Tag Archives: rural/urban

Classism in the Rise and Fall of the Duck Dynasty Patriarch

This Duck Dynasty thing seems to have everyone’s undies in a culture war bunch with lots of hand wringing about free speech (find out why this is ridiculous here), the persecution of Christians, and the racism, sexism, and homophobia of poor, rural, Southern whites.

There is, however, an underlying class story here that is going unsaid.

2

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):

1

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 Messner suggest 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.

Mimi Schippers, PhD is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Tulane University.  She is working on a book on the radical gender potential of polyamory.  Her first book was Rockin’ Out of the Box: Gender Maneuvering in Alternative Hard Rock.  You can follow her at Marx in Drag.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Marx in Drag.  Photos from the Internet Movie Database and Today.

What Names are Normal? Shifting the Center of the World

1Sociologists 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.

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.

When Jews Dominated Professional Basketball

Kids growing up in dense, urban environments often turn to basketball as their sport of choice.  This is partly because it fits, in a physical sense.  All things being equal, a basketball court takes up a lot less room than a football or soccer field.  For the economically disadvantaged, it’s also relatively cheap to play.  If you have a court available, you only need a pair of shoes and a ball.  For this reason, whatever population finds itself in this type of environment tends to take up basketball.

That’s why the sport was dominated by Jews in the first half of the 1900s.  Just like many African-Americans today, at that time many immigrant Jewish families found themselves isolated in inner cities.  Basketball seemed like a way out.  “It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” explained retired ball player Dave Dabrow.  Basketball scholarships were one of the few ways low income urban Jews could afford college.

Jewish basketball team (1921-22):

CA.1031.firstbasket

Today we refer to stereotypes about Black men to explain why they dominate basketball, but this is an after-the-fact justification.  At the time, very different characteristics — stereotypes associated with Jews — were used to explain why they dominated professional teams. Paul Gallico, sports editor of the NY Daily News in the 1930s, explained that “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.”  All stereotypes about Jews.  Moreover, he argued, Jews were rather short and so had “God-given better balance and speed.”  Yep.  There was a time when we thought being short was an advantage in the sport of basketball.

Never underestimate the power of institutions and how much things can change.

New York Knicks (1946-1947):

1946 New York Knicks Team PhotoCross-posted at Pacific Standard.

 

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.

Poet Clint Smith on Food Deserts and Urban Warriors

Screenshot_1In this powerful spoken word, poet Clint Smith, who is also a teacher in Washington D.C., tells the stories of some of his students. It puts names and details to the struggles of young people trying to thrive in an urban environment that is all too often indifferent to their survival.

Via Upworthy.

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.

150 Years of Racism: Attitudes in the American South

The partial U.S. map below shows the proportion of the population that was identified as enslaved in the 1860 census.  County by county, it reveals where the economy was most dominated by slavery.

1

A new paper by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen has discovered that the proportion of enslaved residents in 1860 — 153 years ago — predicts race-related beliefs today.   As the percent of the population in a county accounted for by the enslaved increases, there is a decreased likelihood that contemporary white residents will identify as a Democrat and support affirmative action, and an increased chance that they will express negative beliefs about black people.

Avidit and colleagues don’t stop there.  They try to figure out why.  They consider a range of possibilities, including contemporary demographics and the possibility of “racial threat” (the idea that high numbers of black people make whites uneasy), urban-rural differences, the destruction and disintegration caused by the Civil War, and more.  Controlling for all these things, the authors conclude that the results are still partly explained by a simple phenomenon: parents teaching their children.  The bias of Southern whites during slavery has been passed down intergenerationally.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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.

Failing to Understand When Non-White People Distrust the Police

Screenshot_1When white Americans are in trouble, they rarely hesitate to call the police. That’s because most of them trust the police. They rarely realize the significance during encounters with the police of their own protective “white” skin.

Many white folks also have trouble understanding the deep distrust of the police in other racialized communities. That’s because they fail to realize how quick many police officers are to harass non-white people, and how much less they tend to value non-white lives.

White Americans should listen, with sincerity and respect, to the reported experiences of others with the entrenched racist attitudes among the police, and the rampant abuse such attitudes inspire. They should also listen to the corrosive effects on non-white communities of the relative impunity with which police repeatedly harass, and murder, non-white people.

In the following short film, Stacey Muhammad’s “I AM SEAN BELL, black boys speak,” black Americans effectively explain their reasoned fear, distrust, and dismay regarding the police. I think that for starters, this film is perfect discussion material for all American classrooms. And any other gatherings that include white eyes and ears.

See a complementary post, featuring a great clip from Michael Moore, at Stuff White People Do here.

[h/t: Kai @ Zuky]

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.

—————————

About himself, Macon writes, “I’m a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the ‘white’ part. I live in that heart of the heart of American whiteness, the ever-amorphous ‘Midwest.’”  Macon’s blog, Stuff White People Do, is an excellent source of insights about race and racism. 

Why Do Firefighters Take Such Risky Jobs?

Re-posted in honor of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in Arizona yesterday. Cross-posted at BlogHer and The Huffington Post.

Firefighters put their lives on the line to protect other people’s property and lives.  Why do they choose to take such dangerous work?  Sociologist Matthew Desmond asks this question in his book, On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, and the answer is truly surprising.

Desmond, who put himself through college fighting fires in Arizona, returned to his old job as a graduate student in order to study his fellow firefighters.  When he asked them why they were willing to put their lives at risk to fight fires, the firefighters responded, “Risk? What risk?”

It turned out that the firefighters didn’t think that their work was dangerous.  How is this possible?

(source)

Desmond explains that most of the firefighters were working-class men from the country who had been working with nature all of their lives.  They raised cattle and rode horses; they cut down trees, chopped firewood, and built fences; they hunted and fished as often as they could.  They were at home in nature.  They felt that they knew nature.  And they had been manipulating nature all their lives.   Desmond wrote:  “…my crewmembers are much more than confident on the fireline.  They are comfortable.”

(source)

To these men, fire was just another part of nature.  They believed that if you understood the forest, respected fire, and paid attention, then you could keep yourself safe.  Period. Fire wasn’t dangerous.  One of the firefighters put it like this:

Cause, personally, I don’t consider my life in danger.  I think that the people I work with and with the knowledge I know, my life isn’t in danger… If you know, as a firefighter, how to act on a fire, how to approach it, this and that, I mean you’re, yeah, fire can hurt you.  But if you know, if you can soak up the stuff that has been taught to you, it’s not a dangerous job.

When these men were called “heroes,” they laughed.  Desmond wrote: “The thought of dying on the fireline is so distant from firefighters’ imaginations that they find the idea comedic.”

When a fellow firefighter did tragically die on the fireline during Desmond’s study, he discovered just how deep this went.  Unwilling to consider the possibility that fire was dangerous (at least in front of each other), the only way to make sense of the death was to find fault in an individual, or even blame the dead firefighter for being “stupid.”  Desmond recounts this conversation:

“That sucks,” J.J. said.

“Someone fucked up,” Donald responded, immediately.  “I’ll tell you what happened:  Someone fucked up…”

Heads nodded.

Craig Neilson, the Fire Prevention Officer, added, “Their communications might have been fucked. . . . The fire was under them and burned up.”

“They probably weren’t paying attention,” Donald said…

“They’re probably stupid.  Probably weren’t talking to their crew,” Peter guessed.

“Yep.  They’re fuckin’ stupid, not talking to anyone.  They should’ve known better than to build a helispot on top of the fire,” said Donald.

Heads continued to nod…

Desmond’s answer to why firefighters take such a risky job — because they don’t think it’s risky — was a fabulous counterpoint to dominant theories of risk taking at the time, which tended to suggest that men who did risky things were trying to prove their masculinity or seek adoration as a hero.

It’s easy to conclude that the firefighters are delusional for thinking that fire isn’t risky, but Desmond does a wonderful job of showing that their denial of risk is mundane.  We do it every day that we jump into a car and approach 70 miles per hour on the freeway.  If we are worried about our safety, it’s usually because we are concerned about the skills and attention of other drivers.  Most of us think that we, personally, are pretty decent, even great drivers.  The firefighters tend to feel the same about fire.

Today’s deaths remind us that fire is dangerous.  We should also remember that risky jobs are disproportionately filled by the least powerful members of our society.  Wildland firefighters are typically low income men from rural backgrounds; in Desmond’s study, they were also disproportionately Latino and American Indian.  As Desmond wrote: “Certain bodies, deemed precious, are protected, while others, deemed expendable, protect.”  Let’s take a moment to remember the 19 who lost their lives yesterday, as well as the other men and women who do the dangerous work of America.  And be careful everybody.

Note for Instructors: I teach this book in Soc 101, with great success.  I wrote a review in Teaching Sociology and you can download my lecture notes here.

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.

Is Gun Control a City vs. Country Debate?

Cross-posted at Jennifer Carlson’s Blog.

In national gun debates, we often think about America as “divided” geographically along the issue of guns. USA Today recently reduced the American gun debate to “urban vs. rural,” saying that “[o]ne of the biggest factors in where you stand on gun ownership and gun violence depends, literally, on where you lay your head at night.” This captures an important truth about American gun politics, but relying too much on the rural/urban divide across states obscures how this plays out within states.

The urban/rural divide in gun cultures suggests that guns are a necessary and practical tool for rural Americans who need them for the purposes of hunting, self-protection, and so forth. But these same factors should become irrelevant in the urban setting: between supermarkets and public services (combined with denser living), urbanites should see guns either as a hobby (for some urbanites) or a hazard (for most urbanites) rather than a practical tool of everyday life.

Following this logic, public law enforcement officials in urban areas should also oppose gun rights, and in fact, many do. Ken James, police chief of the Emeryville Police Department and head of the firearms task force of the Police Chief’s Association of California, recently called the notion that guns are defensive weapons a “myth” has said in the past that he prefers that his officers do not carry guns off-duty. Likewise, a number of national police associations have come out in support of Obama’s gun control proposals.  In contrast, over 400 county sheriffs have publicly stated that they will not enforce any “unconstitutional” laws signed by the Obama administration.  Perhaps the rural/urban divide is driving gun politics.

But maybe not.  Let’s take a closer look at the county-level politics of gun control attitudes in California, a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the US, and Arizona, a state with some of the most permissive laws.

1

Interestingly, both states have roughly the same number of counties with sheriffs that have aligned themselves with this pro-gun platform: in Arizona, 40% of county sheriffs have signed on, while in California, this figure is 31%. These numbers aren’t that different, considering how different their gun laws are. But here’s where it gets interesting: the expected urban/rural divide appears in California, but not Arizona, where urban counties have more pro-gun sheriffs.  What this means is that the rural/urban divide — at least in terms of sheriff support for gun rights — is flipped between gun-phobic California and gun-crazed Arizona.

No doubt, these two maps raise the question of how other issues intersect with, and structure, gun politics: for example, the politics of immigration likely have much more to say about the differences between Arizona and California than any straightforward divide between rural and urban America. Indeed, these maps suggest that there are logics about the role of guns in the pursuit of social order and policing at work in California versus Arizona that are not captured by neat dichotomies between “rural” and “urban” Americans.

Jennifer Carlson, PhD is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. She is working on a book manuscript entitled, “Clinging to their Guns? The New Politics of Gun Carry in Everyday Life.”