Tag Archives: race/ethnicity

Race, Femininity, & Benign Nature in a Vintage Tobacco Ad

In Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers, Joane Nagel looks at how race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are often used to create new national identities and frame colonial expansion. In particular, White female sexuality, presented as modest and appropriate, was often contrasted with the sexuality of colonized women, who were often depicted as promiscuous or immodest. qout sent in an 1860s advertisement for Peter Lorillard Snuff & Tobacco that illustrates these differences.

According to An Empire of Plants: People and Plants that Changed the World, the ad drew on a purported Huron legend of a beautiful white spirit bringing them tobacco. There are a few interesting things going on here. We have the association of femininity with a benign nature; the women are surrounded by various animals (I can’t tell what they all are, but I think there’s a fox and a rabbit) who appear to pose no threat to the women or to one another. The background is lush and productive.

Racialized hierarchies are embedded in the personification of the “white spirit” as a White woman, descending from above to provide a precious gift to Native Americans, similar to imagery drawing on the idea of the “white man’s burden.” And as often occurred (particularly as we entered the Victorian Era), there is a willingness to put non-White women’s bodies more obviously on display than the bodies of White women. The White woman above is actually less clothed than the American Indian woman, yet her arm and the white cloth are strategically placed to hide her breasts and crotch (I can’t tell if we can just barely see her left nipple or if that’s shading). On the other hand, the Native American woman’s breasts are fully displayed. (This pattern continues; for instance, in Reading National Geographic, Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins discuss the way non-White women’s breasts are frequently displayed in the magazine while only recently have a few exceptions occurred where topless light-skinned women were included, all shot from behind rather than the front.)

So the ad provides a nice illustration of the intersection of race/ethnicity, gender (particularly ideas of feminine gentleness and innocence), sexuality, and marketing.

Dr. Laura and the Rhetorical Strategies of Color-Blind Racism (Trigger Warning)

Presumably many of you have heard about the controversy that has arisen about a conversation between Laura Schlessinger (aka Dr. Laura) and a female African American caller. Corina C. sent in some links to posts on the topic. Trigger warning for harsh, racist language.

Here’s a recording of the conversation (found at Media Matters) in which Schlessinger responds to the caller’s concerns about comments from her White husband’s friends and relatives by suggesting she is “hypersensitive” and isn’t in a position to be concerned about comments she considered racist because “Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger”:

Selected parts of the transcript:

CALLER: I was a little caught back by the N-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations –

SCHLESSINGER: Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.

SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. We’ve got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.

SCHLESSINGER: Chip on your shoulder. I can’t do much about that.

CALLER: It’s not like that.

SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity –

CALLER: So it’s OK to say “nigger”?

SCHLESSINGER: — and not enough sense of humor.

SCHLESSINGER: …You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race. If you’re going to marry out of your race, people are going to say, “OK, what do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?”…And what I just heard from Jade is a lot of what I hear from black-think — and it’s really distressting [sic] and disturbing. And to put it in its context, she said the N-word, and I said, on HBO, listening to black comics, you hear “nigger, nigger, nigger.” I didn’t call anybody a nigger. Nice try, Jade. Actually, sucky try. Need a sense of humor, sense of humor — and answer the question. When somebody says, “What do blacks think?” say, “This is what I think. This is what I read that if you take a poll the majority of blacks think this.” Answer the question and discuss the issue…Ah — hypersensitivity, OK, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don’t get it.

There are a number of things going on here. In Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva discusses the various ways that Whites, in particular, downplay racial discrimination through a number of rhetorical and discursive strategies, several of which Schlessinger draws on in this exchange. For instance, she naturalizes the behavior the caller is concerned about: if you marry someone of another race, you just have to accept that their friends and family are going to consider you a representative of your entire race and constantly interact with you through the lens of your racial/ethnic background. That’s just to be expected, and if it starts to bother you, you’re “hypersensitive.” In fact, you ought to be sure and constantly educate yourself about all social trends as they relate to African Americans, so that if someone has any questions about what “Blacks think,” you can quickly tell them.

Think about the level of mental energy that is being expected here. Schlessinger is saying that it is the responsibility of minorities to know what members of their race/ethnicity think, in the aggregate, about whatever topic anybody else might want to know. I, as a White woman, am not expected to be able to provide, at the drop of a hat, data on Whites’ opinions about anything. (Though I do find that people who find out I’m a sociologist often think I must have insight into every aspect of social life, leading to questions such as, “My sister-in-law likes to _____. What do you think causes that?” or “So what do you think _____ will be like in 50 years?”, neither of which I am usually prepared to address in the middle of getting some potato salad at a picnic or buying a soda at the gas station.) The underlying argument here is that it is minorities’ responsibility to patiently educate Whites about things related to non-Whites, and an unwillingness to take on that role is evidence that you have a “chip on your shoulder.”

Another frame Schlessinger draws on is the minimization of racism: we have a Black president now, so racism’s totally over. What’s your problem?

Schlessinger is also holding all members of a racial group responsible for the actions of any of them. She argues that the routines of some Black comedians invalidates this individual African American woman’s right to be upset by racialized language in any context. It doesn’t matter whether this woman approves of the comedians’ comments — or has ever heard any of them; all African Americans are treated as an undifferentiated group, and the behavior of some revokes the rights of any others to bring up issues they find problematic.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Schlessinger hints at another rhetorical strategy, the “some of my best friends are _____ and thus I can’t possibly be racially prejudiced” argument:

I went out to dinner with three friends after Larry King. One of my friends who is gay is sitting there with another friend who is black, and he looks up and says, “I wonder what the media would do with this? You’re with a black guy and a gay guy.” We laughed, because we all understand what this is really about — censoring a point of view.

So there you have it: a round-up of ways to frame non-Whites as overly sensitive and unilaterally responsible for improving race relations.

UPDATE: The comments section is closed. There were still a lot of people commenting, but much of it had descended into name-calling and accusations, and I can’t keep up with all of them to catch the truly offensive ones. I may reopen comments in 48 hours after a cooling-off period.

Putting the “Ground Zero Mosque” in Perspective

Plans to build an Islamic community center near the site of Ground Zero, the site of the destroyed World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, have stirred up the political right who have dubbed it the Ground Zero Mosque.  The proposed site (A) is about two blocks from where the twin towers once stood (B):

Objection to the project is based on a false conflation of the attacks with Islam.  Bin Laden drew on Islam to mobilize support for the attack, but this in no way makes the attacks Islamic.  Many Muslims died in the attacks and Muslims around the world condemn them.  When Scott Roeder murdered George Tiller for performing abortions, we didn’t call that a Christian attack.  It is prejudicial to paint entire groups based on the actions of a few.

Notice, however, how this ad opposing the community center identifies all Muslims (“they”) as America’s enemy (found here).  The ad’s narrator explains, “They declared war against us” and “to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous, 13-story mosque at Ground Zero…”  Trigger warning for those sensitive to images of the 911 attacks:

The campaign against the community center, then, is a good example of our refusal to notice that many Americans are Muslims and that not all Muslims are America’s enemy.

It also misunderstands life in that region of the city.  The ad names says that the site of the World Trade Center is “sacred” and Sarah Palin says that it is “hallowed ground.”  To that, Daryl Lang took it upon himself to photograph some of the Manhattan corners and storefronts that were the same distance from Ground Zero as the proposed center.  “Look at the photos,” he writes, “This neighborhood is not hallowed… The blocks around Ground Zero are like every other hard-working neighborhood in New York, where Muslims are just another thread of the city fabric.”


Thanks to Dmitriy T.M. for sending the link to Daryl Lang’s photos!

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.

Pocahontas Meets Adriel Luis’ Slip of the Tongue

Last semester my colleague, Mary Christianakis, assigned her students a mash up.  The idea was to take two forms of art (loosely defined) and combine them to inspire, instead of state, a critical perspective.  Below is one of the exemplars, by her student, Samantha Figueroa.  It combines scenes from Pocahontas with a spoken word poem, Slip of the Tongue, by Adriel Luis.


Nice work, Samantha!

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.

Financial Markets and Jersey Shore: Both “Reality” TV

Last month the cast of Jersey Shore rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE):

The public responded negatively.  Says one snarky observer on the NYSE’s Facebook page:

The kids of the Jersey Shore rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange this week.  In a related story, civilization is down 500 points.

The trouble, it seems, comes from the weirdness of bringing together trivial-and-fake-”reality”-stars with the very-important-and-really-real-U.S.-financial-market.

Economic sociologist Brooke Harrington, however, thinks the two are less incongruent than they seem.  She writes:

I’d like to suggest that what seems so wrong with that picture of Snooki and company ringing the opening bell actually makes a lot of sense sociologically. If this meeting of worlds—entertainment and the stock market—seems strange, it may be because we’re so used to regarding the markets as “real,” rather than as a performance (or even as entertainment in their own right).

Markets, she explains, aren’t “more ‘real’ than ‘reality TV.’”  Instead, both the characters on Jersey Shore and markets are playing themselves.   The reality show stars respond to expectations of “Guido” and “Guidette” personalities.  Likewise, the market responds to  economists whose predictions often create the very reality that they anticipate.

Harrington brings in a fancy concept:

Both are engaged in producing what French sociologist and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard calls “the simulacrum:” a copy without an original, a pretense that replaces and ultimately negates “reality” so successfully that we no longer care about what is real.

She finishes:

Theorized through this lens, the image of the Jersey Shore cast ringing the opening bell at the NYSE persists in memory not because it is represents a collision of worlds, but because it brings together two genres of performance whose entertainment value depends on their purported “reality.”

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.

The Recession, Re-Employment, and Job Satisfaction

U.S. unemployment numbers only begin to describe how U.S. workers have suffered in this recession.  The Pew Research Center has some additional data on this experience.

Twenty-six percent of full-time workers who became re-employed currently only work part-time.  Thirteen percent moved from part-time to full time work.  So, among the employed, there are 13 percent fewer full-time workers.

Americans who lost their jobs and became re-employed during this recession say that they’re making about the same, that the benefits are about equal, and many like their new job better:

Still, the re-employed are more likely than the still-employed to say that they are overqualified for their current job:

People that moved from full- to part-time work are significantly less likely to be satisfied with their new position:

Forty-seven percent of part-time workers would like a full-time job:

The term “underemployed” refers to this 47 percent of the population.   Men, young people, the less educated, lower income, and non-whites are more likely to be underemployed:

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.

Reel Injun, the Documentary


Reel Injun, a new documentary about the portrayal of American Indians in U.S. movies, has been earning high praise and notice from bloggers and film critics. About the film:

Hollywood has made over 4000 films about Native people; over 100 years of movies defining how Indians are seen by the world...

Travelling through the heartland of America, Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond looks at how the myth of “the Injun” has influenced the world’s understanding – and misunderstanding – of Natives.

With candid interviews with directors, writers, actors and activists, including Clint Eastwood, Jim Jarmusch, Robbie Robertson, Sacheen Littlefeather, John Trudell and Russell Means, clips from hundreds of classic and recent films, including Stagecoach, Little Big Man, The Outlaw Josey Wales, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Atanarjuat the Fast Runner, Reel Injun traces the evolution of cinema’s depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today.

I can’t wait to see it.

The trailer:

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.

Criminal Background Checks and the “Hidden Life Sentence”

An article at Colorlines, and the accompanying video interview below, illustrates the way that employment policy virtually ensures that some people will remain excluded from the above-ground economy.  Fourteen months ago, the interviewee, Vincent, lost his job as a maintenance technician, just days before he would be eligible for unemployment, when his boss ran a criminal background check and discovered that Vincent had a 25-year-old record for breaking and entering.

Since then, he’s been unemployed.  When he applies for jobs, he’s frequently told that his application can’t be accepted because of  his criminal background. Accordingly, he is having a terribly difficult time finding a job.  “It’s real hurtful,” he says, “to know that your chances are so broke down to zero.”

Seventy-five percent of people who have left prison are currently unemployed.  When we see criminal recidivism, or the return to crime after release from prison, we should consider the possibility that we are essentially forcing people to turn to the “underground economy” by shutting them out of the “above ground” one.

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.