DMV Assignment 1: Exploring institutionalized racism: Race and perception of law enforcement and opportunity for achievement between Blacks and Whites during the beginning of the #BlackLivesMatter movement

(A general note: I’m taking this course mostly for the opportunity learn SAS for data analysis. That said, my intent is to keep up with the course assignments, though likely with a lower level of rigor than desired by the instructors. While the topic I’ve chosen is of personal interest, and has some bearing on my professional work in higher education, it’s not within my main professional focus. Therefore, I will be cutting corners on conducting a full and proper lit review and may take the liberty of similar shortcuts in later assignments.)

Of the five data sources made available through the course, I’ve chosen to use the Outlook on Life Surveys data. Conducted in 2012 – in the midst of the recent spike in attention and interest by mainstream media in systemic/institutionalized racism prompted by the creation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement – the Outlook Surveys consist of responses to two internet surveys fielded between August and December 2012. The first survey yielded 2,294 responses (a 55.3% response rate) from a nationally representative panel of US adults (aged 18 and older) divided into four groups: African American/Black males, African American/Black females, White/other race males, and White/other race females. The survey sample contained a large oversample of African American/Black respondents. Panel members (and therefore members of the included sample) were randomly recruited using random-digit dialing and address-based sampling methodologies and households, where necessary, were provided with access to the internet and hardware to do so. The second wave of the survey consisted of interviews with 1,601 of the respondents from the first wave (a 75.1% response rate).

I’m most interested in exploring the relationships between race, social class, respondents perception of opportunity for success, and relations with law enforcement. Given a variety of evidence supporting a pattern of systemic racism (link is to a PDF) in the United States, specifically manifesting in police interactions with African Americans/Blacks, and the increased attention by mainstream media drawn to incidents of unequal response by police to incidents involving African Americans/Blacks starting with the death of Trayvon Martin, I expect to find that relations with law enforcement for African Americans/Blacks will be significantly more negative than for their white counterparts, and that, in particular, African American/Black males will report more negative relations than African American/Black females. I also expect to find interactions that may mitigate or exacerbate relations with law enforcement related to social class. Specifically, I expect that respondents who are both African American/Black and of lower social class will also report more negative relations with law enforcement. Further, given that systemic racism is not limited to interactions with law enforcement, but rather embedded and ingrained in our culture more broadly, I expect to find that African American/Black respondents also expressed lower expectations about their opportunities for success.

There are a number of items included in the Outlook Surveys that relate to the variables I am most interested in. By way of example, an indicator of social class could be created by combining responses to questions on personal income sources, access to cable television and the internet,  reliance on social services, highest level of education received, and/or home ownership status. Similarly, perception of opportunities for success could include respondent’s beliefs regarding their personal current and/or expected progress toward achieving the American dream, their expectations of success for their children or their children’s children, and/or beliefs about the relative equality of opportunity for Blacks and Whites. Relations with law enforcement are (fortunately) covered with only a small number of questions on the survey, though this simplicity may ultimately result in too broad a brush to describe the relationships in which I’m interested with sufficient specificity.

As I begin to work more directly with the data from the Outlook Surveys in the coming weeks, I expect that my variable selection will become more refined. For now, I have reviewed the codebook for the Outlook Surveys and highlighted those variables most likely to be of interest as I proceed. I expect that additional exploration of the data, specifically disaggregating the responses by race and gender into the four groups included in the responses, will prompt additional questions and the need for further review of the available data.


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