Author Archives: Gwen Sharp, PhD

From Our Archives: For Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the U.S. Though many think of it mostly as a last long weekend for recreation and shopping before the symbolic end of summer, the federal holiday, officially established in 1894, celebrates the contributions of labor.

Here are some SocImages posts on a range of issues related to workers, from the history of the labor movement, to current workplace conditions, to the impacts of the changing economy on workers’ pay:

The Social Construction of Work

Work in Popular Culture

Unemployment, Underemployment, and the “Class War”

Unions and Unionization

Economic Change, Globalization, and the Great Recession

Gender and Work

The U.S. in International Perspective

Just for Fun


Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Racial Violence after Hurricane Katrina

Screenshot_5Two years ago, Caroline Heldman posted about vigilante racial violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The post focused on footage of white residents of Algiers Point gleefully describing how they shot at anyone they perceived to be a looter, which largely boiled down to being African American.

Yesterday Martha O. sent us a video that also looks at this militia group. It includes some of the footage of the White residents from the video in Caroline’s post, but focuses much more on the experiences of several African American men who lived in the neighborhood and were shot or threatened by their White neighbors. The men talk about the panic and terror they felt during these incidents. Toward the end, Donnell Herrington watches footage of the White residents bragging about their exploits. It’s brutal to watch this man listening to the militia members talk about shooting African Americans casually and with obvious enthusiasm and pride.

Trigger warning for racist language and discussions of racial violence.

The video is part of an in-depth story about the Algiers Point shootings featured in The Nation in 2008. And as Martha explained, it’s a harrowing example of how swiftly organized violent racism can emerge when external constraints are even briefly weakened.

Originally posted in 2012. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Two American Families Trapped in a Changing Economy

In the early 1990s, Bill Moyers began following two Milwaukee families, the Neumanns and the Stanleys, as they struggled to keep a foothold in the middle class in the face of economic changes that largely destroyed the city’s decently-paid, unionized manufacturing jobs. An earlier documentary, Surviving the Good Times, showcased the two incredibly hard-working families’ efforts to adapt to the new economic reality. Their stories highlight the difficulty of trying to achieve the American Dream on a series of jobs that rarely pay a living wage or offer any benefits.

And how about now? Twenty years after he first started following their lives, Moyers returned to Milwaukee to see how they had fared during the housing bubble and subsequent economic crisis. Two American Families shows the increasing economic precariousness each family experiences over two decades and the impacts this has on the opportunities they can provide their children. It’s a heartbreaking look at the effects of large-scale economic changes on individual families.

Watch Two American Families on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

PBS has also posted interviews with a few of the family members about why they participated in the new film, as well as an update on how they’re doing since they were last filmed. And you can find a number of charts on the changing economy and its impacts on families here, and some data about Milwaukee specifically here.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

“In Olden Times It Was Different”: Technology and Social Life

In academia, it’s fairly common to hear people bemoan students’ writing skills and the supposed effect that tweeting, texting, and other new communication technologies are having on our use of the written language. I’ve been known to do it myself after receiving an email in text-speak. Generally, humans have a tendency to think that the changes in their own time are unprecedented.

This xkcd comic presents quotes from various sources concerned about the impacts of technology, particularly the dying art of communication. It’s a nice reminder that bemoaning the effect of new technologies is nothing new, nor is the tendency to romanticize some period in the vague past as the “good old days” when things were better.


Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

The Psychology of Wealth

As part of an ongoing series about inequality in the U.S., tonight PBS will air a segment on the psychology of wealth: that is, how the experience of being (or feeling) well-off impacts our attitudes and behaviors.

As this video clip explains, having wealth appears to affect us in a number of ways. Having more tends to make individuals feel entitled to even more; research shows they feel less generous and more entitled to take resources (such as candy they have been told is for children coming in later), more willing to cheat, and more accepting of unethical behavior. Privileged individuals — even those whose privilege is just having Monopoly rules rigged to ensure they win in an experiment — tend to believe they deserve their privilege.

These patterns show up regardless of political orientation, affecting both liberals and conservatives. Whatever good intentions we might have, the experience of being wealthy appears to affect us in ways it may be hard for individuals to notice, making privileged people feel they deserve their position and justifying behaviors that consolidate even more advantages.

You can read more here. Also check out our earlier posts presenting PBS clips on Americans’ misperceptions of the level of inequality in the U.S. and the health impacts of inequality.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Global Attitudes toward Homosexuality

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently released data on attitudes about homosexuality in 39 countries. Generally, those living in the Middle East and Africa were the least accepting, while those in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia (the Philippines, Australia, and to a lesser extent Japan) were most accepting:


Generally, the more religious a country, the less accepting its citizens are of homosexuality:


The proportion of people who support social acceptance of gays and lesbians ranged from a high of 88% in Spain to a low of 1% in Nigeria:


Attitudes about homosexuality vary widely by age. There is a pretty consistent global pattern of more positive attitudes among younger people, with a few exceptions:


Thus far, legalization of same-sex marriage has been largely confined to the Americas and Europe; New Zealand and South Africa are the two outliers:


The Pew Center points out that of the 15 nations that have fully extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, 8 have done so just since 2010. In the U.S., we’re currently awaiting a Supreme Court’s decision, which should arrive shortly, to know if we’ll be joining the list sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Peter Nardi at Pitzer College for the link!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Changing U.S. Racial Demographics

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 7.33.46 PM

In this 20-minute video, the Pew Research Center’s Paul Taylor discusses trends in the racial/ethnic breakdown of the U.S. population over the last century. Taylor discusses a number of related issues, including the income and wealth gap, perceptions about interracial relations, and the electoral implications of the demographic changes. For instance, while Ronald Reagan once said Hispanics are “Republicans who don’t know it yet,” there’s no evidence that they’re any closer to realizing it. As Hispanics and Asians make up an increasing proportion of the voting population, old electoral strategies based on winning most of the White vote are no longer sufficient to win a national election.

I’d skip the introductory remarks and start just after the 2-minute mark.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

The Accidentally Color-Blind Racist

Last week someone sent me a link to an article about Brad Paisley’s new song, “Accidental Racist,” which features LL Cool J. Given that you’re a Soc Images reader, chances are good you’ve heard about this song. I don’t remember what I was expecting when I saw the title of the song, but man. I really was not prepared for that experience. There’s no official video available on YouTube at the moment, but someone made a video of the song with the lyrics:

In Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva discusses the rhetorical strategies that Whites often use to minimize the existence of racial inequality today. As being openly racist has become increasingly stigmatized in the U.S., a version of “color-blind” racism has emerged.

One argument that underpins color-blind racism is the framing of racial oppression and injustice as elements of the past that, while regrettable, can’t be remedied now. Moreover, it’s history; since African Americans aren’t enslaved or legally segregated today, we need to move on from here and treat everyone as equals, with no special considerations for anyone. As one of Bonilla-Silva’s interviewees explained, “…what happened in the past is horrible and it should never happen again, but I also think that to move forward you have to let go of the past…And it should really start equaling out…” (p. 78).

Along with this is often an attempt to equate the discrimination faced by some groups of European immigrants (Italians, the Irish, Jews, etc.) to the experience of African Americans, as this interviewee did: “…they were slaves back in the past and yet, how often do you hear about the people who were whites that were slaves…Boy, we should get reparations, the Irish should get reparations from the English…” (p. 79). From this perspective, African Americans are just one of many groups that had it bad; the impacts of a legally institutionalized racist system that denied African Americans full citizenship or access to opportunities is ignored. This storyline of “we all had it bad” equalizes various experiences of racial and ethnic inequality.

And this is the problem with Paisley’s song (well, it’s one of the problems, but let’s focus). Take these lyrics (found here):

And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

And we’re still paying for the mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came

And these contributions from LL Cool J:

If you don’t judge my gold chains…I’ll forget the iron chains

The past is the past, you feel me…Let bygones be bygones

While Paisley may mean well, his song presents racial inequality or conflict as the result of long-past history, “mistakes…made long before we came,” something we need to just get past so we can appreciate each other. And it equates wildly divergent issues, presenting everyone has having a fair, legitimate complaint. Slavery (“iron chains”) and adopting an aesthetic style (“gold chains”) that some Whites might not like are, apparently, equivalent issues. Ending racism is just a matter of everybody deciding to be nicer. If Whites can get over not liking what some African Americans wear, well then hey, African Americans will get over a history of institutionalized racial oppression and the impacts it still has today.

In the world of color-blind racism, this is a fair, plausible compromise.

You might also enjoy SNL’s take from last weekend:

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.