As race relations dominate the national spotlight, UCR sociology professor Dr. David A. Swanson, a distinguished demographer, released a vignette comparing the socioeconomic makeup of Mississippi and Hawaii on September 16, 2015, which highlights racial disparities between the two states and political changes which affected the state’s demographics.
Swanson’s essay was released in advance of an event called “What Can Hawaii Teach Us About Race.” The event is part of a project entitled “What it Means to be an American,” held through partnership of Zócalo Public Square, The Smithsonian Institute and The Daniel K. Inouye Institute. The goal of the series is to discuss how the U.S. history of migration and immigration shape the facets of everyday life in America.
Hawaii ranks highly in ethnic diversity with 26.7 percent of the population identifying as White, 37.5 percent as Asian, 10 percent as Native Hawaiian and 23 percent as mixed race. Mississippi, which ranks the lowest in ethnic diversity has 59.7 percent identifying as White, and 37.5 percent identifying as African-American while only 1.2 percent identify as mixed race.
In addition, there are also large disparities between the states’ income, health and education levels, with Hawaii ranking above Mississippi in all three. In Hawaii, the average household income is $67,402, above the national level of $53,046, while in Mississippi it falls below at, $39,031. In terms of health and education, Hawaii’s life expectancy is six years longer than Mississippi’s, and 10 percent more of the population has a bachelor’s degree.
Swanson credits Hawaii’s progressive policies for contributing to its ethnic diversity and higher standards of living than Mississippi’s. In addition, the professor cites the latter’s history with discrimination in regards to Jim Crow laws as contributing to its stagnation.
According to Swanson, the civil rights movement was a motivation for the essay. “I actually had been in Alabama and Mississippi in the summer of ’63 when a lot of civil rights activities were being played out,” Swanson stated.
“Coming from the state of Washington, I was not unaware of segregation and prejudice, but I had never seen anything to the extent I saw in MS and AL during ’63 (e g. the ever-present signs “Whites only” and “colored” used to designate public and privates facilities). Later, when I went to [Hawaii], I kept comparing in my head how different the race relations were in the two states,” Swanson elaborated.
UC Riverside, which is similar in its diversity to a state such as Hawaii, also fares better in rankings as opposed to campuses of a similar size in Mississippi. The demographic breakdown of campus for 2013 shows that 6.3 percent identify as African-American, 35.4 percent as Asian/Asian American, 32.1 percent as Chicano and Latino, 0.5 percent as Native American, 17 percent White/Caucasian and 8.7 percent as International/other students. Diversity at Mississippi State, the largest college in Mississippi, is less apparent with 72 percent White students enrolled, 21 percent African-American and 1-2 percent for the remaining demographics. In regards to U.S. News rankings, UCR ranks 121, while Mississippi state ranks below at 161.
In UCR’s 2014-2015 Academic Personnel Affirmative Action Plan, it states of UCR’s diverse campus culture, “We take pride in the diversity of the campus community and in ourselves by using the campus environment as a place, committed to academic integrity, where all members are encouraged to use their unique talents to enrich the daily life.”