Monday, August 18, 2008

'those mulattoes sure are tragic'


Good lord. (via Racialicious, where I cribbed the title of this post - and you can read the original paper here.)

There is something to be said against reading half-assed academic crap in the morning before your coffee. Not only will you get gas, you will also want to take out your copy of Freakonomics and burn it at your desk in protest.

This paper might very well be a paragon of statistical analysis but, from a racial justice POV, this is what I find problematic about it:

The question - 'What's it like to grow up with one white parent and one black?' First, what value system is underlying this question? What impact will answering this question have if not to make us multiracial/biracial folks even more Other, or to pathologize interracial marriage or parents? And why this concentration on just black/white when biracial identity is so much more varied and complex? If we take their conclusions, on average, life for biracial kids pretty much sucks. How nice we're good to look at.

The sample of self-identifying biracial kids - extremely small. And then the overall study was 'informed' by conversations with a small focus group of 9 self-identifying biracial undergrads. Wha-huh?? And no one in this group said that this shit was problematic? That seems weird to me.

The survey - part of the big problem I have is with the negative behaviors that are coded 'black' and 'white.' Apparently, bad black kids are 'at risk' for sex and violence and white kids are 'at risk' for drinking and smoking. Mixed kids, the study concludes, take on both bad black and white behaviors. Nice way to codify some really problematic sterotypes and pass this off as value neutrality.

Numbers aren't without some kind of ideological underpinning. At one point the paper asserts 'For example, fighting is one aspect of behavior more associated with blacks than whites.' Really? By whom? School administrators? Is it more associated with blacks or is it that school fighting is punished more when the participants are black?

(see here for sources on race, equity and school discipline - as well as here and here.)

The conclusions - what's really interesting and frustrating is that the researchers try to overlay some kind of social or economic theory over their findings (1. black/white kids live in similar, fatherless homes like the average black kid, 2. black/white kids are middling academics, 3. but they sure are cute, and 4. they act out both black and white at risk behaviors) but end up saying "it is not obvious what type of economic model can reconcile the patterns in the data, particularly their especially bad behavior."

And the big red flag for me: Any study that links the social construct of race to 'bad' behavior, which negatively impacts people of color.

So economic theory can't provide any cover so where do they go to next? Here:
If we had to pick an explanation that best fits the facts, it would be the old sociology model of mixed-race individuals as the “marginal man”: not part of either racial group and therefore torn by inner conflict.


It sounds to me like some folks took a weekend to watch Imitation of Life and got all inspired.

I have a problem with the fact that the best theory they can come up with is something from 1928, not really a time known for solid, rigorous racial theory. And I have a problem that the basis for this bogus marginal man theory is the 'tragic mulatto' - hysterical, self-hating, sexually promiscuous (or easily compromised because they're just so desperate for affection), prone to criminality, alcoholism, and suicide.

Basically the Tragic Mulatto is fucked up - think Mariah Carey pre-Mimi or read Clotel and try not to gag - and that's what this paper is saying, ultimately. Roland Fryer, who I'm assuming is the primary author, may be an unapologetic voice on racial inequity who just follows where the data leads but his data goes to a place I would have thought we left behind.

2 comments:

No Nonsense said...

Ok so I followed the links to read the story. I know I have seen that paper before somewhere.... Anyhoo girl you can not read this hogwash.... it's nothing but tripe. And can only leave any reader agitated

ding said...

I also saw it on a problematic white supremacy site. Nice.

True, it's hogwash but has the potential to influence policy, and attitudes, WRT mixed kids in schools. As a way to predict expectations, it can't have been better structured. I mean, now that the worst stereotypes of children of color have been confirmed with this paper, how are school administrators and teachers going react to/treat their biracial or multiracial students?

Every type of behavior that is out of the norm is now tagged as a Race-based dysfunction.