This Is What Can Happen When Data Meets The Movement For Black Lives
On July 5, the number on The Guardian’s police killings ticker The Counted went up. On July 6, it went up again. The Guardian, like many other news outlets, with genuine intentions has made the effort to look at the numerous surveys, polls, and research behind racial disparities in policing in the country. My question is: who does the data usually benefit? Even more importantly: what is being done about it?
Earlier this year I learned about The Coleman Report, a study published in 1966 about how the separate but unequal education environments correlate with the educational achievements of students, namely Black students. As I read, a frustration swelled within me as I switched between the findings in that report and articles written in 2016 about education of Black students. The conclusions, although 50 years apart, were virtually the same showing that diverse classrooms are better for the educational achievement of all students, especially Black students.
And here I was, stopping every couple of minutes to question how and why in 50 years we are coming to the same conclusions about the problems in our country. This was the first survey of it’s kind taking a look at the experiences and outcomes of Black people in America, this data should have catalyzed people and policy already.
Since August of 2014, there has been data on data on data shared and produced providing concrete numbers to back up the lived racism Black people have been describing for centuries, because apparently Black voices are not justification enough unto themselves.
Media outlets and think tanks team up to thrust this data into accessible and comprehensible forms (whether through print, or digital, or video) to “push the conversation” on race – which is definitely needed to a certain extent but shouldn’t require this much work to prove it. Then folks like myself ingest these findings only to have trouble deciphering what is between the lines: the only trend this data points to is white supremacy; the USA as a machine and an entity has never been about all of the people – those that comprise the data points – it’s always been about white supremacy.
The purpose of the scores and scores of data on citizens in the United States is to look for trends and where policies aren’t working, giving us something to strategize around and improve. So, I have to ask: are the surveys and polls are doing their job when all they do is get the masses fired up without ever reaching the consciousness of those that created the reasons for Black people to be statistics in the first place?
To be clear, research is important especially research on people of color who are often left out of political strategy and dialogue. That’s why Black Youth Project is working to change the discrepancy between the survey world and young people of color. Personally, I can appreciate when academia and quantitative methods meet with my lived experiences and the experiences of Black people in general.
Recently, BYP teamed up with the Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to produce and release the GenForward Survey, a dataset that will be released monthly in chunks about young people in the United States and their views on politics and world views. This is data gathered with the intent of giving voice to young people, especially Black and Brown people. This type of data is empowerment.
On social media, we young people often talk amongst ourselves about our faith, or lack thereof, in the political landscape and state of race relations. Now, not only does the GenForward Survey provide concrete numbers to back up assumptions I’ve compiled through conversations and experiences of my own, I see this as something that can open the eyes and activate those looking to get involved in the movement from organizing to allyship.
When I read that young people of color are “distinctly dissatisfied with the choice of these two candidates and appear open to supporting a third-party candidate in the 2016 general election,” I see an opportunity to activate around like encouraging support for a third-party next election. In contrast to simply gauging public opinion, the GenForward Survey is offering up analysis we can use to see how our Movement for Black Lives is changing our world.
I remember growing up and our generation and youth of color were characterized as apathetic, but this research suggests that the narrative about our Black and Brown experiences in America should be rewritten.
The survey had 1,750 responses with an oversampling of Black and Latino voices. Survey questions range from wealth distribution to foreign policy to bluntly asking if respondents believe the country is failing (hint: we believe it is). It’s important to have this kind of information and our opinions archived in this way because, for too long, white people have spoken for us and construed our voices ways that benefits them and the institutions around us.
And yes, the numbers on The Counted will continue to rise; more reports will still be produced around those impacted by school segregation; think tanks will continue to investigate college graduation rates, hunger, housing, and the preschool-to-prison pipeline while the system functions at it’s highest capacity.
The bottom line is we need change, and if you’re going to be producing data you also need to be looking to solve the problem – not simply vouching for Black voices and voices of color; we don’t need anymore confirmation of our oppression but we do need to be actively discovering the weak spots in our country in order to create a country for all.
Photo: Wiki Commons