Northwestern professors research race, class inequalities on national task force

Ally Mauch, Reporter

Political science Prof. Alvin Tillery participated in a national task force on racial and class inequalities, co-editing a report released in September on the intersection of race and class in the Americas.

The task force found that for people of color, racial identity and socioeconomic status simultaneously impede civic participation and economic gains.

“Our initial motivation was to understand how much of the inequality that people of color experience is driven by their identity as people of color and how much of it is driven by their economic status,” said Tillery, associate chair of the political science department. “It is a very important part of our politics that we don’t talk about enough.”

Tillery said Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election may make these issues “much worse.” However, some of Trump’s policies, such as his infrastructure plan, could be helpful, he said.

“If he takes proactive measures to ensure that people of color are included in hiring, it could ameliorate some of those inequalities,” Tillery said.

The report was sponsored by the American Political Science Association, and work on it began in 2014. Rodney Hero, who served as president of the APSA at the time, said he came up with the idea after speaking with several scholars and close friends in the political science field, including Tillery.

Hero, who now works as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said they concluded that race and class should be researched and analyzed in terms of their intersection. He, along with Tillery and the other report co-editor, Juliet Hooker, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, chose scholars who have done research on other American countries, such as Canada and Mexico, to serve on the task force.

Tillery said he asked African American studies Prof. Debra Thompson, who participated on the task force, to co-write a chapter on racial inequalities as they relate to Canada.

Thompson, who is Canadian, has devoted much of her research to studying the role of race in Canadian society. This, she said, is partly because Canada is often viewed as a “multicultural haven” and is not a country people think of in terms of racial inequalities.

“One of the goals (of the report) was disrupting national narratives about Canadian racial inequality,” Thompson said. “Racial inequality is quite real in Canada, and it is not given the attention that it is given in the United States.”

In her chapter, Thompson concluded that Canadian policy was not designed to adequately deal with racial inequalities and that the largely diverse attitude in Canada has often deflected attention from the realities of racial inequalities in the country.

Both Tillery and Thompson said they will try to incorporate themes from the report into their teaching at Northwestern.

Tillery currently teaches an introductory U.S. politics class and graduate seminars on race and political theory. Thompson teaches several classes on the intersection of race and politics, including a first-year seminar on Black Lives Matter.

“I’m interested in the ways that policies work to either exacerbate or alleviate racial inequalities,” Thompson said.

Tillery said he appreciates that the issues discussed in the report are taken seriously at NU, and he added that the recent election could motivate anti-racist activism.

“We’re no longer living in a bubble where we think all these racial problems were in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s,” Tillery said. “Trump is going to spurn an entire generation of people, particularly in the millennial age group, who are going to be committed to addressing all of these issues.”

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