Cross-posted at North Atlantic Books Communities.

Edward Said famously argued that the West uses the East as an inverted mirror, imagining them to be everything the West is not.  In a book titled Orientalism, he showed us how this perceived binary separating the Semitic East and the Christian West has traditionally manifested itself in art through romanticized scenes of Eastern cultures presented as alien, exotic, and often dangerous.

European painters of the 19th century turned to backdrops of harems and baths to invoke an atmosphere of non-European hedonism and tantalizing intrigue. Ingre’s 1814 Grande Odalisque , for example, depicts a concubine languidly lounging about, lightly dusting herself with feathers as she peers over her shoulder at the viewer with absent eyes. The notions of hedonistic and indulgent sex are bolstered by hints to opium-induced pleasure offered by the pipe in the bottom right corner. Images like this prompted viewers to imagine the Middle East as a distant region of sex, inebriants, and exciting exotic experiences.

Orientalism continues to inflect popular culture, but because we see ourselves differently now, we see them differently as well.  The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the East, and the corollary Islamophobia of the West has shifted the focus to violence coupled with religious fervor. Take for example an image from a February New York Times article entitled “Afghan Official Says Women’s Shelters are Corrupt.”

The story is about the Afghan government’s desire to take over all Western-established shelters which they claim are “more concerned with the budget than the women.” It’s an article about bettering women’s support, community and safe havens, an act many Westerners would deem progressive in a way they wouldn’t usually view the region. However, the photo that was chosen for this article offers all the classic stereotypes held about the Middle East by depicting entirely veiled women who are shut indoors surrounded only by symbols of religion. The viewer sees two women, in both a hijab and niqab, separated onto two beds with looks of utter despondency; one looks down at her hands while the other stares off into the space ahead of her. In the center of the room is a young girl, blurred by the long exposure of the camera which attempted to capture her in the act of seemingly fervent prayer. Behind the praying young woman is an even younger girl sitting on a bed with a baby on her lap. Rather than depicting the officials who are rallying for female empowerment and institutional improvement, the photo that was chosen paints an image of silenced religious females.

Often imagery is more powerful and memorable than words and in some cases the photographs chosen to accompany the news are less than representational of the story at hand. This instance is typical of the Western media’s predilection for reinforcing Western notions about the East through imagery, instead of finding common ground between two regions that many believe are naturally separated by ideology. Thus orientalism lives on, transformed from its roots but maintaining its destructive stereotypes.

Adam Schwartz is an undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley entering his final year in the Media Studies program. He is currently preparing to write his thesis analyzing the gender and racial implications of the American Apparel advertising campaigns. When he isn’t in school he can be found biking along the beautiful California coast or working for the Berkeley Student Cooperative.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

One year ago today six black teenagers died in the Louisiana Red River.  They were wading in waist deep water when one, 15-year-old DeKendrix Warner, fell off an underwater ledge.  He struggled to swim and, one by one, six of his cousins and friends jumped in to help him and each other.  Warner was the only survivor.  The family members of the children watched in horror; none of them knew how to swim.

This draws attention to a rarely discussed and deadly disparity between blacks and whites.  Black people, especially black women, are much less likely than white people to know how to swim.  And, among children, 70% have no or low ability to swim.  The figure below, from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, shows that 77% of black women and 44% of black men say that they don’t know how to swim.  White women are as likely as black men, but much less likely than black women to report that they can’t swim.  White men are the most confident in their swimming ability.

This translates into real tragedy.  Black people are significantly more likely to die from drowning than white people (number of drownings out of 100,000):

Why are black people less likely to learn to swim than whites?  Dr. Caroline Heldman, at FemmePolitical, argues that learning to swim is a class privilege.  To learn to swim, it is helpful to have access to a swimming pool.  Because a disproportionate number of blacks are working class or poor means that they don’t have backyard swimming pools; while residential segregation and economic disinvestment in poor and minority neighborhoods means that many black children don’t have access to community swimming pools.  Or, if they do, they sometimes face racism when they try to access them.

Even if all of these things are in place, however, learning to swim is facilitated by lessons.  If parents don’t know how to swim, they can’t teach their kids.  And if they don’t have the money to pay someone else, their kids may not learn.

I wonder, too, if the disparity between black women and men is due, in part, to the stigma of “black hair.”   Because we have racist standards of beauty, some women invest significant amounts of time and money on their hair in an effort to make it straight or wavy and long.  Getting their hair wet often means undoing this effort.  Then again, there is a gap between white men and white women too, so perhaps there is a more complicated gender story here.

These are my initial guesses at explaining the disparities.  Your thoughts?

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

The news each month is usually on unemployment rates, weekly filings of new claims, layoffs and new hiring. And the Pew report on widening race/ethnic wealth gaps was eye-opening. But you can take the measure of the recession overall maybe best with the employment rates — how many people have jobs? By that measure, the news is flat-to-down without letup. The Black-White discrepancy in the trends is increasing.

Here is the employment trend for White and Black women, showing that Black women had higher employment rates before the recession, but they’ve fallen more than twice as much as White women’s (a drop of 5.7% versus 2.4% as of June):

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

For men, the gap is bigger and the lines further apart, so I added a ratio line to help show the gap. Black men’s rate has fallen 5.6%, compared with 3.8% for White men:

The Christian Science Monitor has an article reviewing some of the factors that contribute to the unemployment gap for men, including education, incarceration and discrimination. And the Center for American Progress has more detail in this report, which argues that declines in manufacturing and public employment are increasing the Black-White gaps especially in this recession.

What the broader statistics don’t show as well is the tenuousness of the jobs Black workers have compared to Whites generally — working for weaker firms, in more segregated jobs, as a result of a racialized sorting process, which put them at higher risk of job loss in a recession (even without discrimination in firing decisions, which there is, too).

Cross-posted at Ms.

A new study from the Pew Research Center reports staggering racial gaps in median wealth — a person’s accumulated assets minus her debt — between whites ($113,149), blacks ($5,677) and Latinos ($6,325). That’s a 20-to-1 white-to-black ratio of wealth and a 18-to-1 white-to-Latino ratio.

Essentially, all of the economic gains made by people of color since the Civil Rights Movement have been erased in a few years by the Long Recession. Whites experienced a net wealth loss of 16 percent from 2005 to 2009, while blacks lost about half of their wealth (53 percent) and Latinos lost two-thirds of their wealth.

Media outlets reporting on the Pew study point to housing loss as the primary culprit, since the net worth of blacks and Latinos is heavily reliant on home ownership, while whites are more likely to have retirement accounts and stock.

While this is certainly accurate, it obscures the core racism at play. Public policy decisions have been responsible for the speedy recovery of the financial market and the slow recovery of the housing market. From the start, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) favored Wall Street recovery over homeowner recovery, with only $12 billion of the $700 billion bailout spent on foreclosure programs. (To be fair, most of the Wall Street money was eventually paid back.)

So prioritization of corporate interests disproportionately assisted whites in the recovery — but (perhaps) not intentionally. The same cannot be said for actual lending practices.

Rampant– — and racist — fraud in the home loan industry was a primary contributor to the collapse, with 61 percent of sub-prime loan holders actually qualifying for prime loans that would have been easier to maintain. Blacks and Latinos were especially targeted for sub-prime loans, a practice called “reverse redlining.” Wells Fargo loan officer-turned-whistle blower Elizabeth Jacobson admitted that her company specifically went after African Americans for sub-prime loans through “wealth building” conferences hosted in black churches.

The employment gap between whites and blacks is also a contributor to the wealth gap. While white American are suffering through the Long Recession with 7.9 percent unemployment, blacks are experiencing Great Depression-like figures of 16.1 percent unemployment. This figure jumps to 31.4 percent for blacks ages 16 to 24, and black Americans have consistently had the higher rate of unemployment compared to white Americans since 2007.

Not surprisingly, the employment gap, too, has racist origins. The Center for American Progress analyzed unemployment data from the last three recessions and found that black unemployment starts earlier, rises faster and lingers longer. Explanations include the concentration of black workers in the stumbling manufacturing sector, the cutting of public sector jobs — and racial discrimination. This last finding is no shock given that employers are more likely to call back a white job applicant with a criminal record than a similarly qualified black man without a record.

The role of racism in poverty is important to keep in mind at a time Washington politicians are manufacturing crises that will slash the entitlement programs that 1 in 6 Americans rely on. It’s ironic that we’re cutting safety nets for the poor just as we’re experiencing the highest poverty rate since 1960, with blacks and Latinos three times as likely to live in poverty. Public policy is supposed to knock down racial and other non-meritorious barriers to pursuing life, liberty, and happiness, not jack them higher.

The College Board has released data from an initiative with the aim of better understanding the educational pathways of men of color.  Their site includes testimonials from many of these men, in addition to the data below.  And they included Native American men, a group almost always left out of quantitative data analysis because they are such a small percent of total Americans (in a profound and tragic irony).  Here’s the data on what each group of men are doing after high school.

About 1/3 of African American and Hispanic men are enrolling in some sort of college, another 34 and 47%, respectively, face unemployment.  A significant proportion go straight into work.  The 5% incarceration rate for Hispanics, and the 10% rate for Blacks, is a sad testimony to the over-policing of poor, urban neighborhoods, racial profiling, and emphasis on prosecuting the crimes of the poor.

Native American men are significantly less likely than Black men to go to college or vocational school.  They are most likely to straight into a job or be unemployed.  While not all all Native American men live on reservations — not by a long shot, those that do are more likely to be unemployed because of the dismal economic profiles of many of these regions.

Asian men are more likely to enter postsecondary education than either Native American or Black men, but the 61% is balanced by a good 30% ending up unemployed.  This reflects the diversity of the Asian community.  Some Asian groups do very well in the U.S. — e.g., Japanese and Asian Indians — others are still struggling — e.g., Hmong and the Vietnamese.

The charts below compare men and women in each group.  Each, with the exception of Native Americans, reveals the feminization of postsecondary education and the relative advantage women see in the market (mostly because we’ve got a strong service economy that hires women disproportionately).

Hat tip to Sociology Lens.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Renée Yoxon sent along a performance by Patina Miller singing Random Black Girl.  It’s about how new musicals all just so happen to include a soulful, sassy, big-voiced, big-bottomed black girl in the ensemble (I’m looking at you, Glee).

My favorite part is at 3:45.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Google often creatively alters its logo to honor important days on the calendar.  Today the logo references Father’s Day by turning the “l” in Google into a tie.  John McMahon did a fine job of discussing how Father’s Day cards tap into stereotypes about masculinity, but I thought this was interesting in its reference of a particular kind of work.  The tie isn’t a generic masculine symbol, but a class-specific one.

More, it ties fatherhood into the idea of being a breadwinner.  What is significant about a Dad?  The fact that he works so hard for the family.  Can you imagine a Mother’s Day symbol emphasizing her workplace instead of her time at home?

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Philip Cohen posted some interesting data at his blog, Family Inequality, that I think will look at first blush, counterintuitive to many.  The figure below shows the percent of men’s income that women bring home, organized by age bracket and level of education.  The top bar, for example, tell us that, among 45-50 year olds with advanced degrees, women make 68% of what men do.

Two observations:

First, notice that women with more education (the lighter bars in each age bracket) do worse compared to men than women with less education.  That is, the gender inequity is worse in the upper classes than it is in the lower classes.   Why?  Well, people tend to marry other with similar class and education backgrounds.  Accordingly, women with more education may be married to men with higher earning potential than women with less education. Those women are more able to make work-related choices that don’t foreground economics, since their income is less central to the financial health of the couple.  They are also more likely to take substantial amounts of time out of the workforce when they have kids (working class women can’t afford to do so as easily), and we know that doing so makes a real dent in career advancement.  So, perhaps ironically, women who are “richer” educationally may marry economically richer men who then allow them to deprioritize their careers.

Second, notice that the most equal incomes (where women make 85% of men’s salaries) occurs among the youngest and least educated group: 25-34 year old high school drop outs.  Why would younger women do better relative to men than older women?  Some of this may be due to a decrease in gender-based discrimination.  But it also likely has something to do with the devaluation and disappearance of traditionally working-class men’s work.  Most of the narrowing of the gender wage gap, in fact, has to do with the lowering of men’s earning power to meet women’s, not vice versa.  As the industrial base in the U.S. has been collapsing, the number of historically-male blue collar jobs have been shrinking.  Meanwhile, our industrial economy has been replaced by one split between (well compensated) information/technology and (poorly compensated) service jobs.  Those service jobs are going disproportionately to women.  So, while men still dominate (especially the most well-regarded and well-compensated) upper class professions, their dominance in the lower rungs of the economic ladder is waning.

Thanks again to Philip Cohen for the data!

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.