Dartmouth Events

Davon Norris "Embedding Racism"

City Government Credit Ratings and the Institutionalization of Race in Markets

Tuesday, February 23, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm
Zoom Meeting 985 6691 5049, code 235188
Intended Audience(s): Alumni, Faculty, Postdoc, Staff, Students-Graduate, Students-Undergraduate
Categories: Lectures & Seminars

How does racism and racial inequality manifest in contemporary markets? Historically, overt discrimination made the mechanisms generating racial inequality evident. However, this is not the case in the structural and “color-blind” era characteristic of the present moment as the material mechanisms that give rise to racial inequality often lack clear conceptualizations. Leveraging insights from the sociology of race and economic sociology, I highlight the ways that algorithmic ratings, rankings, and scores operate as key mechanisms institutionalizing racism in markets. Because these technical devices exclude race as a direct input, conceptualizations of racism rooted in overt discrimination are insufficient. Therefore, I adopt a perspective that outlines how ratings produce what scholars in the sociology of race refer to as an epistemology of racial ignorance. Specifically, I argue that while ratings and scores give a veneer of individualized objectivity, their actual inputs reflect decades of racial disadvantage. The use of such racialized inputs embeds historical racism in ratings allowing racial inequality to persist and escape cognition as seemingly race-neutral inputs “explain away” racial disparities. I demonstrate this argument using an original dataset to approximate the evaluative criteria used by a credit rating agency in rating city government creditworthiness. I show that cities with larger proportions of Black residents receive worse credit ratings when controlling for the non-racialized inputs in the rating agency’s evaluative criteria. This racial disparity is only attenuated after the inclusion of the criterion median family income, which I argue is a fundamentally racialized input owing to the legacy of racism in the US. Empirically establishing this point provides key theoretical takeaways at the intersection of race and economic sociology as scores and ratings pervade more corners of social life and increasingly push up against the epistemological seams of how we understand and identify inequality.

For more information, contact:
Kim Hanchett

Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.