Part of what makes professional basketball appealing, for kids who love to play as well as fans, is the idea that a person can come from humble beginnings and become a star. The players on the court, the narrative goes, are ones who rose to fame as a result of incredible dedication and extraordinary talent. Basketball, then, is a way out of poverty, a true equal opportunity sport that affirms what we think America is all about.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz crunched the numbers to find out if the equal opportunity story was true. Analyzing the economic background of NBA players, he found that growing up in a wealthy neighborhood (the top 40% of household incomes) is a “major, positive predictor” for success in professional basketball. Black players are also less likely than the general black male population to have been born to a young or single mother. So, class privilege is an advantage for pro ball players, just like it is elsewhere in our economy.
The richest Black men, then, are most likely to end up in the NBA, followed by those in the bottom 20% of neighborhoods by income. Middle class black men may, like many middle class white men, see college as a more secure route to a successful future. Research shows that poor black men often see sports as a more realistic route out of poverty than college (and they may not be wrong). This also helps explain why Jews dominated professional basketball in the first half of the 1900s.
LeBron James was right, then, when he said, “I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I am not even supposed to be here.” The final phrase disrupts our mythology about professional basketball: that being poor isn’t an obstacle if one has talent and drive. But, as Stephens-Davidowitz reminds us, “[a]nyone from a difficult environment, no matter his athletic prowess, has the odds stacked against him.”
At MetroTrends, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.” In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2% were deemed such. This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.
But which homicides?
Ones similar to the one decided in favor of George Zimmerman today. A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person. At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved. The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.
Notice, however, that white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.
It’s simple: We are already biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim. Stand your ground laws give jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt. This increase even further the chances that a white-on-black homicide will be considered justifiable because jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory but, in practice, it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.
There is, however, an underlying class story here that is going unsaid.
Phil Robertson is under fire for making heterosexist comments and trivializing racism in the south in GQ. While I wholeheartedly and vociferously disagree with Robertson, I am also uncomfortable with how he is made to embody the “redneck.” He represents the rural, poor, white redneck from the south that is racist, sexist, and homophobic.
This isn’t just who he is; we’re getting a narrative told by the producers of Duck Dynasty and editors at GQ—extremely privileged people in key positions of power making decisions about what images are proliferated in the mainstream media. When we watch the show or read the interview, we are not viewing the everyday lives of Phil Robertson or the other characters. We are getting a carefully crafted representation of the rural, white, Southern, manly man, regardless of whether or not the man, Phil Robertson, is a bigot (which, it seems, he is).
The stars of Duck Dynasty eight years ago (left) and today (right):
This representation has traction with the American viewing audience. Duck Dynasty is the most popular show on A&E. Folks love their Duck Dynasty.
There are probably many reasons why the show is so popular. Might I suggest that one could be that the “redneck” as stereotyped culture-war icon is pleasurable because he simultaneously makes us feel superior, while saying what many of us kinda think but don’t dare say?
Jackson Katz talks about how suburban white boys love violent and misogynistic Gangsta Rap in particular (not all rap music is sexist and violent, but the most popular among white audiences tends to be this kind). Katz suggests that “slumming” in the music of urban, African American men allows white men to feel their privilege as white and as men. They can symbolically exercise and express sexism and a sense of masculine power when other forms of sexism are no longer tolerated. Meanwhile, everybody points to the rapper as the problem; no one questions the white kid with purchasing power.
Might some of the audience of Duck Dynasty be “slumming” with the bigot to feel their difference and superiority while also getting their own bigot on? The popularity of the show clearly has something to do with the characters’ religiosity and rural life, but I’m guessing it also has something to do with the “redneck” spectacle, allowing others to see their own “backwoods” attitudes reinforced (I’m talking about racism, sexism, and homophobia, not Christianity).
He is a representation of a particular masculinity that makes him compelling to some and abhorrent to others, which also makes him the perfect pawn in the culture wars. Meanwhile, we are all distracted from social structure and those who benefit from media representations of the rural, white, southern bigot.
Sociologists Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael Messnersuggest that pointing the finger at the racist and homophobic attitudes of rural, poor whites — or the sexist and homophobic beliefs of brown and black men, like in criticism of rap and hip hop — draws our attention away from structures of inequality that systematically serve the interests of wealthy, white, straight, and urban men who ultimately are the main benefactors. As long as we keep our concerns on the ideological bigotry expressed by one type of loser in the system, no one notices the corporate or government policies and practices that are the real problem.
While all eyes are on the poor, rural, white, Southern bigot, we fail to see the owners of media corporations sitting comfortably in their mansions making decisions about which hilarious down-trodden stereotype to trot out next. Sexist, homophobic, and racist ideology gets a voice, while those who really benefit laugh all the way to the bank.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Sociologists 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.
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.
Bonus, here’s the law that Parks was arrested for violating and an explanation (thanks to Martín A. for the link):
The winter of 1620 was a devastating one for the colonists who had just arrived from England in New Plymouth. They suffered from scurvy, exposure to the elements, and terrible living conditions. Almost half (45 out of 102) died; only four of the remaining were women.
They made contact with the Wampanoag tribe in March. The tribe taught them how to grow corn and donated food to the colony. Thank to their help, the pilgrims were able to celebrate a harvest, or thanksgiving, that fall. It was attended by the 53 remaining pilgrims and 90 indigenous Americans.
That’s why this Red Bull commercial is so annoying. In the final 12 seconds, you see four pilgrims and two Indians, three women and three men. So, by pure numbers, reversed and heavily female. The turkey is served by a pilgrim, sending the message that the pilgrims were feeding the Indians and not vice versa. It’s a woman, of course, but likely most of the food preparation would have done by men, since they were 77% of the colonist population.
But, it nicely lines up with how we apparently think the world should be today: multicultural but majority white, with women cooking, and everyone paired up in same-race, heterosexual monogamy.