When white Americans are in trouble, they rarely hesitate to call the police. That’s because most of them trust the police. They rarely realize the significance during encounters with the police of their own protective “white” skin.
Many white folks also have trouble understanding the deep distrust of the police in other racialized communities. That’s because they fail to realize how quick many police officers are to harass non-white people, and how much less they tend to value non-white lives.
White Americans should listen, with sincerity and respect, to the reported experiences of others with the entrenched racist attitudes among the police, and the rampant abuse such attitudes inspire. They should also listen to the corrosive effects on non-white communities of the relative impunity with which police repeatedly harass, and murder, non-white people.
In the following short film, Stacey Muhammad’s “I AM SEAN BELL, black boys speak,” black Americans effectively explain their reasoned fear, distrust, and dismay regarding the police. I think that for starters, this film is perfect discussion material for all American classrooms. And any other gatherings that include white eyes and ears.
See a complementary post, featuring a great clip from Michael Moore, at Stuff White People Do here.
Originally posted in 2009. 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.
About himself, Macon writes, “I’m a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the ‘white’ part. I live in that heart of the heart of American whiteness, the ever-amorphous ‘Midwest.’” Macon’s blog, Stuff White People Do, is an excellent source of insights about race and racism.
Leontine G. sent in a troubling example of the framing of children’s deviance, and their own complicity in this framing. She included two links: one to a Today show story about a 7-year-old boy who took his family’s car on a joyride and got caught by police, and one to a CNN story about a 7-year-old boy who took his family’s car on a joyride and got caught by police. Different 7-year-olds. One white, one black.
The white boy, Preston, is interviewed with his family on the set of the Today show. Knowing his kid is safe, his Dad describes the event as “funny” and tells the audience that if this could happen to a “cotton candy all-American kid like Preston,” then “it could happen to anybody.”
When the host, Meredith Vieira, asks Preston why hid from the police, he says, “cause I wanted to,” and she says, “I don’t blame you actually.” With Preston not too forthcoming, his Mom steps in to say that he told her that “he just wanted to know what it felt like to drive a car.” When Vieira asks him why he fled from the police, he replies with a shrug. Vieira fills in the answer, “You wanted to get home?”
Vieira then comments on how they all then went to church. The punishment? Grounded for four days without TV or video games. Vieira asks the child, “Do you think that’s fair?” He says yes. And she continues, “Do you now understand what you did?” He nods and agrees. “And that maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing?” He nods and agrees. “You gonna get behind the wheel of a car again?” He says no. Then she teases him about trying out model toy cars.
They conclude that this incident just goes to show that “Any little kid, you never know what can happen…” and closes “I’ll be seeing you at church buddy boy!”
All in all, exactly what you’d expect from the Today show: a heartwarming, human interest story with a happy ending. The child is framed as a fundamentally good kid who was curious and perhaps a bit impetuous. When he has no answers for Vieira’s questions, she slots in innocent ones. And the mild punishment is seen as incidental to the more important idea that he learned something.
This story contrasts dramatically to the CNN story about Latarian Milton, a black 7-year-old who took his family’s car on a joy ride. I’ll put the video first, but be forewarned, it’s disturbing not only because of the different frame placed on the boys actions, but because of the boy’s embracing of the spoiled identity (apology for the commercial):
With an absolutely polar introduction of “Not your typical 7-year-old,” this story is filmed on the street. Whereas the Today show screened the chase footage in real time, this one is sped up, making it seem even more extreme.
The interviewer, off-camera, asks Latarian why he took the car. He replied: “I wanted to do it ’cause it’s fun, it’s fun to do bad things.” The interviewer asks further, “Did you know that you could perhaps kill somebody?” And he replies: “Yes, but I wanted to do hoodrat stuff with my friends.”
The interviewer asks him what punishment he should receive and Latarian offers a punishment very similar to Preston’s: “Just a little bit… no video games for a whole weekend.” In a longer version of this news story, now taken down, the camera focuses on a reporter who explains that the police plan to go forward with charges of grand theft against him. While he’s “too young to go into any type of juvenile facility,” he says, “police say they do want to get him into the system, so that they can get him some type of help.”
The implication here, of course, is that this child is not innocent or impetuous like Preston, he’s a pre-criminal who needs “some type of help.” The sooner they get Latarian into “the (prison?) system,” the better. No cotton candy kid this one.
Unfortunately, Latarian says all the right things to make the narrative fit. He says he likes to do “bad” things, calls himself a “hoodrat,” and seems unremorseful, even defiant, for at least part of the interview (he looks a bit sheepish in the end when he finds out his grandmother is going to have to pay for the damage he did to other cars).
One way to interpret this is to say that Latarian IS a pre-criminal. That he DOES need to get into the system because he’s clearly a bad kid. Someone inclined to believe that black people were, in fact, more prone to criminal behavior could watch these two videos and feel confirmed in their view.
Originally posted in 2010. 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. Crossposted at Racialicious, the Huffington Post, and Love Isn’t Enough.
by Sayantani DasGupta MD MPH, Jun 13, 2013, at 12:00 pm
Teen pregnancy, like obesity, is often framed as an “epidemic.” As such, both the “epidemic” of teen pregnancy and the “epidemic” of obesity can be understood through the lens of what sociologist Stanley Cohen popularized as a “moral panic.” In Cohen’s words, moral panics are “condensed political struggles to control the means of cultural reproduction”; additionally “successful moral panics owe their appeal to their ability to find points of resonance with wider anxieties.”
“The Real Cost of Teen Pregnancy” — a public health information campaign launched by the Mayor and Human Resources Administration of New York City in March 2013 — features babies and toddlers, primarily children of color, chastising their teenage mothers. Launched at a time when teen pregnancies have actually declined, primarily due to the availability of safe and affordable reproductive health care, the accusatory “shame and blame” narrative of these images is not only out of proportion to the “problem” it seeks to address, but is weighed down by its obvious cultural narratives about teens of color, poverty, gender and sexuality.
Having a pensive toddler of color next to the slogan “Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” and a weeping boy of color next to the words “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” serves to re-stigmatize single teen mothers, encouraging wider social senses of moral outrage, hostility and volatility toward young, predominantly impoverished girls of color. Not unlike cultural narratives about “welfare queens,” the campaign plays into racist and classist fears about sexually active girls of color and teenage mothers who use social services. The message just under the surface here is about the need for social control of “unruly bodies.”
These 4,000 posters, put up in buses and subways, cost a reported $10,000 per year for the city, and have already drawn harsh critique from many. Haydee Morales, vice president for education and training at Planned Parenthood of New York City, for instance, has reportedly suggested the campaign has got it backward. In her words, “It’s not teen pregnancies that cause poverty, but poverty that causes teen pregnancy.”
According to Samantha Levine, a spokesperson for New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, “it’s well past the time when anyone can afford to be value neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy.” Public health campaigns are never value neutral. They communicate social beliefs about normalcy, productivity, desirability, and cultural worth.
An additional cost of the unexamined acceptance of this new teen pregnancy campaign is accepting yet another narrative about individual choice over systemic change. Placing responsibility on the shoulders of the individual, such campaigns silence more complex conversations about accessible and affordable reproductive health care, anti-poverty campaigns, and gender and social justice work. Instead of buying into the “moral panic” of teen pregnancy, perhaps the mayor’s office might look into more long lasting and less stigmatizing possibilities of structural change to improve the lives of young women in New York City.
“Shame and blame” has rarely gotten public health anywhere. In the words of researcher and speaker Brené Brown, “Shame diminishes our capacity for empathy. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
I first posted these posters on SocImages in 2008. They are designed to scare teenagers into taking precautions against pregnancy by demonizing teenagers who get (someone) pregnant. The way in which teens are portrayed in these images — labeled cheap, dirty, rejects, pricks, and nobodys — suggests that the organization, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, doesn’t care about teenagers, only in controlling their behavior.
This is the sentence that runs along the left vertical with the word “reject” extracted in bold: “I had sex so my boyfriend wouldn’t REJECT me. Now, I have a baby. And no boyfriends.”
“Now that I’m home with a baby, NOBODY calls me anymore.”
“All it took was one PRICK to get my girlfriend pregnant. At least that’s what her friends say.”
“Condoms are CHEAP. If we’d used one, I wouldn’t have to tell my parents I’m pregnant.”
“I want to be out with my friends. Instead, I’m changing DIRTY diapers at home.”
Here are a set of ads that try to convince women not have (unprotected) sex with their male peers by suggesting that the men showing interest in them are bad guys who will inevitably abandon them:
And here are a set that use simple threats to get across their message:
About her tumblr, Sisson writes:
Public service announcements that claim to be about “preventing teen pregnancy” are more frequently about shaming and stigmatizing young parents. This is not a way to encourage young people to take control of their reproductive lives, and it’s certainly not a way to support young families.
Nor is it a way to support teenagers who are negotiating complicated interpersonal terrain and making difficult decisions. These ads are about getting teenagers to do what we want, not helping them figure out what’s best for them. They caricature the actual lives of teenagers and make early parenthood into a comical boogeyman. Moreover, they send a clear message to the teenagers that do get pregnant: “you’re a slut/idiot and your life is over.” This is not good for young parents and it sets them up to fail.
UBC Sociology student Pat Louie tweeted us a touching set of photographs by artist Gabriele Galimberti. Each image is a child with his or her favorite toys.
Chiwa – Mchinji, Malawi
Stella – Montecchio, Italy
Pavel – Kiev, Ukraine
The photographs reveal a universality — pride in favorite toys and the love of play — but, writes Ben Machell at Galimberti’s website, “how they play can reveal a lot.” The children’s life experiences influenced their imaginative play:
…the girl from an affluent Mumbai family loves Monopoly, because she likes the idea of building houses and hotels, while the boy from rural Mexico loves trucks, because he sees them rumbling through his village to the nearby sugar plantation every day.
Watcharapom – Bangkok, Thailand
Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar
Orly – Brownsville,Texas
Galimberti, interviewed by Machell, also observed class differences in entitlement to ownership:
The richest children were more possessive. At the beginning, they wouldn’t want me to touch their toys, and I would need more time before they would let me play with them. In poor countries, it was much easier. Even if they only had two or three toys, they didn’t really care. In Africa, the kids would mostly play with their friends outside.
New data about the science aptitude of boys and girls around the world inspires me to re-post this discussion from 2010.
Math ability, in some societies, is gendered. That is, many people believe that boys and men are better at math than girls and women and, further, that this difference is biological (hormonal, neurological, or somehow encoded on the Y chromosome).
But actual data about gender differences in math ability tell a very different story. Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang reviewed these differences in the New York Times. They report the following (based on the US unless otherwise noted):
• There is no difference in math aptitude before age 7. Starting in adolescence, some differences appear (boys score approximately 30-35 points higher than girls on the math portion of the SAT). But, scores on different subcategories of math vary tremendously (often with girls outperforming boys consistently).
• When boys do better, they are usually also doing worse. Boys are also more likely than girls to get nearly all the answers wrong. So they overpopulate both tails of the bell curve; boys are both better, and worse, than girls at math.
• That means that how we test for math ability is a political choice. If you report who is best at math, the answer is boys. If you report average math ability, it’s about the same.
• How you decide to test math ability is also political. Even though boys outperform girls on the SAT, it turns out those scores do not predict math performance in classes. Girls frequently outperform boys in the classroom.
• And, since girls often outperform boys in a practical setting, math aptitude (even measured at the levels of outstanding instead of average performance) doesn’t explain sex disparities in science careers (most of which, incidentally, only require you to be pretty good at math, as opposed to wildly genius at it). In any case, scoring high in math is only loosely related to who opts for a scientific career, especially for girls. Many high scoring girls don’t go into science, and many poor scoring boys do.
Now, let’s look at some international comparisons:
• Boys do better in only about ½ of the OECD nations. For nearly all the other countries, there were no significant sex differences. In Iceland, girls outshine boys significantly.
• In Japan, though girls perform less well than the boys, they generally outperform U.S. boys considerably. So finding that boys outperform girls within a country does not mean that boys outperform girls across all countries.
• Still, even in Iceland, girls overwhelmingly express more negative attitudes towards math.
So what’s the real story here? Well, one study found that the gender gap in math ability and the level of gender inequality in a society were highly correlated. That is, “…the gender gap in math, although it historically favors boys, disappears in more gender-equal societies.”
Part of the problem, then, is simply that girls and boys internalize the idea that they will be bad and good at math respectively because of crap like the “Math class is tough!” Barbie (sold and then retracted in 1992):
However, girls’ insecurity regarding their own math ability isn’t just because they internalize cultural norm, their elementary school teachers, who are over 90% female, sometimes do to and they teach math anxiety by example. A recent study has shown that, when they do, girl students do worse at math. From the abstract (this is pretty amazing):
There was no relation between a teacher’s [level of] math anxiety and her students’ math achievement at the beginning of the school year. By the school year’s end, however, the more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely girls (but not boys) were to endorse the commonly held stereotype that “boys are good at math, and girls are good at reading” and the lower these girls’ math achievement. Indeed, by the end of the school year, girls who endorsed this stereotype had significantly worse math achievement than girls who did not and than boys overall.
So, with only the possible exception of genius-level math talent, men and women likely have equal potential to be good (or bad) at math. But, in societies in which women are told that they shouldn’t or can’t do math, they don’t. And, as Fatistician said, “math is a skill.” People who think practicing it is pointless won’t practice it. And those who don’t practice, won’t be any good at it… Y chromosome or no.
In 2009, 470,000 15-year-olds in 65 developed nations took a science test. Boys in the U.S. outperformed girls by 14 points: 509 to 495. How does the U.S. compare to other countries?
The figure below — from the New York Times — features Western and Northern Europe and the Americas (in turquoise), Asia and the Pacific Islands (in pink), and the Middle East and Eastern and Southern Europe (in yellow). The line down the middle separates societies in which boys scored higher than girls (left) and vice versa (right).
Notice that the countries in which boys outscore girls are overwhelmingly Western and Northern Europe and the Americas.
This data tells a similar story to the data on gender and math aptitude. Boys used to outperform girls in math in the U.S., but no longer. And if you look transnationally, cultural variation swamps gender differences. Analyses have shown that boys outperforming girls in math is strongly correlated with the degree of inequality in any given society.
One lesson to take is this: any given society is just one data point and can’t be counted on to tell the whole story.
We’ve collected several more examples of the tendency to present men as the norm, while women are a marked, non-default category. @LydNicholas tweeted us this example of a LEGO product advertised on their website. Notice that the blue version is a LEGO Time-Teach Minifigure Watch and Clock, while the pink version specifies that it’s for girls:
Jessica J. noticed that Wal-Mart Target helpfully lets you know where to find both neutral, plain old deodorant and women’s deodorant:
Jane G. sent us this photo of t-ball sets, one for girls and the other with no sex specified:
Aline, in Brazil, found these two wall painting kits. One is just a painting kit and the other is specifically “for women” (“para mulheres”). The latter, she said, claims to be a special offer, but is actually about $2 U.S. dollars more.
Eric Stoller pointed out that ESPN differentiates between college basketball and “women’s” basketball:
Lindsay H. pointed out that when you go to the U.S. Post Office’s website to forward your mail, it offers you the chance to subscribe to magazines. Those aimed at women (Cosmopolitan, First for Women, etc.) are in the category “Women,” while equivalent magazines for men (Esquire, Maxim) are not in a category titled “Men” but, rather, “Lifestyle”:
And Jane V.S. noticed that REI has various types of marked, “non-standard” sleeping bags, including those for tall people and women:
Renée Y. sent along another example, bike helmets:
Jessica B. spotted this pair of sibling outfits, coming in “Awesome Girl” and “Awesome Kid”:
E.W. searched Google for men’s specific road bikes and Google asked, “Don’t you mean women’s specific road bikes”? Because there are road bikes for people and road bikes for women.
Ann C. sent a screenshot of bubblebox, a site for children’s games. Notice that along the top there are seven options. The last is “girls,” suggesting that all the rest are for boys.
So, there you have it. In this world, all too often, there are people and there are women and girls.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.