Author Archives: Gwen Sharp, PhD

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.

Whose Deviance Do We Notice?

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Back in 2010 we featured a post about a segment from the “What Would You Do?” series from abc News that illustrated the way that race plays a role in who is labeled as deviant and who is given the benefit of the doubt.

The producers had teens vandalize a car in public to see what onlookers would do. To see if race played a role, they tried it with a group of White boys and then with a group of African American boys. Only one 911 call was made on the White boys, but 10 calls were made on the African American teens. Moreover, while the White teens were vandalizing the car, 911 received a call to report the African American boys simply for being asleep in a car, which the caller took as a possible sign they were planning to engage in criminal activity.

We see this same pattern in another “What Would You Do?” segment. This time, a young White man and a young African American man try to remove a lock from a bike as the cameras capture the reactions of onlookers.

The onlooker interviewed toward the end says race played no role in his reaction. But the extremely different reactions to the two teens indicate differences in who is perceived as likely to be engaged in criminal activity, and whose criminal activity we may think deserves being reported to the police, rather than given a disapproving tsk-tsk as we walk on by.

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

What Was in the 1941 College Woman’s Closet?

Originally posted in 2010. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.

The New York Public Library posted a page from the first issue (September 1941) of Design for Living: The Magazine for Young Moderns that I thought was sorta neat for bringing some perspective to the increase in the amount and variety of clothing we take as normal today–but also, to my relief, the acceptance of a more casual style of dress. The magazine conducted a poll of women at a number of colleges throughout the U.S. about how many of various articles of clothing they owned. Here’s a visual showing the school where women reported the highest and lowest averages (the top item is a dickey, not a shirt):


Overall the women reported spending an average of $240.33 per year on clothing.

Hats for women were apparently well on their way out of fashion:

Can you imagine a magazine aimed at college women today implying that you might be able to get away with only three or four pairs of shoes, even if that’s what women reported?

At the end of the article they bring readers’ attention to the fact that they used a sample:

I can’t help but find it rather charming that a popular magazine would even bother to clarify anything about their polling methods. So…earnest!

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

Your Brain on Porn

In this short video, Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown of AsapSCIENCE discuss the neurological processes behind porn addiction. High levels of porn consumption, they argue, can create a feedback loop that molds sexual desires and behaviors.

Looking at porn, then, doesn’t just reflect a person’s existing desires and preferences; it’s a mechanism for creating new ones or channeling them in particular directions. This is the problem critics such as Cindy Gallop see with the narrow, unrealistic (and often violently misogynistic) set of messages about sexuality that porn offers us.

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

On Rape as a Device in Pop Culture (Trigger Warning)

Re-posted to add to the discussion about sexual assault in the aftermath of the Steubenville rape trial, the Senate hearing on rape and harassment in the military, and the controversy at Occidental College.
1The other day I came upon a post by Margaret Lyons at Vulture pointing out the frequent use of rape jokes in sitcoms this season. A number of sitcoms, especially Two Broke Girls, Whitney, and Work It included scenes where rape served as a punchline. Lyons explains what particularly bothers her about this is that references to rape are being used simply as a “shorthand for outrageousness,” a way to cue the audience that they’re watching a show that is bold and daring, that will say anything!

The post includes a video of clips of a lot of these rape-joke scenes from this season, showing how frequently and casually they’re included. Clearly, these could be particularly upsetting for some readers:

I’ve been thinking about posting the video for a couple of days, but then Jeremiah J. sent in a link to a post that captures what I find problematic about how rape is used in TV and movies so much better than I ever could. Film critic and screenwriter Drew McWeeny posted a lengthy article at HitFix about reaching the breaking point in his ability to watch gratuitous rape scenes in movies. McWeeny explains,

It seems to me that somewhere along the way, it was decided that the easiest way to make an audience uncomfortable was to have someone rape a character onscreen.  I must see 30 films a year where somebody needs to have “something bad” happen, and the go-to impulse in almost every case is rape. It is guaranteed to cause a visceral reaction, even when the scenes are badly staged and lazy, which most of them are.

…the point has been more than made on film that rape is a terrible thing, and at this point, if you’re not contributing some new idea to the conversation, then you are literally just using it as a button, something you push to get a response, and that unnerves me.

I think McWeeny’s points are relevant to a discussion of sitcoms’ use of rape jokes as well, because in both cases rape is often being used as a “button,” a lazy, predictable way to get a reaction from an audience and mark the show or movie as one that’s audacious and pushes boundaries. You really must read McWeeny’s full original post, as he eloquently explains why this matters.

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