Tag Archives: science

From Science Class To School-to-Prison? Criminalizing Black Girls

By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published at Feminist Wire

kiera wilmotHigh stakes test question: a female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explode in a classroom, causing no damage and no injuries.  Who gets to be the adventurous teenage genius scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall? If you’re a white girl, check Box A; if you’re an intellectually curious black girl with good grades, check Box B.

When 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested and expelled from Bartow High School in Florida for a science experiment gone awry, it exemplified a long American-as-apple pie tradition of criminalizing black girls.  In many American classrooms black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages, shoved into special education classes, disproportionately suspended and expelled–then warehoused in opportunity schools, juvenile jails, and adult prisons.  Yet, while national discourse on the connection between school discipline and mass incarceration typically focuses on black males, black girls are suspended more than boys of every other ethnicity (except black males).  At a Georgia elementary school in 2012, a six-year-old African American girl was handcuffed by the police after throwing a tantrum in the principal’s office.[i]  Handcuffing disruptive black elementary school students is not uncommon.  It is perhaps the most extreme example of black children’s initiation into what has been characterized as the school-to-prison pipeline, or, more accurately, the cradle-to-grave pipeline.  Stereotypes about dysfunctional violent black children ensure that the myth of white children’s relative innocence is preserved.

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Science and Faith in the Black Community

by Guest Contributor Hemant Mehta, originally published at Friendly Athiest

Howard University recently hosted a panel of atheists to discuss the topic of “Science and Faith in the Black Community” — certainly a topic that needs far more attention that it has received in the past.

The event was sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and the panelists included Richard Dawkins, Anthony Pinn, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Todd Stiefel. Mark Hatcher, the president of the Secular Students at Howard University, was the moderator:

Professor Anthony Pinn, Religious Studies at Rice University: “This is an ideal time and this event is an important opportunity to stress the importance for African Americans to critically engage the world and, through reasonable means, assess the issues impinging upon quality of life for African Americans across the country.”

Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, noted author and activist: ”The Black Church’s policing of the bodies and destinies of black women and the lives of black gays and lesbians represents a bankrupt ‘morality’ which is just as pernicious as that of the Religious Right…if being black and being Christian are synonymous, then being black, female and religious (whatever the denomination) is practically compulsory. Insofar as atheism and humanism provide an implicit rejection of both black patriarchy and ‘authentic’ blackness, those who would dare to come out of the closet as atheists are potential race traitors.”

I only had a chance to watch the beginning, but I can’t wait to sit down and see the entire thing.

In the meantime, any thoughts on what they discuss in the video? Any parts we should watch in particular? (Please leave a timestamp if that’s the case!)

(Thanks to Claudia and Mab for the link!)

White People Swim, and Black People Run? Race, Science, and Athletics

by Latoya Peterson

phelps swimSo I am up at five, again, but this time for a good cause. The Takeaway (NYC) is hosting a show on a new study that is causing tongues to wag:

Biomechanical researchers analysed 100 years of athletes’ heights, weights and running and swimming records, and demonstrated how the placement of one’s center of gravity affects one’s athletic performance. No big deal, right? People got jumpy, however, when the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics published the paper: “The Evolution of Speed in Athletics: Why the Fastest Runners are Black and Swimmers are White.”

We talk with two of the scientists behind the study: Dr. Adrian Bejan of Duke University and Edward Jones, of Howard University, about why their team embarked on this project, the science enlisted in their research, and the specifics of the study’s outcomes.

We also talk with Latoya Peterson of Racialicious.com about why these sorts of studies make so many people squeamish, and whether, in a post-racial society, it makes sense to conduct studies on groups of people based on shared physical characteristics. What’s your take? Are race-based studies inherently racist?

The show is live at 6 AM ET – or, you can listen to the podcast and comment here a bit later in the day.

Update:

Just finished the show, and, as usual, the supertight constraints of radio mean a lot was left unsaid. Continue reading

Science of Oppression I: A Basic Understanding of Variables

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils


This is the first segment in – what should be – a regular series on this site. Part of my answer to the questions I raised in my “Elitism or Anti-Intellectualism” post, I hope to start making current research and discoveries about how humans work more accessible (and digestible) to folks fighting oppression outside of academia. My goal is to create an “online toolkit” of sorts – one full of scientific resources, references, etc. – built specifically for anti-oppression advocates. Those with the power to oppress often use (faulty) “science” to justify further oppression, and I want to do my part to give the rest of us the means to competently push back.

The first few posts in this series will not really focus on any current research, but instead touch on a few key concepts that are necessary to understand before moving forward.

This first is about how variables work, specifically in the context of oppression. Let’s just get to it.

Definitions:
So, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here – a “variable” is one, single, isolated factor of an overall system that has an effect on the system as a whole. Now, a “system” could be anything from a computer network to Oppression (*1) to a specific question about Oppression (ie. “why do black kids tend to sit together at lunch?”) – anywhere different pieces, doing different things, come together to make something bigger than those individual pieces.

How they work:
Okay. For any given system, there are a million little variables. Some of them bigger than others. For example, when we’re talking about our group of black kids at lunch, variables that could come into play are: race, age, gender, if the kids know each other, who their family is, the time of day, what’s for lunch that day, who the kids’ classmates are, the weather, the academic subject they studied right before lunch, class, what the kids are wearing, number of parents at home, their favorite color, the color of the lunchroom walls, etc.

Get the picture? Our first mistake when playing with systems – especially in answering big questions – is to choose one variable to focus on and dismissing the rest in our deeper analysis. Usually, we choose the variable that is most personal to us, or the most triggering, or that plays on our fears. We tunnel-vision in on just that one thing and create all sorts of – seemingly – logical arguments to go along with it. Continue reading

Did Darwin Have a Different Motivation For Creating the Theory of Evolution?

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Elton sent in an intriguing article from The UK’s Telegraph. The headline says it all:

    Charles Darwin’s research to prove evolution was motivated by his desire to end slavery.

The piece explains:

Science historians Adrian Desmond and James Moore have compiled compelling new evidence which reveals Darwin was passionately opposed to slavery and this was the moral impetus behind his work.

Private notes and letters uncovered by the pair reveal that Darwin’s opinions on slavery were far stronger than had previously been believed.

Notebooks from his five year voyage on HMS Beagle, during which Darwin first began to form his famous theories on natural selection, detail his revulsion at the slavery he witnessed in South America.

The historians have also discovered letters written by Darwin’s sisters, cousins and aunts that reveal the family as highly active abolitionists. Darwin’s grandfather and uncles were also key members of the anti-slavery movement.

The pair claim in a new book that Darwin partly chose to highlight the common descent of man from apes to show that all races were equal, as a rebuttal to those who insisted black people were a different, and inferior, species from those with white skin.

When Elton sent in the link, he noted:

    A big theory of mine is that the whole “intelligent design”/natural selection debate is deeply rooted in the struggle between those who would seek to extend the white Christian hegemony and those who would seek to dismantle it through science. Unfortunately, the media always portrays it as some dense philosophical debate, without any implications for social power structures.

Thoughts?

The elephant in the living room

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

In its current issue, Greater Good magazine ponders “Are we born racist?” and in the article “Look Twice,” Susan T. Fiske, Ph.D., Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, offers some bad news and good news:

Most people think they’re less biased than average. But just as we can’t all be better than average, we can’t all be less prejudiced than average. Although the message—and the success so far—of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign suggests an America that is moving past traditional racial divisions and prejudices, it’s probably safe to assume that all of us harbor more biases than we think.

Science suggests that most of us don’t even know the half of it. A 20-year eruption of research from the field of “social neuroscience” reveals exactly how automatically and unconsciously prejudice operates. As members of a society with egalitarian ideals, most Americans have good intentions. But new research suggests our brains and our impulses all too often betray us. That’s the bad news.

But here’s the good news: More recent research shows that our prejudices are not inevitable; they are actually quite malleable, shaped by an ever-changing mix of cultural beliefs and social circumstances. While we may be hardwired to harbor prejudices against those who seem different or unfamiliar to us, it’s possible to override our worst impulses and reduce these prejudices. Doing so requires more than just good intentions; it requires broad social efforts to challenge stereotypes and get people to work together across group lines. But a vital first step is learning about the biological and psychological roots of prejudice.

Modern prejudice

Here’s the first thing to understand: Modern prejudice is not your grandparents’ prejudice.

Old-fashioned racism and sexism were known quantities because people would mostly say what they thought. Blacks were lazy; Jews were sly; women were either dumb or bitchy. Modern equivalents continue, of course—look at current portrayals of Mexican immigrants as criminals (when, in fact, crime rates in Latino neighborhoods are lower than those of other ethnic groups at comparable socioeconomic levels). Most estimates suggest such blatant and wrongheaded bigotry persists among only 10 percent of citizens in modern democracies. Blatant bias does spawn hate crimes, but these are fortunately rare (though not rare enough). At the very least, we can identify the barefaced bigots.

Our own prejudice—and our children’s and grandchildren’s prejudice, if we don’t address it—takes a more subtle, unexamined form. Neuroscience has shown that people can identify another person’s apparent race, gender, and age in a matter of milliseconds. In this blink of an eye, a complex network of stereotypes, emotional prejudices, and behavioral impulses activates. These knee-jerk reactions do not require conscious bigotry, though they are worsened by it.

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New study: biracial asian-americans are more likely to be sad

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

biracial star trek 1

Do you remember last last week’s Freakonomics study that claimed biracial black/white kids were liable to be twice as messed up as kids who were monoracially black or white?Apart from the racist generalisations of that study, some of our readers (including myself) were peeved at the insinuation that the only kind of biraciality that exists is the black/white kind. But good news everybody: there’s now a study for Asian/white biracials too!

Biracial Asian-Americans are twice as likely as monoracial Asian-Americans to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder, U.S. researchers said.

At first glance, this study seems to be treading the same problematic lines as the Freakonomics study. Like, call us crazy (haha!), but us biracial Asian Americans don’t like being told by a researchers that we’re twice as likely to be bananas as our monoracial Asian friends and relatives.

But take a closer look:

Among the biracial individuals in their national survey the researchers found 34 percent had been diagnosed with a psychological disorder — such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse — compared to 17 percent of monoracial individuals.

Considering that many biracial folk from a wee age have to put up with a lot of nonsense from families, both communities of colour AND white folk, and just society in general, it doesn’t surprise me if researchers find we experience higher levels of unhappiness.

If you ask me, there are two problems with the way this study has been described. One has to do with the way we talk about mental health, and the other has to do with confusing nature with nurture.

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White Men Can’t Jump, or Run, Some Say

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

Dancing. Singing. Running.

These are just a few of the areas in which blacks are supposed to excel. With the Olympics in session, interest in blacks’ so-called prowess in the last of the trio above has been renewed.

Slate.com is a case in point. In the site’s “Explainer” section, the following question was posed: Why are Jamaicans So Good at Sprinting?

Slate answered the question by citing studies that found that West Africans tend to have higher numbers of muscle fibers responsible for “short, explosive bursts of action” than whites do—an advantage in running competitions. It also included this nugget of information:

“So far, there is no evidence that even extensive training can turn slow-twitch muscles into fast-twitch ones, though moving in the other direction is possible.”

In short, white folks don’t stand a chance against those of West African descent in track and field events. Even if they work hard, they can’t develop the innate skills that blacks have in the sport. Continue reading