Stanford experts address race issues at Pitt lecture

By Andrew Shull

A diverse crowd of about 100 people filled Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems… A diverse crowd of about 100 people filled Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems conference room at noon on Wednesday to hear two Stanford professors give a lecture on the ways society commonly addresses race.

“Race isn’t a thing, it’s something we do,” professors Hazel Markus and Paula Moya said repeatedly during the lecture, emphasising the role that attitude and education play in race relations.

Markus and Moya, who collaborated to edit the book “Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century,” spoke about eight different conversations about race they identified as perpetuating racial stereotypes in pop culture and mass media. Their talk was part of a larger lecture series sponsored by the Center on Race and Social Problems and was sponsored by the law firm Reed Smith.

“We have these lectures so we can provide a forum to discuss race in a dispassionate way,” said Ralph Bangs, associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems. He said that Markus and Moya were brought in because they are experts on the topic of race relations, which is one of the areas of focus for the Center on Race and Social Problems.

Markus and Moya said that they strive to bring a more scientific approach to discussing race.

“We are talking about empirical, observational phenomenon,” Moya said.

The first assumption about race they confronted was the notion that we live in a post-racial society.

“It isn’t an opinion that this is not the case, it’s a fact,” Markus said. “It’s OK to think of a post-racial society as an ideal, but it is important to distinguish an ideal we have about society from the reality.”

Markus is a social psychologist and Moya is an English professor. Together, they used evidence gathered from a variety of disciplines to highlight how these conversations were divorced from fact and can often contribute to strained race relations, despite their appearance.

They said that this multidisciplinary approach comes from a mutual respect the two professors had for each other, and it presented more opportunities than challenges.

Markus praised the way the humanities looks at images and representation in media and how these shape an individual’s thought process. He said it is important to ground these subjective phenomenon in hard statistics.

“These conversations often float above facts,” Moya said.

Markus and Moya said that the most compelling evidence they have seen that society is not post-racial is the disparity in graduation rates between whites and minorities at schools with “high stakes” testing. They said that about 50 percent of black and Latino students graduate from these high schools, which includes most public schools.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports similar statistics. A recent study, which analyzed graduation rates for 2007, found that 53.7 percent of black students graduate from high school in four years. Hispanic students had a graduation rate of 55.5 percent, while white students had a graduation rate of 76.6 percent.

“High school graduation determines who gets into college, and as we all know that is an indicator of how much money you will make,” Moya said. The other piece of evidence they pointed to was the disparity in incarceration rates between whites and minorities.

“Whites and blacks use drugs at the same rates,” Markus said. “But who is getting arrested most for these crimes?”

The spirit of the open forum was embodied when Rosanna Weaver, a Pitt graduate student in the School of Social Work, discussed persistent problems in race relations before the lecture. Weaver was speaking about the causes of segregation in today’s society when a retired community member, Roland Saunders, jumped in.

“Race has been part of the landscape in this country since day one,” Saunders said. He asserted that economic disparity between races could be traced all the way back to the Three-Fifths Compromise and before.

Weaver and Saunders both emphatically agreed that economics and the long tradition of racial animosity were the driving forces behind racism today.

Other topics discussed during the lecture included the following: “Racial diversity is killing us,” “That’s just identity politics,” “Race is in our DNA,” “Everybody is a little bit racist,” “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” “Variety is the spice of life” and “I’m blank and I’m proud.”

Markus and Moya said these conversations all contribute to racial profiling and stereotyping.

Markus and Moya chose accept the invitation to come to Pitt because they are members of a multidisciplinary center at Stanford, The Center for the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, which is similar to the Center on Race and Social Problems.

“Centers like this are the wave of the future,” Markus said.