race

Photo by Tony Webster, Flickr CC

Over a year after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, protests in the NFL spiked dramatically after President Trump attacked players who followed Kaepernick’s example. In recent weeks many more players knelt, locked arms, or stayed in the locker room during the anthem in response to Trump’s speech and series of tweets. During the flurry of media attention on the NFL, scholars Rashawn Ray and Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve wrote an Op-ed for NBC News about not losing sight of the original purpose of the protests.

Instead of focusing on the political implications of the president’s tweets or changes in protests over the past week (such as owners joining their players on the field), Ray and Van Cleve reiterate research on the violent repercussions of racial bias in policing. They emphasize that black athletes, even NFL stars, are subject to the same dangers of racial profiling as all other African Americans. In an MSNBC spot discussing the Op-ed, Ray told the panel,

“We really have to reorient the narrative. This isn’t about someone standing or sitting, this is about the fact that black lives matter. This is about the fact that football players, basketball players, baseball players, once they leave those stadiums they are black and brown men. And unfortunately in our society it doesn’t matter if you are affluent or less affluent, unfortunately you might be actually profiled by the police, and unfortunately that particular profiling can turn deadly.”

Photo by blogtrepreneur.com/tech, Flickr CC

Surveillance technology dominates policing in many major cities, and software companies continue to develop tools that allow law enforcement to collect and analyze data on traffic violations, citizen complaints, and even license plate photographs. A recent CNN Tech article highlighted sociologist Sarah Brayne’s research on the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of one such data collection software, Palantir.  Brayne’s findings suggest that while the utilization of big data in policing facilitates communication, it also raises some major concerns of privacy and potential bias.

With the help of Palantir, LAPD officers use a point system to measure the risk of individuals with extensive criminal records, awarding points for a variety of law infractions and police interactions. However, Brayne found that individuals from low-income communities of color are more likely to have their risk measured — she cautions that such systems can be cyclic, with more points leading to more police contact, and vice versa.

Another potential problem is that of privacy. Palantir has improved location tracking abilities and allows law enforcement to gather and connect more information about individuals than ever before, but this often includes information on individuals without police contact. Certainly there are clear benefits; sharing data can help connect related crimes and more information helps police to work more efficiently and effectively. But challenges arise as technology develops. Brayne warns,

“I’d caution against the thinking that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. That logic rests on the assumption of the infallible state. It rests on the assumption that actors are entering information without error, prejudice or discretion.”

For more on the biases behind surveillance technologies, check out this TROT on computer code as free speech.

Photo by Mark Dixon, Flickr CC

Americans’ views on race and racism have changed in many ways from those during the Civil Rights movement in the Jim Crow era. Today, most Americans agree that racism is not acceptable, and social norms have generally dictated that racist ideologies should not be part of the mainstream of American culture. Social norms are supported by institutions and leaders, however, and recent controversies over organized white supremacist groups call their stability into question. In The New York Times’ Upshot blog, sociologists Tina Fetner and Sarah Sobieraj describe how quickly these norms can change, especially amid criticism that the Trump administration has been slow to condemn white supremacist groups. From Fetner:

“It’s not because all of a sudden there is more racism now than there was a few weeks ago. It’s that the absolute condemnation of those most abhorrent views is crumbling away…”

And from the article:

“When norms of acceptable behavior and speech start to shift, it can disturb the shared beliefs, values and symbols that make up our culture.”

Leaders and institutions have the power to respond to controversy or to ignore it. Either way, their actions can change whether ideas appear to be part of the mainstream or the fringes of a society.

Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue, Flickr CC

Companies like Ancestry.com use DNA samples to educate people about their genetic ancestry. This relatively new service is used by a growing number of people, and a recent article on STAT explains how has caused some uncomfortable moments for white supremacists who learn of their non-white ancestry. The article covers research by Aaron Panofsky  and Joan Donovan who studied posts on Stormfront, a white nationalist website, wherein users discuss their genetic ancestry results.

While one might assume that white nationalists would avoid posting their non-white ancestry online, Panofsky and Donovan found that members of Stormfront are quick to support each other in the face of genetic testing results which show non-white heritage.

“Instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are ‘overwhelmingly’ focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.”

Users discuss the potential failings of genetic testing, or posit that individual knowledge of one’s history is more useful than some findings in a remote laboratory. In other cases, individuals were told that they could remain in Stormfront so long as they didn’t “mate” and spread their non-white genes, and others even claimed that a sprinkling of non-white ancestry bolstered the community’s “diversity”. In sum, though genetic ancestry testing undermines the narratives that white supremacists utilize, users on Stormfront are negotiating their community boundaries with each new genetic test, and “rethinking who counts as white” in the process.

Photo by Ted Eytan, Flickr CC. Mural by Anieken Udofia in Adams Morgan Neighborhood, Washington, DC

“White flight” describes the uncomfortably common phenomenon in the mid-to-late 20th century wherein whites would quickly move out of a neighborhood once blacks started moving in. This would often lead to neighborhoods that were mostly-white, but quickly ended up mostly-black. Today, American neighborhoods are not as mono-ethnic as they once were, and the picture has expanded beyond blacks and whites to other populations, such as Latinos and Asians.

That said, however, segregation within neighborhood contexts is still present. A recent article in Slate detailed research showing that at the aggregate level, neighborhoods and residential areas are becoming more diverse in the U.S. However, this diversity does not necessarily mean that multicultural, cross-racial social relationships are thriving. Derek Hyra conducted research in parts of Washington, D.C. and found that even in a diverse neighborhood, people’s social associations—such as choice of church, schools, and restaurants—is often in a mono-ethnic context, leading to microsegregation or “diversity segregation.” 

This isn’t to necessarily suggest, however, that diverse neighborhoods have no potential to become more integrated.  Camille Z. Charles tells Slate that consistent exposure and contact with people of different races can foster integration. Places like public schools and community centers provide the opportunity for these kinds of relationships to develop and lead to diverse neighborhoods where people have diverse friends. Charles explains,

“We are often friendlier with people we actually interact with. We do find there is lasting benefit to that, which is why we think it is important to have [diversity] in schools because kids spend so much time in classrooms and on school campuses.”

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr CC

Since his time in office, President Trump has put in place a travel ban on Muslim immigrants from seven different nations in the Middle East, has increased the number of border agents at the Mexican border, and has high hopes of building a new wall at the US-Mexican border.  Despite all of this attention being paid to immigrants, Trump has yet to fully address the issue of businesses and individuals who keep hiring illegal immigrants. A recent article in the Huffington Post looks to sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza to explain this disconnect. 

In her research, Golash-Boza explains that Trump dumping more resources into border patrol is a complete waste of resources, as the average border agent apprehends about only two people a month. She states, “it’s like pouring money into a sieve…They’re mostly just sitting there.”

Golash-Boza has written extensively on the “immigration industrial complex,” which refers to the revolving door of business practices, law enforcement tactics, and cheap labor from immigrants of color. Businesses hire illegal immigrants and pay them a cheaper wage, but before they can make a respectable income, the immigrants are dismissed or reported to law enforcement (where border patrol, prison systems, and local law enforcement all benefit). Meanwhile, businesses simply replenish this cheap labor force with new immigrants.  

For more on the immigration industrial complex, check out this TROT on for profit prisons and immigrant detention rates. 

Photo by Steve Baker, Flickr CC

The 2018 mid-term elections are seeing more women than ever before expressing interest and taking steps to run for office. Some people suggest that this is the result of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, as well as a response to the numerous ways that President Trump has been criticized for his sexist behavior. One might think that this means that women will vote for female candidates in droves, but sociologists Leah Ruppanner of University of Melbourne and Kelsy Kretschmer of Oregon Sate University, along with political scientist Christopher Stout of Oregon State University, caution against such sweeping predictions in a recent article for RawStory.  

Using data from the American Election study to describe relationships between marriage and behavior at the polls, the researchers find that white and Latina women who are married are less likely to see their own fates as tied to that of other women. By contrast, single white and Latina women, and black women in general, are more likely to see themselves and other women as interconnected. As a result, women who are married and feel less connected to other women are more likely to vote for conservatives, while single women and those who feel more connected to other women are more likely to vote for liberals. The researchers explain,

“Some married women perceive advances for women, such as lawsuits to mitigate pay discrimination, as coming at the expense of their male partners. In part, this captures the shift in married women’s alliances from the individual to the marital union. Women who depend on their own income are more supportive of feminist issues such as abortion, sexual behavior, gender roles and family responsibilities, which widens the political gap between single and married women.”

They discuss how marriage has been shown to alter people’s behaviors and beliefs, and they suggest that married women can think less about women’s issues such as abortion and gender norms than single women do. However, an important caveat to their findings is that they did not observe significant differences between married and single black women. The researchers warn,

“Don’t assume that married women will connect to other women based on a notion of shared womanhood. Rather, feminist messages of discrimination and sexism may be more compelling to women who shoulder disproportionate levels of inequality, poverty and job insecurity – single, divorced and black women.”

Photo by Alex Indigo, Flickr CC

As described in an article from The Miami Herald, a recent video from the inside of a doctor’s clinic in Ontario has gone viral. In it, a woman can be seeing yelling at hospital staff, patients, and visitors, demanding that she her son sees a “white doctor without brown teeth.” In the video, the woman insists on a white doctor “who speaks English,” and gets upset when others confront her over this discriminatory attitude; in fact, she claims that people there are attacking her for being white rather than because of her behavior.

Sociologist Cheryl Teelucksingh of Ryerson University told the Herald that everyday racism like this is starting to become more common in Canada. In the current political climate, people feel more emboldened to assert their whiteness in public spaces. For nonwhite professionals, this presents a difficult situation in which they have to prove their credentials, education, and training for high-skilled jobs more than white professionals would. Teelucksingh explains,

“I think people are feeling that there’s a little bit more space now to question who’s in positions of power, who’s actually getting the jobs, those sorts of things.”

Photo by ResistFromDay1, Flickr CC

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the presence of social movements and protests has grown substantially. Most notable among this phenomenon have been large marches, such as the Women’s March and the March for Science. And according to an article in the Washington Post, these movements are showing no signs of slowing.    

Sociologist Dana Fisher, Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, investigates what has motivated people to more actively participate in democracy.  In the article, she explains that this shift to more collective and vocal action is to ensure people are heard, especially in light of the current administration.  According to Fisher,

“Most people used to be content to vote every four years and then disengage from politics … but many Americans no longer feel like their concerns are being heard just by voting.”

The protests have also been more ethnically diverse than is typical, and Fisher’s research shows that the rates of bachelor’s degrees among the protesters is higher than the general US population. Perhaps the most significant shift is the variety of issues in which participants are protesting. At the Women’s March, 60 percent said they were protesting for women’s rights, 36 percent indicated they were there for the environment, and 35 percent for racial justice. Fisher explains,  

“Since the inauguration … the resistance has become the umbrella for a suite of issues that used to have their own individual movements … They are not just coming out for the one issue that is their big issue. They have a much more intersectional sense of an identity as an activist.”

An actual Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Johnny Silvercloud, Flickr CC

A few weeks ago, Pepsi released an advertisement with Kendall Jenner wherein the young celebrity takes a stroll through a crowded protest, sodas in hand. The commercial received a lot of criticism and was taken off the air almost immediately. In an article in The Ubyssey, University of British Columbia sociologist Rimal Wilkes describes some of the issues with the commercial, particularly how it misrepresents the nature of protests.

To begin with, the commercial sports a diverse set of protesters, but that makes it difficult to imagine what exactly they’re protesting — Racial inequality? Environmental issues? Furthermore, the crowd in the ad looks like people who are quite privileged, which goes against what protest is about. As Wilkes explains, Kendall Jenner—as a famous fashion persona—is unlikely to share in the same risks or dangers associated with protesting or the issues which drive it. Wilkes explains, 

“It’s too overtly politically correct. The diversity doesn’t look right … This ad is about protest as a way of expressing coolness. Those aren’t the people we should be celebrating. We should celebrate the people who are putting in so much work and whose lives are on the line.”

Further, an advertisement like Pepsi’s glorifies a pro-capitalist corporation and ethos, which also goes against most protest and resistance mentalities. Wilkes argues,

“I can’t think of too many [protest] movements that are pro-capitalist. Real young people in a real protest simply wouldn’t rally around a product like the way they do in this ad. Pepsi’s goal, then, is about branding. They want you to think, ‘I’m like these people! I’m young and good looking and cool!’ … This kind of insidious branding is everywhere. This commercial is getting picked on, but there’s an element of randomness to that. This isn’t the first commercial to have problematic representation.”