Archive for August, 2013

At Gawker, Tom Scocca explains how White people have ruined the March on Washington, starting with a simplification of King’s speech:

Here is what King actually said, in this one quote of his that today’s white people take as proof he was on their side:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

When white people cite this passage, they tend to replace “my four little children” with something generic—”people,” for instance. The specific facts of 1963, of a caste of children born in a society that intentionally excluded them from opportunity, give way to an ahistoric (and therefore pointless) idealism. America is about how everybody is treated the same. Equality is replaced with equivalence.

So we arrive at a color-blind society, one in which if you did look at the people who are poorer, or less educated, or sicker, or more likely to be imprisoned, or more likely to be turned aside from the polls under voting laws passed this very year, you would see that they just happen to be disproportionately nonwhite. But it is wrong to look. Dr. King—the white people’s version of Dr. King—told us so.


The genuine Martin Luther King Jr., 50 years ago, said this:

When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men—yes, black men as well as white men—would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Here is where white Americans failed themselves and their country. That image of the promissory note was too much for white people’s greed and selfishness to accept. White people had defined themselves, as a race, by having the things that other people could not have. So the vaults of opportunity would not be opened, not without white people staging a run on the bank first. If the public schools had to educate black children and white children together, the white people would get out of the schools, declare war on the whole idea of public school. If black people could participate in civic life, white people would clear out of the cities. White people would revolt against paying taxes, against poverty relief, against food stamps, even.

And then, after decades of this, white people would look back at the things white America had abandoned or refused to build, and they would blame black people for living in the ruins. Their character. Their culture. Their music. Their pants.

This is what blaming the victim looks like.

Also on the subject of Martin Luther King and the failure of whites, here is a segment from Keith Olbermann’s new show on ESPN:

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At The Onion, CNN.com’s Managing Editor explains how it happened:

Over the years, CNN.com has become a news website that many people turn to for top-notch reporting. Every day it is visited by millions of people, all of whom rely on “The Worldwide Leader in News”—that’s our slogan—for the most crucial, up-to-date information on current events. So, you may ask, why was this morning’s top story, a spot usually given to the most important foreign or domestic news of the day, headlined “Miley Cyrus Did What???” and accompanied by the subhead “Twerks, stuns at VMAs”?

It’s a good question. And the answer is pretty simple. It was an attempt to get you to click on CNN.com so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.

There was nothing, and I mean nothing, about that story that related to the important news of the day, the chronicling of significant human events, or the idea that journalism itself can be a force for positive change in the world. For Christ’s sake, there was an accompanying story with the headline “Miley’s Shocking Moves.” In fact, putting that story front and center was actually doing, if anything, a disservice to the public. And come to think of it, probably a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of people dying in Syria, those suffering from the current unrest in Egypt, or, hell, even people who just wanted to read about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

This seems like an accurate explanation. I guess that The Onion has given up on satire…

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The President of the American Association of University Professors has released a damning statement on President Obama’s higher education plan. In it, he states:

Blaming “complacent faculty” who remain “shortsighted” ignores the reality of higher education in the 21st century. It is not the tenured and tenure-track faculty, much less the army of contingent faculty who have been displacing tenured faculty, who are complacent or shortsighted. If anyone has lost touch with reality it is the metastasizing army of administrators with bloated salaries, who make decisions about the allocation of resources on our campuses, and our university presidents who are now paid as though they were CEO’s running a business — and not a very successful one at that. Unfortunately, these are the very people President Obama plans to consult while implementing his plan.

Read the whole thing here.

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Recently, administrators at my school circulated copies of the newest brochure – part of a revised marketing campaign – for faculty comments. The brochure looked great – we have some good people in charge of these things – but beyond its appearance, I couldn’t find much to get excited about. The takeaway from the brochure seemed to be that we are a liberal arts school with liberal artsy things like small classes and opportunities for students to study abroad and conduct research. What I did not notice was anything that sets us apart from other liberal arts schools in the region.

Over the past several years I have grown increasingly weary of administrators talking about our “educational brand,” our “marketing strategies,” and our “competitors.” Are there new programs, they ask, that we could create to attract students with higher academic abilities (and whose parents have deeper wallets)? Looking at the new brochure it struck me that the administration seems to be going about things backwards. Instead of focusing on who we want to be, more attention should be paid to playing up the strengths that we currently have. If our “brand” were consistent with our strengths, maybe we would be able to attract better students who are drawn to those strengths.

I’m obviously a faculty member and not an expert in marketing or branding, but looking at the current trends in higher education it seems that any small liberal arts college that wants to exist in its current state fifty years from now had better find a niche. Otherwise, schools like mine seem likely to devolve into little more than sources of online adult education, maybe with a token physical location as a loss leader. In carving out such a niche, a school’s marketing had better be closely aligned with its mission and both had better be closely aligned with its actual strengths and the students it serves. Whatever the case may have been in the past, generic statements about small classes and student research opportunities are not enough anymore.

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In addition to learning that I should fund sociology at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, I also spent some time with senior colleagues, one of gave me some advice that is relevant to my continuing series on Academic False Consciousness. As faculty members, he said, we should always be loyal to individuals but never to institutions. The reason for this is that individuals are much more likely to be loyal to us than institutions and to think otherwise is to ignore everything that Marx tried to teach us.

I was reminded of this conversation when talking to a staff member who had recently decided to leave my school for a better job. Because the timing of his departure coincided with the beginning of the new academic year, some in the administration had grumbled about the difficult position that he put the institution in. Of course, if the same administrators had decided that he should be fired it seems unlikely that they would care what time of year it was.

The difficulty of discerning between loyalty to people and loyalty to institutions at a liberal arts school is that it can be hard to tell where people end and institutions begin. The staff member who quit his job certainly made things more difficult at the institutional level because it will be difficult to replace him in a timely manner. It will also, however, create an additional burden on his former coworkers, who will be asked to do more in his absence. Although thinking about his coworkers may have caused him to question his decision, it is actually the institution that will decide on the timetable for his replacement and whether or not his position will be filled with a temporary employee in the interim. If the institution decides that it will not, the burden on his former coworkers is not the fault of the employee who is leaving for greener pastures.

In the end, most of his coworkers supported his decision because they understood his reasons for leaving. The fact that he had found a better opportunity did not bring about the end of their loyalty to him. Although I think that we should dig in and make the most of the opportunities that are available to us in the positions we hold, the fact that we are given these opportunities should not prevent us from seeking better opportunities elsewhere.

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Fund Sociology

At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, the ASA made a statement that others should “Keep Calm and Fund Sociology,” as our purple conference bags noted. The continued funding of sociological research is certainly important, as successful efforts to deny NSF funding to political science make clear. Nevertheless, maybe the ASA should have used the approach of the British Sociological Association, which produced a video at its own annual meeting (available below) showing all of the ways why it is important to commit sociology. The video shows why sociology is important, which will hopefully lead to continued funding. It also makes me want to join the BSA.

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Although I missed them in Denver last year, I’ve been chronicling the ASA’s attempts to provide unisex restrooms since 2010 when I noticed the women’s unisex restrooms in Atlanta. With two conference hotels this year, the ASA saw two implementations of unisex restrooms.

At the Hilton, the unisex restrooms were similar to those at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, with a unisex sign in front of men’s and women’s restrooms that were right next to each other. While better than nothing, this implementation makes me wonder whether conference attendees actually treat the restrooms as unisex, stick to the gendered bathroom that they would usually use, or avoid them altogether.

Over at the Sheraton, the situation was different. In addition to men’s and women’s restrooms, the Sheraton also had restrooms that were designated as unisex and restrooms that were designated as accessible/family. These rooms were part of the hotel design and not an attempt by the ASA to impose its progressive attitudes toward gender on a gender-binary space.

If I were rating them, as I did for this year’s scavenger hunt, I would give the Hilton a 3 out of 10 and the Sheraton a 7 out of 10. While the Sheraton gains points for having preexisting unisex restrooms, these restrooms were designed for a single person (or a family). This is certainly better than providing no space for a person who does not feel comfortable in a gender-binary restroom but seems less progressive than offering a multiple-person restroom that can be used by everybody.

It turns out that I am not the only person interested in restrooms, since Bill O’Reilly is very concerned about a law in California that allows transgender teens to use the restrooms for the gender they identify with. If all restrooms were unisex, neither Bill nor I would have anything to complain about!

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Last year, I completed 16 of 30 items on the inaugural ASA Scavenger Hunt. Over the past four days I was able to set a new personal best with 20 of the 30 items on this year’s form. I completed items 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 30. Unfortunately, I was in Central Park but failed to recreate any of the scenes from Elf. Send me your submissions soon (socslac [at] gmail [dot] com) for a chance to win… something!

In addition to the scene around the Hilton statue, where I waited for people multiple times, here are some other reflections on ASA 2013:

  • If you are going to write about an earlier conference experience on your pseudonymous blog just before ASA, you probably should not tell the same anecdote when you are actually at ASA, unless you want your secret blogging identity to be revealed!
  • There are some aspects of the city that I really like (drinks at the Bryant Park Cafe) and others that I really dislike (crowds, traffic, section receptions in tiny rooms, Times Square).  I think that the negatives outweigh the positives.
  • Interesting sessions do not belong at 8:30 am!
  • Meeting with friends at night + going to 8:30 am sessions = conference exhaustion, which is only worsened by rain.
  • Corkscrews at Duane Reade cost more than wine at Duane Reade, which probably says more about the quality of the wine than the corskcrews.
  • This year’s ASA bags are good for carrying bottles of wine. If you put the wine in the bag diagonally you can discreetly walk through multiple hotel lobbies without drawing attention to the fact that you are carrying extremely cheap wine.
  • I wonder where ASA Bear is now.
  • Early ideas for next year’s scavenger hunt: witness somebody playing Candy Crush Saga during a session’s Q&A, attend an Author Meets Critics session in which the critics forget to criticize the author, arrive to a meeting 15 minutes late so that you do not have to stand by a statue by yourself, look at your phone while waiting for somebody else so that you don’t feel quite as stupid standing by a statue.

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If you are traveling to New York for ASA, here are some songs to prepare you for arrival:

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind

Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind

If you can’t make it to ASA in New York, here are some songs that may make you feel better about that:

Soul Coughing, “The Incumbent

The Strokes, “New York City Cops

I’m sorry that some of these selections are hackneyed, but I don’t have much time before leaving for New York myself! Add your own suggestions in the comments.

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It is that time of year again. The time of year in which sociologists join together in a city and then occupy themselves by playing bingo and going on scavenger hunts. Of course, some ASA games are more equal than others. As I argued last year:

The problem with an ASA bingo card is that the ASA experience is inherently unlike the game of bingo.

Bingo is played in a room full of [smoke and] other people, each with randomized cards listening to eliminate enough numbers to win. Without doing something radical like emailing Kieran to ask, I assume that John Siracusa’s bingo cards for Apple keynote presentations provided the inspiration for the original ASA bingo card. The first of these, in 2006, included a standard card in addition to twenty randomized versions allowing different chances to win. (Incidentally, none of them were winners.) The beauty of Siracusa’s keynote bingo was that individuals in the audience could conceivably follow along, checking off events until somebody won and shouted “bingo!” in the middle of Steve Jobs’ introduction of some new product. (As far as I know, this has never actually happened, which is unfortunate.)

Which brings me to the solution. What we need is not an ASA bingo, but rather an ASA scavenger hunt. In a scavenger hunt, everybody is free to seek the items on the list in any location and order they choose, making this format perfect for a large conference like ASA.

Click here to download the official 2013 ASA Scavenger Hunt!

The 2013 ASA Scavenger Hunt Rules:

  • The 2013 ASA Scavenger Hunt is open to anybody who is attending this year’s ASA conference in New York. Your status as an undergraduate, grad student, assistant professor, or “famous” sociologist will not affect your chances of winning.
  • Record the dates, times, locations, and/or session numbers for the items on the list between Friday, August 9 and midnight on Tuesday, August 13.
  • Items may be double-counted. This means that if, for example, you attend an Author Meets Critics session in which somebody in the audience is wearing a tie and you bail because it is boring you will have covered items 7, 11, and 5. on the list.
  • The person who submits a form accounting for the most items will receive… something! This is a very exciting opportunity and your chances of winning are high!
  • The winner’s name could be posted on my blog, unless the winner doesn’t want his or her name associated with a scavenger hunt, in which case the winner is welcome to choose a suitable pseudonym.
  • I will be playing along and will keep you posted on my own progress throughout the weekend. If nobody enters I will privately declare myself the winner and treat myself to ice cream.
  • If you would like to discuss your own progress on Twitter, use the hashtag #ASAHunt.
  • Have fun!

If you want to double your fun, last year’s inaugural Scavenger Hunt form can be found here, though the only thing you will win by playing with last year’s form is satisfaction.


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