Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

The magic of demographic knowledge is a memorable moment in John Sayles’s 1984 movie “Brother From Another Planet.” On the A train, a young man shows an elaborate card trick to the title alien, who looks like an African American but seems to have no understanding of the trick. So the magician offers another.

From 59th St. to 125th St. is one stop on the express.  But as the movie shows, that short ride covers a large demographic change, and it’s not just racial.  The New Yorker has posted interactive graphics showing the median income of the census tracts surrounding subway stations.


Take the A train one stop — from the southern border of Central Park to a few blocks above its northern border — and see median income drop by $100,000.

Many other lines travel the extremes of economic inequality.  My line is the 2:


In the early morning commute, I see blue collar workers in their hoodies or rough jackets and steel-toe boots next to well-dressed people reading The Wall Street Journal.  They didn’t get on at the same stop.  The people who live in and work in the Wall Street census tract, which includes Park Place, are not on the train.  Here’s what their housing looks like:

BATTERY PARK CITY: as a pioneer. It's all Green, environmentally friendly.

And here is Franklin St., Brooklyn:


The subway demographic trick is not limited to New York. Here’s a time-lapse video of the Red Line of Chicago’s CTA.

Despite the social class segregation in housing, in cities like New York and Chicago, people of vastly different economic circumstances are likely to share the same subway car, at least for a few stops.  Yet I don’t get a sense of strong resentment or even envy among the have-nots (though I wish I had systematic data on this).  This is similar to the findings of Rachel Sherman, who studied how workers at high-end hotels thought of their guests.

New York and Chicago, however, are also where the rich are more likely to be liberal and in favor of redistributionist policies.  As Andrew Gelman has shown, the wealthy in rich states are far more liberal than the wealthy in poor states.  That may be partly because in rich states, the wealthy live in the large cities.  It would be interesting to see if we saw the same effect if we looked at Upstate New York, Downstate Illinois, or Massachusetts outside Rte. 128.

HT: Jenn Lena for the link.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Last week the U.S. Congress made headlines when it quickly adjusted the sequester cuts that affected air traffic control. How quickly?  Parts of it were hand-written (via The Daily Show):
1 The move was interpreted as one meant to a certain class of voters, but it was also as a purely self-interested move, since Congress members fly quite frequently.

Riffing on this, Bloomberg Businessweek put together a short video about a little-known congressional perk: free and convenient parking at Reagan National Airport.

This little perk, saving congress members time and $22-a-day parking fees, is a great example of the way that privilege translates into being “above society.” The more power, connections, and money you have, the more likely you are to be able to break both the legal and social contract with impunity. Sometimes this just means getting away with breaking the law (e.g., the fact that, compared to the crimes of the poor and working classes, we do relatively little to identify and prosecute so-called “white collar” criminals and tend to give them lighter or suspended sentences when we do). But these perks are also often above board; they’re built into the system. And who builds the system again?

In other words, some of the richest people in the world get free parking at the airport because they’re the ones making the rules. I like this as a concrete example, but be assured that there is a whole universe of such rules and, like this sudden revelation about free parking, most of them go entirely unnoticed by most of us most of the time.

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.

Scholars suggest that studying abroad in a previously-colonized country may increase people’s cultural sensitivity and awareness of global inequality.  I investigated this hypothesis by interviewing college students: one group had studied abroad for a semester or more, the other had only traveled out of the country for vacation.

I asked both groups to view and analyze fashion photography that contrasted models with more humble images of residents of less developed countries.  I hoped people would point to how, by contrasting glamorous, thin, conventionally-attractive White models with “average” people from less-privileged countries served to heighten the high status of the West and their representatives.  I saw this as a form of Western “slumming”: a practice of spending time in places or with people who are “below” you, out of curiosity or for fun or personal development.

My findings revealed that study abroad students think they’re more culturally competent but, in fact, they were no more likely than people who had never studied abroad to express concern about the exploitation of previously colonized people in ads like these.

The majority of students from both groups – those who’d studied abroad and those who hadn’t — demonstrated a distinct lack of concern.  They unreflexively “Othered” the people in these images; that is, they affirmed the locals’ marginalized group status and labeled them as being Other, belonging outside of our normative Western structure.

The majority also expressed approval of the aesthetics of the ads without irony. For example, one student said: “I think it works because it’s this edgy, culturally stimulating, and aesthetically pleasing ad.” When asked the art director’s intentions, another student commented: “I don’t know. Just like ordinary people next to someone who’s on top of their fashion game.”

Only select few students successfully observed the use of Othering in the images. When asked the art director’s intentions of one image, a student replied: “I think it’s to contrast the model with the everyday life of these people…  (it) feels more like an image of people of color being an accessory.” Noticing this theme, interestingly, did not correlate with having studied abroad, in contrast to my hypothesis.

My findings suggest, then, that living abroad for a semester or more in a previously colonized country does not necessarily contribute to the detection of global inequality in fashion photography.

Erica Ales is a senior Sociology major at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.

Cross-posted at BlogHer and The Huffington Post.

This PostSecret confession breaks my heart:


Most hospitality workers — especially those at high end hotels — routinely interact with people with significantly more economic resources than they.  This is an interesting point of contact analyzed exquisitely by Rachel Sherman in her book, Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels (review here).

Sherman observes that workers and guests often minimized the class differences between them, even as enacting relationships strongly structured by their relative privilege.  Instead of obsessing about the wealth and privilege of the guests or ranting about the injustice of class inequality, though, they “normalized” it such that it was mostly invisible:

Unequal entitlements and responsibilities were not obscured, because they were perfectly obvious and well-known to interactive workers. Nor were they explicitly legitimated, since workers rarely talked about them as such. Rather, they simply became a feature of the everyday landscape of the hotel. Conflicts over unequal entitlement were couched in individual rather than collective terms and in the language of complaint rather than critique (p. 17).

Interestingly, this confession bucks the trend, which makes me wonder: if normalizing becomes habitual, what upsets it?  What knocks class consciousness back into full view?  In this case, it might have been the personal nature of the question.  When the guest expresses worry about the safety of the worker’s own neighborhood, questioning whether “someone like her” should go “somewhere like that,” perhaps it is to direct of a contrast to ignore.

Also inspired by Class Acts, see Employee “Empowerment” and Corporate Culture.

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.

Originally posted in 2008. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History MonthCross-posted at Racialicious.

The marketing for beach-related vacation destinations often capitalizes on the association of foreign beaches with (partly) naked bathing beauties. This intersection of race, gender, and sexuality that positions the “ethnic” woman as particularly sexually accessible have deep roots in our colonial past in which foreign lands “open” to conquest by the Western world were conflated with foreign women “open” to conquest by Western men.

The “Hula Girl” is a case in point.

Hawaii was colonized by the U.S. and, when the islands became a tourism destination, Polynesian women were transformed into Hawaiian babes ready and waiting to please tourists from the mainland.

One transformation was the hula. Widely understood to be an “authentic” Polynesian tradition, the hula was actually originally mostly a man’s dance. It was religious. It involved chanting and no music. There were no hip movements, just gestures. Basically, it was story-telling.

Today, the men take a back seat to women, who are scantily clad in grass skirts (not authentic, by the way), and perform exaggerated hip movements to music. So the hula is an invention, designed by colonizers and capitalists, to highlight the appeal of “foreign” women.

Despite the constructed nature of the hula girl, she’s been used to market Hawaii for over 100 years.  Here is an image of hula girls sent back to the mainland way back in 1890:

And from the 1940s (from IslandArtCards):


1965, via Jassy-50:


This picture was snapped by my friend Jason at a Trader Vic’s restaurant in 2008:

A Google Image search for “Hawaii postcard” in 2013 reveals that about half include the figure of a woman:


The phenomenon is a common one: women are treated as objects of beauty and aesthetic pleasure — exotified, in the case of “foreign” or darker-skinned women — and used to embellish a place or experience.  While lots of things have changed for women since the beginning of this particular example in the late 1800s, their role as decoration resists retirement.

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.

This post originally appeared in 2011.  Revised and re-posted in honor of Mardi Gras.

If you attend a Mardi Gras parade this year, you’ll likely notice that the float riders will be all-White or all-Black and all-female or all-male.  In fact, the majority of krewes — clubs that sponsor parades and other festivities — are race- and gender-segregated.  This is not de facto, but according to official krewe policy. And it remains legal to discrimate along these lines.  How did this happen?

According to Kevin Fox Gotham‘s book, Authentic New Orleans, Mardi Gras was transformed from an unorganized local festival to a rationalized tourist attraction by white elites. The first organized parade occurred in 1857 and was organized by the Mystick Krewe of Comus, several dozen social elites. This krewe, like many that followed, was race, gender, and class specific. Only white males who could afford membership in the krewe (essentially a social club) could participate.

Krewe of Comus (1867):


White only parades were part of a strategy to make New Orleans a tourist destination for white travelers. Unlike today, when New Orleans capitalizes on its multicultural heritage, for a very long time New Orleans tried to suppress popular knowledge of its non-white population, disinvested in that population, and drove them out of touristy areas.

It was not until 1991 that the City Council proposed banning racial segregation of the krewes and the Council voted unanimously to make bias illegal. Krewes that refused to integrate (in principle, if not in reality) would be denied “city services and parade permits, and would require jail time and fines” (p. 182). Mayor Sidney Barthelemy said:

We close off streets. We deny the taxpayer the right to drive down the street to give a segregated club the opportunity to parade. Now that’s unbelievable in 1991.

The decision brought simmering racial tension to a boil. Two krewes, the Krewe of Comus and the Knights of Momus, cancelled their parades in 1992 rather than comply with the new law. Another, the Krewe of Proteus, canceled the following year. An African American krewe, the Krewe of Zulu, mocked the decisions of the all-white krewes in 1992.

Ultimately the anti-bias law came under fire from all-female krewes such as Krewes of Isis. Wanting to preserve their exclusive membership, Iris and Venus “opposed any discrimination ordinance because they recognized that it would undermine their power to exclude men” (p. 185).

In the end:

…the City Council voted to remove the jail sentence provisions in the ordinance and shifted the burden of proof onto individuals who maintained that they had been discriminated against if they attempted to join a krewe (p. 185).

But even this did not hold. Courts decided that the anti-bias laws violated laws of free association and, when the case came before the Supreme Court, they declined to revisit it. So, race and gender segregation of krewes remains legal.

Today, krewes segregated by race and gender still persist (and people without means are excluded from krewes generally, as they are very expensive), though newly formed krewes are often integrated on both axes, including Harry Connick Jr.’s Krewe of Orpheus.

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.

Noam sent in this 10 minute film, “What’s a Girl Doing Here?”, by Diana Diroy.  It includes a set of interviews with female cab drivers in New York.  They’re a rare breed.  According to the description by Narratively:

Loud flashes of yellow are all around you in New York—46,000 taxi sedans, vans and SUVs streaking the streets. Yet, only about 170 of them are driven by women, a percentage even lower than the national average.

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.

Let’s just stipulate that using a personal electronic device while driving increases the risk of an accident and should be avoided.

Let me just make sure I have the rest of the facts straight.

1.  The total number of traffic deaths is at its lowest level since 1949, even as the population, number of vehicles, and number of miles driven have all increased radically.

2.  The number of mobile phone subscribers has increased more than 1,000% since the early 1990s.

3.  “Distraction-affected” crashes accounted for less than 10% of traffic fatalities in 2010.

4.  Deaths attributed to drivers age 17 and younger have fallen by about half since 1990.

5.  The National Transportation Safety Board “is recommending that states prohibit all drivers from using cellphones, for talking or texting.”

Here’s a visual on some of the trends, in one figure:

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Here are my previous posts on this.


Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 2009-2010 deathsdeaths trends;  Federal Communications Commission: phone trends; CTIA: 2009 phone subscriptions.