Tag Archives: race/ethnicity: Blacks/Africans

African-American Travel and Jim Crow Segregation

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

I have driven across the United States several different times.  I always enjoy the experience.  It reminds me of just how vast and diverse this country really is, in terms of both its nature and culture.  Catching up with a friend after such a trip, I discovered that he’d never driven across the country and I insisted that he absolutely must.  ”Lisa,” he said intensely, lowering his head, “not everyone is welcome in every small town in America.”  My friend, you might guess, was Black.

It was a memorable lesson about my own white privilege.

This was in the 2000s, but I couldn’t help but think of it when I learned about the Green Book. A story on NPR about the book starts with the following summary:

In part, the Jim Crow era could be defined by the places African-Americans could go and the places they couldn’t. In the towns and cities where they lived, of course, blacks knew where they were welcome. On the road, though, who knew which restaurants and hotels, beauty shops and night clubs would slam doors in their faces?

The answer was ”The Negro Motorist Green Book.”  First published in 1936, and revised and re-published for almost 30 years, it helped Black people travel across a hostile America.

Green wasn’t just the color.  It was named after the book’s author — Victor Green — who was a postal worker.  Most African Americans were familiar with where they could and couldn’t go in their own cities.  So Green used his connections through the post office to collect lists from all over America, and even some other countries.  These lists were invaluable to Black travelers.

Even in the depth of Jim Crow, however, Green dreamed of a better time. In the introduction he wrote (source):

There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.

His dream, I suppose, sort of did and sort of didn’t come true.  The Green Book is out-of-print.  Yet men and women like my friend still have good reason to feel uncomfortable showing their face in unfamiliar places.

Book covers borrowed from Electronic Village, AutoLife, and Phoenix Magazine.  You can see a complete pdf of the book here.

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

If You Refrain from Talking about Race, People Might Think You’re Racist

In this 4 1/2 minute video, Harvard business professor Michael Norton describes a study testing people’s willingness to talk about race.  He made volunteers play a simple game.  One picked a face from a field of 12 and the other asked yes/no questions in order to guess who they had in mind.  Among the field of faces, six were white and six were black.

Screenshot_4

Even though asking if a person was black or white would eliminate half of the contenders, 43% of people did not mention race.  If the other volunteer was African American, they were even less likely to mention it.  In that scenario, 79% didn’t ask if the face they had in mind was white or black.

They reproduced the experiment with children and found that, while little kids would ask about race, by nine or ten, they’d stopped.  The little kids often beat the older kids at the game, given that race was a pretty good way to eliminate faces.

Interestingly, the people who didn’t mention race were probably trying to appear not racist, but their decision had the opposite effect.  The partners of people who didn’t mention race rated them as more racist than the partners of people who did.  Bringing up race was, in fact, a way to signal comfort with racial difference.

For the whole story, here’s the video:

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

Online Dating Shows Us the Cold, Hard Facts about Race in America

Quartz, a business and marketing website, recently released data on the Facebook dating app Are You Interested, which connects single people with others within the confines of their Facebook networks. Quartz’ data are based on a series of yes-or-no questions about who users are interested in, as well as response rates between users, once notified of a potential suitor. The data show that white men and Asian women receive the most interest, whereas black men and women receive the least amount of interest. The writers at Quartz summarize the findings as follows:

Unfortunately the data reveal winners and losers. All men except Asians preferred Asian women, while all except black women preferred white men. And both black men and black women got the lowest response rates for their respective genders.

Here’s what the data looks like:

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As a sociologist, I am entirely unsurprised that race matters, especially in such a personal process like dating/mating. However, these findings may come as a surprise to the (quite significant) segments of the population who identify as color-blind; those who label contemporary society post-racial.

And this is why dating sites are so cool. Social psychologists know that what people say and what they do have little empirical connection. Dating sites capture what we do, and play it back for us. They expose who we are, who we want, and of course, who we don’t want. As shown by Quartz, “we” fetishize Asian women while devaluing blacks.

With a schism between what people say and what they do; between what they say and what the unconsciously think,  surveys of racial attitudes are always already quite limited.  People can say whatever they want — that race doesn’t matter, that they don’t see color — but when it comes to selecting a partner, and the selection criteria are formalized through profiles and response decisions, we, as individuals and a society, can no longer hide from ourselves. The numbers blare back at us, forcing us to prosume uncomfortable cultural and identity meanings both personally and collectively.

Indeed, before anyone has answered anything, the architecture of online dating sites say a lot.  Namely, by defining what can be preferences at all, they tell us which characteristics are the ones about which we are likely to care; about which we should care.

Both the user data and the presence of racial identification and preference in the first place are revealing, demolishing arguments about colorblindness and post-racial culture.

Jenny L. Davis, PhD, is in the department of sociology at James Madison University. She studies social psychology, experimental research methods, and new and social media. She is also a contributing author and editor at Cyborgology.  You can follow her at @Jenny_L_Davis.

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

What Names are Normal? Shifting the Center of the World

1Sociologists observe that cultures are centered around some people and  not others such that members of some groups just seem like people and others are perceived as deviations from that presumed norm.

Names are part of how we divide the world into the normals and the deviants.  Illustrating this, the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele are super creative in this 3 minute skit.  They reverse the white-teacher-goes-into-the-inner-city trope and put a non-white teacher into a suburban school.  As he calls roll, the skit center HIS reality instead of that of the white, middle class kids.  He pronounces their names like stereotypically black names, confusing the heck out of the kids, and never considering the possibility that the names he’s familiar with isn’t how all names really are.

It’s not a safe skit — it potentially reinforces the conflation of non-white and urban and the stereotypes of inner city students and the names low-income black parents give their kids — but it does a great job of playing with what life might be like if we shifted the center of the world.

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

Official Documents from the Arrest of Rosa Parks

Fifty eight years ago today, Rosa Parks kicked off a plan to bring down Jim Crow segregation by refusing to move to the back of the bus.  @ShawneeSoc sent us a link to the Washington Post, where they featured her original arrest documents.  A very cool piece of history.

rosa-parks rosa-parks-busBonus, here’s the law that Parks was arrested for violating and an explanation (thanks to Martín A. for the link):

Montgomery-City-Code

 

 

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

When Jews Dominated Professional Basketball

Kids growing up in dense, urban environments often turn to basketball as their sport of choice.  This is partly because it fits, in a physical sense.  All things being equal, a basketball court takes up a lot less room than a football or soccer field.  For the economically disadvantaged, it’s also relatively cheap to play.  If you have a court available, you only need a pair of shoes and a ball.  For this reason, whatever population finds itself in this type of environment tends to take up basketball.

That’s why the sport was dominated by Jews in the first half of the 1900s.  Just like many African-Americans today, at that time many immigrant Jewish families found themselves isolated in inner cities.  Basketball seemed like a way out.  “It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” explained retired ball player Dave Dabrow.  Basketball scholarships were one of the few ways low income urban Jews could afford college.

Jewish basketball team (1921-22):

CA.1031.firstbasket

Today we refer to stereotypes about Black men to explain why they dominate basketball, but this is an after-the-fact justification.  At the time, very different characteristics — stereotypes associated with Jews — were used to explain why they dominated professional teams. Paul Gallico, sports editor of the NY Daily News in the 1930s, explained that “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.”  All stereotypes about Jews.  Moreover, he argued, Jews were rather short and so had “God-given better balance and speed.”  Yep.  There was a time when we thought being short was an advantage in the sport of basketball.

Never underestimate the power of institutions and how much things can change.

New York Knicks (1946-1947):

1946 New York Knicks Team PhotoCross-posted at Pacific Standard.

 

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

NFL Hazing and Jonathan Martin’s “Man Card”

On October 28th, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the National Football League citing emotional distress as a result of abuse at the hands of his teammate Richie Incognito.  Incognito admits to having sent Martin racist, homophobic, and threatening text messages and voicemails but argues that rather than hazing or bullying, this was merely an instance of miscommunication between the two men.

While a great deal of media attention has questioned the behavior of Richie Incognito, a disproportionate amount of attention has also been given to Martin’s choice to report the abuse.  Why has Martin’s choice to report the abuse received so much attention?  What has been the main theme of those critiquing Martin’s choice?  And, what does this discussion mean for our national discourse on bullying and hazing?  The answers to these questions, I argue, are all linked to masculinity.

The media talks about Martin’s choice to report because his decision violated accepted cultural norms of masculinity.  Some may call these norms, more colloquially, the “bro code,” “guy code,” or “man code.”  Whatever we choose to call it, there are accepted ways in which men and boys are expected to conduct ourselves and our relationships to other men.  Martin stands accused, especially within the athletic community, of having broken the code.

In a very telling interview, Channing Crowder, a former teammate of Incognito, made it clear that this conversation is really about masculinity.  According to Crowder, Incognito tests his teammates.  He “tests you to see if you have enough manhood or enough testosterone” (even though this type of bullying is just as much about the perpetrator’s masculinity as it is the victim’s).

In this case Martin’s masculinity is under attack on two fronts.  First, it is under attack because he failed Incognito’s “test” of his manhood.  Second, he is under attack because his solution to Incognito’s bullying violated guy code.  According to the code, real men solve their problems with one another through violence.

Sports Illustrated reported that many NFL personnel consider Martin to be a coward or a wimp for reporting the abuse.  One NFL informant was even quoted saying “I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person.  If Incognito did offend him racially, that’s something you have to handle as a man.”  Others said it would have been preferable for Martin to “go down swinging” or to “fight.”  Even NPR ran a piece in which a regular guest argued:

Martin should have taken that dude outside and put his lights out.  I do not – I absolutely do not believe in a society where we run to the principal’s office every time these petty tyrants make a threat… Only power dispatches bullies… Jonathan Martin is a grown man and you can’t bully a grown man.

To be fair, in that same NPR piece, another interviewee stated that “not everybody resorts to violence in response to bullying and I applaud him for that.”

Nevertheless, by reporting the abuse rather than physically confronting Incognito, Jonathan Martin has been publicly stripped of his “man card.”

But, so what?  Why should we care about how grown men address bullying?  We should care because just as Jonathan Martin is being told to “man up,” so are young boys all over the country when they are bullied.  Boys are told that when they cannot physically confront a bully they are inadequate and unworthy.  They are taught to remain silent in the face of insurmountable violence because speaking out is a sign of weakness, or worse, femininity.  Too many boys are left with nowhere to turn when bullying makes trauma a daily experience.  In this sort of environment can we really be surprised that boys are committing suicide, developing depression, and lashing out violently at incredibly high rates?

Incognito on film:

Cliff Leek is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University.  He is a News Editor for Sociology Lens, co-founder of Masculinities 101, a Program Director for the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and a Research Assistant to TrueChild.  

Cross-posted at Sociology Lens and The Good Men Project.

“Racism had interfered with a white man’s right to choose.”

“It’s worth recalling that Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, centered on the union of a white man and a black woman. These laws ended at least in part because, in an ironic twist, racism had interfered with a white man’s right to choose.”

— Jelani Cobb for The New Yorker.