racial disparities

When I told people I was working on this special, one hour show about race, a lot of the reactions were along the lines of “race…hmm….interesting.” Like, man, I’m glad I don’t have your job. That’s cause the topic of race is fraught; people hear it and they run for their hills.

One place where parents and teachers are talking about race in the classroom is Birmingham, MI. Birmingham is pretty much as white a city as they come, with a median household income around $100,000. Espresso bars and high end restaurants and shops line the streets downtown, and there’s a four star hotel where out of town celebrities stay whenever they visit metro Detroit.

From the looks of it, Birmingham has it all. But dig a little deeper, and Birmingham has a problem.

Gap #1: Achievement

Jason Clinkscale is the principal at Berkshire Middle School in Birmingham. He says when it comes to student performance on standardized tests, "the achievement gap is alive and well" in his district.

We're not talking about some 5 or 10 point difference here. The achievement gap in the Birmingham district translates to a nearly 30 point difference in proficiency in math at the middle school level between white and black students. By the time those students reach 11th grade, the math gap is more than 50 points wide.

Clinkscale is an African American with two daughters of his own. He uses words like "sobering" and "frustrating" to describe the achievement gap. And the gap isn’t just on paper. You can see it play out from classroom to classroom: minorities are over-represented in lower level classes and underrepresented in honors and advanced classes.

The wealth gap was bad before the recession, but now it's even worse. A new study by the Urban Institute shows that, on average, non-Hispanic white families "were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy." Experts say the continued and growing wealth gap will make it that much harder for future generations of American minorities to advance and prosper. A disturbing thought when you consider the country is moving closer and closer to a majority minority.

user woodleywonderworks / Flickr

I'm currently working on an hour-long radio special about race and culture, which is heavy stuff to be sure. I've interviewed students, parents, community workers, and experts to get their thoughts on race and what it means to be born Black or White or Latino or American Indian. Statistically speaking, race is predictive of a number of things, and it tends to correlate with relatively bad outcomes.

Here's a short list:

Michigan Department of Education

Race. We're going to be talking a lot about race and racial disparities over the coming months. I, for one, am working on an hour-long special about race and culture...so it's been on my mind a lot.

What does it mean to be born black in Michigan? Latino? Native American? Those are the questions we're grappling with here at State of Opportunity.

Sometimes I think there should be a State of Opportunity book club. We read tons of books as part of our research here at State of Opportunity, and any number of them could spark great discussions. The book I'm reading now, Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here, is no exception. It is, in a word, intense.

We had several comments on my story this week about the disturbing disparity in infant mortality rates between African-Americans and whites in Michigan. A number of the comments took issue with the the claim that racism could be "a major cause" of the disparity.