee said. “However, I think at this point in our discourse — also when so many white people feel deeply unprivileged — it’s more important to talk about the world we want for everyone.”

So McGhee is trying to shift the focus from how racism benefits white people to how it costs them. Why is student debt so crushing in a country that once had excellent universities that were cheap or even free? Why is American health care such a disaster? Why is our democracy being strangled by minority rule? As the first line of McGhee’s book asks, “Why can’t we have nice things?” Racism is a huge part of the answer.

McGhee describes a “solidarity dividend” gained when people are able to transcend racism. Look at what just happened in Georgia, where the billionaire Kelly Loeffler, in an attempt to keep her Senate seat, waged a nakedly racist campaign against Raphael Warnock, who ran on sending voters $2,000 stimulus checks. He still lost most white people, but won enough to prevail. He did it by appealing to idealism, but also to self-interest. In the fight for true multiracial democracy, counting on altruism will only get you so far.


Heating Up Culture Wars, France to Scour Universities for Ideas That ‘Corrupt Society’

Trying to outflank the right is never good policy, even if sometimes “good” politics:

Stepping up its attacks on social science theories that it says threaten France, the French government announced this week that it would launch an investigation into academic research that it says feeds “Islamo-leftist’’ tendencies that “corrupt society.’’

News of the investigation immediately caused a fierce backlash among university presidents and scholars, deepening fears of a crackdown on academic freedom — especially on studies of race, gender, post-colonial studies and other fields that the French government says have been imported from American universities and contribute to undermining French society.

While President Emmanuel Macron and some of his top ministers have spoken out forcefully against what they see as a destabilizing influence from American campuses in recent months, the announcement marked the first time that the government has moved to take action.

It came as France’s lower house of Parliament passed a draft lawagainst Islamism, an ideology it views as encouraging terrorist attacks, and as Mr. Macron tilts further to the right, anticipating nationalist challenges ahead of elections next year.

Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education, said in Parliament on Tuesday that the state-run National Center for Scientific Research would oversee an investigation into the “totality of research underway in our country,’’ singling out post-colonialism.

In an earlier television interview, Ms. Vidal said the investigation would focus on “Islamo-leftism’’ — a controversial term embraced by some of Mr. Macron’s leading ministers to accuse left-leaning intellectuals of justifying Islamism and even terrorism.

“Islamo-leftism corrupts all of society and universities are not impervious,’’ Ms. Vidal said, adding that some scholars were advancing “radical” and “activist” ideas. Referring also to scholars of race and gender, Ms. Vidal accused them of “always looking at everything through the prism of their will to divide, to fracture, to pinpoint the enemy.’’

France has since early last century defined itself as a secular state devoted to the ideal that all of its citizens are the same under the law, to the extent that the government keeps no statistics on ethnicity and religion.

How does technology keep up with ever-evolving language on race and identity? We asked people who write dictionaries


The Rolodex of terms that can describe identity seems to expand and change on a steady basis. So, how do dictionaries both physical and online keep up? Sometimes they don’t.

The term “BIPOC” meaning Black, Indigenous and people of colour, has become the topic of many explainers since June, when this year’s racial reckoning began after George Floyd’s death. According to the New York Times, BIPOC was first used on social media by a Toronto-based account in 2013. Yet the date stamp on Merriam-Webster’s entry for “BIPOC” is just Sept. 3, 2020, and Google has yet to generate its own dictionary landing at the top of search.

It took some time for the word “racialized” to move from academic papers to colloquial use. Even as it has become more common, it’s a toss up if it can be typed out free of a crimson spell check flag depending on the online browser or platform being used.

And according to Merriam Webster’s online time traveller tool, which shows the year words were first recorded, “genderqueer” first appeared in 1995, but when typed into the messaging app Slack, it generates a red underline.

Kory Stamper is a New Jersey-based lexicographer and author of the book “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.” Stamper said that the challenge is that many English-speaking countries have set up the dictionary as an authority on language, which is not the case.

“As a lexicographer, you’re always way behind. You’re basically behind (language), picking up the crumbs, so that you can follow where it’s heading,” she said. Dictionaries record a snapshot of language at a particular time, she adds.

Even for words that are age-old but in need of updating, it’s still a process. Stamper once had to update the definition for “god” which hadn’t been updated in 60 years when she was an associate editor at Merriam-Webster. It took her four months.

For a term like “BIPOC” to enter the dictionary, it has to come across a lexicographer’s desk, have a good amount of printed uses, and is ultimately a subjective decision of that worker and the dictionary, if it’s widely used enough to make the cut. And from there, a lot of thought consideration and research is required to make sure that the definition crafted is nuanced and does the word justice.

But just because a word hasn’t made it through this process, doesn’t mean it’s not a real word or accepted term.

“Just because a word is not in the dictionary, does not mean it is not a word,” Stamper said. “That just means that a lexicographer has not found enough evidence or the production cycle has not moved quickly enough (for it to be entered).” If two people are having a conversation, and they understand the meaning of the words they are using, they are using real words, she said.

Still Stamper thinks about what out-of-date tech and dictionaries can mean for people who aren’t native English speakers.

Once, she typed out “person of colour” and got a grammar suggestion which recommended “coloured person,” a phrase that has long gone out of fashion and leans more offensive, in North America today.

Stamper said that while she and a good amount of people are aware that “people of colour” isn’t grammatically incorrect, and is a fixed phrase, she still thinks of people who may be learning English as a foreign language and may be heavily reliant on these prompts. “Would I have enough knowledge of the nuances of the language to know?”

As for the spell check inconsistencies, Vancouver-based software engineer Dawn Chandler notes that tech companies don’t all refer to the same dictionaries or data sets to operate these tools. Nor do they publicly share exactly what those algorithms are.

There would always be a chance of a lag or bias depending on where the data is being collected from, Chandler said. “Dictionaries are written to record and reflect the language people use.” Still, she said, “they can’t capture languages in every region, in every subculture.”

Kola Tubosun is a linguist currently based in the U.K. who created an online dictionary of Yoruba names after noticing that computers often red-underlined common Yoruba names, and also disregarded tonal accents necessary to write them correctly. He advocates for Nigerian languages to be more accessible and recognized through tech. He’s noticed, for example, that in Nigeria, ATMs are usually only in English, which ends up discouraging Nigerians who only speak local dialects from using banks.

Tubosun does note that media in North America, whether publications or dictionaries, do pay attention to new words, new ways of speaking, the language, the interpretation.

One instance he’s noticed where there can be tech and dictionary gaps in English, are in cultural colloquialisms. A phrase like “see you next tomorrow” which is commonly used in Nigerian culture and means “the day after tomorrow” made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2020. But with or without the dictionary recognition, it is still a phrase with a fixed meaning.

“There are many levels in which words get adopted and accepted,” he said.

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering inequity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email:

Source: How does technology keep up with ever-evolving language on race and identity? We asked people who write dictionaries

How “Prerequisite Cases” Tried to Define Whiteness

Some interesting history:

Codified in 1790, U.S. law said being a “free white person” was a prerequisite for naturalization. But how did courts define “white” as more and more people sought citizenship?

For Black immigrants, the question was settled by the Naturalization Act of 1870, which allowed “aliens of African nativity” and “persons of African descent” to apply for citizenship. (The law also revoked the citizenship of naturalized Chinese immigrants.) The references to nativity and descent seemed to offer a working definition of who was Black. But between 1878 and 1952, there were at least fifty-two court cases in the United States that tried to define who was white.

In these “prerequisite cases,” writes scholar John Tehranian, individuals sued to be “declared white by law after being denied citizenship rights by immigration authorities on the grounds of racial ineligibility.” Precedent could whipsaw back and forth: A Syrian, for instance, was declared white in 1909; another Syrian was declared not white in 1913; still another wasn’t white in 1914; then, in 1915, a fourth was legally found to be white.

For Irish, Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Slavs, Arabs, and other nationalities and ethnicities, whiteness was a gray zone. According to Tehranian, this meant that prerequisite cases “had a profound impact on shaping the immigrant experience in the United States.” Since whiteness could lead to citizenship, and therefore rights, privileges, and political power, the stakes were high.

Tehranian explores how courts used different tests to define whiteness through the 1920s. There was a “scientific evidence” test, which proved itself to be not vey scientific. And there was the “common knowledge” test, simple “common sense”—which is never all that simple.

It was, for instance, “scientific” that Takao Ozawa couldn’t be included in the category “white persons” because he was not “Caucasian” (Ozawa v. U.S., 1922). But being Caucasian per se wasn’t necessarily enough to be white, either, as Bhagat Singh Thind discovered in 1923. Thind was an India-born Sikh who served in the U.S. Army during World War I; he claimed Aryan descent, meaning membership in the Caucasian race. The Supreme Court abandoned the supposedly scientific arguments it had used just a year earlier and ruled him ineligible for whiteness and therefore citizenship. It was common sense to a majority of justices that a “heathen” couldn’t be white.

Tehranian argues that after Ozawa and Thind, a new test for racial determination took hold. Whiteness became a matter of “white performance interpreted through the eyes of judges.” A petitioner could first “point to his own adoption of white values and his personal dramaturgy of whiteness as evidence of his appropriate racial categorization.” A second piece of evidence was “the assimilation of his ethnic group into the core Western European, Christian tradition as evidence of his whiteness.”

Armenians, for instance, were declared white in U.S. v. Cartozian (1925), based on several factors. Their Christianity became “a proxy for racial belonging.” An expert witness for the court personally knew of “ten or fifteen Armenians in Boston who had married American wives.” So worshiping in a Christian church and marrying white people were signifiers of being white.

A 1952 law finally did away with the race-based system of naturalization. Quotas put in place in the 1920s to limit immigration from non–Western European countries were abandoned in 1965. But in the late 1990s, California courts still recognized the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid groupings of humanity that had been invented in the late eighteenth century by German historians.

Race may be a social construct, but it still seems not everyone has gotten the message.


ICYMI: In the UK, white immigration is an asset – while everyone else is undesirable

Interesting commentary on immigration narratives and some of the contradictions with respect to white versus visible minority immigrants and their descendants:

A conversation that has stayed with me came after the Brexitvote in 2016, when a French friend, who is white, told me of her anxiety at the outcome. There were already signs of the mounting xenophobia against foreigners of all descriptions that was to come in the aftermath of the referendum. “It’s like people are seeing us as immigrants!” she said with disgust. “As if we don’t belong here.”

My immediate thought was, “welcome”. I’m not an immigrant but I have always been seen as one. The response to any perceived transgression I make towards a public person or policy is frequently: “If you don’t like it here, then leave.” White immigrants, and especially those from western Europe, had on the whole never before felt as if this prejudice applied to them, because “immigration” – as a contentious political issue – has never been about people coming from other countries, and it’s never been about the movement required to get here. “Immigration” has always been a byword for the problem of people who are racialised as undesirable, whether they were born here or not.

The hypocrisy is embedded in the history. I often wonder how it was that the arrival of the SS Windrushin 1948, carrying fewer than 500 West Indians specifically invited to come and work in the UK, was and remains such a symbol of profound soul searching for the national identity. That event stands in stark contrast to the more than 200,000 eastern Europeans and 100,000 Irish immigrants who came to Britain during the same period. The former is regarded as a turning point in the fabric of the nation’s identity, the latter is barely remembered at all.

But this illogicality in our narratives around immigration is not confined to the past. I have spent most of my life living in leafy southwest London, an area often described as “quintessentially English”, helped by the presence of rowing on the Thames at Putney and Hammersmith, lawn tennis at Wimbledon, botanical gardens at Kew and Henry VIII’s old hunting grounds in the deer-populated Richmond Park. These areas are still perceived as unchanged by mass immigration.

Dig a little deeper, however, and it emerges that locals call this area the “biltong belt” because of the large presence of white South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders. In fact, white immigration has had the same impact as immigration everywhere – provided skilled and unskilled labour to meet economic demand, triggering the arrival of a new wave of biltong-themed shops, and requiring planning to provide the requisite housing; school places; doctors surgery capacity. The difference is that this immigration is never weaponised as a threat to the national heritage, or as a reason for pre-existing communities to flee. This immigration has been largely unproblematic because it is white, English-speaking and less visibly “other”.

The notion of “other” is in itself deeply ironic. The history of immigration law is a history of government attempts to limit the movement of people who had not long before been British subjects as imperial citizens. As Rab Butler, former home secretary, said about the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962, these were laws whose “restrictive effect is intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively”.

Today’s governments are more subtle in their language. The word “coloured” disappeared from the letter of our legislation but retains its power in effect. Immigration lawyers frequently remark, after visits to immigration detention centres, how few white immigrants can be found there – these are warehousing facilities for the still undesirable African, Asian, South American and other non-white people. In my work, I have interviewed many who were arrested in dawn raids while in the process of lawfully regularising their immigration status.

The most blatant examples of contemporary racism – the Windrush scandal for example – have exposed a historical continuity that infects the entire immigration system. The “root cause” of the scandal, Wendy Williams, inspector of constabulary, found, can be traced back to the “racial motivations” of immigration laws at their most racialised birth.

The sooner we acknowledge that legacy, and dispense with the fantasy that immigration has nothing to do with race, the sooner we will be able to consign this ongoing, abhorrent injustice to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Source: In the UK, white immigration is an asset – while everyone else is undesirable

Do COVID-19 Racial Disparities Matter? Opinion versus evidence

The wilful blindness of dissociating race with socioeconomic factors.

Opinion, rather than any hard analysis, compared to more evidence-based work by the CDC CDC Hospital Data Point To Racial Disparity In COVID-19 Cases and the Associated Press Outcry Over Racial Data Grows as Virus Slams Black Americans:

There is now a racial justice angle on the coronavirus pandemic. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of Antiracist Research at American University, led the charge in the Atlantic a week ago, calling for data on COVID-19 deaths broken down by race. Nikole Hannah-Jones (whose work Wilfred Reilly mentioned in this space back in February) followed up with a Twitter thread documenting the disparate impact the virus has had on black Americans. Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top immunologist, hit a similar theme in a recent press conference. To sum up the argument: Black people make up roughly 14 percent of the American population, but far more than 14 percent of Americans killed thus far by COVID-19.

According to one view, this racial disparity amounts to evidence of systemic racism. But the argument rests on the false presumption that, in the absence of racism, we would see equal health outcomes by race. The data suggest otherwise.

In fact, blacks are more likely than whites to die of many diseases—not just this one. In other cases, the reverse is true. According to CDC mortality data, whites are more likely than blacks to die of chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver disease, and eight different types of cancer. The same thinking that attributes the racial disparity in COVID-19 deaths to systemic racism against blacks could be applied equally to argue the existence of systemic racism against whites.

In some cases, there are obvious biological reasons for racial disparities in disease. Melanin content alone might explain the racial disparity in skin cancer, for example. But in other cases, the source of the disparity is mysterious. Why are whites more likely to die of Alzheimer’s? We don’t know. What’s important is that disparities between groups are not abnormal and are not, by themselves, a sign of any deeper societal malady.

A softer version of the above-described argument would concede that racial disparities in COVID-19 don’t prove anything by themselves—but would point to the various risk factors that nevertheless make black Americans more susceptible to COVID-19. Blacks are more likely to work in the service sector, for instance, which means they have more opportunities to contract the virus. Moreover, blacks are more likely to suffer from diabetes, asthma, obesity, and hypertension, all of which make the virus more deadly. Moreover, black Americans are less likely to have access to high-quality health care, and are more likely to live in areas that are served by over-burdened hospitals and emergency-response services.

But if we are going to discuss underlying risk factors, we should discuss them directly rather than immediately using race as a proxy. Focusing on age makes sense, because it has been obvious since early on that the elderly face a far higher COVID-19 case fatality rate. Focusing on people with pre-existing medical risk factors makes sense for the same reason. But absent some hitherto undiscovered genetic factor, focusing on race makes about as much sense as focusing on, say, religion. If anyone bothers to look, there will probably be disparities between Catholics and Protestants. Yet no one will feel the need to mention these at a press conference, and our public health efforts will not suffer as a result.

The fact is that our culture is obsessed with race. Part of this stems from a sincere desire to help the less fortunate, who are disproportionately black. But much of it stems from a deeply felt shame over the sins of history—slavery, Jim Crow, and all that followed. As a result, anything vaguely resembling a concern for black suffering is applauded—and no further questions are asked.

The House Democrats’ proposed coronavirus relief bill included a provision requiring that federal government agencies use as many minority-owned banks as possible, and another provision requiring corporations to maintain staff and budgets dedicated to “diversity and inclusion” for at least five years as a condition of receiving emergency funds. It is hard to see how either policy helps the less fortunate, much less why such non-urgent provisions are appropriate to include in a disaster relief bill.

On the sillier end of the coronavirus race obsession, CNN ran a story about black Americans who won’t wear masks because they fear being mistaken for criminals and killed by the police. A tweet from one black educator—“I want to stay alive, but I also want to stay alive”—received 124,000 likes.

Though the CNN article suggested that the fear was valid, it did not give even one example of a black person actually being harassed in this way, much less killed. Last year, 41 unarmed Americans were shot and killed by the police—nine of them black. Meanwhile, the coronavirus has been killing over 1,000 Americans per day. There is simply no comparison. Given how high the stakes are, the media should be disabusing people of life-threatening racial paranoia, not catering to it.

There are many lessons to take away from this pandemic, but the importance of race is not one of them. Italy, Spain, and France—all heavily white countries—have been among those hardest hit by the pandemic. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who possesses as much race and class privilege as anyone on Earth, has been hospitalized as a result of the virus. If there is a lesson to take away from COVID-19, it’s not that your racial identity matters, it is that ultimately all of humanity shares a common fate.

Source: Do COVID-19 Racial Disparities Matter?