Tag Archives: race/ethnicity

African Economic Development: Constraint and Possibility

In this seven-minute video, Economist Jeffrey Sachs explains why economic development in Africa remains elusive. He summarizes the geographical, technological, social, and political conditions that held Africa back but propelled parts of Asia forward (he compares to India). Development, he notes, is not simply a matter of wishful thinking and hard work on the part of Africans (as many like to claim), nor is it a matter of just doing what worked elsewhere (as others like to say), but instead requires institutional commitments, economic resources, and global political will.

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.

Database of Human Development Information

Dmitriy T.M. and Jeff H. sent in a link to Mapping the Measure of America, a website by the Social Science Research Council that provides an amazing amount of information about various measures of economic/human development in the U.S. Here’s a map showing median personal (not household) earnings in 2009:

The District of Columbia has the highest, at $40,342; the lowest is Arkansas, at $23,470 (if you go to their website, you can scroll over the bars on the left and it will list each state and its median income, or you can hover over a state).

You can break the data down by race and sex as well. Here’s median personal income for Native American women, specifically (apparently there is only sufficient data to report for a few states):

Native American women’s highest median income, in Washington ($22,181), is  lower than the overall median income in Arkansas, which is the lowest in the U.S. as we saw above.

Here is the percent of children under age 6 who live below the poverty line (for all races):

Life expectancy at birth differs by nearly 7 years between the lowest — 74.81 years in Mississippi — to the highest — 81.48 years in Hawaii:

It’s significantly lower for African American men, however, with a life expectancy of only 66.22 years in D.C. (again, several states had insufficient data):

The site has more information than I could ever fully discuss here (including crime rates, various health indicators, all types of educational attainment measures, commuting time, political participation, sex of elected officials, environmental pollutants, and on and on), and it’s fairly addictive searching different topics, looking data up by zip code to get an overview of a particular area, and so on. Have fun!

When “Both Sides” Aren’t Enough: Reporting on Weaver’s BlackFace Pic

Tennessee Republican Terri Lynn Weaver appeared on Facebook posing with a man dressed, in blackface, as Aunt Jemima. Under the photo, Weaver wrote, “Aunt Jemima, you is so sweet.”

The reporting on Nashville’s Channel 4 is a great example of how the practice of reporting “both sides” in order to perform “journalistic objectivity” fails viewers. The story quotes people criticizing the photograph and people, including Weaver, objecting to that criticism. The story, however, does absolutely nothing to help us understand blackface, its history, or why it might be problematic today. It simply says: “Some people are offended; others are not.” We get no information that might help us form an educated opinion. It is a perfect waste of time masquerading as “reporting”:

Via mike3550 at Scatterplot.

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.

Racial and Gender Themes in “Sheikh Romances”

Cross-posted at Jezebel.

In the article “And You Can Be My Sheikh: Gender, Race, and Orientalism in Contemporary Romance Novels,” Jessica Taylor discusses the “sheikh romance,” a type of romance novel that, Taylor argues, follows the following basic formula:

In an exotic land where it is rumoured that men still rule, a tall, dark and handsome sheikh meets a white woman who teaches him how to be ruled by love. (p. 1032)

Sheikh romances are generally set in fictional countries in the Middle East, with a male character described as a “sheikh,” “sultan,” or something along the lines of “king of the desert.” He is, of course, invariably rich and powerful. The female protagonist, on the other hand, is a White woman, usually from the U.S.

The topic is popular enough that Harlequin has a whole series, Desert Brides:

Another popular option is the Sons of the Desert series:

Taylor argues that these novels present a masculinized, exotic, and ultimately pre-modern Oriental Other that is contrasted with the modernized West.

Some examples:

The blurb, from Amazon (elipses in original):

When Sheikh Khalid Fehr rescues innocent Olivia Morse from the hands of his country’s enemies, he guarantees her freedom by announcing she is his betrothed….Khalid has vouched for Liv with his honor… and this desert king is determined that his new wife will fulfill her marital duties, by his side as his regal queen…and as his captive virgin bride!


Abbie Cavanaugh’s brother is in jail. Abbie can obtain his freedom—but only if she marries the Sheikh of Barakhara. The explosive passion between Prince Malik and Abbie could turn a marriage of convenience into one of Eastern promise. But neither Abbie nor Malik knows the other’s real identity. Can their marriage survive once the truth is revealed?


After a whirlwind courtship, Sheikh Hakim bin Omar al Kadar proposes marriage. Shy, innocent Catherine Benning has already fallen head-over-heels in love and she accepts….

After their wedding day–and night–when the sheikh claims his virgin wife, Catherine and Hakim travel to his desert kingdom. There Catherine discovers that this is no love match for Hakim–he’s bought her!

For more examples, go to Amazon and search “sheikh romance.” Seriously, there are tons of them — Traded to the Sheikh, Stolen by the Sheikh, The Desert Prince’s Mistress, The Sheikh’s Virgin, Love-Slave to the Sheikh, The Sheikh’s Ransomed Bride (notice the recurring economic transaction theme?), and my new personal favorite book title ever, Hired: The Sheikh’s Secretary Mistress, described thusly:

Sheikh Amir bin Faruq al Zorha lives in New York, but the desert is where his heart lies. Now it’s time for him to marry….Grace Brown, Amir’s plain but indispensable assistant, isn’t exactly queen material. No matter how tempted Amir is to take her innocence, she’s off-limits. Until he returns to his homeland, where the barbarian prince replaces the businessman—and resolves that Grace will be his!

Taylor argues that the themes of these books reflect concerns about gender relations while also setting up an East/West dichotomy in which Western (usually specifically U.S.) women tame the “barbarian” desires of non-Western men. The male love interests are too masculine for current U.S. cultural norms; they attempt to control women in an obvious manner, to force them into marriage, and/or to acquire them by purchase or trade.

But they are ultimately redeemable “barbarian princes.” On the cover, they’re darker than the (generally blond) woman, but only slightly so. They are usually described as having lived in the U.S. or Europe, often during college. They seek to “modernize” their countries, often signaled by their disinterest in or opposition to the harems still maintained by other men in their countries. Referring to harems clearly links this fictionalized Middle East to the past, while the individual hero instead chooses monogamy with one White woman, signaling his modernization.

A woman, and love, tame the dangerous but desirable hero. Interestingly, femininity here is presented as preferable not just for women, but for the male character as well, as a necessary element to balance his hypermasculinity:

…the man is brought to acknowledge the pre-eminence of love and the attractions of domesticity…the theme of category romance is female power…By getting the hero to give in and fall in love with her, and admit it, she brings him into the “feminine” world view…the heroine “civilizes” the Arab hero into a domestic love and he thus becomes an acceptable husband for a white girl. (p. 1046-47).

Ultimately, then, the sheikh romance presents a backward East, a state signaled largely by gender relations. There are two types of Middle Eastern men: those who are redeemable, who can be modernized, and those who can’t. And adoption of a certain ideal of monogamous romantic love, which renders the hero’s hypermasculinity exotic but no longer scary, provides the key to modernizing otherwise barbaric cultures.

The article is in Journal of Popular Culture v. 40, no. 6 (2007), p. 1032-1051.

The New U.S. Racial Ideology

Enjoy Jennifer Lee, professor of sociology at UC Irvine, discussing how the American concept of race has been changing as we’re confronted with a more complex racial landscape. Are we forcing all racial groups into the pre-existing black/white binary?  A white/non-white binary?  A black/non-black binary?  Or something else?

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.

Black American Soldiers In World War II

Last year Gwen posted about Medal of Honor, a World War II based video game that featured an all white cast.  In her post, she gives numbers as to the diversity of the U.S. military at that time.  Here, I offer some photographs of Black American soldiers during the war (borrowed from The History Place):


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.

Victor Rios on The Youth Control Complex

In this 11-minute video, Dalton Conley interviews Victor Rios about the youth control complex.  He argues the that punishing arm of the state (the prison system) and the nurturing arm of the state (the education system) work together to criminalize, stigmatize, and punish young inner city boys and men.

Rios’ ideas apply very well to the treatment of Latarian Milton, the 7-year-old boy who was charged with grand theft auto for taking his grandmother’s car for a joy ride.

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.

Spanish and English Versions of a Public Advisory

Dolores R. sent us a photo from Olvera St. in downtown Los Angeles. Olvera Street is a historic site/tourist attraction that commemorates a pueblo founded in 1781.  Some call it the birthplace of Los Angeles.

The photo is of a sign pleading with visitors to behave.  It is written in both Spanish and English but, as Dolores observes, the message in each language is slightly different (translation below).

Dolores explains:

Translation is mostly the same, with the exception of the part regarding the plants. The English says, “Do not touch plants.”

The Spanish version says (literal translation), “Abstain from touching anything, cutting or etching names in the cactus.”


See also our post documenting differences in the English and Spanish versions of a Kaiser pamphlet for new moms (hint: only one of them emphasizes sterilization).

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.