When the war of the yard signs was at its peak some years ago, I wanted to put three popular signs in my yard, all together:
Let Your Light Shine: Fight Racism We Support Gays and Lesbians Keep Christ in Christmas
My state celebrates the winter season with the war of the symbols. Nativity scenes on public property justly spark lawsuits by those who are not Christian. Menorahs and “separate church and state” banners flank the decorated evergreen tree whose very name is subject of debate in the legislature. Proposals to include Wiccan pentacles and jokes about Festivus poles add to the fun. Some Christians have decided that “their” holiday has been ruined by any acknowledgment of others, even by as simple an expedient as a generic “Happy Holidays” in public space or by using the name “holiday tree” for a decorated evergreen, itself a pagan symbol morphed into a Christian symbol for a pagan Roman holiday morphed into a Christian holiday. This seems to me to be so clearly about cultural dominance, not religion, that I find all the arguments unsettling. The Christmas centered on shopping malls and Santa Claus and Christmas trees is not a religious holiday, unless the religion in question is capitalist consumerism.
The religious holiday centered on the symbol of the nativity is about God embodied in a new human child, a light in the darkness, a hope for the oppressed. For those of us in this tradition, it is a symbol well worth contemplating, and any Christian of conscience wants to lift up the nativity and downplay the materialist excesses of the secular Christmas. So it is doubly ironic and sad that deploying this symbol in public space is an act of cultural domination over religious minorities, not a challenge to excess and greed.
FAIR’s study examined every episode of After Words from March 2008 to January 2010, and the reviews of politically themed books in the New York Times Book Review from January 2009 to February 2010. In total, the study counted 100 episodes of After Words and 100 reviews in the Times. In each case, the author(s) and reviewer/interviewer were classified by ethnicity and gender. (Because some books had co-authors and some reviews encompassed multiple books, there were 120 authors of 111 books in the Times reviews studied.)
They find a strong White male bias overall. The strongest finding is that 95% of the US book authors were non-Latino Whites and 96% of the US reviewers were non-Latino Whites (compared to 65% of the US population). There was a slant for non-US authors, too: “Of the 12 non-U.S. authors in the Times (10 percent of the total), 10 were white British, one was Israeli and one—Tariq Ali—was Pakistani-British.” Women were also barely represented: 13% of book authors and 12% of reviewers. Only two women of color made the pages of the NYTBR, both as authors; zero women of color were reviewers. After Words was also slanted, but much less so. Of the handful of non-White people in the NYTBR, the large majority were writing on “ethnic” topics.
In an interview about this study on NPR , Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a former editor of The New York TimesBook Review through 2006 (and so not necessarily responsible for these numbers) seems to gabble around the issue, as far as I can tell, suggesting that the numbers are shocking but can’t possibly be due to any kind of pro-White bias at the NYT. First he says: “But that’s always the aim is to find the most interesting books. They get, what, 50,000 books a year. They go through them. They are always conscious of the fact they were newspapers, so they respond to what seems politically important, what seems to be of interest to their readers. And that’s how those choices are made. They’re never made are we representing, you know, (unintelligible).” And then, when pressed, seems to blame the major publishing houses for not publishing books by people of color. “Well, I think that, again, you have to go a little bit deeper. Publishing has become is going through a real crisis now. The most obvious thing is that the so-called midlist book, the book that isn’t going to be a bestseller, isn’t being published to the degree that it was, say, in the 1960s, where there was a conscious effort to represent diverse views, races and so forth.I think it reflects what’s being published. Does the book review – I don’t know what’s being published by smaller presses that might be publishing Latino writers, for example, African-American writers. But the major houses are simply doing less diverse books in every respect because they are aiming for the bestseller list.” When pressed about the lack of reviewers of color, he talks about the women on staff.
Edit: I couldn’t help it, I do this too much with crime and imprisonment data, so I calculated estimated disparity ratios from the given data. Relative to population, Whites are about 9 times more likely to appear in the NYTBR as authors of “politically themed books” than non-Whites. Among Whites, relative to population men are 6 times more likely to appear as authors than women. Among non-Whites, men are 2 times more likely to appear than women. Among men, the White/minority disparity is 11, among women the White/minority disparity is 4. For reviewers in the NYTBR, the White/minority disparity is 13. Among Whites, the gender disparity for reviewers is 6, among men the White/minority disparity for reviewers is 11. The disparity ratio calculations for minority women reviewers are undefined, i.e. infinite, due to a zero divide.
After presenting lots of statistics about racial disparities in criminal justice, I showed my class the videos from ABC News What Would You Do? in which first White and than Black youths vandalize a car in a public parking lot. There is only one 911 call on the White boys, but ten on the Black boys. Plus, while the White boys are vandalizing, someone calls 911 to report people who are suspected of planning a robbery — Black kids asleep in a nearby car! Well, most of the class, as expected, saw this the way I did, as evidence of a racial problem. I was trying to emphasize that not arresting Whites when they commit crimes is just as important in racial disparities as arresting Blacks. Some students pointed out (correctly) that it was a demonstration, not a controlled experiment and wondered (fairly) whether the producers selected cases for their strong differences. But a few very vocally insisted that the difference was not about race at all, but that the Black kids were wearing “gang clothing.” They got somewhat offended when I said, “yeah, Black styles” and then cut off that line of argument, saying “OK we disagree on that, but I don’t want to spend the rest of the class arguing about clothing.”
Today I went back to the video and took screen shots of the kids. They are all wearing hooded sweatshirts and jeans, as I said. (One student had insisted that the White kids wore tucked in shirts! Not so.) There are subtle differences in how they wear the clothes, though. The Black kids’ clothes are bigger on them (and the kids themselves appear to me to be smaller). The White kids’ shirts have words on them which I assume are school names (the resolution isn’t good enough for me to read them) while one Black kid has some sort of design on it that you could construe as edgy — it is definitely not preppy. One Black kid is wearing a cap which (as can be seen elsewhere in the video) is a gold weave thing that I cannot imagine a White kid wearing, but he’s wearing it in the same way as lots of White kids wear baseball caps. In my view the only difference between the clothing was subtle differences in style sensibilities between Blacks and Whites, and that calling the Black kids’ clothing “gang attire” is ridiculous. These few students think that if the Black kids had been in “non-gang” (i.e. “White”) clothing, the result would have been different. (They did not even suggest dressing the White kids in “gang” styles.) I think they are just exhibiting extreme resistance to the obvious. (The same students criticized me for failing to show examples of Black crime.) Opinions?
Edit: I decided to add shots of the kid with the most distinctively Black hat. In these shots you can see that he’s also wearing a do-rag. Just to be fair. I can find no evidence that this is “gang attire.” But it is certainly distinctively Black. Do you think it’s the do-rag and not the skin color that matters here?
I found this post by dorkchaser at thinkingsex while surfing when I should be writing. The surfing’s bad, but this is a really good post on the different experiences of a white-identified girl and her brother in the same majority-Black high school, because she appeared biracial and he did not. The post discusses this with reference to Joane Nagel’s Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers, which I am now motivated to read.
I’ve been mulling over writing a post called Me and Barack and God, about why I find Obama’s rhetoric so powerful because I share his religious tradition, as well as working intermittently on a post about talking about race that I can’t bring to conclusion because, I realize, I don’t know what the conclusion is. But a narrower post about us-them language in the election I think can raise some of the themes I’ve wanted to address. For the first time I can remember, Republicans are getting mauled in the media for saying that some people are “real Americans” or for questioning the patriotism of people who disagree with them. They are actually having to back down and apologize, at least when the national news is watching. I’ve never seen this before. I think Obama’s refusal to engage in tit-for-tat is why we are seeing this. In Pennsylvania, where a Democrat referred to white voters in the western part of the state as “racist” and then as “rednecks” when he tried to correct himself, McCain got more of a pass when he called people the “most patriotic part of America” because he was countering an attack on them, and the name-calling seemed more balanced. My daily “spirituality and peacemaking” email arrived today with this quotation from Henri Nouwen in Peacework: Continue reading “Us and Them”
Mulling over the debate, here’s what I wish Obama had said about the time McCain was whining about Lewis daring to compare Palin’s rallies to KKK rallies.
Even though your running mate’s rallies are getting out of hand and some white voters are willing to tell television or newspaper reporters straight up that they are going to vote for McCain because they will never vote for a black man, I know you are not a racist. But that kind of talk is very frightening to many Americans, who want to see a society that pulls together rather than be pulled apart by racial and ethnic conflict. Senator McCain, you are an honorable man. I invite you to take a strong stand against such talk, repudiate these people and tell the American people that you want no part of support based solely on race or people’s names, that you believe in a multi-ethnic America where we get along despite difference, and that you want all Americans to evaluate us on the basis of our stands on issues, not the color of our skin.
Tape-delayed blogging of the social psychology centennial conference held at Wisconsin Sept 26-7 including talks by Glen Elder, Shelley Correll, Mitch Duneier, Yuri Miyamoto, Terri Orbuch, and Jim House. This conference was honor of the first publication of books with the title Social Psychology, one of them by E.A. Ross, a founder of the Wisconsin sociology department. This conference is held in the room that is not named after E.A. Ross; the not-naming occurred after a two-hour debate in the early 1980s about whether the racism of Ross’s “race suicide” Social Darwinist work outweighed his support for working people and his belief that sociology should address social problems. I arrived late, after the administrative welcomes and most of the way through John DeLamater’s summary of the history of social psychology.
Glen Elder talked about doing longitudinal life course research. A lot of the talk was anecdote about his research career. The point where many of us started taking notes was this graphic. Although there were questions about what he means by “theory,” to which Elder replied that he means “orienting concepts” or “framework,” I was struck by how apt this graphic was as a representation of what I feel I’ve learned about living life.
Friday evening we had a fancy dinner and then watched the presidential debate on the big screen. The social psychologists yelled and booed like they were at a wrestling match, and I would have felt pretty uncomfortable if I’d been a Republican. We were in the Business School’s conference center, and there were business folks watching the debates on TVs in other rooms; I wondered if the atmosphere would be different if we’d mingled with other groups. The other highlight of the evening for me occurred earlier: after I described the troubles we were having finding a place to hold my daughter’s wedding reception in December, a prominent psychologist had me about falling on the floor laughing as she advocated renting the zoo for the reception. As she said, the zoo really needs the business, it would probably be cold enough for the pond to freeze so you could dance on it, and if it was really cold you could go into the lion house to get warm.
Saturday morning there was a little flurry around miscommunication. People were carrying in their cups of Starbucks and bags of Einstein Bagels, only to discover that there was enough coffee and bagels in the conference room for about twice as many of us as were there. So at the end of the day, everyone was urged to take bagels home for the freezer.
Shelley Correll led off the Saturday events, talking about the value of experiments with an emphasis on gender research. I was particularly struck by the “motherhood penalty” research (Correll, Shelley J, Stephen Benard, and In Paik. 2007. “Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty?” American Journal of Sociology 112: 1297-1338.) I guess I wasn’t paying attention last year when this article came out: experimental results that show that people with exactly the same credentials are more negatively evaluated if there is one line on the c.v. that she is a mother, and that taking time off work for going to the gym is viewed more positively than taking time to have lunch with a child. (Fathers experience no penalty – this is coming back to me.) She also cited experimental results by someone whose name I missed that men harassed more by sending pornography to women if their masculinity was threatened.
Mitch Duneier began by making laudatory remarks about a lot of people (many of them in the room) and Wisconsin sociology and stressing that he is not a social psychologist although he appreciates and learns from social psychology. His main talk was a discussion of the danger in qualitative methods of cherry-picking, that is, of finding the quotations or incidents that support your point. He also talked about ethics and the danger of treating IRB approval as the end rather than the beginning of ethical behavior, and worrying about the problem of using other people for our purposes and befitting at their expense. Good talk, but a safe talk, nothing to disagree with, the only overt target of critique is himself.
Yuri Miyamoto is a psychologist who presented a variety of experimental results contrasting the modal response of Easterners (Japanese or Chinese) with Westerners (Anglo-Americans), where Easterners tend to think more about context, locate causes in relations, and favor aphorisms stressing change and contradiction, while Westerners prefer analytic thinking & laws of non-contradiction and locate causality in objects. The details are interesting. When describing a picture do you start with the fish – the focal objects – or do you start with context e.g. “this is a lake bottom.” When told an essay was written by a student who was required to argue for a given side, do you attribute its opinion more to the writer if it is long, complex and passionate versus short and perfunctory? (Westerns don’t distinguish, Easterners do.) Which two of “chicken, cow, grass” go together? Westerners tend to say chicken & cow (both animals), Easterners say cow & grass (cow eats grass). She suggests that these differences arise from settlement patterns, the longer history of dense settlement and highly interdependent agricultural life in Asia vs. frontier individualism in the US. Research in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan not settled until the 19th Century, finds that ethnic Japanese there give answers more like Americans. Sociologists in Q&A and conversation during break comment critically on how all difference is packed together as under-theorized “culture” and the importance of looking at variation within groups. Good points, but I still found the main axis of the story to be worthy of contemplation. I’ve thought before about how the US is fundamentally the place dominated by people who left their families and roots behind.
Terri Orbuch AKA “The Love Doctor” gives a fact-filled summary of the research on how people come to have happy marriages versus unhappy marriages or divorces, organizing her talk around the three main strands of social psychology: symbolic interaction, the dynamics of group interaction, and the social construction of meaning. Most of the talk summarizes results from the longitudinal study of newly-married couples. If you are just starting out on the coupled life, the best predictor of long-term stability for everyone is “affective affirmation” – the overt communication of loving attitudes. Interestingly, “cognitive collaboration,” developing a joint narrative of your life, is a secondary positive predictor of stability for Whites but negative (although non-significant) for Blacks. Divorce rates are higher for Blacks than Whites, controlling for everything they could control for. Another big racial difference: Black men do much more housework, feel less threatened by involvement at home, and have much more egalitarian gender ideologies than White men; Black women’s marital happiness depends on how much work at home their husbands do, while White women’s does not. Men’s work at home is a predictor of divorce for Whites but of non-divorce for Blacks. These racial differences in the gender attitudes of Black people are consistent with other research I’ve seen years ago, and tend to go unnoticed by Whites, except perhaps for feeding into stereotypes of Black women as emasculating.
Jim House gave a shorter re-presentation of his 2007 Cooley-Mead lecture. The first part of the talk is the history of social psychology, showing how central and important it was through the first two-thirds of the 20th century, and then how it has declined since 1970 in terms of section memberships and proportion of top departments with a specialty in social psychology. (Social psychology has also declined within psychology.) He argues that microeconomics filled that space. This is due both to ideological factors, the rise in neolibral individualism and the valorization of business firms, and (relatedly) to deep cuts in the governmental funding support for social science in the 1980s, and the relative insulation of economics from these cuts. Tversky/Kahneman’s social psychological work was translated into and published in economics journals, and won the Nobel prize in economics. Economics has replaced social psychology in public policy. In addition to the ideological context argument, House argues that the expansion of sociology and the proliferation of sections paradoxically weakened sociology as compared to economics, which has no sections in the AEA and rather rigidly enforces ideological hegemony. All academic fields rose 1940-1970, then generally flattened out. But after 1970, total number of economists declined somewhat, while the number of sociologists grew modestly.
To save social psychology from decline, House stresses path dependence and the role of human agency. He says social psychologists need to act, to deal publicly and aggressively with the problems & limitations of economic models. In light of economic crises, he talks about how social psychologists have a lot of knowledge they should share about how and why people fail to fit economistic decision-theory models. There is a need to balance rational choice with understandings of structural constraint and non-rational motivation/values. And social psychologists need to link with social, biomedical, and natural sciences. He also says we should reduce hyper-specialization, reduce the number of new PhDs who know only about their own applied interests. He contrasts this with the sciences in which everyone has to have a background in physics, chemistry, biology at least at basic level. I found the specialization argument misspecified, and talked to him about it afterwards. In his accounts, economists are even more ignorant of other fields than sociologists are, and the interdisciplinary training he lauded about the physical and biological sciences happens in the undergraduate curriculum.
Vigorous discussion ensued and was halted 45 minutes after the announced ending time by the growing trickle of people leaving to catch their planes. Good event.
My reading is full of racial/ethnic conflict these days. Audible.com was featuring Nathan McCall’s Them: A Novel , which caught my eye as my mind was sensitized to issues of gentrification by David Wilson’s Cities and Race: America’s New Black Ghetto. The story is told from the point of view of Barlowe Reed, a Black printer who lives with his ex-con pigeon-raising nephew in a rented house in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward, home of Martin Luther King. The story follows the area as it is settled or invaded (depending on your viewpoint) by the so-called “urban pioneers” – that is, White yuppies searching for in-city housing bargains. I could imagine teaching about the sociology of racial/ethnic conflict using this book. And as many of Amazon’s reader comments say, it would make a great book club discussion book. It is about the conflicts arising from wildly different backgrounds and experiences and the very real difficulties in bridging these differences. The conflict is very much two-sided. The Black residents don’t want the Whites there and try to get them to go away, with tactics ranging from a general refusal to speak to the Whites to muggings and thefts. For their part, the Whites see themselves as racial liberals and integrationists, but enact largely-unconscious White racial supremacy as they take over the neighborhood, replacing local institutions with their own, and destroying people’s lives in the process. Continue reading “Ethnic Conflict: Them”
I’m not sure who (if anyone) has stuck with this series, so I’m not sure what your interests are in wrap-up. Drop comments if you want me to address other issues. Here are my thoughts. This was an overwhelming experience in many ways, and there are many threads one could pick up from the things that happened at the conference. I’ll discuss three themes: the content of what people talk about, the importance of listening along with talking, and cultural differences in public talk. I tried to provide a lot of details about what people said and how they said it because I’m very interested in how people talk as well as what they talk about. I have been struck before how the whole tone of interaction shifts when a meeting is dominated by people of color instead of whites. Although the two day conference in Farmtown was a kind of immersion experience, I have had many similar experiences before. As a White person watching the interactions, I’m most struck by how deeply personal and painful these issues are for Black people.* Continue reading “Public Sociology in Farmtown #9: Reflections on the Experience”
The final session of the two-day conference I’ve been describing in the “Farmtown” posts is supposed to be reports from the small groups that met in the morning. These reports get longer and the discussion gets more animated with each successive speaker. As with the sermon, I’ve tried to capture the flavor of the longer speeches. Again what interests me is the way people weave different themes together when they talk. Continue reading “Public Sociology in Farmtown #8: Ideas and Wrap-Up”
(This continues a series. See the earlier posts in the series for context.)
Our lunch speaker is a Black man I code as about 40 plus or minus 10 years. He has a staff job with a college in another state and is also a Baptist minister. His style is passionate Black ministerial oratory interweaving politics and God, interweaving joking and anger and challenge, ranging broadly across a lot of issues and pulling in quotations from many writers. He says his goal is to challenge and upset people. The talk is free-flowing but planned out; there are extensive quotations from religious and political sources. I’ve tried to capture the feeling of the speech/sermon in my notes.
My goal is to make you upset and angry today. People need to stop being PC and talking about “institutional racism” as a cover and being afraid to call out individual racists. We should demand justice. But instead of demanding, we are sitting complacent and saying we are doing something, but we are not doing something. We should demand drug treatment and job training. Socially responsible businesses should offer training at their own cost, benefits to community. We should go back to Operation Breadbasket, when leaders demanded businesses to sponsor jobs. Continue reading “Public Sociology in Farmtown #7: Inspiration and Challenge”
In this episode: details about problems and programs, some startling facts about returning prisoners, a brief eruption around mistaken racial identity, we talk about mentoring. Again, a mosaic of experiences. Remember, these discussions are not being “performed” for Whites; the point is a group dominated by people of color are trying to understand what is going on and what they can do to contribute to solutions.
Next up is a panel of six people from Unitown, all in their thirties to sixties. None were here yesterday for the first day of the conference. They are a White woman who runs a faith-based nonprofit with a significant prisoner reentry project; an Asian woman community organizer; a Black man who has been a local politician and is head of Unitown’s office of equal opportunity; a Black man who is a former prisoner who is now the head of a returning prisoner’s organization, and a Black married couple (both professionals) who have been involved in a lot of different activist projects; she is now chair of Unitown’s Equal Opportunity Commission. I know five of them from the various groups I’ve worked in and have heard much of what they say before. My notes are details that caught my attention. Continue reading “public sociology in farmtown: #6 what’s going on?”
(This is the next in a series about a two-day conference I attended on racial disparities in education and criminal justice. I was the first speaker. After that, I attended, listened, and learned. This picks up on day two, after a night spent in a dorm room.) After a buffet breakfast, the morning speaker is a Black educational researcher who does qualitative research on children’s and families’ perceptions of schools, stressing the importance of talking to the people being “served” by institutions. One project involved asking children what their sources of support were and then asking teachers what the children’s supports were; in general the teachers did not know. Children often viewed their families as supportive while the teachers saw the same families as unsupportive or problematic. Continue reading “public sociology in farmtown: #5 about the children”
I will get back to finish the Farmtown series.* As my last post in the series (#4, White Supremacy) was characterized by one friend as “the world’s longest blog,” by my spouse as “I know I said I liked the longer posts, but . . . ” and by another friend as “you don’t write blogs, you write articles,” I thought I’d pull out the incidents that I most wanted to share with others. If you waded through the long post, there is nothing new here. If not, these are the incidents I thought it was most important to share for discussion.
A Black professor in his sixties gives a lecture whose point is to explain how simple differences become schisms between people because of inequality. He then develops an example using the two white police officers sitting next to me that is an extended tale about what if you (white man) were always knocked down by her (white woman) every time she saw you, what would you do? The white man says “lash out” (most don’t hear him say it) but the speaker says that you’d just lie down to avoid being knocked down, and then goes on to say that you’d teach your children to just lie down and avoid the woman and her children, and the children would do it even if they did not know why. And, he says, the woman’s children would expect the other people to lie down, but not know why they are doing it. I find these different perceptions of how people respond to oppression to be important and telling. I think lashing out is what most whites do think the most common response to oppression is, not having actually experienced it. And even as much as I teach this stuff, I am struck by the speaker’s emphasis that you lie down to avoid being knocked down, and that you can teach that to the next generation. Continue reading “public sociology in farmtown: extracts from #4 white supremacy”
Walking Boston yesterday, from the hotel north via Newbury Street toward Quincy Market, then through the North End, back around Beacon Hill, and back to the convention hotel area. Lots of rehabilitation of old housing going on, upscale condo developments and the associated upscale services. It is pretty, we were having fun. But I could not help but notice how few Black folks there were on the streets. I recently read David Wilson’s Cities and Race: America’s New Black Ghetto. The short version of his argument is that an important part of “revitalizing” cities involved banishing poor Blacks from the [White] affluent civic gaze which, he says, supports the interests of real estate interests who make a lot of money on the creation of value through gentrification and other processes. Part of what he talks about is intense and aggressive policing in many cities to stop and harass poor Blacks who venture into the gentrified areas. I have not studied up on the specific history of Boston, but I could not help but think about this as I was walking around. So when I got back to my hotel room, I used the Census Bureau factfinder mapping site to generate maps of the City of Boston, showing % Black by census tract. This is of course 2000 data, I don’t know what has changed, and did not plot the income distributions. I’ve put a red circle about where the convention hotel site is. As you can see, Black folks are not living all that far from the convention site, but are not very present in this area. I don’t know anything about what is going on locally. Just wondering.
I talked to my spouse between writing this post and figuring out how to post graphics. While I was off working, he took a walk into the medium green (integrated) area on the map (up Columbus Avenue, for any locals reading) and said it seems like an pleasant integrated area with a nice feel. Couples of both races sitting in outdoor cafes. He passed a Black church letting out from services.
It is important to place this discussion in the context of the whole conference, so it you are new to this series, please check out the previous post. For a quick recap, I’m writing about a two-day conference on racial disparities in incarceration and education at a university in a rural area I call Farmtown. The previous post focused the first half of the first day and the ways information was brought into the group. This post focuses on the second part of the first day, which ran from 3:15 – 9pm.
Two Farmtown professors do the short version of a workshop they’ve done often before for white faculty at their institution on the ideology of white supremacy. The black social science professor goes first, and it is relevant to note that he is older, in his sixties. His title is “isms and schisms.” The point is about how demographic differences become structures of inequality. He talks about how people respond to experiences of discrimination and then asks people what they see when the imagine pictures of powerful groups (i.e. Congress, Supreme Court). We are supposed to say “white male.” I hear one of the officers next to me say something like “mostly white males with some women and a few blacks and latinos” to Congress, and for the Supreme Court says “mostly white men and a woman and a black man.” At the end of this exercise, he requires the white man to answer his “what do you see?” question, and the answer is “mostly white men.” I’m glad I’m not put on the spot like that. I learn later that the speaker always forces a white person to answer this question. Continue reading “public sociology in farmtown (4): white supremacy”
I wrote this from notes I took at a conference on racial disparities in incarceration and education at a branch campus of the state university located in a rural very-white area I will call Farmtown. I was invited to give my disparities talk by a group of university-connected people in Farmtown who have been meeting because they want to do what they can to fight problems of racial disparities. The call to the conference expressed the hope of linking up people in different communities working on these issues. Farmtown is 150 miles away from metropolitan Segtown, where most of the state’s African Americans live, and 75 miles away from Unitown, the state capital and home of the major university where I work and live, so this seemed an odd locale for such a conference. I could have just given my talk and left, but I am a member of the “community” who is working on these issues, so I decided I’d like to stay for the whole two days to talk to people and see what was going on. I told the organizer that if they covered my conference registration fee (which includes three meals and a dorm room) I would consider myself adequately compensated, and did not need an honorarium. I was told that about 45 people have registered for the conference, although not everyone is spending the night, a large contingent of Unitown people are coming tomorrow only, and some people have been coming and going from the room.
When I counted at the opening session, I got about 11 whites and 18 people of color who are mostly black. I learned as the day progressed that I had miscategorized some folks, about which more later, but the errors were in both directions. The conference is about 2/3 people of color. Thinking about it later, I realize that I am the only white speaker at the conference. Although most of the groups I talk to are overwhelmingly white, I have addressed and worked with groups that are at least half black before, and am comfortable in the setting. I’ll talk more later about the impact of racial mix. Roughly half the attendees are from Farmtown, virtually all university faculty, staff, or students, including mostly people of color but also a couple of white deans. In pre-opening chit chat, a white woman who is one of the deans chats with a black woman who is a U-Farmtown staffer about the new choir director at the church they both attend. Most of the non-Farmtown people I talk to turn out to be alumni of U-Farmtown, and the core of the conference is clearly African Americans who know each other because of the U-Farmtown connection. This surprises me, as it had not occurred to me that ANY African Americans would be at or have gone to a university in this very-white part of the state. Shows what I know. I learn more later about what they have been doing at U-Farmtown and think there are things to learn from them. There are few representatives from the criminal justice system here, unlike the groups I’ve worked with in Unitown or Segtown. Unitown’s police force has three representatives here, one black (who seems to know the organizers well) and two white, a man and a woman; all seem fairly young to me. I chat with the black police officer as we wait for the opening; he knows of my work and we talk about the issues. There is also someone from the state university system and her intern; I don’t know whether she is part of the network or not.
Belle just offered her great post on teaching about race posted both here at Scatterplot and on her own blog, responding to pitse1eh’s blog. Both got great comments and useful links. This made me want to dust off my own essay on the subject. The core of this is an article I originally published in Feminist Voices, a Madison newspaper, in January of 1998. I’ve revised this several times since, including some revisions for this blog forum.
It is something of a truism among sociologists that the hardest thing to teach our students is the idea of social structure. The US has an extremely individualist culture, and we tend to think of race problems as reducible to individual choices, either blaming poor people for poverty and the consequences of poverty, or blaming prejudiced people for not being accepting of difference. It is very hard to get past this, and understand why we are in structures that shape these behaviors and attitudes. Continue reading “teaching about race (me too)”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my UCC church asked me to lead “conversations about race” I described the first week in my earlier post. The second week I did a short version of my presentation on race and criminal justice. Today I began by showing clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, first a clip from ABC news “exposing” Wright (the clip starts with a commercial you cannot avoid) and then a six minute clip from the 2003 sermon which places the “God Damn America” line in its context in the sermon, which is about how nations come and go and don’t always follow God’s law, but God’s law endures.* We are a pretty liberal congregation and folks mostly laughed and enjoyed Wright’s political references, as well as saying they appreciated the way the sermon had clearly been planned and was making a point about history. I mentioned why some people objected to the sermon in web comments, even in its longer context, stressing both its political content (as many Whites are unaware of the long tradition of political commentary from Black pulpits) and its “angry” tone, and mentioned that this difference in cultural style is a really big problem. I also commented that there is a similar problem on the other end, with typical Asian interactional styles being considered by many Whites to be too polite and reserved and not assertive enough.
In response, one White woman said that Wright’s angry tone bothered her and she worried about its lack of “solutions” would that just incite racial animosity. Then the one Black participant (the same one from last week; everyone else was White) said that Wright was not angry, that he was just expressing himself passionately and forcefully. She elaborated on this point, talking about her own style and about Black mothers who come in to talk about their children and the White teachers code them as angry when they are just being assertive. She said, “If I’m angry, you’ll know it.” (Not saying I’m some kind of cosmopolitan, but based on my experience, the Black woman’s style was on the very mild and soft-spoken end of the range of Black expression I’m familiar with – well within the range of how I would express myself – and I coded her as warmly and compassionately making the effort to explain a standpoint.) Then the White woman said that the Black woman sounded angry and aggressive to her, and that she was bothered because the Black woman had interrupted her to make the point, and that the expression “If I’m angry, you’ll know it” sounded like a threat to her. Continue reading “culture, style, race, pain”
A lot of White folks think that a Black person calling someone or something racist is an insult, an attack on a person’s character and a slur that is just as hurtful and bad as the n-word. (This idea was more or less one of the main points in Permanent Collection, a play by Thomas Gibbons that I saw recently. More about that below.) Others who wouldn’t go that far think it is a way to stop a conversation, to put a White person on the defensive and give them no way to reply. I think this way of interpreting the r-word is both sociologically interesting and a big problem in its own right.
Overreaction to the r-word is a big problem in our schools. Some Black children have learned that they can get a big reaction out of naive White teachers who are disciplining them by calling the teacher racist. In one typical scenario, the White teacher backs off on disciplining the child until the child’s behavior is so out of control that she can justify kicking the child out of the classroom; in another, the teacher turns the whole thing into a conversation about trying to get the child to see how much the teacher’s feelings have been hurt by the name-calling. And parent-teacher conferences similarly fall apart – the teacher complains about the child, the parent says the teacher is being racist, and the teacher withdraws into a sullen angry silence, thinking “You are just playing the race card to avoid taking responsibility for your child.” But it is not just the schools, it is everywhere. You point to the vast disparities in Black and White arrest and imprisonment rates and say “this is racist,” and public officials say: “I treat everyone the same regardless of race. How dare you insult my integrity.” Even when the reactions are less extreme, many Whites just shut down when the r-word comes into play. Continue reading “the r-word”