Teaching Racial/Ethnic Disparities
It has been my experience that students are frequently taught about racial/ethnic disparities in small doses. Because of the pervasiveness of colorblind ideologies and misperceptions of the impact of programs such as affirmative action on the majority group, many students are resistant to evidence of stable and increasing disparities between European Americans and racial/ethnic minority groups. Being well-prepared and comprehensive in teaching about disparities is critical. Recent educational resources have been better conceptualized and are more transferable to the classroom. Several major areas of racial/ethnic disparities include income and wealth, education, health, and criminal justice.
Allen Eason, Former American Ethnic Studies Faculty, Kansas State University.
United for a Fair Economy is an excellent resource for teaching about disparities in income and wealth. Their workshop materials are especially transferable to the classroom. You do have to register on the site to access the materials but it is well worth it. I use materials from Bankers, Brokers, Bubbles & Bailouts, the Growing Divide, and Closing the Racial Wealth Dividein teaching about economic disparities. I like to use materials fromSold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America to talk about how politics influences economic disparities. I have also found good materials from the Working Group on Extreme Inequality website. All of these sites provide concrete statistics and provide many figures and charts in pdf format that are easily transferable to a teaching powerpoint.
I am strategic in teaching about racial/ethnic disparities. With economic disparities, I begin by teaching increasing disparities between the economic quintiles over time. I use information about decreases in the living wage and increases in the number of hours worked per week to talk about the fallibility of the American Dream and Protestant Work Ethic ideologies. I attempt to show that the majority of students in my class are being negatively affected by the economic policies of the past 50 years and demonstrate the advantages afforded to big business. I talk about the more than 5.1 billion dollars invested in campaign contributions and lobbying investments from 1998-2008. I use our current situation to show just how dramatic the differences can be in what happens to Wall Street and Main Street.
The next step consists of learning about the differences between income and wealth and how asset accumulation affects disparities. Then I present a good amount of data displaying the growth of racial/ethnic economic disparities. Again, United for a Fair Economy makes my job easy. Many students will resist the essential message of the data and say that the disparities are a result of the past and getting better. I reemphasize that racial/ethnic disparities are getting worse over time rather than better with more data. I have found comparisons of family median net worth to be especially powerful. I usually conclude teaching about economic disparities by having the students engage in discussion with one another to avoid a power struggle.
The film, Unnatural Causes (2008), is a great resource for teaching about health disparities and how inequality makes us sick. The six volume set includes: In Sickness and In Wealth, When the Bough Breaks, Becoming American, Bad Sugar, Place Matters, Collateral Damage, and Not Just a Paycheck. The first volume addresses how distribution of power, wealth and resources affect opportunities for health across racial/ethnic groups. The next four volumes address specific health disparities for African Americans, Latino/a Americans, American Indians, and Asian Americans, respectively. The sixth and seventh volumes address the impacts of globalization upon health and international disparities in health outcomes. More detailed descriptions for each chapter of the volumes can be found at the Scene Guide. Discussion guides, interactivities, and a previewing quiz are provided on the interactive website along with other materials.
I begin by using the previewing quiz to help students understand how little or how much they know about health outcomes and inequality. I have several students discuss one of the quiz items for which they were surprised by the answer. Immediately prior to viewing In Sickness and In Wealth, I ask students to think how and why the US spends half of all the health care dollars in the world and ranks 29th in the world for life expectancy. This volume is especially well done and combines personal stories scientific data. Examples include detailed mapping of life expectancy and other health outcomes across counties in major cities, information about how demands versus control on the job affect health, and an impressive study of how lower social position affects health with monkeys and humans. The film concludes by placing US health disparities within a global perspective. Following the film, I ask to students to talk about the scenes which impacted them. Afterwards, I use the YOYO interactivity to examine how the US compares to other countries for life expectancy at birth, gross domestic product, annual health expenditure, children living in poverty, smoking rates, infant mortality, and income inequality. We then discuss how this data further illustrates the sharp divisions in health outcomes that exist in our country.