Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UM archaeologists find unique, early US relic of African worship

Prepping the bundle for x-ray

Caption: Prepping the bundle for x-ray. Credit: Matt Palus, University of Maryland. Usage Restrictions: None.
European magic mingled with African in early 18th century.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland archaeologists have dug up what they believe to be one of the earliest U.S. examples of African spirit practices. The researchers say it's the only object of its kind ever found by archaeologists in North America - a clay "bundle" filled with small pieces of common metal,
placed in what had been an Annapolis street gutter three centuries ago.

The bundle appears to be a direct transplant of African religion, distinct from hoodoo and other later practices blending African and European traditions.
"This is a remarkably early piece, far different from anything I've seen before in North America," says University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone, who directs the Archaeology in Annapolis project. "The bundle is African in design, not African-American. The people who made this used local materials. But their knowledge of charms and the spirit world probably came with them directly from Africa."Bundle X-ray

Caption: X-ray shows the metal pieces inside the bundle. The stone axe head points upward. Credit: Matt Palus, University of Maryland. Usage Restrictions: None.
About the size of a football, the compacted clay and sand bundle originally sat in clear public view stationed in front of a house. X-rays show the object served as a container holding hundreds of pieces of lead shot, pins and nails intended to ward off or redirect spirits. A prehistoric stone axe extends upward from the top of the bundle.

Leone dates the object to about 1700, plus or minus 20 years, from a period when English beliefs in witchcraft could mingle more openly with the African.

"We're particularly intrigued by the placement of this bundle in so visible a spot, because it suggests an unexpected level of public toleration," says Maryland's Leone. "All the previous caches of African spirit practices we've found in Annapolis were at least fifty years younger. These had been hidden away and used in secret. But in this earlier generation, the Annapolis newspaper was filled with references to English magic and witchcraft, so both European and African spirit practices may have been more acceptable then. That changed with the growing influence of the Enlightenment."
African Bundle

Caption: How the African bundle might have looked 300 years ago. Credit: Brian Payne, University of Maryland. Usage Restrictions: None.
After consulting with experts on West and Central-West African culture, Leone says the bundle might have origins in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea among Yoruba or Mande speakers. It may have been fashioned in the image of a god and energized through its construction to invoke and disseminate spiritual power.

The Maryland team discovered the bundle four feet below Fleet Street in the Annapolis historic district - about 1,000 feet from the Maryland statehouse. It sat in the gutter of a much earlier unpaved street on a hill overlooking an inlet. Water would have run down the gutter, making it a vital conduit for spirits and a strategic spot to place a powerful charm, Leone says.

The bundle measures about 10 inches high, six inches wide and four inches thick. It remains intact, held together by the sand and clay. X-rays taken at the state of Maryland's conservation facility reveal the bundle's contents - about 300 pieces of lead shot, 25 common pins and a dozen nails. The blade of the stone axe points upward.

Originally, some kind of cloth or animal hide probably wound around the bundle forming a pouch that held the metal objects. But it has long since decomposed.


Leone immediately suspected that the object had African origins based on the materials and the construction, which differed from the hoodoo caches his teams have unearthed in Annapolis over the past two decades. To help identify the object, Leone consulted with Frederick Lamp, curator of African Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. <artgallery.yale.edu/pdf/cv/Lamp.pdf>

"The use of compacted clay and iron materials points to the African origin of this bundle," Lamp says. "Combining these materials was believed to increase the spiritual power of the objects."

Lamp adds that Mande groups, principally in Sierra Leone and Liberia, used packed clay as binders when building spiritual objects. If Yoruba in origin, the bundle would likely represent the image of Eshu Elegba, the god of chance, confusion and unpredictability, the god of the crossroads. The axe blade could replace the comb in other representations of the Eshu, and it is also indicative of the power of Shango, the god of thunder and the lightning bolt.

"We hope to open a scholarly debate," says Leone. "Further research may help pinpoint the bundle's cultural origins. Whoever made this understood that public invocations of magic were a source of social control," Leone says. "It radiates power. The construction was intended to amplify its influence over the spirit world."


Before 1750, Annapolis' newspaper, The Maryland Gazette, frequently cited many-headed monsters, witchcraft trials in Europe, misshapen babies linked to magic, unaccounted appearances and disappearances and the world of pagan, non-Christian belief, explains Leone.

"English witchcraft in this period existed openly in public and was tolerated," he adds. "It's intriguing to speculate how English and African spirit beliefs may have interacted and borrowed from each other."

After 1750 though, the Gazette changed markedly. Leone says references to magic disappeared and the paper reflected the changing philosophy of the period.


Beginning today, the object is on display in the window of the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the state of Maryland's Center for African-American History and Culture. <www.bdmuseum.com/>

The Annapolis Department of Public Works contracted for the archaeological excavation along Fleet and Cornhill streets in the city's historic district in advance of a project to lay underground utility cables. The area was part of early Annapolis' waterfront.

"We've been committed for a long time to uncovering our state capital's history, and yet the old never gets old, never ceases to astound me," says Annapolis Mayor, Ellen Moyer. "This latest discovery underscores just how deeply the city's European and African roots are intertwined." ###

The display commemorates the 300th anniversary of the charter of the City of Annapolis and is sponsored by the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the City of Annapolis and the Preserve America Program of the National Park Service.


Archaeology in Annapolis, a joint project of the University of Maryland and the Banneker-Douglass Museum, with support from Historical Annapolis Foundation, has conducted 40 excavations in the city's historic district since 1982. It has provided extensive documentation of the city's European and African roots. <www.bsos.umd.edu/anth/aia/

Contact: Neil Tickner ntickner@umd.edu 301-405-4622 University of Maryland

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dear Michelle Obama ...

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The voices of women whose stories are rarely told have been gathered by two scholars at the University at Buffalo to offer Michelle Obama messages of love, hope, admiration and support as she becomes the United States' first African American First Lady.

The women's words are being compiled into a book, "Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women's Letters to the New First Lady," by Barbara Seals Nevergold, Ph.D., and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr.P.H., Ph.D., UB senior educational specialists and co-founders of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women at UB.

The book will be published in January 2009 by SUNY Press/Excelsior Editions (Albany, N.Y.). The goal is to have the book in Michelle Obama's hands by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009.

Peggy Brooks-Bertram (left) and Barbara Seals Nevergold

Peggy Brooks-Bertram (left) and Barbara Seals Nevergold
The project had its genesis, Nevergold explains, in the 2008 presidential campaign as she watched President-elect Barack Obama's journey to the White House gather momentum and his wife, Michelle, come into her own as a presidential candidate's wife.
"Throughout the election, it became apparent that African Americans were becoming emotionally invested," she says. "I felt such a sisterhood with Michelle Obama and a kinship.

"At the end of the election, I started to think, how can we as African-American women share with her our feelings about the new role she's going to take?"

A week after the election, Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram used the Internet to send out a call for people to express their hopes and advice for Michelle Obama through letters, poetry and recipes. Starting with an Uncrowned Queens listserv they maintain, their request spread across the country and around the world.

"We were interested in ordinary women who've fallen into historical obscurity and who have never imagined themselves writing a letter like this to the next First Lady," says Brooks-Bertram.

The response was enormous. Hundreds and hundreds of letters poured in, from professors and poets, playwrights and religious leaders, musicians, retirees and ordinary women. Eighth-grade students from Buffalo Prep sent letters. Residents of Kenya, Cameroon, Liberia and countries in the Caribbean sent letters. African Americans from around the country as well as Native Americans sent letters.

The messages were as diverse as the senders, but overwhelmingly the sentiments were of love and the desire to let Michelle Obama know she is not alone in her trip to the White House.

"There were so many messages that said 'we never thought we'd live to see the day that a black man was elected president,'" says Nevergold. "Many letters said their ancestors were smiling down on this event."

While only 100 letters will be published as part of "Go, Tell Michelle," Nevergold says all the letters they receive will be included in an online digital repository available at the Uncrowned Queens Web site at wings.buffalo.edu/uncrownedqueens/. "Go, Tell Michelle" will be available through the SUNY Press at www.sunypress.edu.

Nevergold and Brooke-Bertram call the book an "excellent example of digital literacy."

"Technology is the way to reach people," says Brooks-Bertram. "Every letter we received came via email, with the exception of one or two."

And the letters continue to pour in. ###

As an acclaimed international publisher of distinguished research and notable works of general interest since 1966, SUNY Press and its Center for Scholarly Communication are proud to support the State University of New York's commitments to teaching, research, and public service. Through its Excelsior Editions imprint, SUNY Press makes available exceptional works for all readers and also showcases the diversity and abiding energy of the peoples, histories, and natural beauty of New York and the surrounding regions.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Contact: Christine Vidal vidal@buffalo.edu 716-645-5000 x1416 University at Buffalo

Friday, December 26, 2008

New report says racial gap growing in colorectal cancer

Elizabeth T. H. (Terry) Fontham

Elizabeth T. H. (Terry) Fontham, Dean of the LSU School of Public Health, became the first non-physician elected national President of the American Cancer Society when she was inducted at a special ceremony during the Society's National Assembly Meeting on November 20, 2008 in New York City. She is also the first epidemiologist and the third female to serve as president in the organization's 96-year history.
ATLANTA – A new report from the American Cancer Society says despite unprecedented progress in reducing incidence and death rates from colorectal cancer, the gap between blacks and whites continues to grow. The latest data show death rates are about 45 percent higher in African American men and women than in whites. The data come from Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2008-2010, the second edition of a report first issued in 2005.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008, about 148,810 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 49,960 people will die of the disease. The great majority of these cancers and deaths could be prevented by applying existing knowledge about cancer prevention and by increasing access to and use of established screening tests.

Although incidence and mortality rates continue to decrease in both blacks and whites, rates remain higher and declines have been slower among blacks.
Differences in incidence and mortality between blacks and whites have actually grown in the three years since the previous edition of the report was published. For example, in the previous report, the incidence rate in white men was 63.1 (per 100,000) compared to 72.9 in black men, an absolute difference of 9.8; in the current report, the difference between the incidence rate in white men (58.9 per 100,000) and black men (71.2 per 100,000) increased to 12.3.

The report also found signs of progress in many areas since the last issue:

* In the three years since the report was last published, 10 more states have enacted legislation ensuring coverage for the full range of colorectal cancer screening tests, bringing the total to 26 states plus Washington D.C.

* The proportion of colorectal cancers diagnosed at a localized stage has increased among most racial/ethnic groups.

* A new targeted monoclonal antibody therapy, Panitumumab (Vectibix), that blocks the effects of hormone-like factors that promote cancer cell growth has been approved by the FDA to treat metastatic colorectal cancer.

"We've made remarkable progress in reducing death and suffering from colorectal cancer," said Elizabeth "Terry" T.H. Fontham, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., of Louisiana State University, national volunteer president of the American Cancer Society. "Tests we have right now allow doctors to detect this killer at its earliest, most treatable stage, or even prevent it altogether. But as this report shows, there's more work to be done to ensure all Americans have access to these lifesaving tests, and that those who do have access to the tests use them."

The 2008-2010 report also includes new data, including incidence and mortality rates by sex, race, and state in table format and map format (mortality only) for easy visualization of state cancer burdens; survival rates by race/ethnicity and by insurance status; screening prevalence by health insurance status; and a list of the most common chemotherapeutic agents used to treat CRC and their side effects. ###

The report will be available in PDF form at www.cancer.org/statistics after embargo.

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. Founded in 1913 and with national headquarters in Atlanta, the Society has 14 regional Divisions and local offices in 3,400 communities, involving millions of volunteers across the United States. For more information anytime, call toll free 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

Contact: David Sampson david.sampson@cancer.org WEB: American Cancer Society

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"merry Christmas" With The Negroes

Christmas: Its Origin and Associations: Together with Its Historical Events and Festive Celebrations During Nineteen Centuries: Depicting, by Pen and Pencil, Memorable Celebrations, Stately Meetings of Early Kings, Remarkable Event, Romantic Episodes, Brave Deeds, Picturesque Customs, Time ...

By William Francis Dawson, Published by E. Stock, 1902. Original from the University of California, Digitized Oct 5, 2007

A journalist who has been amongst the negroes in the Southern States of America thus describes their Christmas festivities :—

" Christmas in the South of the United States is a time- honoured holiday season, as ancient as the settlement of the Cavalier colonies themselves. We may imagine it to have been imported from ' merrie England ' by the large-hearted Papist, Lord Baltimore, into Maryland, and by that chivalric group of Virginian colonists, of whom the central historical figure is the famous Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas memory.

merry Christmas With The Negroes Perhaps Christmas was even the more heartilv celebrated among these true Papist and Church of England settlers from the disgust which they felt at the stern contempt in which the Natal Day was held by ' stiff-necked Puritans' of New England. At least,
while in New England the pilgrims were wont to work with exceptional might on Christmas Day, to show their detestation of it, traditions are still extant of the jovial Southern merrymaking of the festival.

Christmas, with many of the Old England customs imported to the new soil, derived new spirit and enjoyment from customs which had their origin in the Colonies themselves. Above all was it the gala season— the period to be looked forward to and revelled in—of the negroes. Slavery, with all its horrors and wickedness, had at least some genial features ; and the latitude which the masters gave to the slaves at Christmas time, the freedom with which the blacks were wont to concentrate a year's enjoyment into the Christmas week, was one of these. In Washington, where until the war slavery existed in a mild and more civilised form, the negro celebrations of Christmas were the peculiar and amusing feature of the season.

And many of these customs, which grew up amid slavery, have survived that institution. The Washington negroes, free, have pretty m1tch the same zest for their time-honoured amusements which they had when under the dominion of the oligarchy. Christmas is still their great gala and occasion for merry-making, and the sable creatures thoroughly understand the art of having a good time, being superior, at least in this respect, to many a blase Prince and Court noble distracted with ennui. Those who have seen the 1Minstrels' may derive some idea, though but a slight one, of the negro pastimes and peculiarities. They are, above all, a social, enthusiastic, whole-souled race ; they have their own ideas of rank and social caste, and they have a humour which is homely, but thoroughly genial, and quite the monopoly of their race.

They insist on the whole of Christmas week for a holiday. ' Missus' must manage how she can. To insist on chaining them down in the kitchen during that halcyon time would stir up blank rebellion. Dancing and music are their favourite Christmas recreations ; they manage both with a will. In the city suburbs there are many modest little frame-houses inhabited by the blacks ; now and then a homely inn kept by a duskv landlord. Here in Christmas time you will witness many jolly and infectiously pleasant scenes. There is a ' sound of revelry by night.' You are free to enter, and observe near by the countless gyrations of the negro cotillon, the intricate and deftly executed jig, the ryde melody of banjos and ' cornstalk fiddles.'

They are always proud to have 'de white folks ' for spectators and applauders, and will give you the best seat, and will outdo themselves in their anxiety to show off at their best before you. You will be astonished to observe the scrupulous neatness of the men, the gaudy and ostentatious habiliments of ' de ladies.' The negroes have an intense ambition to imitate the upper classes of white society. They will study the apparel of a well-dressed gentleman, and squander their money on ' swallow-tail' coats, high dickeys, white neckties, and the most elaborate arts of their dusky barbers. The women are even more imitative of their mistresses. Ribbons, laces, and silks adorn them, on festive occasions, of the most painfully vivid colours, and fashioned in all the extravagance of negro taste. Not less anxious are they to imitate the manners of aristocracy. The excessive chivalry and overwhelming politeness of the men towards the women is amazing.

They make gallant speeches in which they insert as many of the longest and most learned words as they can master, picked up at random, and not always peculiarly adapted to the use made of them. Their excitement in the dance, and at the sound of music, grows as intense as does their furor in a Methodist revival meeting. They have, too, dances and music peculiar to themselves—jigs and country dances which seem to have no method, yet which are perfectly adapted to and rhythmic with the inspiring abrupt thud of the banjo and the bones. As they dance, they shout and sing, slap their hands and knees, and lose themselves in the enthusiasm of the moment. The negroes look forward to Christmas not less as the season for present-giving than that of frolicking and jollity.

Early in the morning they hasten upstairs, and catch ' massa ' and ' missus' and 1 de chillun' with a respectful hut eager ' Merry Christmas,' and are sure to get in return a new coat or pair of boots, a gingham dress, or ear-rings more showy than expensive. They have saved up, too, a pittance from their wages, to expend in a souvenir for ' Dinah ' or ' Pompey,' the never-to-be-forgotten belle or sweetheart."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ancient African exodus mostly involved men, geneticists find

Alon Keinan

Alon Keinan, HMS, Department of Genetics, New Research Building, office #336
77 Avenue Louis Pasteur. Boston, MA 02115 Tel: (617) 432-5992, Fax: (617) 432-6306 Email: akeinan@genetics.med.harvard.edu
BOSTON, Mass. (Dec. 21, 2008) — Modern humans left Africa over 60,000 years ago in a migration that many believe was responsible for nearly all of the human population that exist outside Africa today.

Now, researchers have revealed that men and women weren't equal partners in that exodus. By tracing variations in the X chromosome and in the non-sex chromosomes, the researchers found evidence that men probably outnumbered women in that migration.
The scientists expect that their method of comparing X chromosomes with the other non-gender specific chromosomes will be a powerful tool for future historical and anthropological studies, since it can illuminate differences in female and male populations that were inaccessible to previous methods.

While the researchers cannot say for sure why more men than women participated in the dispersion from Africa—or how natural selection might also contribute to these genetic patterns—the study's lead author, Alon Keinan, notes that these findings are "in line with what anthropologists have taught us about hunter-gatherer populations, in which short distance migration is primarily by women and long distance migration primarily by men." ###

These findings were published Dec 21, 2008 online in Nature Genetics.

Contact: David Cameron david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu 617-960-7221 Harvard Medical School

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Study: Prejudice could cost a black worker thousands

Kerwin Kofi Charles

Kerwin Kofi Charles, is the Steans Family Professor in the Harris School and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
A recent study in the Journal of Political Economy sheds light on the role racial prejudice plays in the wage gap between whites and blacks in the U.S.

Prejudice accounts for approximately one-quarter of the racial wage gap, costing a black worker up to $115,000 over a lifetime depending upon where he or she lives, according to study authors Kerwin Kofi Charles from the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago and Jonathan Guryan from Chicago's Booth School of Business.
Educational inequality, differences in workers' skill levels and other forms of discrimination likely account for the rest of the gap, the authors say.

Charles and Guryan used statistical models to test the extent to which wage gaps in each U.S. state vary according to levels of prejudice. Levels of prejudice were determined by a series of surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. In the surveys, white people were asked their views on issues like interracial marriage, whites-only private clubs, neighborhood segregation and whether or not they would vote for a black president.

The result was a fairly robust correlation between wage gaps and prejudice.
"Though prejudice explains only a minority—albeit a significant one—of the black-white wage gap, the costs borne by blacks ... are large," the researchers write. "Consider an 18-year-old black male choosing between two states…. Our estimates imply that if he lives in Florida rather than Massachusetts … the net present value of his [lifetime] earnings will be about $34,000 smaller. If he lives in Mississippi rather than Wisconsin … his discounted earnings are about $115,000 smaller."Jonathan Guryan

Jonathan Guryan, is a faculty research fellow for the National Bureau of Economic Research and a faculty affiliate for the Population Research Center.
The researchers found that wage gaps vary significantly according to the level of prejudice reported by the least prejudiced people in each state. Where the least prejudiced people hold more prejudice, wage gaps are higher.

Why are the least prejudiced people the ones that determine wage gaps?

In his seminal 1957 work The Economics of Discrimination, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker offered an answer. He theorized that the least prejudiced should be the ones who determine black wages because they are most likely to employ black people. The most prejudiced would either refuse to hire blacks, or pay them so little that blacks would naturally gravitate to less prejudiced employers.

Charles and Guryan's study is the first to offer empirical support for Becker's model. Not only did they find that the least prejudiced have a strong influence on wage gaps, levels of prejudice among the average and most prejudiced have no influence whatsoever.

"This is precisely as the Becker model predicts," the researchers write. ###

Contact: Kevin Stacey kstacey@uchicago.edu 773-834-0386 University of Chicago Press Journals

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Church effort sharply increases first-time African-American blood donors

Michael R. DeBaun, M.D.

Michael R. DeBaun, M.D. Professor of Pediatrics, Biostatistics and Neurology
Attending Physician, Division of Hematology-Oncology
Unit Leader Patient Oriented Research.
St. Louis, Dec. 15, 2008 — A program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and St. Louis Children's Hospital designed to increase awareness about sickle cell disease and the importance of blood donations within the African-American faith community led to a 60 percent increase in first-time blood donations, a new study has found.

The program, called Sickle Cell Sabbath, was formally launched in 2003 by Michael R. DeBaun, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine and a sickle-cell disease specialist at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
It is observed on Sundays from February (Black History Month) through June, in honor of Charles Drew, M.D., an African-American blood specialist whose pioneering work in blood collection, plasma processing and transfusion laid the foundation for modern blood banking. Its aim is to educate congregations of predominantly African-American churches about sickle cell disease and the benefit of blood and cord-blood donations and to make giving blood more convenient by encouraging church sponsorship of blood drives.

Results of the study are published in the advance online publication of the journal Transfusion.

Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic disease in African-Americans, affecting about one in 400 newborns. Patients with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin that causes the normally round, flexible red blood cells to become stiff and sickle- or crescent-shaped. The sickle cells can't pass through tiny blood vessels, which can prevent blood from reaching some tissues and can result in tissue and organ damage, pain and stroke.

"Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants have been shown to be effective treatments for sickle cell disease by replacing sickle cells with healthy red blood cells," DeBaun said. "African-American blood donors are more likely to have more compatible red blood cell phenotypes for children with sickle cell disease."

Although African-Americans make up 13.5 percent of the population, they make up only 6.5 percent of the total blood-donor pool.

"Historically in African-American communities, churches are one of the lead community centers in the neighborhood and are the easiest way to reach people, especially first-time donors," said Michael Johnson, chaplain for the Sickle Cell Sabbath Program who also has sickle cell disease. "Most people at the churches didn't know the impact blood donorship has. Our education process increased the number of donors significantly. Once people understand the importance of giving blood, they become repeat donors."

The Sickle Cell Sabbath Program worked with 13 predominantly African-American churches in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Each church sponsored at least two blood drives between 2003-2006. A few weeks prior to each blood drive, medical and professional staff from the Sickle Cell Medical Treatment and Education Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital and from the Sickle Cell Sabbath Program, or a representative of the American Red Cross, or a parent of a child with sickle cell disease made a brief presentation to the congregation about the disease and the benefits of blood donation.

Of the nearly 700 donors who participated in the blood drives, 422, or 60 percent, were first-time donors. According to the American Red Cross, about 12.2 percent of blood donors are first-time blood donors in the St. Louis metropolitan area general community. ###

The Sickle Cell Sabbath Program is a joint project of St. Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine, the St. Louis City Health Department, the Charles Drew Blood Campaign of the American Red Cross, Saint Louis University and Cardinal Glennon Hospital.

DeBaun has established a nationally renowned program for treatment, education and research into the complications of sickle cell disease. Under his leadership, he and a team of investigators have received funding for the first National Institutes of Health-(NIH) sponsored international clinical trial in sickle cell disease called the Silent Cerebral Infarct Transfusion (SIT) Trial, in which researchers seek to determine the effectiveness of blood-transfusion therapy to prevent silent strokes in children with the disease.

Price C, Johnson M, Lindsay T, Dalton D, DeBaun, M. "The Sickle Cell Sabbath: A community program increases first-time blood donors in the African American faith community." Transfusion, advance online publication, Nov. 25, 2008.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Contact: Beth Miller millerbe@wustl.edu 314-286-0119 Washington University School of Medicine

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

People living in highly black concentrated neighborhoods more likely to report their health as poor

Luisa N. Borrell, D.D.S., PH.D.

Luisa N. Borrell, D.D.S., PH.D. Co-Associate Director, Health & Society Scholars Program Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Dentistry.

Dr. Borrell's research interest is on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic position, and neighborhood effects as they act as social determinants of health. She has expertise in racial/ethnic disparities in health, research methods and the analysis of large databases, including survey, census and spatially linked data
In a study examining the relationship between racial/ethnic neighborhood concentration and self-reported health, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that individuals living in neighborhoods with a high concentration of Blacks were twice as likely to report poor health when compared to their counterparts living in neighborhoods with a lower concentration of Blacks. Based on data from more than 2,800 people who self-identified as white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, this is the first study to examine the effects of racial/ethnic neighborhood concentration and self-reported health in New York City.

People living in highly Black concentrated neighborhoods were more likely to report their health as poor (27%) when compared to counterparts living in low (17%) and medium Black concentrated neighborhoods (22%).
Living in a neighborhood with a high concentration of Blacks, regardless of individuals' race or ethnicity, education, income or access to health insurance resulted in a twofold increased chance that residents would report poor health. This finding persisted even after additional adjustments for the socioeconomic circumstances of the neighborhoods and the individual's perception of their own neighborhoods.

"We used proportion of Black residents living in a zip code as a measure of residential segregation. Residential segregation is the damaging form of racial discrimination in this country and one that affects everyone regardless of their race or ethnicity." said Luisa N. Borrell, DDS, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and co-author of the study. "This study demonstrates that poor self-reported health was associated with patterns of concentration of Blacks in a neighborhood. Our findings also suggest that individuals living in the most concentrated neighborhoods were almost two times more likely to perceive their health as poor compared to those living in less concentrated neighborhoods," according to Kellee White, MPH, doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and study co-author. "Moreover, segregated neighborhoods tend to suffer from concentrated poverty, economic disinvestment, and a lack of health resources. It is important to continue to determine the neighborhood elements that may facilitate or impede health."

The study was based on information from the New York City Social Indicator Survey and U.S. Census. Administered since 1997, the NYC-SIS is a biennial survey that measures individual and family well-being on a range of social and economic living conditions, adequacy of governmental services, and satisfaction and perception of the city.

"Although the deleterious effects of residential segregation on health are not well-understood, residential segregation has implications for most of the disparities of interest in the U.S., such as racial/ethnic, socioeconomic position, and geographic region," observed Dr. Borrell. ###

The research was funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program. The full study, Racial/ethnic neighborhood concentration and self-reported health in New York City, will be published in Ethnicity and Disease Vol 16, Autumn 2006.

About the Mailman School of Public Health, The only accredited school of public health in New York City, and among the first in the nation Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health provides instruction and research opportunities to more than 900 graduate students in pursuit of masters and doctoral degrees. Its students and more than 270 multi-disciplinary faculty engage in research and service in the city, nation, and around the world, concentrating on biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health policy and management, population and family health, and sociomedical sciences. www.mailman.hs.columbia.edu

Contact: Stephanie Berger sb2247@columbia.edu 212-305-4372 Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Race a factor in receiving transplant treatment for bone marrow cancer but does not affect outcomes

Parameswaran Hari, MD, MRCP, MS

Parameswaran Hari, MD, MRCP, MS. Assistant Professor of Medicine

Dr. Hari is Clinical Director of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Program and Asst. Professor of Medicine in the Division of Neoplastic Diseases & Related Disorders. After medical school in India, he completed training in Internal Medicine and Hematology at premier institutions in United Kingdom and then in Medical Oncology and Transplantation at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
A new study by researchers at The Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center Milwaukee, has found that African Americans and whites have identical survival rates after undergoing autologous (self donor) bone marrow transplant treatment for a common cancer of the bone marrow (multiple myeloma). However, in a previous study the researchers showed that African Americans were only half as likely as whites to actually receive a bone marrow transplant, the well-established life-prolonging treatment for the disease.

The results of their study were presented today (Dec. 8) at the 50th Annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Francisco by lead researcher, Parameswaran Hari, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in neoplastic diseases. Dr. Hari who practices at Froedtert Hospital, a major teaching affiliate of the College.

Over 15,000 Americans are diagnosed with multiple myeloma each year. The incidence of multiple myeloma in African Americans is twice that of whites and African Americans are twice as likely to die from this disease. It is also the most common diagnosis for which bone a marrow transplant, also known as hematopoietic stem cell transplant, is performed.

Dr. Hari and a research team from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) compared the estimated rate of transplants and incidence rate of myeloma from SEER data (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results, a program of the National Cancer Institute). They concluded that African Americans are less likely to undergo transplants.

Further, a review of data reported to the CIBMTR showed no significant difference between the races in survival, progression–free survival, non-relapse mortality or relapse after transplantation. (CIBMTR, headquartered at the Medical College, is the world's largest clinical database of related blood and marrow transplants with the goal of increasing scientific knowledge of blood and marrow transplantation through research).

"This suggests that equal treatment results in equal outcomes," says Dr. Hari. "More study is needed to correct the causes of this imbalance in transplant rates especially since the transplant treatment itself is equally efficacious but less likely to be applied in African Americans. We need to now find out more about the patients who are being excluded from this procedure and why.

"African Americans also received transplants later in the course of their disease, on average, more than a year after diagnosis." says Dr. Hari.

The researchers also found that African Americans receiving autologous transplants were generally younger, and more likely to be both female and to have other illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, compared to their white counterparts. "However, the outcomes were very similar, in terms of survival, survival without disease progression, relapse of myeloma and treatment-related mortality.

Dr. Hari believes that these subtle differences between patient groups at baseline may hold clues to why African Americans are less likely to get to transplantation. ###

Co authors on the study with Dr. Hari are Navneet S. Majhail, M.D., M.S., University of Minnesota; Anna Hassebroek, MPH, statistician, CIBMTR-National Marrow Donor Program, Minneapolis campus; Mei-Jie Zhang, Ph.D., biostatistician, Medical College; Fareeha Siddiqui, M.D., of St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River, Mass.; and Paulette Mehta, M.D., of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare Systems, Little Rock, Ark.

Contact: Toranj Marphetia toranj@mcw.edu 414-456-4700 Medical College of Wisconsin

Friday, December 12, 2008

Black and white is not always a clear distinction

University of Oregon sociologist Aliya Saperstein

Caption: This is University of Oregon sociologist Aliya Saperstein.

Credit: Photo by Jack Liu. Usage Restrictions: Photo credit required.
Socioeconomics and incarceration are factors in defining race, says a University of Oregon sociologist

Is race defined by appearance, or can a person also be colored by socioeconomic status? A new study finds that Americans who are unemployed, incarcerated or impoverished today are more likely to be classified and identified as black, by themselves or by others, regardless of how they were seen -- or self identified -- in the past.

The findings suggest that race may not be as simple as something you are born with, that it is, possibly, tightly intertwined with social status, says University of Oregon sociologist Aliya Saperstein, who co-authored the study with sociologist Andrew M. Penner of the University of California, Irvine.
The study -- begun long before Barack Obama became the nation's first black president-elect -- appears online this week ahead of regular publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is timely, Saperstein said, because many Americans are raising questions about whether Obama -- the child of a black Kenyan man and a white American woman -- might be considered white because of his successes.

"What I find fascinating about Obama's case is that people are asking questions about it," Saperstein said. "In the past, it wouldn't have been a question what he was, or how we should talk about him. There would have been no debate.

"We do need to take these issues into account when we study race," she said. "Race is not something you are. It is a very complex combination of factors that certainly does include things like skin tone, hair type and ancestry, but it also includes social status and our own stereotypes about people. Our study suggests that part of how we determine who is white is based on our assumptions about what white people do or what black people do. There is probably more mobility in our society by race than we acknowledge, because socioeconomic mobility often turns into racial mobility, where we define successful people as white and unsuccessful people as black."

The study's findings were drawn from a comprehensive examination of data that has been compiled as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth that began in 1979 and continues today, tracking the same individuals. Saperstein and Penner focused on 1979 and 2002, comparing how participants identified themselves in both years and how they were labeled by interviewers each year between 1979 and 1998.

They found that 20 percent of the 12,686 respondents to the survey had at least one change in an interviewer's perception of their racial status during that span. Most of the interviews over the years occurred face-to-face, but the researchers found similar results when interviews were conducted by telephone.

The biggest change noted was that individuals who initially had been classified by interviewers as white were less likely to maintain that classification if they were later jailed, became unemployed or had been living below the poverty line. Researchers found that 96 percent of initially classified white respondents who were not incarcerated later still were identified as white, but that only 90 percent of whites who had been incarcerated in later years were still seen as white.

Nearly the same results held for self-identified classification, the researchers found, with 97 percent of whites in 1979 still saying they were white in 2002 if they had never been impoverished. However, just 93 percent of initially self-classified whites still said they were white in 2002 if they had fallen into poverty between the two years.

Respondents who self identified as black in 1979 and then went to prison were more likely to again say they were black in 2002 than were those who didn't go to prison in between, Saperstein said. "Those who went to prison were more likely to stay black, but those who didn't go to prison might move themselves to another identity."

Saperstein and Penner argue that racial identification can be altered by changes in social position, "much as a change in diet or stress level can alter a person's propensity to die of heart disease as opposed to cancer." In their conclusion, they write: "This suggests that racial stereotypes can become self-fulfilling prophesies: Although black Americans are overrepresented among the poor, the unemployed and the incarcerated, people who are poor, unemployed or incarcerated are also more likely to seen and identify as black and less likely to be seen and identify as white. Thus, not only does race shape social status, but social status shapes race." ###

About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is a world-class teaching and research institution and Oregon's flagship public university. The UO is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization made up of 62 of the leading public and private research institutions in the United States and Canada. Membership in the AAU is by invitation only. The University of Oregon is one of only two AAU members in the Pacific Northwest.

Source: Aliya Saperstein, assistant professor of sociology, 541-346-8021 asaper@uoregon.edu

Links: Saperstein faculty Web page: sociology.uoregon.edu/faculty/saperstein;
sociology department: sociology.uoregon.edu/;
Penner faculty page: faculty.uci.edu/profile

Contact: Jim Barlow jebarlow@uoregon.edu 541-346-3481 University of Oregon

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Fresh Air Fund Helping inner city children

The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that provides free summer vacations to New York City children from low-income communities. Jenny Morgenthau is the Executive Director.

More than 1.7 million children have been helped since 1877 and nearly 10,000 New York City children now enjoy free Fresh Air Fund programs annually. In 2006, 5,000 children visited volunteer host families in suburbs and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada; 3,000 children attended five summer camps on a 2,300-acre (9 km2) site in Fishkill, New York; and the fund’s year-round camping program serves an additional 2,000 young people each year.

In 2006, 75% of the total income of the fund came from private individuals.

It has received multiple grants from the Carnegie Corporation, an organization that has supported more than 550 New York City arts and social service institutions since its inception in 2002, and which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The program
Boys and girls from six to eighteen years old, visit over 300 Fresh Air Friendly Towns each summer. Children on first-time visits are six to twelve years old and stay for two weeks. The program also has a special one-week option for New York City families who would like to host children on their summer vacations outside the city.
Over 65 percent of all children are invited to stay with host families again, year after year. Youngsters may continue with The fund through age eighteen, and many spend the entire summer in the country. Children and volunteer families often form bonds of friendship that last a lifetime.

Each placement with a host family costs the fund $629 (2006).

Selection of children

Children are selected to participate based on financial need. Children are from low-income communities, with the majority receiving some form of public assistance. Youngsters are registered by more than 90 social service and community organizations in all five boroughs of New York City.

Host families

Volunteer host families open their homes to inner-city children for two weeks or more in the summertime. Each Friendly Town community is supervised by a committee of volunteers. Committee members select host families after reviewing their applications, visiting them in their homes and checking their personal references.
There are no financial requirements for hosting a child. Most hosts simply want to share their homes with inner-city youngsters. Host families are not paid. The fund has a program for placing children who have special physical or emotional needs.
In 2004, twelve teens were invited to holiday in Switzerland by Credit Suisse First Boston.

The camping program

Around 3,000 New York City youngsters, aged eight to fifteen, attend five Fresh Air camps on a 2,300-acre (9 km2) site in the Sharpe Reservation near Fishkill, New York.

* Camp Hidden Valley is for boys and girls with and without special needs, eight to twelve years old
* Camp Tommy (named after board member/designer Tommy Hilfiger for his dedication and support of Fresh Air children) is for boys aged twelve to fifteen
* Camp Anita Bliss Coler is for girls aged nine to twelve
* Camp Hayden-Marks Memorial is for boys aged nine to twelve
* Camp Mariah is a coed camp for youngsters aged twelve to fourteen (career campers)

Additionally, 2,000 young people participate in year-round weekend camping experiences.
Special features shared by all camps include a planetarium, model farm, wilderness trail and ropes course. Since 1999, many of the campers have received free guitar lessons on Spirit guitars donated by the Gibson Foundation.
Each placement in a camp costs the fund $1,234 but gives much happiness to many children.

Seven youngsters each year spend the summer at Camp Pioneer on the Sharpe Reservation, training to be counselors.

Career Awareness Program

The innovative Career Awareness Program is designed to help New York City youngsters understand the relationship between school and work and how to make choices that will determine their futures. Youngsters aged twelve to fourteen participate in job shadowing that offers a close-up view of business, and a career fair. The year-round program includes weekend camping trips and an intensive three-and-a-half week summer session at the Career Awareness Camp – Camp Mariah. The career camp is named in honor of Board member/singer Mariah Carey for her dedication, support and commitment to Fresh Air youngsters. Career awareness graduates continue to receive support through the PreOccupations Club and benefit from the guidance of volunteer mentors.

History of The Fund

In 1877, the Reverend Willard Parsons, minister of a small rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations as volunteer host families for children from New York City tenements. This was the beginning of the tradition. By 1884, Reverend Parsons was writing about the fund for the New York Tribune, and the number of children served grew. In 2006, close to 10,000 New York City children experienced the joys of summertime in Friendly Towns and at five Fund camps in upstate New York. When the New York Herald Tribune went out of business in 1966, the New York Times took over sponsorship.

New York City Volunteers

The fund has an active group of New York City volunteers. Metropolitan area volunteers help the fund reach out to New York City parents and children, support Camping, Career Awareness and Friendly Town programs and seek in-kind donations.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article, Fresh Air Fund

Monday, December 8, 2008

Genetic ancestry of African-Americans reveals new insights about gene expression

Alkes Price Assistant Professor of Epidemiology

Alkes Price, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Department of Epidemiology Department of Biostatistics 665 Huntington Avenue Building 2, Room 211 Boston, Massachusetts 02115. 617.432.2262. aprice@hsph.harvard.edu
The amount of proteins produced in cells—a fundamental determinant of biological outcomes collectively known as gene expression—varies in African American individuals depending on their proportion of African or European genetic ancestry. These findings, by researchers based in Boston, Philadelphia and Oxford, are published December 5 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

Gene expression is known to vary among individuals and to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Previous studies have reported gene expression differences among human populations, but it has been suggested that this could be due to non-genetic effects.
Populations of recently mixed ancestry such as African Americans, who on average inherit about 80% African and 20% European ancestry, offer a solution to this question, since individuals vary in their proportion of European ancestry while the analysis of a single population minimizes non-genetic factors.

In this study, the researchers show that gene expression levels in African Americans vary as a function of each individual's proportion of European ancestry. The differences due to ancestry (i.e. population differences between all Africans and all Europeans) were generally small—much smaller than differences between individuals within the same population; nevertheless, the authors were able to draw a distinction between effects of genetic ancestry at the location of the expressed gene (cis) and genetic ancestry elsewhere in the genome (trans). They conclude that only about 12% of heritable variation in human gene expression is due to cis regulation.

First author Alkes Price says, "It was a surprise that these conclusions could be drawn given that the differences due to genetic ancestry are so small." However, he cautioned that the results were confined to gene expression levels in a particular type of tissue known as lymphoblastoid cell lines, and have yet to be verified in other tissue types. ###

PLEASE ADD THIS LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal (link will go live on Friday, December 5)

CITATION: Price AL, Patterson N, Hancks DC, Myers S, Reich D, et al. (2008) Effects of cis and trans Genetic Ancestry on Gene Expression in African Americans. PLoS Genet 4(12): e1000294. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000294

CONTACT: Alkes Price Assistant Professor, Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Harvard School of Public Health aprice@hsph.harvard.edu


This press release refers to an upcoming article in PLoS Genetics. The release is provided by the article authors. Any opinions expressed in this release or article are the personal views of the journal staff and/or article contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the releases and articles and your use of such information.

About PLoS Genetics

PLoS Genetics (www.plosgenetics.org) reflects the full breadth and interdisciplinary nature of genetics and genomics research by publishing outstanding original contributions in all areas of biology. All works published in PLoS Genetics are open access. Everything is immediately and freely available online throughout the world subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. For more information, visit www.plos.org.

Contact: Mary Kohut Press@plos.org 415-568-3457 Public Library of Science

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Genetic variation increases HIV risk in Africans

Professor Weiss

Professor Weiss and the study of HIV/AIDS, Professor Weiss is a leading international authority on HIV and AIDS, having been responsible for some of the most important research breakthroughs in the field. His team identified CD4 as the cell surface receptor for the HIV virus, and contributed to the development of the first screening test to detect HIV in blood banks and prevent transmission of the disease through transfusions.

Professor Weiss was awarded the Ernst Chain Award, in recognition of his contribution to HIV/AIDS research, in 2007. He currently leads a $25 million research consortium funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is searching for a vaccine against HIV.
A genetic variation which evolved to protect people of African descent against malaria has now been shown to increase their susceptibility to HIV infection by up to 40 per cent, according to new research. Conversely, the same variation also appears to prolong survival of those infected with HIV by approximately two years.

The discovery marks the first genetic risk factor for HIV found only in people of African descent, and sheds light on the differences in genetic makeup that play a crucial role in susceptibility to HIV and AIDS.

The research, published today in Cell Host & Microbe, was co-authored by Professor Robin Weiss, UCL Infection and Immunity, who worked with colleagues in the US to analyse data from a 25-year study of thousands of Americans of different ethnic backgrounds.

The gene that the research focused on encodes a binding protein found on the surface of cells, called Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC).
The variation of this gene, which is common in people of African descent, means that they do not express DARC on red blood cells. DARC influences the levels of inflammatory and anti-HIV blood factors called chemokines.

Discussing the findings, Professor Weiss said: "The big message here is that something that protected against malaria in the past is now leaving the host more susceptible to HIV.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, the vast majority of people do not express DARC on their red blood cells and previous research has shown that this variation seems to have evolved to protect against a particular form of malaria. However, this protective effect actually leaves those with the variation more susceptible to HIV."

Lead author of the study, Professor Sunil K. Ahuja, from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, added: "It turns out that having this variation is a double-edged sword. The finding is another valuable piece in the puzzle of HIV-AIDS genetics."

HIV affects 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa today, an HIV burden greater than any other region of the world. Around 90 per cent of people in Africa carry the genetic variation, meaning that it may be responsible for an estimated 11 per cent of the HIV burden there. The authors observe that sexual behaviour and other social factors do not fully explain the large discrepancy in HIV prevalence in populations around the world, which is why genetic factors are a vital field of study. ###

Notes for Editors

1. Journalists seeking more information, or to interview Professor Robin Weiss, can contact Ruth Metcalfe in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9739, mobile: +44 (0)7990 675 947, out of hours: +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk

2. The paper 'Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC) Mediates Trans-infection of HIV-1 from Red Blood Cells to Target cells and Affects HIV-AIDS Susceptibility' is published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, published by Cell Press. This is not an open-access journal but copies of the paper can be obtained from Ruth Metcalfe, UCL Media Relations, using the above contact details.

3. The authors of this paper are from: South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Texas, US; The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, US; UCL; Uniformed Services University, Maryland, US; Wilford Hall United States Air Force Medical Center, US and the San Antonio Military Medical Center.

4. In the UK, this work was supported by a grant to Professor Weiss from the Medical Research Council.

About UCL, Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government's most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is in the top ten world universities in the 2007 THES-QS World University Rankings, and the fourth-ranked UK university in the 2007 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. www.ucl.ac.uk

Contact: Ruth Metcalfe r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk 020-767-99739 University College London

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More young black men have done prison time than served in the military or earned a college degree

Being jailed in federal or state prisons has become so common for African Americans today that more young black men in the United States have done time than have served in the military or earned a college degree, according to a new study.

The paper, appearing in the most recent American Sociological Review (published by the American Sociological Association), estimates that 20 percent of all black men born from 1965 to 1969 had served time in prison by the time they reached their early 30s. By comparison, less than 3 percent of white males born in the same time period had been in prison.

Equally startling, the risks of prison incarceration rose steeply with lower levels of education. Among blacks, 30.2 percent of those who didn't attend college had gone to prison by 1999 and 58.9 percent of black high school dropouts born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in state or federal prison by their early 30s.

Becky Pettit

Becky Pettit: Assistant Professor of Sociology, brings the perspectives of demography and economic sociology to the study of social, gender and racial inequalities. Her current projects include a study of the consequences of the rise in the American prison population for the labor market experiences of low-skill men and a study of the role of state policies in institutionalizing gender inequalities in the labor market.
"More strikingly than patterns of military enlistment, marriage or college graduation, prison time differentiates the young adulthood of black men from the life course of white males. Imprisonment is now a common life event for an entire demographic group," said Becky Pettit, one of the study's authors and a University of Washington assistant professor of sociology. Bruce Western, a Princeton University professor of sociology, is the co-author.

The study also looked at men born from 1945 through 1949. The study draws on publicly available data on inmates in federal and state prisons from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, but does not include information on time spent in local jails, which hold an estimated one-third of the incarcerated prison population. Hispanics were not included because data were not available, particularly about men born in the 1940s.

The incarceration rate for black men born in 1945 to 1949 was 10.6 percent by the time they were in their early 30s, but increased to 20.5 percent for those born in the 1965-1969 period. Among white men the overall risk of imprisonment grew from 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent over the same period.
The increase in incarceration rate marked a dramatic shift in the life course for young black males. In addition to estimating the risk of incarceration for birth cohorts by race and education, the researchers compared the prevalence of spending time in prison to other important life events for men born from 1965-1969 who survived until 1999. Pettit and Western found that 22.4 percent of surviving black men born in that period had spent time in jail, while just 17.4 percent had served in the military and only 12.5 percent had earned a bachelor's degree.

By the end of 1999, 1.3 million men were in federal or state prisons. The researchers said that changes in penal policy through the 1970s and 1980s, including custodial sentences for drug offenses and mandatory minimum sentences, helped fuel the expansion of the penal system and has led to growing disparities in the risk of incarceration among men of different education levels.

"Prison is no longer just for the most violent or incorrigible offenders. Inmates are increasingly likely to be serving time for drug offenses or property crimes," Pettit said. "While there is enduring racial disproportionality in imprisonment, we find that the lifetime risk of incarceration is increasingly stratified by education. Over the past 30 years the risk of incarceration has grown for both blacks and whites, but has grown the fastest among men who have a high school diploma or less."

"This has become increasingly important because we know ex-prisoners face a variety of challenges after incarceration," said Western. "These range from employer discrimination in the job market to increased risks of divorce and separation in family life. The experience of imprisonment in America has emerged as a key social division, marking a new pattern in the lives of recent birth cohorts of black men." ###

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Contact: Johanna Ebner / Lee Herring pubinfo@asanet.org 202-383-9005 x332 American Sociological Association

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Archaeologists find evidence of earliest African slaves brought to new world

grave where skeletons of Africans were found in the cemetery in Campeche, Mexico

A study by James Burton and T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Vera Tiesler of the Autonomous University of the Yucatan provides the earliest definitive link between the African Diaspora and the New World. Digging in a colonial-era graveyard in Campeche, one of the oldest European cities in Mexico, archaeologists found and researchers chemically analyzed what they believe are the oldest remains of slaves brought from African to the New World. Pictured here is a grave where skeletons of Africans were found in the cemetery in Campeche, Mexico.
Photo by: courtesy T. Douglas Price
In the early European histories of the New World, there are numerous accounts of African slaves accompanying explorers and colonists.

Now, digging in a colonial era graveyard in one of the oldest European cities in Mexico, archaeologists have found what they believe are the oldest remains of slaves brought from Africa to the New World. The remains date between the late-16th century and the mid-17th century, not long after Columbus first set foot in the Americas.

The discovery is to be reported in an upcoming edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology by a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Autonomous University of the Yucatan.

The African origin of the slaves was determined through the reading of telltale signatures locked at birth into the tooth enamel of individuals by strontium isotopes, a chemical which enters the body through the food chain as nutrients pass from bedrock through soil and water to plants and animals. The isotopes found in the teeth are an indelible signature of birthplace, as they can be directly linked to the bedrock of specific locales, giving archaeologists a powerful tool to trace the migration of individuals on the landscape.

The new study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, draws on isotope ratios found in the teeth of four individuals from among 180 burials found in a multiethnic burial ground associated with the ruins of a colonial church in Campeche, Mexico, a port city on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The new isotopic studies are important, according to the new report's authors, James Burton and T. Douglas Price of UW-Madison and Vera Tiesler of the Autonomous University of the Yucatan, because they provide the earliest definitive physical link between the African Diaspora and the New World. Over a span of nearly 400 years, as many as 12 million people were placed in bondage and brought across the Atlantic under horrific conditions to work, primarily, in the mines and plantations of the New World.

"This is the earliest documentation of the African Diaspora in the New World," says Price, a UW-Madison professor of anthropology. "It does mean that slaves were brought here almost as soon as Europeans arrived."

In early colonial Mexico, Campeche was an important Spanish gateway to the New World. It served as a base for exploration and conquest and was a key defensive outpost in a region infested with pirates. Presumably, slaves from the infamous West African port of Elmina were shipped to Campeche where they may have been used as domestic servants.

The discovery of the remains of slaves born in Africa from such an early date shows that slavery became an integral aspect of the New World economy not long after the Conquistadors completed the subjugation of Mexico, says Price.

Archaeological and historical evidence, including a map of colonial Campeche, suggest the graveyard was in use from about 1550 to the late 1600s. It was uncovered, along with the foundations of a colonial era church, in 2000 by construction workers digging around Campeche's central park. The site was excavated under the direction of Tiesler.

The archaeologists were drawn to some of the individuals buried in the colonial cemetery because of distinctive dental mutilations, a decorative practice characteristic of Africa.

Burton and Price, in collaboration with Tiesler, are conducting a much broader study of human mobility in ancient Mesoamerica using isotopic analysis. They conducted a blind study of the isotopic content of teeth from 10 individuals from the Campeche churchyard. Four of the samples, says Burton, "were like something we'd never seen."

The ratios, he explains, were well off the charts for anyone born in Mesoamerica. Instead, they reflected the geology of West Africa, which is underlain by a massive shield of ancient rock, much older than the geology of Mexico and Central America.

The chemical analysis, combined with the distinctive dental mutilation, provides strong evidence that "these folks were born in Africa and brought to the New World," says Price. " The thing that impresses me is that it was happening so early. "

African slaves were brought to the New World as the Spanish needed labor to harvest timber and work in the mines that enriched Spain. Early in their rule, the Spanish enslaved Indians to perform heavy labor, but they turned to the African slave trade as diseases introduced by Europeans decimated native peoples. ###

Terry Devitt, 608-262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu WEB: More news Photos

Contact: T. Douglas Price tdprice@wisc.edu 608-262-2575 University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Racism's cognitive toll: Subtle discrimination is more taxing on the brain

While certain expressions of racism are absent from our world today, you do not have to look very hard to know that more subtle forms of racism persist, in schools and workplaces and elsewhere. How do victims experience these more ambiguous racist messages" Are they less damaging than overt hostility" And what are the mental and emotional pathways by which these newer forms of discrimination actually cause personal harm"

Psychologists have some theories about how the experience of racism plays out in the brain—and what that means today compared to before. All human beings are driven by a few core needs, including the need to understand the world around us. When people do things to us, we must know why, and if we are uncertain we will spend whatever cognitive power we have available to diagnose the situation.

The problem is that we have limited cognitive resources, so when we are solving one problem, we have difficulty focusing on another at the same time. Some psychologists reason from this that subtle racism might actually be more, not less, damaging than the plain antipathy of yesterday, sapping more mental energy.

colored waiting roomOld-fashioned racism—a “No Negroes Allowed” sign, for example—is hateful and hurtful, but it’s not vague or confusing. It doesn’t require much cognitive work to get it. But if you’re the most qualified candidate for a job, and know it, and still don’t get the job for some undisclosed reason—that demands some processing.

Princeton psychologists Jessica Salvatore and J. Nicole Shelton decided to explore this idea in the laboratory. They ran an experiment in which volunteers witnessed a company’s hiring decisions from the inside. They saw the competing resumes of the candidates and the interviewer’s comments and recommendations. This wasn’t a real company, and there were no real people involved, but the volunteers believed it was all real.

The experiment left no doubt about which candidate was best qualified, and sometimes that candidate was chosen, sometimes not. Sometimes the company passed over the best candidate for blatantly racist reasons; the reviewer might comment that the candidate belonged to “too many minority organizations,” for example. Other times the best candidate was simply passed over for no good reason. The psychologists ran the experiment many times, in every combination, so that both black and white volunteers saw black candidates reviewed by whites and by blacks and the same for white candidates.

After witnessing these fair and unfair hiring decisions, the study volunteers took the so-called Stroop test. During this test, the names of colors flash on the screen for an instant, but in the “wrong” colors (the word “red” in green letters, for example), and the idea is to quickly identify the color of the letters. It tests capacity for mental effort, and the idea in this study was to see if experiencing subtle racism interfered with that mental capacity.

It did, at least for blacks, and more than the overt racism did. As reported in the September issue of Psychological Science, black volunteers who had witnessed unfair but ambiguous hiring decisions did much less well on the Stroop test, suggesting that they were using all their mental resources to make sense of the unfairness. Interestingly, white volunteers were more impaired by overt racism than by the more ambiguous discrimination. Salvatore and Shelton figure this is because whites rarely experience any racism; they do not even notice the subtle forms of racism, and are thrown off balance when they are hit over the head by overt acts. Many blacks, by contrast, have developed coping strategies for the most hateful kinds of racism; it’s the constant, vague, just-below-the-surface acts of racism that impair performance, day in and day out. ###

Author Contact: Nicole Shelton nshelton@princeton.edu

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. For a copy of the article “Cognitive Costs of Exposure to Racial PRejudice” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Catherine West at (202) 783-2077 or cwest@psychologicalscience.org.

For more insights into human behavior, visit "We're Only Human . . ." at www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman.

Contact: Catherine West cwest@psychologicalscience.org 202-783-2077 Association for Psychological Science

Friday, November 28, 2008

Race guides neighborhood evaluation, study says

Detroit, Michigan. Back view of a Negro dressed in a zoot suit, walking in the business district

Detroit, Michigan. Back view of a Negro dressed in a zoot suit, walking in the business district, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540
Race is a powerful determinant of how whites regard a neighborhood, according to a recent study at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan.

The investigation, appearing in the latest issue of the journal Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, indicates that neighborhood evaluations are socially constructed and contribute to ongoing racial segregation.

"We sought to determine whether whites are colorblind in their evaluations of neighborhoods, or whether racial composition still matters
-- even when holding constant the quality of the neighborhood," said Maria Krysan, professor of sociology at UIC and the report's lead author. Co-authors are Reynolds Farley and Mick Couper of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

The survey-based experiment involved more than 600 randomly selected white adults aged 21 and older living in the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas.

Participants were shown videos of various neighborhoods -- lower working class to upper class -- with actors posing as residents. Residents were portrayed doing exactly the same activities in each neighborhood, such as picking up mail or talking to neighbors.

While the survey participants viewed the same neighborhoods in the videos, they were randomly assigned to see white residents, black residents or a mix of both.

Participants were then asked to evaluate the neighborhoods in terms of housing cost, property upkeep, school quality, safety and future property values.

Whites who saw white residents in the video rated neighborhoods significantly more positively in four of the five dimensions when compared to whites who saw black residents in the identical neighborhood. Racially mixed neighborhoods fell in between.

"These findings demonstrate that 'objective' characteristics such as housing are not sufficient for whites to overcome the stereotypes they have about communities with African-American residents," said Krysan, who is also affiliated with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Participants were also questioned regarding their endorsement or rejection of racial stereotypes. Whites who held negative stereotypes about blacks as a group were more likely to produce disapproving neighborhood evaluations.

According to the researchers, property value stagnation is one consequence of whites excluding neighborhoods solely due to the presence of black residents.

"This segregation limits occupational opportunities for blacks, ensures that blacks and whites will seldom have the chance to attend school together, and seriously limits the acquisition of wealth by African-Americans," said Michigan's Farley, who noted that racial segregation remains common in the older metropolises of the Midwest and Northeast.

Harvard University sociologist Lawrence Bobo, editor of the Du Bois Review, lauded the new study.

"It is rare to find research that combines high-quality new data with such grounded, real-world issues," he said. "Thanks to this highly innovative piece of research, we now understand far better than ever before the factors that create and sustain racial segregation of neighborhoods in America." ###

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of Michigan, the Ford Foundation, and UIC.

Established in 1948, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is among the world's oldest academic survey research organizations and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology.

UIC ranks among the nation's top 50 universities in federal research funding and is Chicago's largest university with 25,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

Contact: Brian Flood bflood@uic.edu 312-996-7681 University of Illinois at Chicago

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Research demonstrates differing genetic makeup of lung cancer in African-American patients

epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)

Cartoon diagram of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) (rainbow colored, N-terminus = blue, C-terminus = red) complexed with its ligand epidermal growth factor (magenta) based on the PDB 1NQL crystallographic coordinates.
Informs clinical development of EGFR inhibitor drugs

The tumors of African-American non-small cell lung cancer patients are more likely to carry a higher number of copies of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene and fewer mutations of EGFR itself than Caucasians according to a study presented at the 2008 Chicago Multidisciplinary Symposium in Thoracic Oncology, cosponsored by ASTRO, ASCO, IASLC and the University of Chicago.
These genetic factors have been shown to predict long-term outcome and tumor responses when taking erlotinib and gefitinib – common EGFR inhibitor drugs.

Previous studies have determined that ethnicity can have an influence on the risk and outcome of non-small cell lung cancer patients, with African-American patients experiencing a higher risk and poorer outcomes. Ethnic background can also impact the genetic make-up and responsiveness of non-small cell lung cancer to EGFR gene blocking drugs. For example, a large number of Asian patients carry mutations of the EGFR gene than Caucasians, which can determine the likelihood of major clinical responses to EGFR inhibitor drugs while a higher copy number of EGFR is a predictor of better long-term outcome with the use of these drugs.

Researchers at the Departments of Medicine, Pathology and Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland; the Departments of Medicine and Pathology at the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Aurora, Colo.; and the Instituto Clinico Humanitas IRCCS in Rozzano, Italy, sought to determine the frequency of EGFR abnormalities in African American patients since there is a paucity of data on this population.

The study authors observed 53 African-American patients with resected non-small cell lung cancer and found few EGFR mutations and an increase in the frequency of tumors with a high copy number of the EGFR gene. Previous studies have shown that an increase in the number of copies, regardless of mutation, predicts a better outcome with EGFR inhibitor drugs.

"The findings of this study were surprising since it was not expected that drug-sensitizing EGFR mutations would be so rare in this patient population," Rom Leidner, M.D., one of the study's authors and a clinical fellow in hematology/oncology at Case Western Reserve University said. "African-American patients remain underrepresented in clinical studies in oncology and therefore our knowledge base about how to modify our treatment strategies for this patient population remains poorly defined."

Researchers hope that the findings of their study could impact how clinical studies are designed in the future and how EGFR-targeted agents are used in the future. ###

The abstract, "A Study of Genetic Abnormalities of the EGFR Pathway in African American Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer," will be presented in a poster discussion session Friday, November 14, 2008 from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. To speak to Dr. Leidner, please call Beth Bukata or Nicole Napoli on November 13-14, 2008, in the Press Room at the Chicago Marriott at 312-595-3177. You may also e-mail them at bethb@astro.org or nicolen@astro.org.

Contact: Beth Bukata bethb@astro.org 703-839-7332 American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology

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