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Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

Just in time for the spring semester, i09 has a post about comics that break down terrible arguments, many of which are sociologically relevant. For example, there’s this one about people who respond to “black lives matter” by insisting that “all lives matter”, this one about sexual harassment, and three about privilege.

If you put a few of them on your syllabus students might even glance at it!

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In an interview with New York Magazine (via Slate), Chris Rock offers some thoughts on racial progress after Ferguson, changing the typical framing of this issue and focusing indirectly on the issue of power. He says:

When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. … So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Also making the rounds on Facebook is an article about the experiences of Kiese Laymon, a black faculty member at Vassar College. Like Rock, Laymon highlights the differential power afforded to whites vs. blacks, even when the whites are campus security guards and the blacks are professors, concluding:

We are so much better than the sick part of our nation that murders an unarmed black boy like a rabid dog, before prosecuting him for being a nigger. We are so much better than powerful academic institutions, special prosecutors, and the innocent practitioners of white racial supremacy in this nation who really believe that a handful of niggers with some special IDs, and a scar(r)ed black President on the wrong side of history, are proof of their—and really, our own—terrifying deliverance from American evil.

This, combined with other recent events, demonstrates that we still have a long way to go to change the structural elements that will allow whites to be “nicer.”

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There is a nice post on Ferguson (to the extent that a post about Ferguson can be “nice”) by Doug Hartmann at The Society Pages.

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Over the years I’ve had a number of “good” classes of students, but I can’t recall a good class conversation about race. This is a problem, because without the ability to think about the ways that people understand race it is harder to tear those understandings down and introduce a sociological perspective (even if the sociological perspective is sometimes debated). The Whiteness Project, A new series from PBS, and related videos online, provide a possible solution to these problems. As the “About” section on the webpage notes:

The Whiteness Project is a multiplatform investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.

The project is conducting 1,000 interviews with white people from all walks of life and localities in which they are asked about their relationship to, and their understanding of, their own whiteness. It also includes data drawn from a variety of sources that highlights some quantitative aspects of what it means to be a white American.

This is great for the classroom because it allows instructors to show a brief video clip and then discuss the ideas it contains, the likely origins of those ideas, and sociological responses. Essentially, it shifts the burden of revealing the types of ideas that many white Americans hold from students to video clips. Take Jason, for instance, who says that he has not received any benefits from being white an discusses blacks blaming problems that have long-since been solved (you know, like slavery and discrimination) for their current situations. Or Harold, who believes that whites are the ones who suffer from discrimination today.

Using these videos as a starting point will allow students to do the work of critiquing the ideas present from a sociological perspective. I’m looking forward to trying it out.

Via Slate

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In the midst of the attention LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has received lately, J. J. Abrams released information about the cast of Star Wars Episode VII. As several others have pointed out, the cast is notable for its white maleness. Amanda Marcotte at Slate argues that this was Abrams’ chance to make some Star Wars history, since the previous movies haven’t had many women, either. She notes that Battlestar Galactica successfully integrated more women into its reboot, and explores the impact that gender equity in a major sci-fi franchise like Star Wars could have had on the genre.

By looking into the future (or the past of “a long time ago,” in the case of Star Wars), science fiction allows writers and filmmakers to imagine a world where race and gender boundaries have changed. The original Star Trek was noteworthy in part because of its racial diversity. J. J. Abrams is not necessarily opposed to the creation of strong female characters, as Alias and Lost show, but it is interesting that his recent history in the area of diversity is noteworthy primarily for his casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and the lack of female characters in Star Wars. It is interesting to consider what Abrams’ Star Trek reboot would have looked like if he hadn’t been focused on finding actors who matched the race of the original cast.

Of course, a lack of diversity is more appropriate for Star Wars, which hasn’t always had the best depictions of race, as explained by Hooper in this edited clip from Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy:

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A few days ago, L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was revealed to have said some racist things. Although his fate as owner of an NBA team has not yet been determined, his ability to interact with those on his team and attend NBA games has been; he has been banned for life.

There are a number of interesting sociological questions related to this situation. One concerns the relationship between private statements and personal property. Another is related to types of discrimination and why statements that gain public attention can have more severe consequences than years of discriminatory practices. Although NBA players are paid very well, we can also use this situation to examine relationships between owners and players. Finally, Doug Hartmann at The Society Pages has a nice exploration of the situation’s impact on our understanding of racism in America.

Included in Hartmann’s post is a message from Max Fitzpatrick of Central New Mexico Community College (Edit: Fitzpatrick’s message is now its own post). Fitzpatrick writes:

Instead of merely being what Marx sarcastically called “critical critics”—those who attempt social redress through words alone—we should take these opportunities to bring attention to—and to change—the poor social conditions and institutional discrimination disproportionately faced by people of color. Attacking the material foundations of the problem will be more effective than simply laughing at the wrinkled old symptoms of the problem.

In some ways, the Sterling situation seems to support Fabio’s claim that, while we are not “post-racial,” we may be “post-racist.” Although racism is still prevalent, its public expression has been severely limited. As Fitzpatrick and Hartmann note, however, this may actually serve to make racism and discrimination more dangerous, since they continue to have serious negative effects even when society claims that they don’t.

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Thankfully for fans, this year’s Super Bowl featured some ads to keep them entertained during Seattle’s demolition of the Denver Broncos. Two of the ads, in particular, stood out to me for their recognition of America’s diversity.

The one that has provoked less controversy was for Cheerios and featured a biracial family:

This commercial is actually a sequel to a previous commercial from last spring that featured the same family. The previous ad ignited racist comments online, leading comments to be disabled on the video at YouTube. These comments demonstrate that a casual depiction of an interracial family is still a big deal over 40 years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The second commercial was for Coke and has received considerably more attention:

The attention this ad has received is reminiscent of the controversy after Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at last summer’s MLB All-Star Game. In both cases people seem to have forgotten that not everybody in the United States speaks the same language or has ancestors from the same part of the world. This was also reportedly the first Super Bowl Commercial to feature a gay family.

While it is great to see these depictions during one of the most-watched television events of the year, there is also an element of calculated risk that it seems General Mills and Coke were willing to accept. That is, airing a commercial that will anger some people will also ensure that people will be talking about that commercial and, by extension, the product. Katie Bayne, Coke’s president, said, “We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” Oh, and Coke!

The fact that these complaints will be written off as bigoted by the majority of the audience they are trying to reach also reduces the actual risk that they take on and says to consumers, “We think those people are idiots, too. Buy our product.”

Update: Here is a post by Jenny Davis discussing these ads and the way our reaction to them helps us overlook systemic racism.

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