Tag Archives: race/ethnicity

The American War Against the Lakota

In this video, suggested by Dmitriy T.M., photographer Aaron Huey powerfully illustrates the history of the relationship between the U.S. and the Lakota of the Sioux Nation.   It includes the making and breaking of treaties, the use of the idea of private property to strip the Lakota of their land, the Battle of Wounded Knee, the stealing of the Black Hills, and the socio-economic (and related) disadvantages faced by the Lakota today.

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.

2009 Poverty Demographics

Rick T. sent in a link to a post at Global Research about some new U.S. Census data about 2009 poverty rates. As is usually true, children suffer higher levels of poverty than other age groups:

Poverty is significantly higher for African Americans than for the U.S. population overall — notice the Y axis goes up to 45%, whereas above it ends at 30%:

From the post:

Being American gives you a one in seven chance of being poor. Being young raises this chance to one in four. Further, being black in America means a one in four chance of being poor. Being young and black raises your chance of being poor up to one in 2.5.

Not surprisingly, poverty is highly related to education level:

I went to the original Census report and grabbed some more images. This graph makes the over-representation of children among the poor even more obvious:

There’s tons of information in the report if you’re interested in the demographics of poverty in the current economic recession.

How to Dismiss Claims of Racism (Trigger Warning)

Angi S. alerted us to a cartoon that ran this month in Eastern Michigan University’s student newspaper, The Echo.

The ensuing conversation is a good example of how claims that materials are racist are dismissed by their producers.  After receiving criticism, The Echo made the following “response” (here):

We understand the “You Are Here” cartoon may have offended some readers. We apologize for the lack of sensitivity some felt we showed for publishing the piece.  The cartoon points out the hypocrisy of hate-filled people. Its intent was to ask how can someone show affection for one person while at the same time hating someone else enough to commit such a heinous act as hanging. We wish to remind readers that they are free to express their opinion on our discussion boards and we hope to continue to foster free thought and open discussion on campus and in the community.

– The Eastern Echo

First, notice that it is a typical “we are sorry that you were offended” non-apology.  The first sentence acknowledges that some readers “may have [been] offended” and then says that “some felt” that there was an insensitivity.  It does not say that the cartoon was offensive or insensitive.

Second, it also explains that the intention was to point out the “hypocrisy of hate-filled people,” not make light of lynching, without interrogating the relative importance of intent and reception.  One could argue that cultural producers are at least somewhat responsible for the  myriad of ways that an item could be reasonably interpreted.

Third, it backs into the free speech corner by claiming to be open to all opinions (using the word “free” twice in one sentence).

The Detroit News covered The Echo’s response and also added that while one African American student objected to the cartoon, another thought it was funny.  So…

Fourth, the coverage relied on the idea that if just one member of the relevant group is not offended, then maybe the rest are over-reacting.

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 Sioux Nation, Robin Hood… Whatever

Julie M. came across a bow and arrow set for sale at a Wholesale Sports store in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. The set is called the “Lil’ Sioux.” Notice any oddness about the description?

It’s the Lil’ Sioux…and also the “Sherwood Forester” set. What’s Sherwood Forest? Why, where Robin Hood and his Merry Men hung out. Because when you’re appropriating Native American cultures, you might as well conflate them with mythologized, and possibly entirely fictional, noble outlaws from another continent.

But given the popularity of “Native American” fashions these days, I guess it shows restraint that the kid isn’t wearing a feathered headdress.

UPDATE: In response to my comment about the kid not wearing a headdress, reader Jessica B. pointed out that a team of Italian researchers developed a robot that is capable of shooting a bow and arrow, and made sure to dress it appropriately:

The Racialization of Incarceration

We know that U.S. stereotypes associate black people, especially black men, with criminality (for examples, see our posts on who looks suspicious, racial profiling, and race-sensitive trigger fingers).  But a new study by sociologists Aliya Saperstein and Andrew Penner shows that being convicted of a crime sometimes shifts people’s racial self-perceptions in related directions.  Saperstein and Penner compared the self-identification of people in 1979 and 2002.  Reflecting the social construction of race, it is typical for there to be some mis-matches between people’s reported race at different times; but the researchers discovered that the experience of being incarcerated shaped if and how one’s racial identification changed.

The Table below compares the self-reported race in 1979 (far left column) with the self reported race in 2002 (next left column).  The third and fourth columns show the reported race of people in 2002 who were not incarcerated and incarcerated, respectively.  We see that, among people who were not incarcerated, 5% of the people who identified as “European” in 1979 identified as “Black” or some other race in 2002.  Among people who were incarcerated, however, we see a much greater defection from whiteness; only 81% of those who identified as white in 1979 still did so in 2002.

Saperstein and Penner argue that this shows that “…penal institutions play an important role in racializing Americans…”  The experience of being incarcerated somehow makes people, even people who feel white, feel somehow less white.

Via Contexts Discoveries.  For great examples of the social construction of race, start with this simple lesson, then see these great posts: black and white twins! wha’!?, Obama looks just like his white grandfather, history and race in the U.S. census, claiming whiteness in court, judging racial phenotypes in China, and figuring out “Creole”.

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.

Which Americans Are Republicans Pledging To?

As you may have heard, this week the Republican Party released what they’ve termed a “Pledge to America,” a document that lists their agenda for the next legislative session. Erin Echols, a student at Kennesaw State U., took a look at it and was struck by the contents, particularly the images.

Of the 48 total pages of the document, 14 consist of images, either a single one or a collage of several. Of course, in a document of this sort, you’re going to have the required patriotic images — the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Capitol and other buildings in D.C. Nothing surprising there. But Erin points out that the cowboy seems to be a recurring theme. There’s a full-page silhouette:

Two pages prominently show people wearing cowboy hats (these are both from collages):

It reminded me of a post by Macon D. over at Racialicious a while back about some ads by a Republican primary candidate for Agricultural  Commissioner in Alabama:

The hat, the horse, the rifle, the sweeping music that makes me think of old Western movies…it all evokes what Macon D. calls the “Independent (White) Cowboy Myth,” a version of rugged, stand-alone, honest manhood. Macon D. quotes Mel at BroadSnark:

In this mythology, the cowboy is a white man. He is a crusty frontiersman taming the west and paving the way for civilization. He is the good guy fighting the dangerous Indian. He is free and independent. He is in charge of his own destiny.

Here’s the follow-up ad he made after losing:

And, for the record, I’m not arguing this presentation of Dale Peterson is necessarily fake; for all I know he dresses and acts like that all the time. People do; I’m related to some of them. I’m not saying Peterson is a fraud who really wears tuxes and has never been on a horse. That’s irrelevant. What I’m interested in is the power of a particular cowboy mythology, the one on display in Peterson’s ads.

As Macon D. points out, Ronald Reagan actively appropriated the cowboy persona, often wearing cowboy hats and jeans, sometimes alongside a horse (he had also played cowboys in a couple of movies). He openly identified with the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” an effort by groups in the western U.S. in the ’70s and ’80s to stop designation of federal lands as protected wilderness areas, push for more mining and livestock grazing rights on public land, and oppose some other environmental and land use regulations, depicted as impositions from distant elites.

Macon D. quotes Sarah Watts on the appeal of the White cowboy myth when Theodore Roosevelt first used it:

…he met the psychological desires in their imagination, making them into masters of their own fate, propelling them into violent adventure and comradeship, believing them at home in nature, not in the hothouse interiors of office buildings or middle-class homes.

The cowboy myth, then, arose partly to allay deep anxieties about changes in American society. But the myth is just that — a myth, a romanticized notion largely unmoored from the realities of cowboys’ lives. Mel says,

Cowboys were itinerant workers who, while paid fairly well when they had work, spent much of the year begging for odd jobs.  Many did not even own the horse they rode.  Frequently, they worked for large cattle companies owned by stockholders from the Northeast and Europe, not for small family operations (a la Bonanza).  The few times cowboys tried to organize, they were brutally oppressed by ranchers.

This isn’t true just in the past. I know people who work as hired hands on ranches now. They love many aspects of the life. But most of them aren’t particularly well-paid; they don’t have retirement benefits or health insurance; they aren’t on a path to being able to buy their own ranch and be a self-reliant family farmer. Some become managers, with more responsibility and money, as in any occupation. But sometimes what initially seemed like a great deal — getting free housing as part of the job — turns out to have downsides, such as being expected to be available round-the-clock since you’re right there on the property, or fearing that if you piss off your employer and get fired, you’re out of a place to live immediately as well.

The examples I’ve given here have all been Republicans. Democrats use the cowboy mythology as well — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is well known for often appearing in a cowboy hat and nearly always wearing a bolo tie rather than a necktie. However, Republicans seem to appropriate the cowboy persona more often, or at least more successfully.

Anyway…back to Erin’s analysis of the “Pledge to America.” The other interesting feature of the images is their overwhelming Whiteness. Some examples of group photos:

This one has what in a larger version appears may be an Asian-American woman, in the red dress on the lower left:

The photo on the second tier on the right here looks like it might have a Black woman in it, seated second from the right:

Overall, the photos show a sea of Whiteness. As Erin says, whether it’s an unintentional oversight or a calculated choice, the resulting message is that America’s citizens, the hard-working, patriotic folks who matter and to whom the party is making pledges, are White. Given the current racialized tone of much of our political debate (especially regarding Hispanic immigrants and Muslims, a racialized group often conflated with “Arabs”), it’s a portrait of America that is likely to speak to, and soothe, the fears of some groups more than others.

Maps of Racial/Ethnic Populations in U.S. Cities

Lisa’s colleague, sociologist John Lang, E.W., Rachel, J. Wang, Arturo B., and Larry Harnisch all let us know about Eric Fischer’s set of maps that illustrate racial/ethnic populations in a number of U.S. cities, based on Census 2000 data.They’re great for showing levels of segregation, as well as comparing racial/ethnic diversity and population density in different regions.

On the maps, red = White/Caucasian, blue = African American, green = Asian, orange = Hispanic, and gray = Other. Each dot represents 25 people. Here’s NYC, which not surprisingly has the highest apparent population density of any of the cities mapped and a high level of diversity, though also clearly the racial/ethnic groups are residentially segregated to a large degree:

At Fischer’s website, if you hover over the images you can identify individual neighborhoods/regions.



Phoenix, illustrating the low population densities characteristic of much of the Sun Belt:

Vegas, still showing the distinctive residential segregation of African Americans that first emerged when they were forced to live in a segregated neighborhood called Westside, physically separated from other parts of town by Boulder Highway (see Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All-American City for a history of its development), and the predominantly-White neighborhoods ringing the Vegas Valley:


Boise is very  White:

Fischer has up 102 different city maps, so there’s lots to play with and compare. I can’t wait until the 2010 Census data comes out to see which cities have experienced noticeable changes. Also, it’s bizarrely addictive looking at cities you’re familiar with and trying to pick out important landmarks/areas just based on the maps.

New Barbie Dolls Put the Japanese Back in Time

There is a tendency in Western culture to envision white people are more modern and progressive than people of color who are seen as more traditional, even tied to ancient ways of life (see this post and its links).  This tendency is illustrated in Mattel’s new Japanese Ken and Barbie dolls, released this year:

When was the last time you saw a Japanese person dressed like this?  Regarding Ken, Dolls of Color put it:

Right, because an Asian Ken can’t be wearing jeans and a tshirt? Or a tuxedo if one must get fancy? An Asian Ken must be some kind of exotic fantasy and not just that cool dude next door? Right.

We’ll know that we respect people of color as people when we start portraying them as people instead of exotic objects or historical artifacts.

UPDATE: Of course, as several commenters have pointed out, these costumes aren’t at all historically accurate.  Instead they exoticize a stereotyped notion of the traditional Japanese person.

Via Racialicious.

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.