Tag Archives: race/ethnicity: Blacks/Africans

Theories of the First Topsy-Turvy Doll

Lisa Hix has written a really nice story, “Why Black Dolls Matter,” for Collectors Weekly. The history of the topsy-turvy doll really caught my interest. The one below is characteristic. Believed to be from the 1870s, it is the head and torso of a black and a white doll, sewed together in the middle with a long skirt. The doll can be flipped from one side to the other.

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The general consensus seems to be that these dolls were primarily for enslaved children, but the purpose of the dolls isn’t clearly understood.

Hix quotes one of the founders of the National Black Doll Museum, Debra Britt, who says that the dolls enabled enslave children to have something forbidden: a doll that looked like them. “When the slave master was gone,” she explained, “the kids would have the black side, but when the slave master was around, they would have the white side.”

At wikipedia, though, the entry for the dolls cites the author of American Folk Dolls, who makes the opposite claim.

It has recently been suggested that these dolls were often made for Black children who desired a forbidden white doll (a baby like the ones their mothers cared for); they would flip the doll to the black side when an overseer passed them at play.

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, author of Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory, suggests that the dolls might not have been disallowed at all. Since enslaved black women often cared for their own children and the children of their white captors, perhaps the doll was designed to socialize young enslaved girls into their future roles as mothers to children of both races. According to Historical Folk Toys, the black doll sometimes was dressed in a headscarf and the white doll in antebellum-style dress, supporting Wallace-Sanders’ theory that the idea was to socialize girls into their role.

And, of course, we have even less of an idea of how the children themselves thought of these dolls or where their imagination led them.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

That Catcalling Video: Research Methods Edition

First, there were the accolades. More than 100 instances of street harassment in a two minute video, testifying powerfully to the routine invasion of women’s lives by male strangers.

Then, there was the criticism. How is it, people asked, that the majority of the men are black? They argued: this video isn’t an indictment of men, it’s an indictment of black men.

Now, we’ve reached the third stage: lessons for research methods classes.

Our instructor is sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, writing at The Message. Our competing hypotheses are three:

1. Black men really do catcall more than other kinds of men.

2. The people who made this video are unconsciously or consciously racist, editing out men of other races.

3. The study was badly designed.

As Tufekci points out, any one of these could account for why so many of the catcallers were black. Likewise, all three could be at play at once.

Enter, the data wrangler: Chris Moore at Mass Appeal.

Moore and his colleagues looked for landmarks in the video in order to place every instance of harassment on the map of New York City. According to their analysis, over half of the harassment occurs on just one street — 125th — in Harlem.

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Did the time the producers spent in Harlem involve denser rates of harassment, supporting hypothesis #1. Did they spend an extra amount of time in Harlem because they have something against black men? That’d be hypothesis #2. Or is it hypothesis #3: they were thoughtless about their decisions as to where they would do their filming.

Honestly, it’s hard to say without more data, such as knowing how much time they spent in each neighborhood and in neighborhoods not represented in the video. But if it’s true that they failed to sample the streets of New York City in any meaningful way – and I suspect it is – then hypothesis #3 explains at least some of why black men are over-represented.

And that fact should motivate us all to do our methods right. If we don’t, we may end up offering accidental and fallacious support to ideas that we loathe.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Chart of the Week: A Majority of Middle Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

Social mobility refers to likelihood that a person born in one social class will end up in another as an adult. A new study by Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill for the Brookings Institute offered a devastating picture of the possibilities for black youth. To summarize: most black children see downward mobility and are poorer as adults than they were as children.

4More than half of black children born into the poorest 1/5th of households will remain there as adults. That’s only true for 36% of similarly-situated Americans overall. Poor black children, then, are less likely than Americans in general to be able to escape poverty.

Black children born into the middle class — literally the middle 5th of Americans as measured by household income — overwhelmingly see downward mobility. 16% will remain somewhere in the middle, 14% will be richer than their parents, and a whopping 69% will end up less economically stable. In comparison, only 38% of Americans, overall, born into the middle 5th see a decline in their status as adults.

As you may have noticed from the hole in the far right of the chart, the researchers didn’t have enough cases to even estimate outcomes for blacks born rich.

Below is the data for whites (first) and all Americans (second) for comparison:

32Here’s the first author, Richard Reeves, explaining social mobility, using Legos of course:

H/t Joe Feagin. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

What Color are People? Black as Neutral in Russian Comics

Flashback Friday.

In her article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh talks about a number of types of white privilege, including using the phrases “flesh tone” or “nude” to describe light skin and featuring mostly white people in tv, movies, and advertising.

When I’ve had students read this article, they often argue that it just makes sense to do that, since the majority of people in the U.S. are white. They also question what other color could be used as a “neutral” or “normal” one.  In fact, this is exactly what was argued in the comments to this post about the “white” Facebook avatar.

But English Russia points out that in Russia, it’s not uncommon for people in cartoons to be black; not Black racially, but literally black. Below are examples of these cartoons, introduced with English Russia‘s translations.

“My pussy could have Whiskas instead of whiskey.”

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“Sir, don’t throw away the empty bottle, I would take it to the recycle point for spare money.”

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“Tourist: ‘Is it true that the Earth is round?’ Men: ‘We don’t know son, we’re not locals.’”

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Despite the fact that many people in Russia would be classified in the U.S. as white, these cartoons obviously use the color black as a neutral color — the people in the cartoons aren’t Black in any racial sense, it’s just the standard color the artist has used for everyone. You might contrast these with things in the U.S. that are labeled “flesh” or “nude” to counter the idea that there are no other options but a sort of light peach color to be the fallback color when you aren’t specifically representing a racial minority.

Thanks to Miguel at El Forastero for the link! Originally posted in 2009.

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

Racial Minorities Have to Wait Longer at the Polls

Compared to other democracies, the U.S. has a strange penchant for passing laws that suppress voting instead of encourage it.  We are one of the few democracies, for example, that requires people to register to vote.  Most elsewhere, writes Eric Black for the Minnesota Post:

[G]overnments know the names, ages and addresses of most of its citizens and… provide the appropriate polling place with a list of those qualified to vote. The voter just has to show up.

We also hold elections on just one day instead of several and that day is an otherwise normal Tuesday instead of a weekend or a holiday.

Those are just two examples of rules and practices that reduce voting. There are many. It’s called voter suppression and it’s totally a thing. The ACLU has collected voter suppression efforts just since 2013, listing 15 states that have passed such measures.

A majority of these efforts to reduce voting are initiated by the political right, as a generic search for such stories quickly reveals. They are aimed specifically at likely democratic voters, like racial minorities and students, adding up to what political scientist David Schultz argues is the Second Great Disenfranchisement in U.S. history after Jim Crow.

Many of these measures are overtly discriminatory and even illegal, but others are more subtle. Making voting more costly in terms of time might be one subtle way of discouraging voting by some types of people. Data collected by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in 2012 suggests that this is, indeed, part of voter suppression, by incompetence or design.

Here is some of their data.

Nationwide, the average wait time to vote was longer for all non-white groups, especially blacks:

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Florida had the longest delays in 2012 and these delays disproportionately affected Latinos:

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In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest wait times were all in one disproportionately African American county:

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Wait times are partly the result of the number of voting machines divided by the number of registered voters. The long wait times in South Carolina, in other words, were not random. Those 10 precincts in the highly African American county had about half as many voting machines per person as the statewide average:

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They also had significantly fewer poll workers available to help out:

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There are more graphs and more details at Mother Jones.

Voter suppression seriously harms our right to call ourselves a democracy.  Notably, it’s significantly worse today. When the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that required oversight of states with a history of voting discrimination, the ability of the federal government to ensure equal voting rights was seriously damaged. Previously monitored states immediately began passing legislation designed to suppress voting. As I wrote previously:

This is bad.  It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“Rental Dreads”: Female Sex Tourists in the Caribbean

Flashback Friday.

While preparing a lecture on sex tourism, I ran across this video about men who have sex with female tourists in the Caribbean:

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there, no? I was fascinated by the female hotel owner who talks about the men “preying” on the female tourists, clearly placing the power in the hands the men who, she argues, use the female tourists for money but don’t really care about them. I tried to imagine someone talking similarly about female sex workers “preying” on foreign men’s need for affection and attention.

This might make for a great discussion about perceptions of sexual agency: how do gendered sexual norms, economic differences, and the different races and nationalities of the individuals involved affect how we think of their interactions and who we see as the victim?

In her chapter on sex tourism in Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality), sociologist Joane Nagel discusses the role of racialized sexualities in making some groups attractive tourists looking for an ethnosexual adventure. In the Caribbean, dark-skinned men with dreads are particularly attractive to some female tourists because of stereotypes of Black men as extremely sexual and masculine, which plays into fantasies of being swept away by a strong, skilled lover. At the same time, White Western women may represent the possibility of a better life (through continued gifts of money even after the vacation is over) and sexualized adventures to the men they sleep with while on vacation. Nagel argues that these encounters generally reinforce, rather than challenge, existing racial and gender inequalities, since they play on stereotypes of sexualized Others as animalistic, primitive, and, in the case of men, as super-masculine (and super-endowed).

Then again, Nagel also questions whether any relationship between tourists and “local” men should count as sex work. The individuals involved don’t necessarily think of their interactions in those terms. And who is to decide if a particular situation is “sex tourism” as opposed to a “real” relationship? How does that assumption invalidate the possibility that Black men and White women might have real, meaningful relationships? Or primarily sexual relationships, but with both partners respecting the other?

Originally posted in 2009.

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

Identifying Race in Fuzhou, China

Flashback Friday.

Laura A. sent in a video in which African American men ask people in Fuzhou, China, what race they believe people in some photos are:

It’s a good example of the social construction of race. Notice how several people in the photos who would be considered Black in the U.S. don’t seem Black to the Chinese people looking at them, because they don’t have the features that they assume Black people have (such as big lips). Since they don’t have those features…they can’t be Black. We also see here that racial differences that would be easily identified in one culture (such as the U.S.) aren’t necessarily recognized in the same way in another. If race were a fixed, biological characteristic, we’d expect more consistency in how it’s defined, how many races people are divided into, and so on.

At about 3:45 you can see the African American men compare their skin color to some Chinese teens (?), who initially define themselves as “yellow people.” But after comparing their skin color, the Black men tell them they’re Black too. I wouldn’t say that the teens seem to be taking the news with great excitement.

Of course, it’s also interesting that the filmmakers refer to the people in the pictures as “really” Black, and tell the Chinese people who are guessing whether they are right or wrong in guessing their race, which implies there actually is a specific race that they belong to. They’re correct in saying that’s the race most people in the U.S. would place those individuals in, but since race is socially constructed, you can’t really say any way of categorizing people by race is “right” or “wrong.”

Originally posted in 2009.

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

Why Asian American Parents Don’t Spank Their Kids

Football fans like me have undoubtedly heard about the indictment of Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges for striking his 4-year-old son with a thin tree branch. Pictures revealing multiple lacerations on the child’s thigh have surfaced, and exchanges regarding another of his children show Peterson has used physical discipline more than once. The case has further ignited intense debates about the use of corporal punishment. While many of us may recoil at pictures and wonder how an adult could inflict physical harm on a child, views of corporal punishment are not uniform. They have changed over time and vary by racial group.

Take American attitudes about spanking over the past 50 years. In 1968, 94% of American adults approved of spanking a child, but by 2012, the figure dropped to 70%. While the majority of American parents still spank their children, some are more likely to spank than others. According a recent study of 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, black parents are the most likely to spank their children (89%) and Asian parents, least likely (73%). White and Hispanic parents fell in between, at 79% and 80%, respectively.

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That Asian parents are less likely to use corporal punishment has led to speculation that there must be something unique about East Asian culture that promotes discipline without relying on physical force.

If this were the case, we would expect to see corporal punishment banned in East Asian countries, since national bans on corporal punishment reflect cultural norms and are associated with a decline in its support and reported use. Currently, 24 countries have banned corporal punishment; nineteen are in Europe. There are no national bans in Asia.

That no Asian country has banned the use of corporal punishment and that it remains an accepted form of discipline reveal that differences in the use of corporal punishment cannot be attributed to culture alone.

So how do we explain the differences across racial groups? Parental education and socioeconomic status are stronger drivers of parenting strategies than differences in race or culture. Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents. Asian Americans are, on average, more highly educated than other Americans, including whites.

This is a result of the hyper-selectivity of Asian immigration from countries like India, China, and Korea, in which immigrants from these countries are not only more highly educated than their counterparts who did not immigrate, but are also more highly educated than the general U.S. population. Hence, Asian immigrants are not a random sample of all Asians. Rather, they represent a highly educated subgroup, which explains why they are the least likely to use physical force to discipline their children.

In my research with Min Zhou, we interviewed the adult children of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants in Los Angeles about their experiences of growing up American. As expected, those with more highly educated parents were more likely to have been disciplined with socioemotional strategies. Rather than use physical force, their parents would verbally express their disappointment or give a stern facial cue that signaled their disapproval.

Moreover, these parents praised the positive behavior of other children, both in front of their children and in front of other parents and children. By lauding positive behavior privately and publicly, these parents indirectly reinforced their expectations and provided concrete role models for their children to emulate. This dual socioemotional strategy of internal disapproval and external praise provided their children with a clear-cut portrait of model behavior, in spite intergenerational and linguistic differences between immigrant parents and their U.S.-born children. While the second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese admitted that the constant comparisons were “irritating,” they acknowledged that their parents provided a clear signal of what behavior to follow.

Still, some of our interviewees admitted experiencing physical abuse that would rival that experienced by Adrian Peterson’s young son. In fact, some told us the abuse continued into their teenage years and stemmed from severe intergenerational conflicts that exploded over which college a child should attend or what career trajectory he or she should follow.

A third group of parents took socioemotional strategies to an extreme, telling their children that they were so disappointed that they could not face other parents. They were just that embarrassed about their child’s behavior or lack of accomplishments. So, the use of socioemotional strategies may help reinforce certain positive behaviors, but used carelessly or as a manipulation, it can leave children feeling just as powerless and despondent as any physical punishment.

Jennifer Lee, PhD, is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine. Her book, The Diversity Paradox, examines patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.  

Cross-posted at The Society Pages Specials.