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.