Tag Archives: black women

Black is not a color

When I saw this magazine cover, I did a double-take:

At a glance I didn’t think that was Black Hair. Seems like a good time to bring up the old schoolyard debate point: Black is not a color.

In many quarters, such as the those administered under the rules of the Chicago Manual of Style, black is a color, which means it’s not capitalized:

8.39 Color. Common designations of ethnic groups by color are usually lowercased unless a particular publisher or author prefers otherwise… (black people; blacks; people of color; white people; whites)

That rule, from the 16th edition, is progress from the 15th, which said “capitalization may be appropriate if the writer strongly prefers it” (8.43, emphasis added). Under that older provision in 1996, the journal Signs required that I add a footnote in my first journal publication, which read, “I … capitalize Black to signify its reference to a people rather than a color or a ‘race.'”*

Most media do not capitalize Black or White. The Associated Press Stylebook reads:

black Acceptable for a person of the black race. African-American is acceptable for an American black person of African descent. (Use Negro only in names of organizations or in quotations.) Do not use colored as a synonym.

So, for example:

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a crime watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012. The death of the unarmed black teenager and the decision of the local police not to bring charges against the volunteer, George Zimmerman, 28, set off a national outcry…

Sociology journals are inconsistent. For example, the American Sociological Review goes both ways (e.g., this 2010 presidential address used uncapitalized black, while our 2007 article’s capitalization sailed through without objection). On the other hand, some sociology journals follow the more progressive APA Style, in which Black is capitalized (as is White).

In the wider American world – at least as measured by Google Books ngrams – the uncapitalized version is leading by about 3-to-1.

(Black by itself wouldn’t work, so I added “people.” The pattern is the same if you use “community” instead.)

The Census Bureau capitalizes, as in this report on the 2010 Census:

“Black or African American” refers to a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicated their race(s) as “Black, African Am., or Negro” or reported entries such as African American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian.

That usage differs from the Office of Management and Budget directive, from which that language is drawn: “…any of the black racial groups of Africa,” without capitalization. That Census practice of capitalizing seems to have started between 1990 and 1995. (Others, like the Department of Education, have their own rules, which specify that racial designations should be capitalized.)

Finally, African American is not going to get us out of this. It is not appropriate when the subject really is race rather than ethnicity. I feel for this poor research subject in a Census cognitive interview:

She is an immigrant to the US from Africa. However, roughly six generations ago her ancestors were from India. She lived in an Indian community in Africa prior to immigrating to the United States. She answered “no” to … “Black or African American” because she was from an African country, but of Indian origin. She answered “yes” to the Asian question and “yes” to Asian Indian. She also reported ‘some other race’ by saying “African, not African American, African from Africa, Asian African.”

Anyway, Black and White are racial terms. They are a social construction and not a biological classification. We use them socially. Whether or not that’s OK, I think it’s better to capitalize them at least.

*Update: I just noticed this footnote by Catharine MacKinnon, who was also asked by Signs (University of Chicago Press) to justify capitalizing Black for her 1982 articlewhich I assigned in my stratification seminar. She wrote:

I have rendered “marxism” in lower case and “Black” in upper case and have been asked by the publisher to explain these choices. … Black is conventionally (I am told) regarded as a color rather than a racial or national designation, hence is not usually capitalized. I do not regard Black as merely a color of skin pigmentation, but as a heritage, an experience, a cultural and personal identity, the meaning of which becomes specifically stigmatic and/or glorious and/or ordinary under specific social conditions. It is as much socially created as, and at least in the American context no less specifically meaningful or definitive than, any linguistic, tribal, or religious ethnicity, all of which are conventionally recognized by capitalization.

I guess I should have cited her note for my article.

P.S. If your organization or publication has its own way – or I’ve misrepresented a practice you know better than I do – please let us know.

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A little shecovery

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research dates the start of the jobs shecovery to October 2010, but it wasn’t till the last quarter of 2011 that women’s job growth equaled men’s. They have a nice figure in their latest report:

This updates my mancession/hecovery series, which last appeared here.

Using the population survey numbers (not the payroll numbers IWPR uses), I’ve also updated my series on Black-White women’s trends:

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Recent reads: Brazil, China, blogging and the Black middle class

In the last few days I tweeted a handful of really interesting articles that might be of interest to Family Inequality readers:

In the Washington PostPlummeting birthrates in Brazil

The Washington Post reports on Brazil’s fall from more than 6 to less then 2 children per woman in the past 50 years:

It’s a good case study for fertility transitions, featuring a combination of common economic and cultural suspects in accelerated sequence.

In the NY TimesPeggy Orenstein on the ideal of gender-free toys

Rather then seek a gender-free ideal, she argues, consider how children’s environments exacerbate or mitigate the differences between them:

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.

In SlateMara Hvistendahl on C-sections in China

The tradition of natural childbirth was continued by the training of nurses and midwives during the early years of Chinese socialism. Now, the one-child policy combines with the medicalization of childbirth – and the attendant profit motive – to tip the scales toward C-sections. She writes:

For modern expectant women, by contrast, the combination of the one-child policy and feverish economic development has yielded an environment in which they—and the in-laws and husbands who have so much riding on a single birth—fear any potential misstep.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education: Andrea Doucet on scholar-bloggers

As an established scholar who has taken to blogging, she confronts the difference between slow-and-deep versus fast-and-thin, how it affects her reading as well as her writing, and her self image as a scholar. She is “convinced that blogging can and should be part of scholarly life,” but it comes with risks:

At its best, a blog post can move and inspire in what seems like the blink of an eye. The combination of brevity, focused vision, and engaging language creates a storytelling style that could make a scholar green with envy. But blogs also generally call for a form of reading that verges on consumption.

On CNN.com: Kris Marsh on the Black middle class

Kris – a friend and colleague – argues that the Black middle class is being transformed by the growing presence of single adults without children, the “Love Jones Cohort.” Taking this group seriously undermines the narrative of the “failure” of marriage in Black America.

I propose we embrace the reality of a changing black middle class and start taking a serious look at how the Love Jones Cohort is changing the face of black America, changing how we think about middle class, and changing our understanding of being black in America.

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Employment unequal

The news each month is usually on unemployment rates, weekly filings of new claims, layoffs and new hiring. And the Pew report on widening race/ethnic wealth gaps was eye-opening. But you can take the measure of the recession overall maybe best with the employment rates — how many people have jobs? By that measure, the news is flat-to-down without letup. The Black-White discrepancy in the trends is increasing.

Here is the employment trend for White and Black women, showing that Black women had higher employment rates before the recession, but they’ve fallen more than twice as much as White women’s (a drop of 5.7% versus 2.4% as of June):

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

For men, the gap is bigger and the lines further apart, so I added a ratio line to help show the gap. Black men’s rate has fallen 5.6%, compared with 3.8% for White men:

The Christian Science Monitor has an article reviewing some of the factors that contribute to the unemployment gap for men, including education, incarceration and discrimination. And the Center for American Progress has more detail in this report, which argues that declines in manufacturing and public employment are increasing the Black-White gaps especially in this recession.

What the broader statistics don’t show as well is the tenuousness of the jobs Black workers have compared to Whites generally – working for weaker firms, in more segregated jobs, as a result of a racialized sorting process, which put them at higher risk of job loss in a recession (even without discrimination in firing decisions, which there is, too).

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Birthweight and infant mortality inequality

Birthweight drives the Black-White gap.

Here’s a look at birthweight patterns and their effects on the difference in infant mortality rates between Black and White children.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control, based on 2007 data, shows the distribution of birthweights and mortality outcomes by the race/ethnicity of mothers. Here is a story in three figures.

1. The infant mortality rate gap is large

In the figures below I focus on White (non-Hispanic), Black (non-Hispanic), and Hispanic. Since White and Hispanic infants have such similar rates, the issue I’m most concerned with is the Black-White gap.

2. Infant mortality rates are drastically affected by birthweight. But at each birthweight the race/ethnic gap is small.

The Black mortality rates are higher among the high-birthweight infants, but there are very few deaths out there (note the log scale, which is necessary to even see those gaps).

3. Black mothers are much more likely to have very-lowbirthweight infants.

Again, because of the log scale, you can see the gaps clearly even though there are very few births at the very low end. Still, 1.8% of Black women’s infants are born below 1,000 grams, where a large portion of infants don’t survive.

So what explains the higher infant mortality rates among Black women’s infants? The overwhelming issue is birthweight. If they had the same mortality rates at each birthweight, I calculate, the gap would close by 10%. But if they had the same birthweight distributions, the gap would close by 88%.

In previous posts, I reported that women who experienced childhood hardships are more likely to have low-birthweight babies. And I described the weathering hypothesis, which suggests delaying first births only improves outcomes for infants if their mothers’ health is not already deteriorating in their 20s, as it more often is with Black women. With this evidence, it is clear that the major problem driving the infant-mortality gap is not care of newborn infants itself, but rather the long-term health of Black women.

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Gloria and her money, analyticized

This isn’t going to help with America’s statistical deficits.

Gloria is the name of a character who appears in some ads for Well Fargo financial advising services. I’m guessing she’s a little shy of 66 years old — partly because of the nature of her family situation, and also because the last spike in popularity for the name Gloria was in 1945, when it reached #23 among American girls born.

Anyway, she’s standing on her deck overlooking the beach. She’s thinking of a pie chart in which expenses (son’s medical school; trip to Paris), time (with grandson; volunteering), and lifelong goals (run a marathon) somehow add up to 100% of the pie.

That image is part of a dynamic montage. But if you poke around the website you can find a flyer version of Gloria’s story. For some reason her mental pie chart has changed now, with an additional pie slice added for “remodel kitchen.” Naturally, the rest of the slices are smaller now.

The copy makes no mention of her family situation, but speaks only of “getting you to your dreams.” Is she single? Black women do have lower marriage rates than average, but more than 80% of Black women in her generation have been married. And she has a son who’s going to medical school, apparently one of her dreams.

The story becomes more clear (even though the picture isn’t) after checking Gloria’s appearance in my print edition of the New Yorker. Now she’s dropped the kitchen remodel from her dreams and added “care for parents.”

But what of a husband? In the New Yorker copy we finally read: “Between paying for her son’s medical school, working, and volunteering, Gloria has a lot going on in her life. But she knows someday it will be just her and her husband, James. With the help of their Financial Advisor, they are preparing for all the things they want to do.”

Now it’s just strange that her husband — who will someday be all there is in her pie chart — is not reflected in her minds-eye chart at all. It’s especially odd given that her life just got more complicated — with not only a grandson she spends time with and a son she supports, but also parents she cares for. (She no longer needs to run a marathon to impress me!)

This is either a very sophisticated kind of marketing — in which different marks in different contexts are fed highly specialized images and narratives — or it’s just a sloppy and random packaging of stereotypical assumptions.

Is this an odd juxtaposition of selfless dreams (volunteer, grandson, care for parents) and self-centered aims (travel, remodel) — or just a well-balanced retirement?

Regardless, it represents the sad degradation of our numeracy, where things are just randomly turned into charts, generating a vague sense of precision for no substantial reason, just tipping us a little further toward noise, away from signal.

Here’s another example, from that busy section of front matter in the New York Times magazine, in which the size of the circles may represent the number of times each story has been blogged. But what does the overlap in the circles represent? Nothing. It’s just there to justify labeling the figure “analytics.” The image provides no more information than a five-item bullet list.

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Quick update: Black-White women’s employment gap

The new employment realities.

Nancy Folbre’s good new post on the Super Sad True Jobs Story reminded me that I haven’t updated the Black-White women’s employment gap graph since last fall.

As you may recall, before the recession Black women had higher employment rates than White women. Since the summer of 2009 that’s been reversed, and has stayed that way for almost two years. Here’s the graph (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics):

I can’t face the prospect of making up terms to match Mancession and Hecovery for this race pattern. But you get the idea.

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