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Lawrence Bobo's wife gave him a saxophone for Christmas. The 40-year-old, jointly tenured professor of sociology and Afro-American studies is a jazz lover who has always wanted to play but never learned. Now the trick will be to find the time. Bobo is a widely cited innovator in the design and analysis of social surveys concerned with issues of race and ethnic relations, who says he believes "in looking carefully at the data and trying to understand those data in as richly contextualized and informed a way as possible." He logs abundant frequent-flyer miles doing just that. Recently, he conducted a major study (in five languages) of urban inequality in Los Angeles. The study expressly links where people live to job prospects: exploring how and where they look for work, how they find out about jobs, and what sort of wage they are looking for, and comparing the experiences of the poor with those of other groups. Bobo coined the term "laissez-faire racism" to describe how discrimination still operates in hiring, the housing market, and many other areas, despite putatively race-neutral laws. Though much of his work characterizes the civil-rights movement of the 1960s as bringing full citizenship rights for African Americans, he says the movement "did not eliminate deeply entrenched patterns of racial bias and inequality": residential segregation, a 12 to 1 inequality in white versus black wealth, and racial prejudice "are the outcomes of a long period of racial discrimination. They have a sedimentary quality." If change continues at its present pace, he projects that we'll be far into the next century before even half of African Americans live in integrated neighborhoods.
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