“Politically Neutral” Methods and “Backing Into” Race

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Tackling a science that believes it is objective and politically neutral because it also believes it is colour-blind is extremely difficult. How might colour- blindness work in settings where, because it is assumed to be present, race is by definition absent, or at least of lesser importance? Here I found Duster’s rendition of the two strategies used within science to navigate with race while trying to navigate around race not only intriguing, but also providing an entre into how a logic of colour-blindness works in science. In the first strategy, the ‘back into’ strategy, race is assumed to be absent until the researcher ‘finds’ it by happenstance. In Duster’s words:

A significant wing of the Biological Sciences has found an unusual and effective way around the problem of confronting the matter of ‘race as a biological category’. The strategy is to NOT deal with race in a full-scale case-control design, but to ‘back into’ a clinical study that was never designed to test whether race plays any role, only to discover ex post facto that the race of the clinical population, however defined, played a role in drug efficacy. (Duster 2015: 12)

How convenient – not setting out to ‘find’ race, it turns out that race was there all along in the ways that racial populations responded to drugs. With the ‘back into’ strategy, the researcher can claim the high moral ground that he or she has clean hands regarding racism because the study was ostensibly colour- blind.

From Patricia Hill Collins (2015), “Science, critical race theory and colour-blindness,” British Journal of Sociology, 66:1, 48.

Citing Troy Duster (2015),“A Post-genomic Surprise: The Molecular Reinscription of Race in Science, Law and Medicine,” British Journal of Sociology, 66:1, 1–27.
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“Politically Neutral” Methods and “Backing Into” Race

Moving Forward from Racial Disparities Methods, II

[C]ontemporary research on race and state policy choice has tended to draw on classic arguments about group percentages without paying close attention to their conditional claims regarding group relations and positions. A key task, then, is to complement this approach with theories that are general in scope, focus explicitly on racial relations and positions, and conceptualize race as a constructed system of social classification.

From Soss, J., & Bruch, S.K. (2008, August). Marginalization Matters: Rethinking Race in the Analysis of State Politics and Policy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA.

Moving Forward from Racial Disparities Methods, II

Moving Forward from Racial Disparities Methods

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One way to avoid this analytic impasse is to return to the more basic task of theorizing race itself. Having built an important body of findings based on composition measures, perhaps it is time to reflect on what different theoretical traditions can tell us and how they might move the field forward. In this paper, we do so by returning to the core questions of how race should be conceptualized and how race relations should matter for policy design and implementation. Drawing on constructivist theories, we suggest that greater attention should be paid to the organized field of race relations and the ways that racial groups are positioned vis-à-vis one another and dominant societal institutions.

From Soss, J., & Bruch, S.K. (2008, August). Marginalization Matters: Rethinking Race in the Analysis of State Politics and Policy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA.

Moving Forward from Racial Disparities Methods

Failures of Racial Disparities Methods

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Racial-percentage measures have achieved something akin to a taken-for-granted status. They are expected elements of a well-specified model of policy choice, and are often treated as a sufficient basis for capturing racial effects. Racial percentage measures are easy to obtain and, having been used many times before, offer advantages of comparability and replication across studies. Thus, a researcher who sets out to “include race” in a study of policy variation seems well-advised to reach for the tried and true measure of racial-group composition.

There is a significant risk in this dynamic for a field that is producing important insights into policy dynamics and racial politics. As researchers follow well-worn grooves, the traditional relationship between theorizing and measure selection can be turned on its head. Rather than digging into theoretical texts (or theorizing anew) to identify appropriate measures, researchers may simply adopt the prevailing measures and rely on conventional theoretical frames to interpret results. Finding that the minority percentage has a significant effect, the researcher may turn to a ready stock of narratives, one of which is sure to fit the observed relationship. As the minority percent rises, perhaps whites experience greater threat and respond with policies that are less beneficent and more focused on control; or perhaps positive interracial contact becomes more likely and whites respond with policies that are more beneficent and less focused on control; or perhaps white responses become less decisive as minority numbers pass some threshold needed for meaningful minority representation and policy influence.

From Soss, J., & Bruch, S.K. (2008, August). Marginalization Matters: Rethinking Race in the Analysis of State Politics and Policy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA.

Failures of Racial Disparities Methods

Beginnings of Racial Disparities Methods

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As an official matter of public policy, de jure discrimination is illegal and discredited. Yet the black-white divide continues to underwrite disparities in policy domains as diverse as education (Orfield and Lee 2007), housing (Fischer 2003), criminal justice (Western 2006), welfare provision (Soss, Fording, and Schram 2008), healthcare (Barr 2008), transportation (Bullard, Torres, and Johnson 2004), and environmental protection (Cutter 1995).

Against this backdrop, social scientists have returned to the study of race, politics, and public policy in large numbers. A major strand of this literature has explored how race may help explain differences in policy choice and implementation across state and local jurisdictions. Racial effects have emerged as a standard hypothesis in this literature and, in the process, have become closely linked to a specific operational measure: the relative frequency of racial minorities in policy-relevant populations. Diverse policy outcomes are analyzed, in this approach, via multivariate models that capture the impact of race by including the minority percent of a jurisdiction’s residential population, policy target group, or public officials.

From Soss, J., & Bruch, S.K. (2008, August). Marginalization Matters: Rethinking Race in the Analysis of State Politics and Policy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA.

Beginnings of Racial Disparities Methods