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Tips for investigating racial inequality

By Mariya Moseley

Nikole Hannah-Jones, ProPublica; Lawrence Lanahan, an independent journalist working in Baltimore; and Steve Doig, Arizona State University, shared tips and resources for investigating racial inequality during a session at the 2014 CAR Conference in Baltimore.

Lanahan, who launched a year-long multimedia examination of regional inequality, offered three steps for beginning the investigation process:

  • Get data on the disparities 
  • Find policies and practices driving racial gaps
  • Identify and learn the laws and regulations designed to hold people accountable for those policies and practices

Racial inequality extends beyond housing, unemployment and incarceration rates. Hannah-Jones suggested journalists look for disparities in data on life expectancies, juveniles, and urban renewal.

The panelists advised journalists to familiarize themselves with a handful of laws dealing with discrimination and civil rights. “If you educate yourself on the laws, you will then come to find that some of the laws are really strong, they just aren’t enforced,” Hannah-Jones said. “You cannot hold people accountable if you aren’t even familiar with the laws yourself.”

Start with these:

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Fair Housing Act
  • Home Mortgage Disclosure Act
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act
  • Housing and Community Development Act
  • Equal Opportunity Employment Act

And check out these data resources:

  1. Census data
  2. Brown University's US2010 project, which provides raw data and mapping
  3. U.S. Department of Education, which includes disparities and measures over the last three decades
  4. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has a plethora of data on public housing
  5. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  6. National Institutes of Health
  7. Local school boards and housing authorities  
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