Spitting and Suspicion: Racialization of Low-level Crimes

Photo by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr CC.
Minneapolis photo by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr CC.

 

Sociologist Nancy Heitzeg collaborated with community consultant William W. Smith IV for a piece in the Star Tribune about the racial policing of low-level crimes in Minneapolis. African Americans, they write, have experienced disproportionately high arrests for minor offenses such as loitering, spitting, lurking, depositing tobacco, congregating on the street or sidewalk, and violating juvenile curfews. A black person in Minneapolis is 7.54 times more likely to be arrested for vagrancy than a white person, and black youth are 16.39 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested for loitering or breaking curfew. It’s unlikely that African Americans commit more of these crimes, Heitzeg and Smith write; instead, racial profiling and the policing specific neighborhoods are bigger drivers of the disparity.

Some question whether more arrests for low-level offenses actually matter in the grand scheme of things. Community organizations including Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, the Coalition for Critical Change, and Community Justice Projects have initiated petitions charging that many of these ordinances are vague and unconstitutional. Additionally, according to Heitzeg and Smith “The overpolicing of our communities of color contributes to unequitable outcomes in multiple social arenas, including education and employment.” Even having been arrested for a minor violation can negatively affect college admissions or getting a job.

Heitzeg and Smith highlight the history of racialized policing and the withholding of civil rights in the detainment of African Americans. They connect low-level offenses to the post-abolition Slave Codes transformation into Black Codes that circumscribed the lives of African Americans in the Jim Crow era. As the authors put it, “Low-level and ‘livability’ crimes were central features of the old Jim Crow era, and remain today—in the New Jim Crow era—as pretextual police tools in racial profiling.”

To listen to a TSP Office Hours interview with the author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, click here. Our book Crime and the Punished includes an excerpt from the interview.

An Eye-“Clopening” Workforce Trend

Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons.

In years following the 2008 recession, many Americans are still scrambling to find enough work hours to make ends meet. One emerging trend is “clopening,” when an employee works the closing shift, then opens the same business a few hours later. Piled on top of commuting, trying to get some sleep, and attending to family duties, the few remaining precious hours between shifts are overbooked. That can have negative consequences on health. Sociologist Gerhard Bosch tells the New York Times about the European Union’s required 11-hour rest period between shifts: ““If a retail shop closes at midnight, the night-shift employees are not allowed to start before 11 o’clock the next morning.”

Even though some unions in the United States have negotiated similar required “between shifts” time, there is not yet a national labor law. However, several states have taken steps toward Right to Work laws some hope will alleviate the long, inconsistent hours many employees face.

Some business owners claim that some employees prefer “clopening” to working 9 to 5, pointing, for example, to students with busy daytime class schedules. However, one student worker told the Times that working on the clopening schedule meant quitting his pursuit of a master’s degree—he’d lost focus and developed chronic exhaustion.

Money Talks

social meaning of moneyThe rise of mobile payment apps like Venmo has made it much easier to, say, split a dinner tab, but this convenience comes along with worries about security and privacy. Further, could companies’ use of personal information about payments to target advertising reveal compromising details about our personal lives?

Venmo, for instance, is explicitly “not just a mobile payment app”—it’s also a social media platform that broadcasts its users’ payment activities to their friends. Cameron Tung discusses some of the implications in Slate. Mobile sharing of payment information helps us attach social meanings to financial transactions, and $100 spent in a restaurant is not the same as $100 spent on a phone bill. Sharing details about whom we’re paying and when opens our financial activity to social scrutiny. Don’t want your spouse or partner to know about the fancy dinner you had last weekend? Better not pay with Venmo.

To support this point, Tung cites Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer’s work on payments and social ties. We should think about each monetary transaction, according to Zelizer, as a gift, an entitlement, or compensation: “each one corresponds to a significantly different set of social relations and systems of meanings. People making payments use a number of earmarking techniques to distinguish those categories of social relations and meanings from each other.”

When Zelizer wrote about Christmas bonuses, for instance, she found that whether employers and employees thought about bonuses as gifts, compensation, or entitlements had a profound effect on the relationships between bosses and workers. Mobile payment platforms allow us to attach similar meanings to everyday transactions, broadcasting these meanings to our friends. As we consider the privacy and security implications of convenient mobile services, we also need to think about their cultural implications. Though we might want to use sharing apps strategically to cultivate particular online personas and identities, we may not always be able to predict how others’ will attach meanings to our payments.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon: A Symptom of a Larger, Older Problem

The men of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Emory University archives.
The men of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Emory University archives.

 

A revoked charter. Public condemnation by a University president. A pair of expulsions. The reactions to the now-infamous video of members of fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon singing “There will never be a n*gger in SAE” have been swift and damning. Despite the public shock, though, this isn’t an isolated—or new—phenomenon. Such issues are reflective of the broader nature and roots of Greek life at colleges and universities across the southern United States, explains the Washington Post with help from work by UConn sociologist Matthew Hughey.

SAE, for example, was founded over 100 years ago in the Antebellum South. During the Civil War, 369 of its 400 members fought for the Confederacy. And along with the most recent incident, SAE chapters have been castigated for racist events including a “Jungle Party” at Texas A&M and a “Cripmas Party” at Clemson University. The Washington Post quotes Hughey’s study of southern Greek organizations: “law prohibits race-based exclusion in college sororities and fraternities in the United States… [but at Mississippi State University] racial segregation prevails.” That’s because these organizations were historically homogenous and exclusionary. Hughey went on, “Until after World War II, U.S. Greek-letter societies reflected the dominant portion of the college population: white, male, Christian students of ‘proper breeding.’”

Since Greek organizations are so self-consciously steeped in history and tradition, it’s not easy to get away from their pasts. So while “nonwhite membership in white Greek-letter organizations is often hailed as a transformative step toward equality and unity,” according to Hughey, the word “fraternity” is unlikely to conjure images of “Southern hospitality,” let alone diversity or inclusivity, anytime soon.

Retiring with Your Parents

OTA Photos via Flickr.
OTA Photos via Flickr.

 

With the baby boomer generation hitting retirement ages, it’s important to consider how retirement affects this enormous cohort and their families. One unique aspect of today’s retirement is the occasional retirement overlap: both parents and children are retired at the same time. In an interview with The New York Times, Phyllis Moen of the University of Minnesota says,

This is still historically unprecedented, where you have older people and their still-older parents. Families are having to figure out those intergenerational relationships.

This may be a situation unique to the current time period, though. For the trend to continue, the younger generation must retire while their parents are still alive. Since expected and actual retirement ages have been rising for more than a decade, future generations may not be able to afford to retire at all, let alone alongside their parents. Then again, “by the time their children retire, we may have even more medical advances to help us live even longer,” says Professor Moen.

One potential downside of dual-generation retirements is that they can add retirement stress in the form of caregiving for older family members. As Moen states, “The pressures are less intense while the younger generation is still employed,” because “work can offer an escape from the stress of caregiving and the stress of that family relationship.”

For Successful Kids, It’s Family Stability Over Family Structure

Photo by Anita Hart via Flickr CC
Photo by Anita Hart via Flickr CC

 

Sociologists Jamie Seabrook and William Avison’s research shatters the myth that children from single parent homes have worse outcomes than kids living with both parents. They told Northumberland Today that other factors better predict the future than whether a child lives with one versus two parents. “Instability really is the risk factor,” said Avison. “When there is a lot of transitioning in the family environment, that kind of instability doesn’t seem good for kids’ educational development and growing up to be adults.” They found that family structure had no impact on a child’s educational achievement or income, as long as the family structure remained consistent over time. When single mothers partnered and re-partnered several times, the researchers saw negative impacts on child outcomes compared to kids whose single mothers consistently single. Another interesting finding of the study is that children who grew up in stable single parent homes are less likely to divorce or separate than children who grew up in two-parent homes.

“The overarching conclusion is we have to be very careful saying the type of family you grow up in predicts kids’ success,” Seabrook said. Even if single parent homes are economically less advantaged than two-parent households, less money does not translate to differences in child education.

Subsidizing the Suburban Commute

Looks like a long walk. Photo by Krystian Olzszanski Flickr CC.
Looks like a long walk. Photo by Krystian Olzszanski Flickr CC.

Those who have fallen on hard times or don’t have many resources can turn to public programs for essentials like food and housing assistance, but what about transportation? As people living in poverty are forced to the suburbs by rising costs and gentrification, they are now further away from the places and services they need to reach, like work and clinics. Enter Alexandra Murphy, a University of Michigan sociologist recently quoted in the Pacific Standard: “Transportation has been outside of what we define as a human service… even though it’s widely acknowledged that transportation creates opportunity and hardship.”

King’s County in Seattle is offering a new subsidized bus program that is garnering national attention. As described in the Pacific Standard, “[the program] will now allow low-income residents to ride buses, trains, and ferries for $1.50, when standard fares can be more than $3.” Programs like this, however, come with liability risks. What happens if a government-subsidized vehicle gets into an accident? The stickiness of these situations can be a deterrent for those hoping to start public transportation programs; as Murphy explains, “it’s the perception that it’s a quagmire that people don’t even want to walk into.” With time, it is hoped that King’s County may offer a way forward for other communities facing a mismatch between where the housing is plentiful and where the jobs are on offer.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Ian Philp, director of the Clean Energy Institute, shares a maxim his mother taught him: "Have a clear, tangible idea of what success---or your goal---looks like when you set out." Photo by MaRS Discovery District, Flickr CC.
Ian Philp, director of the Clean Energy Institute, shares a maxim his mother taught him: “Have a clear, tangible idea of what success—or your goal—looks like when you set out.” Photo by MaRS Discovery District, Flickr CC.

It’s March, and many people’s well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions have long gone out the window. Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but in an interview with Washington Post, sociologist Christine Whelan sheds light on how to make a fresh start.

Her first piece of insight comes straight from sociologists’ time use surveys: consider a new habit as not only adding to your schedule, but also subtracting time from other activities. “If I said ‘I want to go the gym for an hour three times a week,’ the first thing I’d have to figure out is, what am I not going to be doing during those hours. But we don’t tend to think about that,” Whelan points out. Prioritization is key. Weighing the costs and benefits of sacrificing an hour spent sleeping or watching House of Cards for an hour at the gym will help determine if your goal is manageable or needs reworking.

Whelan also stresses the importance of making sure the new goal is something you want to accomplish, rather than something you feel like you should be doing. “You’re much less likely to accomplish a change if you don’t want to do it, and it’s not in keeping with your values.”

Finally, she advises against creating a laundry list of goals in favor of developing one new habit at a time. Specific goals are more likely to become habits because, according to Whelan, distinct aspirations are “SMART”:

Specific

Measurable

There’s a Reward for sticking to it

Progress is Trackable

After 90 days of practice, it’s likely that your concerted lifestyle change will pay off: “The longer you stick with it, the more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that you don’t have to think about. It doesn’t require self control, there’s not a lot of active internal debate. You just do it.”

“Treat yo’self” to Some Sociology

Click to pre-order the book.Sociology and stand-up comedy have a lot in common: both reveal deep truths about life experiences and reveal the connections and disconnections of humanity. One just has more citations.

For his upcoming book Modern Romance, stand-up comic and Parks and Rec star Aziz Ansari teams up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to tackle modern dating in the age of technology. Klinenberg is well known for his work on culture and media, as well as his recent book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Ansari’s stand-up often pokes fun at the cultural shifts in relationships, but he recently told Time that academic research, including that of MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, inspired him to delve deeper into the science behind modern relationships:

“I thought it would be kind of interesting to take my point of view and a conversation with someone from an academic field and put that together. If I could do that as a book, I would be able to go deeper into this area than I can in my stand-up.”

For the study, Ansari and Klinenberg interviewed hundreds of people worldwide about relationships, marriage, social networks, and technology. The end result uses Ansari’s comedic spin to explore the sociology behind the changing course of modern relationships. And on stage, it means getting to see Ansari act out a line graph of relationship intensity. How could you resist?

Click here to listen to an Office Hours interview with humorist and story-teller Dylan Brody about his work as “stand-up sociology”.

D8TR Dilemma: Millennials “Just Talking,” “Hanging Out”

By Thomas8047 via flickr cc.
By Thomas8047 via flickr cc.

 

Picture a family holiday dinner. Food is on the table, everyone is gathered together, and a high school or college student is text messaging under the table. Upon prodding questions about the recipient—“Are you dating?”—the irritated adolescent might glance up just long enough to mumble, “We’re just talking.”

Sociology professor Kathy Hull shares her thoughts about the changing relationship landscape with the Star Tribune. A generation or two ago the word “dating” often meant a casual, nonexclusive relationship involving the occasional dinner and movie without commitment. That idea has changed. Hull explains,

“Going on a date now has more significance, when the option of hooking up or just hanging out in a group-friend setting is more prevalent. When people say they’re dating someone, it usually means they’re in a relationship.”

Hull suggests the shift in terms has come out of an extended transition to adulthood, with more young adults pursuing college and delaying marriage and family until they’ve secured a stable job. After graduation, Hull says, many millennials decide to start dating in the traditional sense.

“It’s not until they leave college that some people go back to the idea of using dates as a way to check out potential partners, rather than a way to get into a committed relationship.”

With so many waiting to play the game of love, it appears they may, to some degree, forget how—perhaps one more driver behind the rise of online dating.