race/ethnicity: American Indians/Aboriginals

Rachel F. sent in a link to a site sponsored by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems that provides a lot of information on rates of children diagnosed as in need of special education services, broken down by race. For instance, this map shows the proportion of African-Americans aged 6-21 who qualified for special ed services in 2006-2007 for all disabilities (you can also select a specific disability). The states are arranged into quintiles (so each color includes 20% of the states):

I always prefer to know the exact percentages, so I clicked on the Tables tab at the top of the page and looked at the Special Education Rates by Race and Disability link. Here are the percentages for the map above (just the first page of the table):

Here’s the equivalent data for Whites (again, page 1 of the table):

The site also provides info on teacher certification (look under the Tables tab). Here’s page 1 of a table of the states ranked by the % of special-ed teachers who are not fully certified in special education:

If you go to the map and click on a state, you can get the trend in certification over time. This shows special ed teachers who aren’t fully certified in California:

Of course, there are all sorts of interesting questions about special ed that this data set doesn’t address. The evidence is pretty clear that boys are more likely to be diagnosed as having a learning disability than girls are, and some critics suggest that behavioral issues like acting up and causing teachers headaches are becoming the basis of a diagnosis that can have life-long consequences for teachers’, parents’ and students’ expectations about how they’ll do in school. Insofar as perceptions of behavior are affected by a student’s race (see Ann Ferguson’s Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity), this could have particularly negative consequences for some groups.

Interpreting rates of use of special ed programs is hard, too. Does the fact that Black kids in Iowa have much higher rates of qualifying for special ed courses than Black kids in Mississippi do mean that there are more disabilities in Iowa? Or that kids there benefit from better screening to identify kids who might benefit from the classes?

Aside from that, thoughts on what might be causing the dramatic differences in rates between states and between race/ethnicities?

Last semester my colleague, Mary Christianakis, assigned her students a mash up.  The idea was to take two forms of art (loosely defined) and combine them to inspire, instead of state, a critical perspective.  Below is one of the exemplars, by her student, Samantha Figueroa.  It combines scenes from Pocahontas with a spoken word poem, Slip of the Tongue, by Adriel Luis.

Nice work, Samantha!

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.

Reel Injun, a new documentary about the portrayal of American Indians in U.S. movies, has been earning high praise and notice from bloggers and film critics. About the film:

Hollywood has made over 4000 films about Native people; over 100 years of movies defining how Indians are seen by the world...

Travelling through the heartland of America, Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond looks at how the myth of “the Injun” has influenced the world’s understanding – and misunderstanding – of Natives.

With candid interviews with directors, writers, actors and activists, including Clint Eastwood, Jim Jarmusch, Robbie Robertson, Sacheen Littlefeather, John Trudell and Russell Means, clips from hundreds of classic and recent films, including Stagecoach, Little Big Man, The Outlaw Josey Wales, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Atanarjuat the Fast Runner, Reel Injun traces the evolution of cinema’s depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today.

I can’t wait to see it.

The trailer:

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.

Monica Y. sent a collection of vintage ads and cartoons illustrating how soap and cleanliness has been used as a metaphor for colonization.  The first two ads show how soap manufacturers and colonialists alike colluded in suggesting that the colonized were unclean/uncivilized and needed to be cleansed/enlightened.

This first ad for Pears’ Soap reads:

The first step towards lightening The White Man’s Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness.  Pears’ Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place — it is the ideal toilet soap.

The phrase “White Man’s Burden” refers to the colonial-era idea that white men were burdened with bringing civilization to the uncivilized.  See our post on a modern-day Pamper’s commercial invoking a white woman’s burden for another example.

This ad for Ivory soap depicts Uncle Sam (I think) passing out soap to American Indians (in blankets, no less) (text transcribed below):


SAID Uncle Sam: “I will be wise,
And thus the Indian civilize:
Instead of guns, that kill a mile,
Tobacco, lead, and liquor vile,
Instead of serving out a meal,
Or sending Agents out to steal,
I’ll give, domestic arts to teach,
A cake of IVORY SOAP to each.
Before it flies the guilty stain,

The grease and dirt no more remain;
‘Twill change their nature day by day,
And wash their darkest blots away.
They’re turn their bows to fishing-rods,
And bury hatchets under sods,
In wisdom and in worth increase,
And ever smoke the pipe of peace;
For ignorance can never cope
With such a foe as IVORY SOAP.”

This political cartoon, circa 1886, uses the metaphor of washing to describe the cleansing of the Chinese from the U.S.  At the bottom it reads, “The Chinese must go.”

See also our set of vintage ads selling soap with depictions of African Americans as dirty.

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.

Re-posted at Drawing On Indians.

Rob Walker (author of the fascinating book Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are) sent me a link to a post at Drinkin’ and Dronin’ of a 1954 Levi Strauss brochure about “western Indian lore.” It’s a nice round-up of stereotypes and appropriations of Native Americans. We start off with an angry, bare-chested (and Levis-clad) man with a tomahawk, shield, moccasins, and headdress; I’d guess he’s supposed to be a warrior doing a war dance:

Then some descriptions of items associated with different tribes and the obligatory broken English (“just want ‘um”) familiar to anyone who watched The Lone Ranger and paid attention to Tonto:

I have no idea how accurate their descriptions of “unusual Indian weapons” are, but the overall tone of the brochure doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

And we have a lesson on “the Indian sign language,” the origins of which are “lost in the mists of time”:

Related posts: Potowatamis didn’t have a word for “global business center,” “discovering” Newfoundland, appropriation of Native Americans in fashion, teaching kids how to be American Indians, marketing the Vancouver Olympics, ice skaters dress up like Australian aborigines, native cultures in Avatar, Poca-Hotness, Indian costume for your dog, Indian Halloween costumes, Disney depicts Native Americans, “my skin is dark but my heart is white,” American Indians on t-shirts, sports mascots, Playmobil’s American Indian family, Howe Nissan’s American Indian statue, the “crying Indian” anti-litter PSA, Native Americans in Italian anti-immigration posters, and more American Indian dolls.

Also check out Adrienne K.’s blog Native Appropriations for lots of examples.

Deepa D. sent in an interesting post from Racebending about the race/ethnicity and gender of stars who get top billing in Paramount movies. Three volunteers at Racebending analyzed relevant data on movies produced or distributed by Paramount Pictures since 2000, as well as those currently in development. They focused on top billing — that is, which stars are most frequently highlighted in promotional materials, whose names appear highest in the credits, and so on. This both reflects power and status in Hollywood (the more prestige you have, the higher you’re likely to be credited compared to lower-status stars with similar screen time) and contributes to it (higher billing leads to more exposure and attention. Racebending explains:

Various types of Credit include Main Title Credit (before the movie starts), End Title Credit (after the movie is over), Paid Advertising Credit (mention during commercials and publicity), Above-the-Title Credit (name shows up on top of the movie name in promos and on screen), and Billing Block Credit (the block of text on posters and trailers.)

Their methodology:

For our review, we simply looked at which actor is listed first on imdb.com. Even if several actors have received top billing or above the title billing, someone is always listed first…

Our review of actors in top billing was necessarily subjective, but the cultural ethnicity and gender of most of Paramount’s top-billed actors like John Travolta, Angelina Jolie, and Samuel L. Jackson are well established in the public sphere. For animated characters like Shrek the Ogre, Spongebob Squarepants, and Eliza Thornberry we looked to the gender and ethnicity of the voice actor. We simply tallied the first actor billed, (for example: Malin Ackerman in Watchmen, Chris Pine in Star Trek, Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears, Jamie Foxx in The Soloist, Noah Ringer in The Last Airbender.)

The analysis found that the vast majority of top-billed stars in Paramount films from 2000 to 2009 are male, while movie audiences are about 45% male:

An even higher proportion — 86% — of top-billed stars are White (the green bars show each groups percent of the overall U.S. population):

The category White there specifically includes White non-Hispanics. No Latinos had top billing in Paramount movies during this time period. Also,

Out of 133 movies either produced or distributed, 17 had a black lead actor and only one had an Asian actor–Parry Shen in the film Better Luck Tomorrow (2002). However, Paramount did not produce Better Luck Tomorrow, the company distributed the film to theaters after the film made the independent film circuit.

When the data are broken down by race/ethnicity and gender, we see that the vast majority of top-billed stars who are non-White are men. Non-White women are almost entirely shut out:

The chart on the right represents films currently under development. While Whites predominate in the starring roles in these projects, notice that White women make up only 6% of top-billed stars, and non-White men make up about twice that proportion.

This is, of course, just one studio. If you have links to similar data on other studios, or on movies more generally, send them in!

Related posts: the Bechdel test, the real stars of Glee, underrepresenting women in Hollywood, the Smurfette principle, whitening Heroes, White actors in yellowface, casting cheat sheet, Hollywood’s discomfort with Asian lead characters, race in Transformers II, gender in Pixar films, racist Disney characters, and the gender hierarchy in Bee Movie.

Thea Lim at Racialicious posted this travel advertisement for Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada:


How many times can one place be discovered?  We’ve been asking ourselves that question for over a thousand years.

Discovery is a fearless pursuit. Certainly, this was the case when the Vikings, the first Europeans to reach the new world, landed at L’Anse aux Meadows. While it may only be a three-hour flight for you, it was a considerably longer journey a thousand years ago. But it’s a place where mystery still mingles with the light and washes over the strange, captivating landscape. A place where all sorts of discoveries still happen every day. Some, as small as North America. Others, as big as a piece of yourself.

As the recent Vancouver Olympics reminded us relentlessly, Canada was home to many peoples when the Europeans arrived.  The ad sanitizes this history, turning it into “discovery.”   Lim points out that “discovery” has a certain ring to it that “genocide” or “colonization” simply does not.

She quotes Ronald Wright, author of Stolen Continents, who points out how ridiculous it is to use the term “discovery” to describe what happened when Europeans arrived in North America:

…I was told by Dehatkadons, a traditional chief of the Onondaga Iroquois, “You cannot discover an inhabited land.  Otherwise I could cross the Atlantic and ‘discover’ England.”  That such an obvious point has eluded European consciousness for five centuries reveals that the history we have been taught is really myth…  those vanquished by our civilization see that its myth of discovery has transformed historical crimes into glittering icons.

The use of the myth of discovery in advertising like this demonstrates just how deeply many of us have internalized it.

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.

Breastfeeding is widely believed to carry significant health advantages for infants and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) would like to see all mothers breastfeed their children for at least 12 months, with no supplemental food for the first six.

Breastfeeding, however, is a big job.  Even if a newborn takes to breastfeeding without any problems (some mothers struggle mightily with less-than-cooperative infants), mothers must feed their children around the clock (they now recommend every two hours, 24-hours a day for newborns).  If it takes a half hour to settle the baby down and fill it up, you’ve got an hour and a half before the next feeding time.

Mothers who have the privilege to stay home with their babies — for three, six, or even twelve months — then, are going to find it much easier to follow the AAP guidelines.  For mothers who return to work, those who work in flexible positions that award some degree of autonomy and respect will also be more likely to continue breastfeeding.   In other words, a lawyer with a private office and a work schedule under her own control can stop several times a day and express milk to bring home to her child; in contrast, a woman working the cash register at McDonald’s with a boss hovering over her doesn’t have the same autonomy or privacy and may be forced to give up breastfeeding.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that breastfeeding rates are higher among more educated women and White and Asian women.  Both of these variables tend to correlate with class privilege:

There are some interesting things, however, that don’t correlate with this class thesis.  First Hispanic women are more likely to breastfeed than White women and people with less than a high school education are more likely to breastfeed, especially at six and 12 months, than people with a high school education.

I can think of some reasons why… I’ll let you discuss it in the comments.

Borrowed from Philip Cohen’s Family Inequality Blog.  For more data on rates of breastfeeding, including U.S. state comparisons and changes in rates over time, see here.

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.