Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Race Counts

As readers of this blog will know from some recent posts, the spring following a decade year is a great time for geographers, as a variety of stories begin to emerge as geographers, other social scientists, and journalists begin to study new data from the census. The timing has been perfect for the geographic analysis class I am teaching this year, in which students use state-level data to practice some basic mapping, graphing, and presentation skills.

In the context of discussing some of the emerging stories Monday, my students asked some very cogent questions about race in the census -- both how it gets defined and why it is a subject of inquiry in the first place. Today, Morning Edition included a segment about race in the census from an Hispanic perspective, in which the very same questions were raised, and some interesting answers posed. I am not quite ready to agree with those who say race no longer exists, but I do agree that -- at a minimum -- its status as an arbitrary and shifting designation reduces its analytic power.

Still, a number of the stories being published this season do reflect geographic processes that cannot be completely disregarded. The sampling I presented to my students include a story about the Hispanic population in the U.S. reaching 50 million,  the increase of the rural Hispanic population of North Carolina. Closer to home is a Boston Globe article about growing minority populations in Massachusetts. Of course, the always-problematic term "minority" is now becoming absolutely nonsensical in many instances, often replaced by the oxymoron "majority-minority."

Even more interesting to me has been an On Point radio episode about a general reversal in patterns of African-American migration, as many descendants of people who moved north in the Great Migration close to a century ago are now moving south, often to suburban areas. The guests and callers tell an evolving and complex story of demographic change and how it plays out at the personal level. About 15 years ago, I wrote an article about the original "great migration" for a history encyclopedia. A later edition is still available in some academic databases.

Hayes-Bohanan, James. "Great Northern Migration." Great Events from History: The Twentieth Century, 1901-1940. Ed. Robert F. Gorman. 6 vols. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2007. 

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