Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Black," "African American," and the need for Disaggregation

@hystericalblkns, one of the engaging thinkers I follow on twitter, recently reminded me to consider some of the blurry lines  and differences associated with 'black' and 'African American.'  I had posted a link from the WIA Report, which expresses interest in "traking the progress of women in the academia," showing stats about the "Racial Breakdown of Full-Time Women Faculty in the U.S."

@hystericalblkns retweeted the link, but then also noted that the "figures need disaggregation. Black not necessarily African American, Asian not the same as Asian American."

Good point.

Institutions and organizations that display statistics often treat Black and African American or Asian and Asian American as synonymous when the differences between black people and black people and Asian people and Asian people actually matter.

The "Racial breakdown" article from the WIA Report noted that "African American" women make up 6.9% of full-time faculty members, while white women make up 75.5% of full-time faculty members. The graph for the report refers to "black" women as opposed to "African American" women. 

That might be a key discrepancy. Could the "black" refer to women from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the U.S., for instance? If so, then the percentage of African American or U.S. black women could be much lower than 6.9%, right? 

My own university tends to count black people from the U.S., the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa as one and the same. Doing so likely overlooks various important and subtle differences among groups of black peoples. For some reason or another, conversations about the methods of identifying, counting, and representing black peoples at the university have not addressed some of the varied implications.  

This coming year, I'll see what our program can do to bring a little more attention to these kinds of issues as we progress with our regular programming. Maybe, in my conversations with colleagues and students, I'll borrow wording from @hystericalblknsand and note that the "figures need disaggregation."

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