Ed, at Gin & Tacos, made a fantastic observation about this photo of a 1960 lunch counter sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC, protesting the exclusion of black customers.
“The most interesting thing about it,” he writes:
…is that the employee behind the Whites Only lunch counter is also black. That’s curious, since on the scale of intimate social contact one would think that having someone handle your food ranks above sitting next to a fully clothed stranger on adjacent stools.
This, he observes, tells us something important about prejudice.
When I first saw this picture and learned about this period in our history… I thought that racism was about believing that another race is inferior. Like most people I got (slightly) wiser with age and eventually figured out that racism is about keeping someone else beneath you on the social ladder… If you actually thought black people were dirty savages you wouldn’t eat anything they handed you. But of course it has nothing to do with that. You’re fine being served food because servility implies social inferiority. And you don’t want to sit next to them simply because it implies equality.
When we observe efforts to uphold unequal social conditions, it’s smart to think past notions of hatred and fear (like the term homophobia unfortunately implies) and instead about how the privileged are benefiting and what they would lose along with their superordinate status. Hate may be useful for justifying inequality, but at its root it’s about power and resources, not emotions.
Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck. Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.
According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from “ just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week. The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:
…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.
Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.
What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism. Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men? Or, what does masculinity look like? Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate. If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal? Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine? Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?
Also, is this really about hipsters? How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends? To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend? How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people? What other forces are at work here?
The narrative of the American Dream is one of upward mobility, but there are some stories of mobility we prize above others. Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist? Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees, and who now works as a doctor?
Amy Chua (AKA “Tiger Mom”) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, author of the new book The Triple Package, claim it’s the latter. They argue that certain American groups (including Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians) are more successful and have risen further than others because they share certain cultural traits. Chua and Rubenfeld bolster their argument by comparing these groups’ median household income, test scores, educational attainment, and occupational status to those of the rest of the country.
But what happens if you measure success not just by where people end up — the cars in their garages, the degrees on their walls — but by taking into account where they started? In a study of Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated here, sociologist Min Zhou and I came to a conclusion that flies in the face of Chua and Rubenfeld, and might even surprise the rest of us: Mexicans are L.A.’s most successful immigrant group.
Like Chua and Rubenfeld, we found that the children of Chinese immigrants exhibit exceptional educational outcomes that exceed those of other groups, including native-born Anglos. In Los Angeles, 64 percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, and of this group 22 percent also attained a graduate degree. By contrast, 46 percent of native-born Anglos in L.A. graduated from college, and of this group, just 14 percent attained graduate degrees. Moreover, none of the Chinese-Americans in the study dropped out of high school.
These figures are impressive but not surprising. Chinese immigrant parents are the most highly educated in our study. In Los Angeles, over 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and over 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
At what seems to be the other end of the spectrum, the children of Mexican immigrants had the lowest levels of educational attainment of any of the groups in our study. Only 86 percent graduated from high school — compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans and 96 percent of native-born Anglos — and only 17 percent of graduated from college. But their high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, only 40 percent of whom earned diplomas. And, the college graduation rate of Mexican immigrants’ children more than doubles that of their fathers (7 percent) and triples that of their mothers (5 percent).
There is no question that, when we measure success as progress from generation to generation, Mexican-Americans come out ahead.
A colleague of mine illustrated this point with a baseball analogy: Most Americans would be more impressed by someone who made it to second base starting from home plate than someone who ended up on third base, when their parents started on third base. But because we tend to focus strictly on outcomes when we talk about success and mobility, we fail to acknowledge that the third base runner didn’t have to run far at all.
This narrow view fuels existing stereotypes that Chua and Rubenfeld play into — that some groups strive harder, have higher expectations of success, and possess a unique set of cultural traits that propels them forward.
For at least a generation, Americans have been measuring the American Dream by the make of your car, the cost of your home, and the prestige of the college degree on your wall. But there’s a more elemental calculation: Whether you achieved more than the generation that came before you. Anyone who thinks the American Dream is about the end rewards is missing the point. It’s always been about the striving.
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.
Prostitutes have often been at the forefront of challenges to gender conventions. Already at the fringes of “respectable society,” by choice or circumstance, these women often have less to lose than others.
The Mardi Gras Baby Dolls are an excellent example. NPR’s Tina Antolini writes that the baby doll tradition began in 1912. That year a group of African American sex workers dressed up like baby dolls and took to the streets to celebrate Mardi Gras.
Calling your lover “baby” had just become part of the English language. Meanwhile, actual baby dolls, the toy, were rare. By dressing up this way, they flouted both gender and race rules. Women were largely excluded from masking for Mardi Gras and African Americans were still living under Jim Crow. Black women, by virtue of being both Black and female, were particularly devalued, sex workers ever more so. Asserting themselves as baby dolls, then, was a way of arguing that they were worth something.
“[I]t had all that double meaning in it,” explains historian Kim Vaz, “because African-American women weren’t considered precious and doll-like.”
It was a bold thing to do and the Baby Dolls carried walking sticks with them to beat off those who accosted them.
Today, honoring those brave women that came before, the tradition lives on in a city with the richest and most creative and unique traditions I have ever encountered. Happy Mardi Gras, Baby Dolls! Have a wonderful day tomorrow!
Sociologists who study inequality distinguish between individualbias, negative beliefs about a group held by individual persons, and systemic inequality, unequal outcomes built into our institutions that will produce inequality even in the absence of biased individuals.
A good example is K-12 education in the United States. School funding is linked, in part, to the taxes collected in the neighborhood of each school. So, schools in rich neighborhoods, populated by rich kids, have more money to spend per student than schools in poor neighborhoods. This system privileges young people who win the birth lottery and are born into wealthier families, but it also benefits whites and some Asians, who have higher incomes and greater wealth, on average, than Latinos, African Americans, American Indians, and less advantaged Asian groups.
Now, teachers and school staff might be classist and racist, and that will make matters worse. But even in the absence of such individuals, the laws that govern k-12 funding will ensure that rich and white children will be given a disproportionate amount of the resources we put towards educating the next generation. That’s f’d up, by the way, in a society that tells itself it’s a meritocracy.
Sociologists who spend time in classrooms know that young people coming into college are much more familiar with the idea that individuals are biased than they are with the idea that our societies are designed to benefit some and hurt others. This is a problem because, in the absence of an understanding that we need to change law, policy, and practice — in addition to changing minds — we will make limited headway in reducing unfair inequalities.
But where do people get their ideas about what causes inequality?
One source is the mass media and, thanks to Race Forward, we now have a portrait of media coverage of one type of inequality and the extent to which it addresses individual and systemic biases. They measured the degree to which news and TV coverage of issues were systemically aware (discussing policies or practices that lead or have led to inequality) or systemically unaware (fails to discuss such policies, explicitly denies them, or refuses to acknowledge racism of any kind).
First, they found that news outlets varied in their systemic awareness, with MSNBC a clear stand out on one end and Fox News a clear stand out on the other. On average, about 2/3rds of all media coverage failed to have any discussion of systemic causes of inequality. Articles or op-eds that robustly discussed policy problems or changes were extraordinarily rare, “never constitut[ing] more than 3.3% of any individual news outlet’s coverage of race…”
Second, they found that systemic awareness varied strongly by the topic of the coverage, with the economy and criminal justice most likely to receive systemically aware coverage:
What this means is that whether any given person understands racism to be a largely one-on-one phenomenon that can be solved by reducing individual bias (or waiting for racists to move on to another realm) or a systemic problem that requires intervention at the level of our institutions, depends in part on what media outlets they consume and what they’re interested in (e.g., sports vs. economics).
There’s lots more to learn from the full document at Race Forward.
I’ve written extensively — not here, but professionally — on the ways in which Americans talk about the female genital cutting practices (FGCs) that are common in parts of Africa. I’ve focused on the frames for the practice (common ones include women’s oppression, child abuse, a violation of bodily integrity, and cultural depravity), who has had the most power to shape American perceptions (e.g., journalists, activists, or scientists), and the implications of this discourse for thinking about and building gender egalitarian, multicultural democracies.
Ultimately, whatever opinion one wants to hold about the wide range of practices we typically refer to as “female genital mutilation,” it is very clear that the negative opinions of most Westerners are heavily based on misinformation and have been strongly shaped by racism, ethnocentrism, and a disgust or pity for an imagined Africa. That doesn’t mean that Americans or Europeans aren’t allowed to oppose (some of) the practices (some of the time), but it does mean that we need to think carefully about how and why we do so.
One of the most powerful voices challenging Western thinking about FGCs is Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonan-American anthropologist who chose, at 21 years old, to undergo the genital cutting practice typical for girls in her ethnic group, Kono.
She has written about this experience and how it relates to the academic literature on genital cutting. She has also joined other scholars — both African and Western — in arguing against the zero tolerance position on FGCs and in favor of a more fair and nuanced understanding of why people choose these procedures for themselves or their children and the positive and negative consequences of doing so. To that end, she is the co-founder of African Women are Free to Choose and SiA Magazine, dedicated to “empowering circumcised women and girls in Africa and worldwide.”
You can hear Ahmadu discuss her perspective in this program:
Many people reading this may object to the idea of re-thinking zero tolerance approaches to FGCs. I understand this reaction, but I urge such readers to do so anyway. If we care enough about African women to be concerned about the state of their genitals, we must also be willing to pay attention to their hearts and their minds. Even, or especially, if they say things we don’t like.
Michael Dunn shot ten bullets into a car filled with four teenagers after a dispute over the volume of their music. He claimed self-defense, though the gun he said he saw was never corroborated by anyone or found. This weekend he was found guilty of attempting to kill the three teenagers who survived, but not of murdering the one he shot dead, 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
When George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, I put up a post reviewing a study on stand your ground laws. The research found that these laws increase the likelihood that a homicide will be considered “justified,” but only in cases where a white person is accused of killing a black person. Here is the data:
At the previous post, I argued that these data — made to feel real by decisions like these — show that we are “biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim.” Stand your ground laws make it worse, but the far right column shows 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.
Or, to put it more bluntly, we still value white men’s freedoms more than black men’s lives. On average, of course.
Thanks to advances in early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, white women’s survival rates have “sharply improved,” but black women’s have not. As a result, white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but black women are more likely to die from it. Researchers from the Sinai Institute found that Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease than white women.
Experts trace the majority of the widening gap in survival rates to access, not biology. Black women are more likely than white to be low income, uninsured, and suspicious of a historically discriminatory medical profession.