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Racial Discrepancies Topic of Panel Discussion

Race and Reconciliation panelPersistent racial discrepancies in matters of breast cancer treatment, imprisonment and eviction, all of which hinder black and Hispanic communities from playing a full part in modern American life, were scrutinized Oct. 23 during a 90-minute presentation at Creighton University’s Hixson-Lied Science Building.

Sponsored by the University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, a panel discussion titled “Research From All Angles: Race and Reconciliation in America,” featured four Creighton academics whose studies embrace the impact of race on life in the United States.

LaShaune Johnson, PhD, a sociologist/anthropologist and associate professor in the Graduate School and the University's community liaison at North Omaha's Highlander housing development, said fatalities from breast cancer remain 40% higher for black women than for white women. The reasons for this, she said, while numerous and often related to racial discrimination, are also related to living in minority areas that lack health care services and healthy food sources. Illness, in turn, spawns financial and economic stress, she said.

“If they see around them that their friends and their peers or families have lost their homes because of medical bills, they may be less likely to even start the process,” she said. “They say, ‘I work with this woman, and she seemed to be doing OK and she got cancer and her family was devastated, I don't want to do that to my own family.’”

To such financial considerations, Rebecca Murray, PhD, added the stress of disproportionate incarceration and death penalty rates for black Americans, which she said are further expressions of a racial hostility that has marked American history since the era of slavery. She said racial hostility continued through the era of Jim Crow, through “red-lining” policies that long excluded racial minorities from adequate housing, and through such modern policies as the “War on Drugs” and “Zero-Tolerance Policing,” which Murray said have spawned incarceration rates devastating to minority communities.

“For 250 years, a quarter of a millennium, the United States legally sanctioned enslaving persons,” said Murray, associate dean and associate professor of cultural and social studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I emphasize that because I think it’s really important to note that for that long of a period of time, we legally sanctioned enslaving individuals.

“The Jim Crow era, by and large, ended in 1954 [and] it was really at that time where we turn to the criminal justice system as our primary mechanism of social control and to limit the freedom of movement, power and liberty of people of color,” she said.

Eviction, like imprisonment, can be a life-altering event, said Pierce Greenberg, PhD, assistant professor of cultural and social studies, and, like, breast cancer and incarceration, follows racial lines.

“Majority black neighborhoods in Douglas County (Nebraska) account for only 4.4% of the population but 15.4% of evictions,” he said. “So quite a large disparity.”

Greenberg said almost 40,000 evictions were legally ordered in Douglas County during the past eight years, a figure he said probably understates the problem since many evictions occur without resort to the courts.

Eviction, Greenberg said, constitutes not only a bar to future housing, since landlords are reluctant to accept someone with a record of eviction, but also constitutes a health problem since evictees are often forced into low-standard housing.

And, he said, such domestic disruptions can damage children as they pursue education. For example, he said, Liberty Elementary School near 20th and Leavenworth streets, experiences approximately 30 eviction filings per year for every 100 students, while Saddlebrook Elementary School near 144th and Fort streets in prosperous west Omaha, experiences only two evictions per 100 students.

“We talk about the mark of a criminal record and how that excludes you from certain things,” Greenberg said. “The mark of an eviction, in some cases, is just as important and leaves people in a very precarious position.”

Also presenting was Tyler Dunn, anatomy lab director in the School of Medicine, who gave an overall presentation on the concept of race. Race is hard to define, Dunn said, given that modern anthropology recognizes more distinctions within bodies of human populations than between them.

Nevertheless, he said, anthropology can contribute to the discussion of race issues by studying genetic data, identifying ancestral origins and understanding the causes of migration in an effort to help mitigate suffering associated with migrating populations.

Audio of the full presentation, along with Powerpoint slides, is available here.

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