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Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

Before watching Disney’s Moana (part of Disney’s more inclusive trend in animated movies) last weekend I saw a trailer for Sing, which features a variety of animals entering a singing competition. Unlike Zootopia, which used animals to explore race relations, Sing seems to use animals because it gave its relatively stale premise a twist. Even more stale is its use of a familiar racist trope. In the trailer, a family of gorillas are thieves in a gang and pressure their son (who just wants to sing) to participate.

How did nobody, from the writer to the director to the actors themselves, realize that it might be problematic to have the “gang members” who end up in jail represented by animals that have historically been used to disparage African Americans (such as Michelle Obama)? And how is it that almost nobody thinks this may be a problem (a quick Google search brings up only one relevant result)?


“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about potentially racist animals via your news feed.

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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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Over at Sociological Images Lisa Wade breaks down Lily Allen’s new video for “Hard Out Here,” in which she mocks the tropes associated with some recent music videos, particularly Miley Cyrus’s. You can see the video here:

As I watched the video, my first thought was, “Oh, she is making fun of the expectations that women face in the music industry.” My second thought, though, was, “Isn’t she using these black women as props in the same way that Miley Cyrus used them?” Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous was better able to turn these thoughts into words, writing:

Satire works best when you are flipping the script on the oppressor, on the system. When you are calling attention to the ways that the system is jacked by amplifying the absurdity of that system. Not caricaturing and otherwise disrespecting the people who are oppressed by that system.

In general, I think that music that challenges listeners to question the stereotypes associated with pop culture is a good thing, so I don’t fault Lily Allen for writing this song or wanting to make a video playing with these ideas (though Lisa points out that the only reason a song like this can get recorded is because somebody thought that it would be successful at making money). I wish, though, that she had found a more clever way to play with these ideas than simply appropriating them for her own purposes.

The lesson learned here, I think, is that we have set the bar so low for thoughtful dialog about race, gender, inequality, and sexuality in popular music that just pointing out how stupid we are about these things is seen as a thoughtful critique. Everybody can do better.

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When I teach Intro I often end the semester by stating that I hope students will take something away from the course regardless of their major or future career path.  This is particularly true in the case of people who will eventually take on roles that affect the course of our country, such as those pursuing business, law, or education.  I feel better about these careers knowing that those who pursue them have had some sociological training.  In recent years, however, my sense of what I want these students to take away from sociology has been solidified as I listen to political rhetoric and talk to friends who took sociology courses (way) back in college but who have moved away from sociological ideas as a result of exposure to the “real world.”  What I want students to take away from sociology is this: You cannot draw conclusions about society based on the people that you interact with on a daily basis.

As a graduate student and an assistant professor I have heard friends, family, community members, and politicians refer to the “real world.”  When they do so, they almost universally mean the social world that they inhabit.  Their own experiences, then, are real, while those of others in different settings contain an element that they perceive to be artificial.  A businessperson may justify a decision to outsource jobs for greater profit margins by explaining that the people protesting the action do not understand the “real world” of business.  Similarly, somebody may justify a racist statement by noting that it is grounded in “real world” interaction with members of the racial group in question.  In each case, individuals privilege their own experiences over the larger body of knowledge that could be accessed through simple research about society as a whole.

Through this process, the lessons that we teach in sociology courses about race, class, or gender are likely to be overridden by individuals who interact with one or two people that confirm societal stereotypes.  Stereotypes about welfare recipients, for example, are rampant.  This morning on Facebook I read several assertions that many families have been taking advantage of welfare for generations with no acknowledgement that there have been strict work and time requirements on welfare since 1996.  A sociology student may recognize this, but a sociology graduate may not.  In my future courses I will spend a much larger amount of time emphasizing that individual experiences are not an appropriate basis for drawing conclusions about society.  If students take nothing else away from my courses I will consider myself successful.

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In determining somebody’s intentions, context is important.  Rupert Murdoch belatedly recognizes this on behalf of the New York Post:

As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you – without a doubt – that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.

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Last week Shamus posted the above NY Post cartoon on scatterplot, which the editor of the Post claimed “is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy” but I argued was “a clear parody of two unrelated things, which we tie together with racial subtext.”  This has been discussed everywhere, but for another sociological take you can check out the racism review.  The same day, Penny Arcade posted the following comic:

The above comic is referring to the depiction of African villagers in the upcoming Resident Evil 5 video game, which is also discussed here.  Connecting these topics is the notion that one’s interpretation of each is affected by the history of racism in the United States and, likely, one’s racial experience.  It seems that a broader portrayal of African Americans in the popular culture would be a good way to begin weakening these associations.

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