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Brown hosts ‘Race & Inequality in America’

First event of this year’s series focuses on the intersections between race and class across institutions within the United States

<p>The panel included Professor of Sociology Prudence L. Carter, Professor of Sociology Jose Itzigsohn and Assistant Professor Jennifer Nazareno.</p>

The panel included Professor of Sociology Prudence L. Carter, Professor of Sociology Jose Itzigsohn and Assistant Professor Jennifer Nazareno.

The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America partnered with the Office of the Provost to host the first event of the year of the University’s “Race & in America” series Tuesday, a webinar titled “Race & Inequality in America.” The series invites University experts to examine the effects of anti-Black racism within the United States. 

The webinar featured talks from three Brown faculty members: Professor of Sociology Jose Itzigsohn, Sarah and Joseph Jr. Dowling Professor of Sociology Prudence Carter and Assistant Professor of Behavioral & Social Sciences and the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Jennifer Nazareno.

Provost Richard Locke P’18 introduced the event, while Tricia Rose, the director of the CSREA and professor of Africana Studies, moderated. 

In his opening remarks, Locke said that this series was important since “there is no more pressing issue right now (than) addressing systemic racism in the United States.”

The first iteration of the “Race & in America” series last year began with the “Race & Slavery” webinar Sept. 9, 2020. Last year’s series garnered 3,000 attendees over eight events, and this year’s series hopes to expand on “the roots and effects of racism in the U.S. and to explore the arts more fully,” according to its website. 

In the first talk, “The Radicalized Class System: Racial Capitalism and the Intersections of Class and Race,” Itzigsohn presented research on the intersections of class and race through the lens of occupation.

According to Itzigsohn, this approach allows researchers to distinguish between different sectors within the working class, such as service and manufacturing. He added that this helped them see the diversity of class distribution within groups such as Asian-Americans. 

Understanding the links between race and class, he added, is “important for contemporary politics.”

One of the theories he cited was racial capitalism, a system in which social and economic values are derived from the racial identities of other people, according to the Harvard Law Review.

“Racial inequality has ways of reconstituting itself in different forms,” Itzigsohn said. His research aims to understand how racial inequality changes over time and in different places.

After Itzigsohn, Carter gave a talk on racial inequalities within education. 

“Education is one of the most impactful social institutions,” Carter said. Yet systems of education within the United States reproduce racial class systems in both K-12 and higher education, she added. She presented data from Sean Reardon, professor of poverty and educational inequality at Stanford University, who analyzed 40 million test scores from students across every school district in the United States. Reardon found that not a single predominantly poor or economically disadvantaged communities had test scores above the national average. Districts that fell above the national test average were more affluent.

“In this country, there is an inextricable link between race and ethnicity and socio-economic background,” she said, adding that “we live in a society where achievement gaps are driven by opportunity gaps.” 

The pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities, as economically disadvantaged students may not have had access to the same resources as did their more affluent peers, Carter said. This includes access to technology, online resources and support within the household. 

Carter referenced her book, “Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance,” in which she and her colleague Kevin Welner focused on the causes of inequality within the American public school system. 

She attributed racial and class inequalities within education to multiple factors, including opportunity hoarding, or when privileged groups control and withhold access to community resources. 

Carter also emphasized the importance of teaching anti-racism in schools. She said that while research has shown that ethnic studies increase academic engagement in the long run, lawmakers have pushed back on implementing social justice and anti-racism within school curricula. 

Nazareno spoke last and discussed Filipino-American women in entrepreneurship and within the medical field. 

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She began by discussing how immigrants represent 30% of the United States’ entrepreneurs, yet make up only 13% of the population. In addition, 45% of immigrant entrepreneurs are women.

Nazareno’s research specializes in the study of Filipino-American women and immigrant women who she said are “often invisible when we think about entrepreneurship.” 

Nazareno pointed out that Filipino-American women in particular have built businesses in healthcare and long-term care services since the 1970s. Because of this, she argued that these women’s businesses have continued to serve as part of today’s “de facto mental health facilities” in California. 

These businesses also tended to take care of vulnerable populations, including those on Medicaid, she said. 

Nazareno also discussed the role of immigrant Filipino women nurses in both healthcare and long-term care systems, adding that one of 20 registered nurses are Filipino in the U.S. The presence of these nurses, she argued, is a product of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines.

Still, she noted that while Filipino nurses make up a large portion of the healthcare system, their sacrifices are often not highlighted. She said that they have been on the frontlines of the SARS outbreak and the AIDS and Ebola epidemics, but their service has not been brought to light until the COVID-19 pandemic, when Filipino nurses accounted for about 25% of COVID-19 deaths among nurses as of June 2021. 

Carter said that laws against teaching inequality in curriculum have passed in states with low-unionization within education. Itzigsohn added that he believes educational reform will occur when there is unionization of low-income workers.

To mitigate the effects of opportunity gaps, Itzigsohn argued that the political discourse around inequality should be shifted and families should be given the resources and tools to lessen the gaps. 

Nazareno said that histories of marginalized communities should be taught in schools, as she did not learn about the history of Filipino women in school.

“When we have this historical amnesia … you’re not taught to think more critically,” she said. 

Regarding the pandemic’s impact on institutional inequality, Itzigsoh said that the pandemic has “exacerbated the tensions of capitalism” in which low-income workers do not want to do jobs in which they are undervalued and which they get little out of.

Carter added that workers no longer want to risk their lives for exploitive labor and cited a social media post she recently saw which advertised a server position in which the salary was $2.13 an hour plus tips. 

Nazareno said that we should ask if we are “paying (workers) like they’re essential,” citing the “essential workers” who continued to work through COVID-19 lockdowns.

“They are definitely undervalued, and now they are essential,” she said.



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