The whiteness of thinking of higher education as a business

The case of Professor Gibney at MCTC in Minneapolis illustrates what happens to the teaching of mainstream research on racial oppression when colleges and universities frame their purpose with a business model:

“A white student may feel discomfort when it’s pointed out to him how he has benefited from structural racism, but to compare that discomfort to discrimination is a false equivalency. Hurt feelings hurt, but it is not oppression. But hurt feelings can be bad for business. And a lot of powerful people think colleges should act more like businesses. When they do, students act more like customers. And our likely customers might not be amicable to discussions about structural racism. If the customer is always right, then the majority share of customers is more right than the minority.”

Read more here.

How do the blind experience race?

In this piece on NPR’s Code Switch, Kat Chow discusses the forthcoming book by Hastings College of Law professor Osagie Obasogie, Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race in the Eyes of the Blind.  Inspired by Ray Charles’s experience of race, as depicted in the biopic Ray, Professor Obasogiebegan interviewing blray charles-fotoind people to get a clearer understanding of how the blind experience race.

The results, I think, are not terribly surprising.  Professor Obasogie notes that since the blind are socialized into the same racially structured social milieu that the sighted are, they internalize race in much the same way.  Only, for the blind, this means drawing on proxies for skin color and needing to make inferences about race from other clues.  (Which the sighted also must do in situations where skin color is ambiguous.)

Nonetheless, this looks like a fascinating study and one that will add a new dimension to the discourse on race and the operations of racial oppression.



Identifying racial oppression in schools

A new article by Brian Willoughby in the Fall 2013 issue of Teaching Tolerance provides suggestions for examining the ways that your school maintains the system of racial oppression.

Drawing on the work of Mica Pollock, he suggests asking the following questions:

  • Am I seeing, understanding and addressing the ways the world treats me and my students as members of racial groups?
  • Am I seeing, understanding and addressing communities and individuals in their full complexity?
  • Am I seeing, understanding and addressing the ways opportunities to learn or thrive are unequally distributed to racial groups?
  • What actions offer necessary opportunities to students in such a world?

It’s important, he reminds us, not to jump to conclusions without sufficient evidence.  So he urges taking the following actions when feelings or accusations of discrimination arise:

  • Look at the issue from all angles.
  • Gather as much data as you can.
  • Sit down and have meaningful conversations without being accusatory.

Read the rest of the article here.

On How Unconscious, Habitual, Behavior Maintains Systems of Oppression and Privilege

One of the most important things to know about racial oppression is how it is sustained in everyday practices.  Structures of advantage and disadvantage of all types, including those based on racialized identities, are maintained in our everyday, largely unconscious, actions.  Social psychologists have developed the concept of implicit bias that explains how this occurs.  Here is Rinku Sen, President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center, discusses how implicit bias frames the Zimmerman verdict:

The verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial caused in me the kind of existential crisis that my optimistic nature is usually able to fend off. In these weeks I have come to understand just how much light exists between the basic assumptions of the racial justice movement and those of most white Americans. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in the week after the verdict revealed a huge gap between black and white attitudes. Just 30 percent of white respondents said they were dissatisfied with the verdict, compared to 86 percent of blacks. The key strategic question for a racial justice movement is whether to focus on growing that 30 percent, or simply to out organize the rest. To figure out an answer, we need to delve into the complicated relationship between explicit racism, unconscious bias, policymaking and culture.

Our legal frameworks are based on punishing explicit racism. Yet the not-explicit kind, what is known among social psychologists as “implicit bias,” also undergirds the punishing policies that make young black men so vulnerable to deadly forms of discrimination. That reality creates a challenge, because it’s much easier to condemn obvious racism than the kind that expresses itself in, say, Juror B37’s statement that Zimmerman could credibly assume Trayvon Martin was “trying to do something bad in the neighborhood.” Implicit bias is the reason why.

In the best-selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman describes the brain as having two parts, which he calls Systems 1 and 2. System 1 is lightning fast, intuitive and overconfident. It makes many, many judgements, often based on false assumptions. System 1 selectively pulls facts and images to justify those judgements, totally unaware that it is doing so. System 2, however, is slow, methodical, and much less confident, and it only kicks under real pressure.

System 1 is willing to give George Zimmerman’s snap judgements about Trayvon the benefit of the doubt. To make your System 2 kick in and ask, for example, “Do I really need to clutch my bag/call the police/pull out my gun because a black man is walking toward me?” requires a decision, a desire to push System 1 aside. The good news of the Pew poll is it suggests that at least 30 percent of the nation’s white people have moved beyond their System 1s and engaged their System 2s. Several hundred of them are represented in the Tumblr We Are Not Trayvon.

What happens in System 1 with regard to race is called implicit bias, which Maya Wiley, president of the Center for Social Inclusion, did a great job of explaining on “Up with Steve Kornacki.” Implicit bias is the way that social psychologists refer to the phenomenon by which we are unaware of our prejudices. Our judgments about people don’t qualify as prejudices because our brains are happy enough to have a coherent story about “those people.” They’re happy to linger in System 1. Social psychologists at Harvard University, University of Virginia and University of Washington created the implicit bias test online to enable people to see their biases at work in a series of rapid-fire judgments driven by images of white and black people.

Read her full essay at Rinku Sen: The Racist Mind – COLORLINES.