Monday, July 02, 2007

An accidental correlation with race

In class last week, we watched a film about the Weather Underground, and I had the students write an essay about it in which they had to speculate whether or not something like that could happen today (that being the student left & violent war protests of the 60s).

About 2/3 the students said "no" because college students today are too self-centered and lazy & because with the war on terror, the government would crack down on such movements really fast.

About 1/3 said "yes" citing issues of poverty and the on-going war in Iraq.

The students only put their campus id on the essays, so I don't know whose essays I'm reading at the time. However, when I was done, I looked up who said "yes", and it turns out that very few of the white students said "yes" but almost all the African-American students said yes.

So, with this very small sample, there was a clear difference by race in the belief in the possibility of such widespread protests.

I can think of some reason as to why, but nothing very profound, so I thought that I would ask you. Thoughts?


Tom Volscho said...

The Weather Underground video mostly portrays the revolutionary actions of European Americans, if I remember correctly.

The African American students probably have a stronger connection to anti-systemic social movements because they have relatives who participated in the Civil Rights movement and African Americans are still involved heavily in union organizing and community organizing.

Also, African Americans are more heavily concentrated in the working class than European Americans. So if class position produces consciousness (ala Marx), then African Americans are more class conscious (you can look it up in Erik Olin Wright's 1997 book, they in fact are) and hence are more likely to see the value (necessity?) of anti-systemic movements for producing change.

Your European American students are partially correct about police-state military repression. There has been, as you may know from the criminology literature, a proliferation of military-style techniques, technologies, and personnel infused into domestic police outfits. The first SWAT teams really came out of the late 1960s "urban disorders" and then became institutionalized as a means of "crowd control" or to carry out military style commando raids on "crack houses". It is not uncommon for Delta Force to give weekend training sessions to domestic police. Also you see more and more police carrying (gulp, European made) semi-automatic Glock pistols instead of revolvers in the last several decades. Some cops will only carry hollow-tip bullets.

Nonetheless, on Mayday the L.A. police were quick to use "non-lethal" weapons on a peaceful demonstration held by immigrants.

So I do not think the correlation you found is incorrect. For the European American students who already have, they might not see much value in social movements because they have all they need. For the African American students they probably have relatives (if not themselves) who have experienced poverty and know that downward mobility is a possibility, they are well aware of its value.

Scott Kemp said...

I was planning to say something like: Probably the black students thought about it a little more deeply than did the white students.

But when I read his comment, I realized that Tom Volsho wrote pretty much what I was thinking. Only he was significantly more cogent and lucid than I am.

Brad Wright said...

Tom, well put and nice analysis. Thank you!

You're right about the weathermen all being white; in fact, according to the film, the Black Panthers explicitly distanced themselves from the Weathermen.

BTW, for any reading this comment, Tom is one of our grad students here at UConn, and he has already published several nice peer-reviewed journal articles.

Michael Kruse said...

Your post made me wonder how many of these students can remember the divided response to the O. J. Simpson verdict. We still live in more different worlds than most Whites are aware of.

Ben said...

Thanks for posting this, and for the thoughtful comment from Tom above. I can't come up with anything profound to quickly say at the moment, and I don't know anything about the weather underground, but it made me think of Divided by Faith (Emerson & Smith)among many other memories.

marc said...

I agree with Tom in this analysis too, so no need for further comment -- except to ask the question: Why say "European American?" I like Scott's jump to simply White and Black people.