WASHINGTON – Americans may think the country is on the path to finding a solution to racial and ethnic inequality,but a University of California Irvine scholar says that we are approaching the issue in the wrong way.
“We just aren't getting it in terms of how we study race,” said Dr. Lisa Garcia Bedolla,an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and the Chicano/Latino Studies Program. “As a woman of color,I feel that I am either in the race box or the gender box but never in my own box.”
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held a discussion on race and ethnicity Tuesday. It featured Garcia Bedolla's ongoing research about the role that inequality plays in the structure and function of American society.
Garcia Bedolla said scholars should research more about how life experiences have affected the person classified in a particular group. “We ask if they are black,but we don't know what being black means to them,” Garcia Bedolla said.
She explained that the stereotypes that society gives to certain groups limit progress in this field of study. “The problem is not race,but the negative attributions attached to certain groups,” she said.
Garcia Bedolla is attempting to change the way scholars look at demographic characteristics. She has examined a wide range of published studies about race,gender,class and sexual inequality and the field research done by other scholars. Her research is theoretical and a work in progress.
Garcia Bedolla said that her paper uses her research “as a starting point to look at questions of inequality and group membership,with the goal of developing a more nuanced,and ideally,more accurate approach to the study of inequality in American society.”
The discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center is part of a series that identifies promising young scholars and pairs them with two senior scholars in their field who give them feedback.
“While there are now more scholars doing research in their field,a lot of their work isn't given a lot of respect in academia,” said Philippa Strum,the center's U.S. studies director.
“What Lisa Garcia Bedolla is trying to do is say these are the things we should be looking at,not just at one factor that says race,gender or ethnicity,but at the totality of that experience as it is affected by the fact that people do fit into more than one box,” Strum added.
Rodney E. Hero,professor of American democracy at the University of Notre Dame,one of the senior scholars paired with Garcia Bedolla,noted that her research “raises as many questions as it does answers.”
Hero explained that people are resistant to beliefs about inequality to begin with and that the issue of inequality may be so complex that scholars should investigate one dimension at a time.
But Nina Roberts, an education and outreach specialist at the National Park Service who attended the presentation,praised Garcia Bedolla's work,saying that people do need to understand multiple dimensions. “We don't know enough about the intersection of the different variables,” she said.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education,the Supreme Court decision that ordered schools to desegregate,and the scholars at Tuesday's session were mindful of the connection.
“At the very least,we could do a much better job of describing and analyzing the structure and effect of inequality in the United States than we are currently,” Garcia Bedolla said. “My hope is that this framework could be an initial,small step toward a larger goal.”