Content Note: This post discusses racist memorabilia in sociological context and provides an image of one collection critical of this memorabilia below the page break.

Why do some people collect racist memorabilia and artifacts? Objects depicting African Americans in derogatory and stereotypical ways are commonly referred to as “black memorabilia” or “black Americana,” although scholar Patricia Turner more aptly names them “contemptible collectibles.” 

As documented by David Pilgrim, founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, these artifacts include everyday objects like toys and games, household items such as cookie jars, and postcards. Although usually associated with the Jim Crow era, many of the items are still produced or reproduced today, and all draw on racial caricatures, such as the “mammy,” “Tom,” “picanniny,” and “brute,” among others. 

Not without controversy, “contemptible collectibles” have different meanings to different people. Some collectors embrace the racist meanings attached to the items. Others buy the objects with the intent of destroying them. Still others hope to “liberate” the artifacts from their previous racist history and hold the objects in “high esteem” instead.

Les Whittington, the grandson of an enslaved person and whose life history is the focus of my recent research, has another reason for collecting. Ignorance or denial of the history of African Americans—especially in Appalachia, where he is from—motivates him to document the existence of slavery and the ensuing Jim Crow era.

Part of Les’s collection includes multiple “mammy” figurines, which he displays in a case, where they look like a small army of racist caricatures. The objects are shocking to see, not just because such iconographic pieces of racist memorabilia are disturbing, but also because seeing so many together is a reminder of the objects’ pervasiveness in the past.

This history may seem long past, but not to Les for whom the legacy of slavery is immediate. His grandfather, “John Myra” Stepp, was enslaved, and died the same year that Les was born.

Les himself grew up in a mostly racially segregated world. Though Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional in 1954, it wasn’t until 1966, when he was in the sixth grade, that Les’s school became the first middle school in his hometown to fully integrate. And another of his relatives, Barbara Hawkins, also one of John Myra’s grandchildren, was one of four Black students to attend the newly integrated high school in 1965.

His family members faced adversity with great resolve, and Les has told me, “And no matter what, they persevered. They were resilient. And they were smart. Because even though they had all those obstacles in front of them, they were still a success.”

But don’t mistake Les’s comments for a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative. Nor should his comments be taken as a way to obscure past or present racism and white supremacy, as Robin Di’Angelo argues is far too common. Instead, as Les has explained to me, his collection is “physical documentation of a lot of hate,” and represents “a history that doesn’t need to be forgotten, [. . .] even though it’s painful to people.” 

Les also acknowledges that the objects are relevant to today, a message repeated by more well-known collectors, such Alan Page (a former NFL player) and his wife Diane Page. Echoing Les’s concerns about the objects, Diane has noted that “contemptible collectibles” are a “constant reminder that we have to be vigilant,” especially because “people have become more comfortable of late expressing racist views publicly.”

Jacqueline Clark, PhD is a professor of sociology at Ripon College. Her teaching and research interests include social inequalities, the sociology of health and illness, and the sociology of jobs and work. 

The 2018 General Social Survey data was just recently publicly released. We were eager to see how things shifted, especially for the demographic questions on sexual identity. As of 2018, it has officially been one decade that GSS has been asking respondents to characterize their sexual identity on the survey, you can self-classify as “heterosexual or straight,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “homosexual,” “bisexual,” or “don’t know.” This is only one way to measure sexual identity among many,  but the growth in LGB identity has been generally comparable across instruments in the past.

As Tristan has noted before, reporting on shifts in the LGBT population treats the group as homogenous and artificially presents growth in LGBT identity as though it might be equally distributed among the L’s, G’s, B’s, and T’s. But that’s not true. Bisexual women account for the lion’s share on the growth in LGBT identification. And, as Tristan and Mignon Moore showed in 2016, young Black women account for a disproportionate amount of the growth in LGB identification.

Data from GSS shows an increase in LGB identification between 2008 and 2018. Below, we charted shifts in those identifying as lesbian and gay alongside those identifying as bisexual. Consistent with what Tristan showed in 2016, bisexual identification continues to be increasing at a steeper rate.

In fact, when you look at the proportions identifying as lesbian and gay or bisexual in 2008 and compare those with the proportions identifying as lesbian and gay or bisexual in 2018, lesbian and gay identifications have not really moved much. But bisexual identities continue to increase every year.

This is consistent with other national survey work. For example, using the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), Compton, Farris and Chang (2015) found that almost nine percent of women in the sample and about four percent of men in the sample in 2008 and 2002 reported behavior as bisexual; that is, having sex with at least one male and at least one female partner in their lifetime. Rates of self-identification as bisexual were much lower (in 2008 0.43% of women and 0.38% of men). Perhaps with increases in social tolerance people are more likely to claim bisexual identities today, regardless of their participation in the behavior.

Previous work has also suggested that much of the growth in LGB identities is happening among women. The GSS data show that the shift appears to be primarily happening among bisexual women. Indeed, bisexuality continues to be a more popular sexual identity than lesbian among women, but a less popular sexual identity than gay among men, as others have shown. As of 2018, almost 6% of women responding to the survey identified as bisexual compared with 1.5% in 2008. Comparatively, shifts in lesbian identities among women and both gay and bisexual identities among men really haven’t shifted much.

And similar to previous analyses (herehere, and here), this shift is particularly pronounced among the young. The figure below shows changes in lesbian and gay identities alongside shifts in bisexual identities for four separate age cohorts. The real shift in among bisexual identification among 18-34 year-olds. Between 7 and 8% identified as  bisexual on the 2018 GSS survey. This is all the more interesting when you look at the 2008 data on these figures. Bisexuality did not stand out in these data in 2008. In fact, in 2008, more people identified as lesbian and gay than bisexual. This shift has emerged and grown in an incredibly short period of time.

As other data have shown as well (see here and here, for instance), people of color account for a disproportionate amount of this shift. Black bisexuals accounted for almost 7% of Black respondents on the 2018 GSS. That’s a big shift as well. And while bisexual and lesbian/gay identities were moving along similar trajectories for Black Americans through 2016, as of 2018, bisexuality was much more common (as has been true for White respondents and those of other races… yes “other race” is actually the category GSS uses… and no, it’s not a good idea).

So what do we do with all of this? One thing that we ought to take from this is to take scholarship on bisexuality more seriously. As a sexual identity, bisexuality is less studied than it ought to be. But bisexuality has continued to grow and continues to represent a larger number of people’s sexual identities than lesbian and gay combined. This is interesting for a number of reasons, but one is that much of the growth in the LGBT community might actually be the result of changes in the population of bisexual identifying people (and this is a group that is disproportionately composed of women). Whether bisexual identifying people understand themselves as a part of a distinct sexual minority, though, is a question that deserves more scholarship. If we are going to continue to group bisexuals with lesbian women and gay men when we report on shifts in LGB populations, this might be something that deserves better understanding and more attention. Context matters in how we understand identities and how they change or evolve over time.

Originally posted at Inequality by Interior Design. Read more and dive into the details there!

D’Lane R. Compton, PhD is an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Orleans with a background in social psychology, methodology, and a little bit of demography, she is usually thinking about food, country roads, stigma, queer nooks and places, sneakers and hipster subcultures. You can follow her on twitter.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Whether you’re chanting at a protest, partying at a concert, or cheering at a football game, there’s a special kind of excitement that comes from being in a crowd. Émile Durkheim called this “collective effervescence,” and today sociologists use this term to talk about the bubbly emotion that comes from being in the middle of the action.

Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar, Flickr CC

One of the tricky parts of studying collective effervescence is figuring out what exactly supercharges these social interactions. Does it come from the simple fact that you’re in a crowd, or is it in the way people engage with each other when they get there? If we think about the morning commute or the line at the grocery store, most crowds seem pretty unpleasant and not so effervescent. Recent research published in Sociological Science by Lasse Suonperä Liebst sheds light on the answer with a super fun approach to data collection.

Photo Credit: Banalities, Flickr CC

To track collective effervescence, a team of researchers showed up at The Roskilde Festival—one of Europe’s largest music festivals—to survey attendees about whether their camping experiences were “festive, noisy, hectic, boring, or calm.” 

The survey was sampled by a team of 11 university students during the five warm-up days of the festival, which precede the scheduled music program. During this period, tens of thousands of visitors build tent camps and engage in extensive drinking and partying activities. As such, the festival offered a “natural laboratory” (Park 1939) to examine the factors underpinning the collective effervescence that prior studies have identified in this (Pedersen 2014) and similar festival contexts (Niekrenz 2014).

Lasse Suonperä Liebst – “Exploring the Sources of Collective Effervescence: A Multilevel Study.Sociological Science.

The survey team also collected respondents’ gender, age, previous festival attendance, how much their camp sites were interacting with others, and how much they personally enjoyed the party atmosphere. Then, they used aerial photography to map out how dense the festival crowds were and how close each campsite was to the central stage. 

With all this information collected, statistical models showed that individual preferences for partying did have a positive relationship the with reported level of collective effervescence at their campsite. However, the aerial measure of crowd density was a much stronger predictor of these reports—stronger than attendees’ own accounts of how often their camps were hanging out with others.

These results help us understand how collective effervescence happens, because they show how even just being near a crowd can “sweep people up” into a festive state. We often assume that crowds are stressful unless people choose to be in them or have positive, one-on-one interactions once inside. It is true that context matters—the grocery store queue probably won’t spark a party anytime soon—but this research shows the power of space and place for shaping our social lives.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

In March, in an Instagram interview with Jameela Jamil, British pop star Sam Smith announced being non-binary in both gender and sexuality, stating “I’m not male or female. I think I float somewhere in between – it’s all on a spectrum” (timestamp 21:50 to 22.10). Smith had made a similar declaration to the Sunday Times in October, 2017, but did not suggest that the media use non-binary gender pronouns at the time. During the interview, Smith also revealed that “the basis of all my sadness” has been body shaming.

This instance of “biography and history” producing a non-binary person haunted by fat-shaming is important to the sociological understanding of gender. It reminds us that gender is lived in the body, not just as an idea but as a “looking-glass self” in which multiple kinds of stigma can simultaneously reduce a person to a “tainted, discounted one”. As culture shapes the way we see ourselves, it can produce an overpowering feeling of what Cooley called “mortification,” because “we always imagine, and in imagining share, the judgments of the other mind.” In Mead’s terms, culture produces this in the “generalized other”; how we imagine ourselves as an object in the eyes of the whole society. 

The intersection of body-shaming and transphobia shows us how bullying turns the body into an object. Jamil recounted in the interview that a photographer had called her a “fat c-word.” This can be compared with C.J. Pascoe’s famous study of how the word “fag” is used in bullying to police the gender of boys. Smith concludes the interview with a vow to promote self-forgiveness and the love of the body. This struggle against the gender binary fits within the mission of Jamil’s “I Weigh” instagram series seeking to resist all forms of cultural bullying and policing of bodies, gender expression and sexuality.

Jonathan Harrison, PhD, is an adjunct Professor in Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida SouthWestern State College and Hodges University whose PhD was in the field of racism and antisemitism.

SocImages authors and readers love pointing out pointlessly gendered products, especially children’s toys in blue and pink. Since gender is about what we do in the world, all the things we use for work and play can give weight to assumptions about gender differences that aren’t true. Critics of pointlessly gendered products emphasize that small differences in design—from color to function—can ultimately add up to big differences in how people learn to act in the world.

Gendering toys isn’t just about the color, it is also about what we teach kids to do with them. That’s why I got a huge kick out of this video: a compilation of old commercial shots of “white boys winning board games.” Of course, I haven’t done a systemic sampling of old commercials to see if girls win too, but this compilation makes an important point about how we can miss tropes that only show one outcome of social interaction over and over, especially competition.

I remember being a competitive kid when it came to board games. I didn’t like losing at all, and it took quite a few years until I learned to just enjoy playing on its own. After this compilation I look back and wonder whether I just felt bad about losing—as most of us do from time to time—or whether a part of that feeling was also a sense that something was wrong because I was “supposed” to be winning like the other boys. That’s the power of gendered socialization.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

The built environment reflects our social world. From urban streets that encourage neighborly relationships, to “hostile design” and policing practices that keep people out of public spaces, the physical structure of a space carries with it a whole set of assumptions about how people should interact in that space.

But social structure isn’t always just imposed on us by architects and city planners. It also invites the opportunity for improvisation and innovation to create new norms. A great example of this is the emergence of “desire paths“—the people-made paths that defy, or improve on, the work of urban design.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Desire paths were the bulk of my commute for years without even realizing it. When you walk a lot, you start to see how much our neighborhoods aren’t built for this most basic kind of travel. It is fun to spot these paths along the way, because they show little pockets of collective action where people have found a better way to get from point A to B. Authors like to highlight how some universities, for example, even wait for desire paths to emerge and then pave them to fit students’ commuting routes.

That said, it is also important to pay attention to the limits that urban design, like all kinds of social structures, continues to impose in our communities. Research shows that walkability may only be weakly related to the social health of a neighborhood, since community cohesion takes more work than just putting people in the same space. Walkable neighborhoods also attract more drivers as people commute in to walk around to shops and restaurants. My alma mater, Michigan State University, paved a ton of desire paths in student neighborhoods across campus. It was great, but if you needed to get to the other side of campus for class in a pinch, there was still the matter of that big stadium complex in the way. Sometimes social improvement still takes a bit more conscious effort.

Desire paths at MSU

For all the desire paths, the fastest route to a freshman economics class crashes through stadiums, parking lots, and practice fields before falling into the river.
Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

Those Fyre Festival documentaries were wild, weren’t they? Both movies highlighted fans’ collective glee watching the fakery play out from afar, as people with astounding amounts of disposable income fell prey to the festival’s poor execution. Who would buy all that hype, right?

The demand for exclusivity that fueled the festival is anything but fake. From Becker’s Art Worlds to Bourdieu’s Distinction, sociologists have long studied how culture industries and social capital create the tastes of the upper class. “Influencers” aren’t new, but social media makes it easier than ever to see them operate, and viral stories of high class hoaxes show this process in action.

Two great examples are these recent pranks parodying fine dining and fashion. Using a savvy social media presence, both teams were able to get a (fake) restaurant and a (fake) model a ton of buzz.

The interesting thing about these vides is how some of the humor rings hollow. It can be funny to see people chasing the next big trend get duped, but the fields they are mocking thrive on this exact kind of creativity and salesmanship. Taking the perspective of researchers like Bourdieu and others reminds us that taste is not objective, and it isn’t naturally tied to any basic level of effort or craft. At the end of the day, these pranksters still put together a “creative” look and restaurant experience, and so it is hard to tell whether they are making an effective parody, or just exploring and studying the basic rules of the game in the culture industry. Still, these videos are a fun excuse to think about how what it takes to cultivate “cool.”Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

As fun as it has been to watch former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announce a possible presidential bid and get ratioed on Twitter, his candidacy also says a lot about our deeper assumptions on wealth and politics.

Source: urbanartcore.eu, Flickr CC

From Citizen’s United to classic sociological works like Who Rules America, we know that wealthy interests have long influenced U.S. politics. This influence doesn’t just happen behind the scenes, though. It also shapes our thinking about who is qualified to run the show. Thorstein Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption” and Max Weber’s “Protestant ethic” both point out the public work that wealth does when people use it as a shortcut to indicate either merit or morals. Candidates like Donald Trump use these assumptions effectively by arguing that business savvy shows their qualification for public service.

Over on Montclair SocioBlog, Jay Livingston took a look at Schultz’s old school language on being a “person of means,” rather than a billionaire. This euphemism was especially interesting to me, because it shows how candidates with wealth also try to have it both ways. Schultz’s implicit argument is not that different from Trump’s: his wealth and business success make him qualified to run on a platform of fiscal responsibility and independence from party ideology. But in a changing political climate where some say “every billionaire is a policy failure,” drawing attention to this wealth can also be a political liability.

So, do people actually trust the rich to govern? A quick look at some survey data suggests there’s a pretty sizable partisan gap here. The American Mosaic Project asks people whether they think others from a variety of social groups share their vision of American society. This general question can tell us a lot about which groups people think are “like them,” a good proxy for trust and tolerance.

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In this sample from 2014, Republicans had a higher average affinity with the rich than Democrats. We can also look the question a different way in the General Social Survey, which has been asking people about their trust in the Executive Branch of government and in major corporations for years.

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Here again, these trends show elevated trust for in big business among Republicans, along with much more fickle attitudes toward the Executive Branch depending on who is in power. While people tend to trust business more than the government here, these quick snapshots also suggest that stronger trust in business and wealth tacks pretty closely to typical party politics. With more candidates on the left starting to question why we trust the rich to govern, this relationship might get stronger and keep wealthy independent candidates stuck in the middle. Successful business leaders might seem like good candidates for government, but they also need to do their market research first.Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.