race

Photo looking down on a person climbing up the side of a rock face. The person is wearing a blue helmet and a long sleeve shirt and is holding onto the rock with two hands.
Photo by Laurel F, Flickr CC

With the recent Oscar
win for Free Solo
, many students
are likely to be interested in rock climbing. Jennifer
Wigglesworth’s research and recent post on Engaging Sports
about the sexism in rock climbing route names
provides a perfect way to think about established concepts using popular
culture phenomenon.

This is an interactive activity designed to get students out into their own communities and seeing them with new eyes. During this three-part activity, students will think about history and specifically how naming practices privilege or marginalize certain groups and histories. The activity begins with a critical examination of a pop culture concept — rock climbing — and then asks students to broaden that idea by examining the geography they circulate every day. The lesson concludes with an academic reading on the broader history of imperial naming practices in the United States. This activity would be good for Introduction to Sociology, Sociology of Gender, Race and Ethnicity, Sociology of Sport, Sociology of Culture, Theory, and Urban Sociology.

Materials:

You bring:

  • copies of the two suggested readings
  • white board and markers for report back and
    discussion
  • physical or virtual map

Students bring:

  • copies of the two suggested readings
  • notes on what sources they consulted and what they found

The Activity

  1. Assign Jennifer Wigglesworth’s “What’s in a
    name? Sexism in rock climbing route names” to be read by students in advance.  
  2. Discuss the reading in class. Focus on students’
    reactions. Were they surprised? Upset? Do they feel like there is something
    about the rock climbing environment that lends itself to these sexist naming
    practices or have they had similar experiences elsewhere? The discussion does
    not need to be long but should give students a chance to talk through their
    feelings about the piece.
  3. Place students into groups of 4 and assign each
    group to find 3 local place/site names to research: at least one should be on
    campus, and at least one should be off campus. You may want to divide up a map.
    This activity could be done either between class periods, students could leave
    class during a long class period, or they could do it virtually over the
    internet. It is ideal if students physically walk or drive around and find the
    place names to research however so that they are seeing their environment with
    new eyes.

For each place/site name, each group should answer the following:

  • What is the name?
    • Who named it? When? What is the history of the name?
    • What does the name mean?
    • Note: you may want to discuss in advance what
      sources of information are appropriate for this activity in advance. Because of
      the local nature of this activity, I would suggest that any source that
      students can find would be OK (for example, Wikipedia will probably be very
      helpful) but they should be encouraged to keep track of what sources they
      consult.
  • In class, have each group report back their
    findings. Probe the groups for any thoughts or reactions. What surprised them? Do
    not be disappointed at this point if most groups did not notice anything
    surprising or problematic. Part of the exercise is to discuss why we might not
    initially find a place name problematic, but as we dig deeper we may find
    troubling roots.
  • Assign students to read C. Richard King’s
    chapter “De/Scribing Sq*aw: Indigenous Women and Imperial Idioms in the United
    States,” from Unsettling America,
    2013, Rowman and Littlefield, pp 93-106. 
  • After students have read King’s chapter, use it
    to revisit the previous two discussions with them. What might the group have
    missed, and why? Looking at King’s examples, are there local examples that seem
    less innocuous now? Is there anything in Wigglesworth’s research that parallels
    the history that King describes? In this discussion, using King’s helpful
    example of people’s differing awareness and reaction to sq*aw, focus on
    exploring with students how racism and sexism become embedded in place.

Possible modifications

For methods or other upper level
courses, students could be assigned to mimic Wigglesworth’s research and
conduct interviews or surveys to understand how people negotiate the meaning of
problematic place names in their community.

Additional resources

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Lit-up sign by the road that reads, US Border Patrol.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Flickr CC

Teaching about immigration can be tough because students come to our classrooms with the battle lines already drawn and believing their minds are already made up. We know, for example, that “the border” occupies a large conceptual space in our collective minds and that certain racialized populations suffer from perceptions of illegality. I have successfully re-centered my classroom conversation in a more constructive direction by starting with something most students seem to have a complete lack of information about: how the U.S. immigration system actually works.

Below I share some resources and
ideas for leading an hour long discussion on “everything you wanted to know
about the immigration system but were afraid to ask.” The activity below would
be a great fit for any course where you are going to spend several class days
on migration in the United States: Global Sociology, Social Problems, Migration,
Race & Ethnicity, or Crime & Deviance. This activity is intended to take
advantage of the fact that a classroom is a special place designated for
learning, where everyone (including the instructor) can always learn something
new without feeling embarrassed of our ignorance.

Materials:

You bring:

  • White board and marker
  • Projector/internet/resources to look at a
    website in class
  • Links to resources on immigration you want to
    show (suggested below)
  • You’ll probably want a printed copy of the
    immigration preferences and especially yearly numerical limits
    handy for
    your own reference (you may also want a few extra copies to pass around)

Students bring:

In-Class Activity

  1. Ask students what questions they have about the immigration system. Write the questions on the white board as students say them out loud.
  2. When you have a good number of questions on the board, including some basic ones, start with the most basic questions and begin answering them. Do this based on your own knowledge and, when helpful or necessary, show the students the immigration preference system and yearly numerical limits. Other resources for answering the questions can be found at the American Immigration Council Immigration 101 and, of course, the Department of Homeland Security. The fact that the DHS website is a bit complex and it may be hard to find the answer to many of the students’ questions is OK; that will be educational and make the larger point about the immigration system.
  3. Ask if anyone has ever traveled to another country. Ask the student(s) who answers where it was, what happened when they entered that country, whether they needed a passport, etc. Prompt the group to think about what would happen in the converse situation if a person from that country came into the United States. Would the same kind of situation occur? (It is important at some point in this conversation to encourage students to get at the fact that the U.S. has more power internationally than anyone else; we can go almost anywhere without applying for a visa in advance but the opposite is not true. This fact is invisible to most of us.)
  4. If there are other questions that seem essential to you, prompt the students to ask them or ask the students yourself to see if anyone knows the answer. It is essential to this exercise that your class understands that for the vast majority of migrants to the United States, there is not only no “legal path to citizenship,” there is no legal path to entry. I have found by having these discussions that most of my students did not understand the difference between citizenship and visas.

Discussion Tip

As you are standing in front of the room fielding questions, be sure to remember to acknowledge that some folks in the room may have more knowledge of the system (e.g., international or immigrant students), but do not make anyone feel as if they need to speak about their experiences or act as though they are experts. I think it is enough to say that of course some of us may have experienced this first hand. Some migrant or international faculty may talk about their own experiences while others may want to avoid that. It is my own belief that those of us who are white and U.S. born should take on the task of teaching these lessons so that others are not put in the awkward position of fielding these potentially hostile or awkward questions on their own.

Possible Variations

One way to vary this activity
would be to assign the questions to different groups in the class and have each
group research the answers on the Department of Homeland Security website. A
possible pitfall of this is that many of the answers can be a little detailed,
confusing, and interrelated, so the instructor would need to keep an eye on
making sure there is plenty of time for debriefing and not too much time spent
in the groups.

It is also a great idea to spend a little time either at the beginning or end of this class period simply learning about the experiences of undocumented migrants in the United States. This can be done through a video like this one or assigning a reading; if done in advance, a video or reading could be a great way to get the questions for this activity started with some curiosity toward learning more about what we don’t understand about immigration status.

Additional Resources

“Drop the I Word”
resources for help discussing why “illegal” is not an appropriate term in a
sociology classroom (or journalism)

Visual
example of the Latinx experience
from SocImages

Contexts “in brief” on the additional stresses experienced by undocumented parents

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of
marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots
communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more
of Meg’s writing at
The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Office Hours sat down with  Catherine Squires to discuss her September 2012 article in American QuarterlyColoring in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest) Economic Disaster. This is a great podcast to keep on hand for use in any class on race relations or any discussion on the recent economic crisis.

Letters
In this podcast, Squires explains how people of color were scapegoated by the mainstream media in responding to the sub prime mortgage crisis. Squires then explores how three publications that are targeted to African Americans or people of color more generally responded to this crisis. The podcast is a great discussion of  how neoliberalism and notions of “post-racialism” allow for stereotypes of people of color to remain unexamined and allow people of color to be scapegoated for social problems, even in this case of obvious fraud by lending companies.

We recommend the following discussion questions and activity to get students engaged with this topic:

1. How does Squires define “neoliberalism”? Were you familiar with this political philosophy before listening to this interview? Have you recognized the elements of neoliberalism in political discussions recently?

2. How does Squires define “post-racialism”? Were you familiar with this ideology before listening to this interview? Have you seen this ideology expressed by politicians? by your family and friends?

3. In what ways did Squires find that people of color were blamed for the sub prime crisis?

4. According to Squires, how did the ideologies of neoliberalism and post-racialism lend support to the blaming of people of color (instead of focusing on racist practices by the lending companies)?

5. Take a look at the three news outlets that Squires examines in this paper: Black EnterpriseThe Root, and Colorlines.  Take a few minutes to look over each site. How do they seem similar and different? According to Squires, how did each of the news sources respond differently to the economic crisis?

6. Is Squires optimistic that these news sources created by and for people of color have the ability to challenge dominant narratives about people of color? Why or why not?

Is “Latino” a race or an ethnicity? As sociologists, we are quick to refer to “Latino” as an ethnicity, but will just as easily include “Latino” as a racial category next to “White,” “Black,” and “Asian.” So, which is it? And why does it matter?obligation

Wendy D. Roth tackles this question in her recent special feature on The Society Pages “Creating a ‘Latino’ Race.” This feature would be a great addition to any discussion of race and ethnicity in the United States and how those categories have evolved over time for White, Asian and Latino immigrants and citizens. This topic would be ideal for the first weeks of a course on Race and Ethnicity or to introduce the topic in an Intro to Sociology class. This would also be a good topic for a Research Methods class when discussing how we classify racial categories and why this practice can be controversial.

Use the following activity in class to get a conversation going about race, ethnicity and Latino identity:

First, hand out an example of the Census questions on race and ethnicity. Have students fill them out on their own. Then ask:

1. Did you feel that the available categories on this form lined up with your own racial and ethnic identity? Why or why not?

2. Do you think that having “Hispanic” as an ethnicity and not a race makes sense? Why or why not?

3. What benefits do you see to having “Hispanic” listed as an ethnicity? What drawbacks?

4. What might you change about this form if you could? Do you believe there are better ways to classify people racially?

 

Then, start a conversation about Roth’s finding using these questions:

1. According to Roth’s research, how is the way that Puerto Rican and Dominican migrants understand race and ethnicity quite different from how Americans traditionally think of race and distinguish it from ethnicity?

2. When Latino immigrants come to the United States, how do they fit into the racial classifications already in place (now and in the past)? How do these classifications not line up with how they identify themselves?

3. According to Roth’s finding, how does the experience of Latinos in the United States differ based on skin color? What does this say about race and racism in the United States?

4. Why have many Latino immigrants seen it as advantageous to remain “bicultural” instead of “passing” for (non-Hispanic) white?

5. Why is the Latino race/ethnicity question a controversial topic? Why does it matter if Latino people are understood as an “ethnicity” or as a “race” by the US government? What might this potential change mean for Latino Americans? How would such a change disrupt notions of strict racial categories held by many Americans?

 

As we all scramble to wrap up syllabus planning for the Spring semester, I wanted to share a great podcast I’m adding to mine!

Last week, Office Hours sat down with Joshua I. Newman and Michael Giardina to talk about their recent book Sport, Spectacle, and NASCAR Nation: Consumption and the Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism. Their conversation covered topics including the whiteness of stock car racing, religion and rebellion at the race track, and the production and consumption of Southern identity. 

I’m using this for an American Race Relations class, but it would also work great in a Methods course, as the authors talk about the ethics of conducting ethnographic research with groups of people who are very different from themselves.

The following are some questions to have them answer at home or to get the discussion started in class:

1. Which political party has incorporated NASCAR and NASCAR fans into their campaign strategy? How do the author explain this tactical choice? What do you think about this campaign strategy?

2. The authors point out that NASCAR has attempted to increase the diversity of its fan base. According to the authors’ research, how have some fans responded to this move?

3. What does it mean to “perform whiteness” and what are a few examples given by the authors? Why, according to the authors was this type of performance perhaps more prevalent at racetracks not located in the South?

4. Describe the methods used in this research. Why do the authors stress that this method was essential to address their research questions? Why was this method also challenging for the authors? Explain.

5. What applications might this research have for today’s political climate? How might NASCAR nation have changed under an Obama presidency versus a Bush presidency?

 

Trayvon Martin’s death has drawn a great deal of attention from people throughout the United States.  Our own Sociological Images has written about the tragedy in three distinct posts (all found here).

This event occurred while my introduction to sociology courses were discussing race.  My students, logically, brought up his murder when we were discussing racial formation and racial stereotypes.  This turned into the most engaged, energetic and lively discussion we had all semester.

Students were, as they should be, angered.  They were frustrated with a society that allowed such tragedies to happen and disappointed that more people were not demanding Zimmerman be prosecuted.  I’m willing to go on a limb, however, and suggest not all students will feel the same way.

Despite my students’ passion, they brought up a variety of questions I believe their peers (and broader society) will have:

1) If Zimmerman is latino, is the case still about race?

Absolutely.  This question led our class to have a great conversation about the internalization of racial stereotypes and the impact of institutional and interpersonal racism on individuals.  We watched “A Girl Like Me” and discussed Kenneth Clark‘s original doll experiment.  (A group of my students are even setting out to do the same activity with children who are not black.)

2) Why would Zimmerman suspect Trayvon of suspicious behavior at all?

This question led to a great conversation about the impact of stereotypes on the perceptions we have of one another.  Using labeling theory, our class was able to discuss the way in which society ascribes particular labels to people based on the variety of statuses we embody.  These labels affect the way that people perceive us and the ways in which they interpret our behavior (such as the wearing of a hoodie).   In order to lead a discussion on labeling by race and gender, we watched the following clips from my favorite teaching show, “What Would You Do“: the bike theft, and racism in America (parts one and two).  Students immediately connected the material to the Trayvon case and their own lives (I had them do an in class writing on how they have been effected by labeling).

3) Why isn’t Zimmerman being charged?

Students, particularly those from states that do not have “Stand Your Ground” laws, are particularly puzzled by the fact that Zimmerman was not arrested.  Teachers who wish to discuss this topic can explore the history of these laws here.  My students, generally, were appalled by the interpretation of these laws (as addressed in that article) and their expansion.  Many expressed personal fear, and others remarked that, had Zimmerman been black, he would have been arrested immediately.

I encourage you to have conversations about Trayvon Martin in your classroom – not to exploit his death but to make students aware of the prevalence of such cases.  Hopefully, our students will one day be in positions in which they make and enforce laws and policies that will treat all people equally.

172/365  I Want to See the World

With Earth Day fast approaching, we’re seeing more stories about climate change (for example, see this sighting) and other environmental issues.  While there are many ways to study our environment sociologically, courses about environmental justice are becoming more popular.  Here we share a syllabus graciously provided by David Pellow at the University of Minnesota.  The description for his course, Race, Class, and the Politics of Nature, is provided below.  You can download the syllabus here:  Race, Class, and the Politics of Nature.

The phenomenon known as environmental racism has made headlines during the last three decades, in large part because the movement for environmental justice has placed this issue on the public agenda. This course introduces students to the theoretical and historical foundations of environmental racism and environmental inequality. We will examine and interrogate both the social scientific evidence concerning these phenomena and the efforts by governments, residents, workers, and community activists to combat it. We will consider the social forces that create environmental inequalities so that we may understand their causes and consequences. We will also consider ideas and practices that may lead to (1) a more equitable social distribution of the costs and benefits of markets and (2) more ecologically sustainable forms of production and social organization. Students will be expected to master several social scientific theories and concepts related to the subject matter. In particular, we pay close attention to the ways in which the concept of race intersects with gender, class, citizenship, indigeneity, and nation in order to better understand how systems of power and inequality are constructed, reinforced, and challenged.

As a way of teaching students about contemporary white privilege, many faculty members turn to the classic piece White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.  However, my peers and I have found that students often resist its content, in part because of the article’s date of publication.  The original piece was produced in 1988 making it older than many current college students. Nevertheless, it is clear that McIntosh’s article has a lot to teach contemporary students, if used the correct way.

The Activity

In order to thwart student’s immediate dismissal of McIntosh’s article as outdated, this activity encourages students to use their own knowledge and critical thinking skills to update the piece such that it fits with current race relations.  The activity consists of two parts taking place on two distinct days (unless you have a three hour block class): in part one students are expected to update McIntosh’s examples to match modern social patterns and, in part two, they add new, contemporary examples of white privilege to the list.  Please note, this activity is traditionally more successful if used later in the semester when students have reached some level of awareness of systemic racial discrimination.

Part One

For the first part of the activity students are expected to come to class having read McIntosh’s article.  Once seated, they are divided into groups of four to five students and handed a slip of paper containing eight of the twenty-six privileges. They are then asked to work together to select items on the list that they perceive to be outdated and/or want to discuss as a larger class.  Each group is responsible for choosing at least one item on their list and must be prepared to explain why they think the item is outdated and how they would change it to fit modern race relations.  After 20 minutes of small group conversation, we reconvene and discuss each groups’ chosen privilege to discuss.  As the instructor I am always prepared with current examples of blatant racial bias through anecdotes and statistics in all of these areas.  Discussion about intersectionality and geography are also important to extend the analysis of students on these issues.

Part Two

For the second portion of this activity, students are expected to add new examples of privileges to McIntosh’s list.  They are again placed in groups of four or five students and asked to brainstorm new items to place on the checklist.

Words of Caution

Over the past several years I have had great success using this activity to discuss the concept of white privilege.  However, there are a few common errors made by instructors that warrant words of caution.

One challenge with this activity, and in teaching in diverse classrooms, is to make sure that everyone is being intellectually challenged by the material without leaving any students behind. A second challenge is the tendency of professors to ignorantly exercise and reproduce the very elements of white privilege discussed in the article.  Students of color have distinct backgrounds and paths to a class on race relations relative to both their white peers and one another (some of the challenges faced by students of color in mostly-white classrooms are addressed in the chapter by Logan et al in this volume).  One of the most common transgressions committed by instructors is to, much like mainstream white society, assume that all people of a particular racial group have had similar experiences.  As a corollary, they often call on people of color to speak as “experts” for their racial or ethnic groups, a challenge mentioned by many students in the edited volume Making a Difference: University Students of Color Speak Out (Lesage, Ferber, Storrs and Wong 2002) and an experience many of my friends in college were forced to deal with.  Through this activity, and any activity in class, it should never be assumed that a person of color can speak for his or her race, much like it should never be assumed that a woman can speak for all women or a man for all men.

The folks over at Sociological Images, have collected some great examples of the commodification of Black History by companies to market products like kool-aid, hair relaxers, BET, fried chicken and collard greens.

Image by gavdana via flickr.com

We suggest using these types of ads as a teaching tool in your classroom. First guide the students through the pictures posted on Sociological Images during class. Then, at home, have them find another example of a company using racial stereotypes to sell products (an ad, commercial or something like the image here) and write up a short summary of what stereotypes they believe it portrays. They could email them to you or post links to the class website. This activity would work best after students are familiar with the concept, but early enough in the course that it can inform their thinking for the rest. Sharing these images in class will start a great discussion, as well as get students to pay more attention to this type of racism in the media.

If students are having a hard time finding images, you could direct them to blogs that often post on this topic. For example…Sociological Images, The Color Line, Racialicious, Feministing…and many more!

The Society Pages’ first White Paper, published earlier this month, focuses on the intersections of politics and sport. White Papers are in-depth explorations of relevant topics in the social sciences and  will be an ongoing part of The Society Pages. We recommend using this White Paper, “Politics and Sports: Strange, Secret Bedfellows” by Kyle Green and Doug Hartmann, in your classroom as a great overview of the politics of sports…and the sport of politics. Score

This easy-to-read and informative paper explores many topics relevant to your students. Here are a few:

  • Do sports play a role in maintaining racial stereotypes, in particular the athletic prowess and intellectual deficiency of black men?
  • Similarly, how do gendered stereotypes of ability and interest in sports get reproduced? And how can such stereotypes be understood damaging for women?
  • Should sports be understood as a site where boys learn how to “perform” a hegemonic brand of dominant and physical manhood?
  • Are sports the “opiate of the masses”—something mindless to occupy the working class’s time and energy, which might otherwise be invested in creating drastic political change?
  • How can we understand the infusion of sports language and metaphors in politics? Why do politicians use such language and what are the possible repercussions of this type of language?
  • How should we understand the display of anthems, flags, and military personnel (or fighter jets) at sporting events of all kinds (e.g. standing for the national anthem)?
  • Should tax dollars be used to fund professional sports stadiums? How has this taken-for-granted link between state government and for-profit sports teams been formed?