Race in the United States – Mississippi and Hawaii at Two Ends of the Spectrum

What Hawaii can teach us about race in the U.S.

David Swanson is a professor of sociology at UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – There’s a lot to learn about race in the United States through statistical figures alone, especially when comparisons are made between Hawaii and Mississippi, according to David Swanson, professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside.

“Hawaii and Mississippi stand out from each other and the U.S. as a whole in terms of health, education, and income,” said Swanson.

Swanson will release an essay on the topic on Zocalo Public Square on Sept. 16, 2015. The not-for-profit ideas exchange board will have a discussion on “What can Hawaii Teach America About Race?” It is co-sponsored by the Smithsonian and the Inouye Institute. The essay will be available on Zocalo‘s website.

Swanson used data from the U.S. Census Bureau (except life expectancy data, which comes from Wikipedia) to demonstrate race in America.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.4 percent of the population of the United States identified themselves as belonging to two or more racial groups. In Hawaii the figure is 23.1 percent, the highest percent among the states. In Mississippi the figure is 1.1 percent, the lowest.

If we look at this from another perspective, Swanson points out that Hawaii had the lowest percentage of people who identified themselves as belonging to a single racial group (76.9) while Mississippi had the highest (98.9).

For the U.S. as a whole, life expectancy at birth is 78.7. Hawaii had the highest life expectancy at 81.3 years while Mississippi had the lowest, 75.0 years.

Another figure – in the U.S. as a whole, 28.8 percent of the people aged 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree, while in Hawaii that number is 30.1 percent and in Mississippi, 20.1 percent.

The median household income for the U.S. is $53,046. Hawaii’s median household income is $67,402, far above the level for the U.S., while in Mississippi it is far below, $39,031.

15.4 percent of the population in the U.S. is below the poverty level, while in Hawaii it’s 11.4 percent. In Mississippi, 22.7 percent.

What do all these statistics point to? According to Swanson it means that “Hawaii, the most multi-racial state, ranks very high or even highest among the states in terms of health, education, and income while Mississippi, the least multiracial state, ranks very low or the lowest in terms of health, education, and income.”

Both Hawaii and Mississippi were run by socio-economic elites, who largely were plantation owners, said Swanson. The racism and labor exploitation that characterized both of the elites were much more extreme in Mississippi and its elite as already embedded in the political fabric of Mississippi when it became a state in 1817, according to Swanson. However, the plantation-owning elite only came to power in Hawaii after the Kingdom was forcibly annexed by the United States in the 1890s and the levels of racism and labor exploitation in Hawaii were not as extreme as in Mississippi he explained.

Swanson said by the late 1940s, progressive political change started to occur in Hawaii and the results of this successful change are apparent today in terms of Hawaii’s multi-racial population and its level of health, education, and income.

“This should serve as an example to progressives elsewhere in the U.S., including Mississippi,” explained Swanson.

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David Swanson
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