*For a look at the patterns that have emerged in the police shootings of unarmed black citizens since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson click here.

. . .

An unarmed black man is killed by a police officer in Charleston, SC. So far this sounds like an all too familiar story. A tragic one. However, unlike with the other recent deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in Long Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Akai Gurley in New York, John Crawford in Ohio, and others, (all unarmed black men killed by police) in this case the police officer has been fired and charged with murder.

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On Saturday, April 4th, (2015) in North Charleston, SC 50-year old, black, coast guard veteran, unarmed male, Walter L. Scott was stopped for a broken tail light. According to the police officer’s account, after the traffic stop, Mr. Scott fled on foot and was pursued by officer Michael Slager. The officer removed his Taser in order to subdue Mr. Scott, but Mr. Scott knocks it from his hands and ran away. At this point, the officer claims he felt threatened so he drew his weapon and fired eight times at a fleeing Mr. Scott (click on image above for video). As he was running away from the officer, the victim was struck by four bullets in the back and one in the ear. IN THE BACK.  Scott died on the scene. Basically given the death sentence for a broken tail light. The officer was more concerned about handcuffing the shooting victim than providing any attempts at life saving first aid.

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At one point in the video, the police officer is seen returning to the scene of the earlier confrontation, picking up the Taser off the ground, walking back and dropping it near the unarmed black male that now dying.

The difference in this case is that the officer has been fired and charged with murder. In most of the other cases (see the list above) the police officers that killed unarmed black men were not charged. One exception is police officer Peter Liang of the NYPD, who was charged with manslaughter for shooting to death Akai Gurley in the stairwell of an apartment building. That trail continues. While the actual outcome of the forthcoming murder trial of 33-year old officer Michael Slager is yet to be determined, the murder charge is a welcome change to a disturbing trend.

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I think a good argument could be made that the #BlackLivesMatter protests across the country following Michael Brown‘s death and again after Eric Garner and Tamir Rice were killed by police officers may have begun to alter the decisions of public officials to press charges…to see the deaths of unarmed black men (or anyone) at the hands of well-armed police officers as problematic and unjust. Rather than give the police a free pass to use force whenever they subjectively feel threatened, this case shows that what constitutes a “threat” should (and actually can) come under scrutiny. In this case, the “threat” was more than ten feet away, fleeing away from the officer, and was unarmed.

As the mayor of North Charleston, Keith Summey was quoted as saying, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. If you make a bad decision, [I] don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

Similar to Ferguson, the North Charleston’s city’s police force is only 18% black while 45% of its residents are black. At the same time, 80% of the police force is white, while just 37% of the city’s population is white.

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Protests in the streets are not lawless, unorganized people just out to make trouble. Protests are organized events, full of rational citizens who’s concerns have not been addressed through traditional formal political channels. Protests can and in this case did generate news coverage and bring the issues to the attention of the general public. Protests disrupt the complacent. While not involving the police, when Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, it took protests to even get a special prosecutor to charge Zimmerman with murder six weeks after the killing.

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Another way to think about it is…Do you think that a white male mayor in the deep South would have so quickly and come to the same conclusions in this case if the Black Lives Matter protests had not been so significant following the earlier deaths? I doubt it. Protests brought this case forward and have kept it in the minds of Americans. That being said, if the protests will be able to capitalize on the attention and formulate more sustainable organizations is yet to be seen. Read more about that here.

Again, while a guilty murder verdict is far from assured, just the fact that the police officer has been charged with murder is a sign that black lives do in fact matter… that said, next time the officer could just use methods that do not end the life of an another unarmed black male.

Teach well. It matters.

. . .

UPDATES and ADDENDUM

“But data shows that the response to Slager’s case is a rare exception. Between 2010 and 2014, according to Columbia, South Carolina’s the Statenewspaper, at least 209 suspects were shot at by police in South Carolina, including 79 people who died. In only three of the 209 cases were officers investigated for misuse of force, and none have been convicted.” (click on the photo below for the full story at Mother Jones)Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 2.22.22 PM

. . .

“What isn’t unusual is the race of the victim. Of those 79 people in South Carolina who were fatally shot by police, 43 percent (34 people) were African-American. That’s a higher proportion than the African-American share of the state’s population, which was 29 percent in the 2013 census population estimates.” (read more here)

 

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. . .

“The shocking nature of the South Carolina shooting, so vividly captured on the video, ought to put police departments on the same side with the protesters who are demanding change.”TIME magazine

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. . .

Click here for CNN’s account of the sequence of events

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. . .

April 13th, 2015

Further evidence of the Black Lives Matter movement keeping the topic in the press and the public. “…[Walter] Scott’s shooting is not an isolated incident, but the result of a history of exclusion in North Charleston.”

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. . .

“The real question is why, death after death, beating after beating, as the major abuses and the minor humiliations pile up, we are collectively unable to face the fact that race makes too many police officers see threats where none exist, and makes the worst police officers, like Michael Slager, willing to deal death. The police beating, outside Detroit, of a fifty-seven-year-old black man named Floyd Dent made the news only after footage surfaced of an officer apparently planting an incriminating bag of cocaine. It takes a video to make the apparition disappear.” Read the full commentary here

 

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. . .

Police shootings of unarmed black men are more common in part, because other forms of social support have been slashed by neoconservative polices and the void has been filled with a police officer with a gun.

“Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.” Read the excellent piece by Ta-Neshi Coates in full here.

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The officer who shot Walter Scott in the back eight times, killing him, has been in jail since the murder. Today a grand jury indicted him on murder charges (there is only a single type of murder in SC) and he will face trial.

 

 

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. . .

Click on the image below to be redirected to a related post from this blog.

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. . .

Another case of an unarmed black male who was killed by police. In this case Jonathan Ferrell was seeking help after getting a car accident. White neighbors called the police. They shot him. At least…at least they are bing charged.

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. . .

Updated February 2018

Looking for resources for teaching sociology?

Below are snippets of some of the sociology teaching tools you will find on this blog organized by topic.

CLICK ON THE TITLE TO OPEN THE FULL POST IN A NEW WINDOW 

 

RACE AND ETHNICITY: Teaching an introduction to sociology course? Teaching a race and ethnicity course?

POLICE KILLING OF BLACKS: Data for 2015, 2016, 2017 Download charts that examine the race, ethnicity, age and other characteristics of people killed by police in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

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RACISM AND THE POLICE: The Shooting of Michael Brown in FergusonSystematic racism has been made evident again in the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Pulling stories directly from recent news headlines is one way to get students’ attention and demonstrate the abundant relevance of the sociological perspective. The New York Times has a timeline of the events that serves as a useful starting point (from the mainstream media) to share the events with students that may have not kept up with the story.

THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF RACE: BLURRY DISTINCTIONS AND CHANGING CATEGORIESThe social construction of race is made evident when we see how the boundaries and distinctions that supposedly distinguish one race from another are unclear. Additionally, this is made clear when “official” categories, that seem fixed, are altered. The first of two tools that I have found to clearly demonstrate the social construction of race to students is a series of photographs from National Geographic.

 

MASS INCARCERATION: DATA, TRENDS, AND COMPARISONStaggering rates of mass incarceration are impacting minority communities disproportionally and it is the consequence of changes in policy and the economy- changes in the social context – rather than changes in individual behavior. “An African American male born in 1975 and who didn’t finish high school has a nearly 70 percent chance of serving jail time by his mid-thirties.” That should be enough to get everyone’s attention. The following draws mostly on resources from the Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institute (brought to my attention by Ezra Klein’s piece on Vox), and Bruce Western‘s 2006 book, Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation).

. . .

THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION: Teaching an introduction to sociology course? This is the classic topic that begins most semesters. See numerous resources below.

SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION: COLLEGE ENROLLMENT IN CONTEXTAn understanding of the sociological imagination can be difficult in our very individually focused society. As a topic, the sociological imagination is usually the first or second class of every introduction to sociology course. Teaching topics by relating them to students’ immediate context (especially early in the semester) is one way to help them
see how the sociological imagination works.

THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION: AWAKENING IT BY VIEWING OTHER CULTURESI have found that teaching students to understand and utilize the sociological imagination – the ability to see the relationship between one’s individual life and the effects of larger social forces – is aided by exposing them to different social structures and cultures. While study-abroad programs are ideal for experiencing this first hand, we can also bring other cultures into the classroom through film, photographs, and students’ existing experiences.

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NACIREMA: UPDATING A CLASSIC TO SEE YOUR OWN CULTURE AS AN OUTSIDER By now, many students have read the original Nacirema in high school. Here is a more modern version written by a student.

THE SUPER BOWL: A sociological view Break out the guacamole, it is time for Super Bowl sociology! What does the Super Bowl mean in our society? It is far from simply a sporting event or even just the final game of a season. The Super Bowl is a sociological phenomenon. It is a great teachable moment using an event that everyone has at least heard of and many of our students will be watching… or at least at a social event where the game is playing on the television. While many of our students will be highly engaged in the event, few may have thought about it from a sociological perspective. Below are some interesting resources from sociology and other disciplines that can help reveal the sociology in the Super Bowl.

VIOLATING SOCIAL NORMS: cellphonesOften we are not consciously aware of the prevailing social norms that dominate our culture until they are violated. Many faculty demonstrate the power of social norms to their students with an assignment for them to engage in norm violations – intentionally altering their behavior outside of the classroom to see how others react and how it disrupts social interaction. The risk of this assignment is that students take the norm violation too far, harming others or getting in trouble (try explaining to the Dean that you actually assigned them to do that). Therefore, rules and guidelines must be made clear if this is assigned.

. . .

THEORY

. . .

ENVIRONMENTAL SOCIOLOGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE

CLIMATE CHANGE AND CLIMATE JUSTICE: WHO’S RESPONSIBLE? TEACHING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-1-07-00-pmIN SOCIOLOGY COURSES IS VITAL  and should arguably include a focus on CLIMATE JUSTICE. Teaching students about climate change should not be limited to courses in the natural sciences for many reasons.

ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINTS: How many planets for our lifestyle? As the consequences of highly consumptive capitalism continue to cause problems around the world, teaching about the impacts of our consumption is an increasing necessity in every classroom. One of the best ways I have found to demonstrate the structure/agency dynamic to students is to have them calculate their ecological footprint.

. . .

GLOBALIZATION: Teaching introduction to sociology or globalization or economic sociology?

GLOBALIZATION: MEASURING THE GLOBAL ECONOMYWhen most people think about “globalization” they likely think about the global economy. In the more recent era, globalization was pushed into public debate in the 1990s when NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was being debated and the WTO, World Bank and IMF were making significant strides in implementing the neoliberal economic model on a global scale. In a previous post I wrote about global commodity chains, here I will explore some of the ways that the global economy is measured and tracked. 

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-12-53-25-pmGLOBALIZATION OF COMMODITY CHAINS: WHERE DID MY T-SHIRT COME FROM? The globalization of commodity chains is something that students have a general idea about, but I find it challenging to remove the abstract nature of the convoluted path that materials take before they end up in a consumer’s hands. Sure, “everything is made in China” blah blah blah, but the story of the global economy is MUCH more complex and filled with people occupying different social contexts. Planet Money has come to the rescue with an amazing new story tracing every step of something as simple as a t-shirt.

. . .

INEQUALITY: Basic tools for teaching sociology using some visual graphics and dynamic figures.

MINIMUM WAGE: DO WE UNDERSTAND THAT REALITY? What does it mean to live on minimum wage in the US? For any student readers of this blog, you are likely very familiar with what it means to earn minimum wage, but it is also likely that fewer of you rely completely on that income for all of your living needs. How do we convey the reality of what it is like to live on minimum wage? Who is it that actually earns minimum wage?

. . .

CULTURE

Teaching race and affirmative action: a paper assignment. Here you will find the details of a paper assignment that I use for teaching students about inequality and racial disparity in educational access and achievement.

. . .

See the key words in the right hand column to search all posts for more sociology teaching tools.

Teach well, it matters.

 

 

White men go shopping with their guns and express their rights; black men get assaulted carrying a permitted firearm because they are seen as criminals.

Racial profiling is highly evident when we look at the experience of people of different races carrying weapons in public.

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From Mother Jones

“A surveillance video from a Walmart located near Tampa shows 62-year-old Clarence Daniels trying to enter the store to purchase some coffee creamer for his wife this past Tuesday. He barely steps through the automatic doors before he is pummeled by shopper Michael Foster, a 43-year-old white man.

‘He’s got a gun!’ Foster shouts, to which Daniels replies, ‘I have a permit!’

According to local news reports, Foster originally spotted Daniels in the store’s parking lot placing his legally owned handgun underneath his coat. In keeping with Florida’s well-known vigilante spirit, Foster decided to take matters into his own hands by following Daniels into the Walmart. Without warning, he tackled Daniels and placed him in a chokehold.

Police soon arrived and confirmed Daniels indeed had a permit for the handgun.

‘Unfortunately, he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,’ said Larry McKinnon, a police spokesperson.”

. . . .

Take the skin-tone Implicit Association Test here.

From the Project Implicit:

“The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key.

When doing an IAT you are asked to quickly sort words into that are on the left and right hand side of the computer screen by pressing the “e” key if the word belongs to the category on the left and the “i” key if the word belongs to the category on the right. The IAT has five main parts.

In the first part of the IAT you sort words relating to the concepts (e.g., fat people, thin people) into categories. So if the category “Fat People” was on the left, and a picture of a heavy person appeared on the screen, you would press the “e” key.

In the second part of the IAT you sort words relating to the evaluation (e.g., good, bad). So if the category “good” was on the left, and a pleasant word appeared on the screen, you would press the “e” key.”

 

Teach well, it matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*For a look at the patterns that have emerged in the police shootings of unarmed black citizens since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson click here.

. . .

Systematic racism has been made evident again in the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Pulling stories directly from recent news headlines is one way to get students’ attention and demonstrate the abundant relevance of the sociological perspective. The New York Times has a timeline of the events that serves as a useful starting point (from the mainstream media) to share the events with students that may have not kept up with the story.

 

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The community of Ferguson, Missouri (the site of the shooting) has responded with on-going mass protests.

Ferguson cannot be understood in a vacuum. These events are rich with sociological issues –  inequality and poverty, racial profiling, the militarization of the police, protester and police interaction, social media (#Ferguson and hashtag activism) and the “criminalization of Black male youth”.

Looking first at the disproportionate levels of poverty and subsequent exclusion from the economy of many Blacks in the US, Brookings, a Democratic leaning think tank, analyzed census tract data of changes in the poverty rates in Ferguson (and the surrounding area) between 2000 and 2008-2012.  They state:

“But Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.

Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.”

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The community of Ferguson, one of many that have been disproportionally hurt by the economic downturn, has experienced long term poverty, and this undoubtedly  was part of the mass frustration that contributed to the emergence of the protests. See Brookings web site for their full story.

However, the key grievance that seems to have inspired mass protest is the relationship between the police and the community. In previous posts I have explored the disproportionate number of Blacks incarcerated, arrested for drugs, and racially profiled under programs such as “Stop and Frisk”. While the population of Ferguson is 63% Black, 90% of the police officers are White. As noted by the New York Times (see below), Blacks in Ferguson are disproportionally stopped and arrested by the predominantly White police force.

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An FBI and federal justice department investigation is on-going and reports of the events present conflicting stories – an eye witness that was with the victim at the time says Michael had his hands up, but slowly emerging (which certainly adds to the distrust) police accounts argue that an unarmed Michael was in a confrontation with the officer. The job of the police is to make arrests and allow a court system to decide guilt. The police later released images from a video of a suspect robbing a convenience store (no weapons were used). Let’s just say it was Michael (that would still have to be proven). A police officer should be able to subdue a suspect without shooting him six times. In essence, (presuming guilt instead of innocence) Michael was sentenced to death for supposedly stealing a handful of cigars.

The police responses to the protests in Ferguson have exposed the results of the militarization of municipal police forces. Images of police in full military gear, helmets, armored vehicles, sharp-shooters, high caliber weaponry, and military fatigues certainly garnered the attention of the media.

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The distribution of military weaponry to local police departments began after the terrorist attacks of September 11th under the guise of preparing communities for foreign attacks. Now we see this weaponry and accompanying tactics used in our own communities. The saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail” comes to mind.

This weaponry has been widely distributed.

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Click on the map above to have students go to an interactive version that allows them to see the distribution of the weaponry in their county. For example, I can see that in Cook county, home to my city of residence, Chicago, the police have obtained over 1200 assault rifles and even three “mine resistant” vehicles.

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The use of these weapons and tactics is not limited to Ferguson. In June of 2014, the ACLU published the following report:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 12.54.43 PMIn it they report the increased use of SWAT tactics for search warrants for low level drug investigations and that the “militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies” (p.3). These tactics and mentality have resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including infants and children (see the report for numerous stories).

Do these tactics pay off? According to the ACLU’s research, the majority of the time they do not. Drugs are only found about a third of the time.

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And these tactics are used disproportionately in cases involving racial and ethnic minority suspects.

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So, was this an isolated event among two individuals – the officer and Michael Brown? No. Sociologically, the impoverished community context likely leads to community members feeling disconnected from the rewards of mainstream society, the stereotyping of Black males as “thugs” and criminals likely added to the officer’s fear of Michael and activated socially constructed cognitive cues of “danger”, the community’s response is generated by local and national racial profiling by the police and a lack of minority representation among the officers, and the type of police response to the protests was a result of the militarization of the police driven by the “war on terror” and the power of the military industrial complex in our economy (and foreign policy).

Teach well, it matters.

Additional reading:

Elijah Anderson, Editor. 2009. Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male

Kate Harding. 2014. “Ten Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet

Viktor M. Rios. 2006. “The Hyper-Criminalization of Black and Latino Male Youth in the Era of Mass Incarceration”

Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson. 2005. “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime and Inequality” in Race, Crime, and Justice: A Reader edited by Shaun L. Gabbidon and Helen Taylor Greene

Nick Wing. 2014.  “When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims”

ADDENDUMS

Click on the image below to be redirected to a related post from this blog.

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August 20th, 2014

Recent Gallup survey results show vastly different perceptions of the police. These are not skewed by the events in Ferguson as the data is from 2011-14, but they certainly explain some of the resulting protests.

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August 21, 2014

Below is a link to a good article on the challenges and weaknesses of the data on the number of people killed by police each year. It’s great to inspire critical thinking about facts.

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Here is polling data specific to this event from the Pew Research Center…

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August 26th (click on the images to link to the full stories)

“…the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people.” (click on the below for the full article)

 

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August 30th, 2014

Another example of police officers shooting to kill based on race. Click below for the full article.

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November 24th, 2014 (click on the images to link to the full stories)

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November 30th, 2014

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. . .

December 2nd, 2014 (click on the images to link to the full stories)

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. . . Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.07.40 AM

. . .

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December 8th, 2014 (click on the images to link to the full stories)

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. . . Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.28.28 AM

 

. . .

December 9th, 2014 (click image for original source)

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December 12th, 2014  (click image for original source)

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“The phrase “black-on-black crime” makes sense only if you understand black people’s propensity to commit crimes against people of their own race as inherently different from the way other racial groups commit crimes.”

“Far from being extraordinary, the fact that black criminals are most likely to commit crimes against black people makes them just like everybody else. A more honest term than “black-on-black crime” would be, simply, ‘crime.'”

. . .

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 7.27.34 AM“Surrender is the heart of the legal standard for the use of deadly force by police. When confronted with an officer’s weapon, you must back down quickly and unambiguously or die. The law demands surrender, and men like Michael Brown do not show enough of it. This terrible fact—a one-sided battle of stereotypes and a conversation cut short between two young men—leaves us to wonder what justice would be in cases like this.”

. . .

December 19th, 2014 (click on the image to go to the original link)

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December 20th, 2014

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. . .

December 30th, 2014

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. . .

January 14, 2015 …I just came across this survey data covering opinion about the verdicts in Ferguson and Long Island. It is from about a month ago.

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. . . .

January 22, 2015

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. . .

March 2, 2015

“Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.”

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March 4th, 2015

Justice Department finds racialized patterns within the action of the Ferguson Police Department.

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But clears Darren Wilson of any charges…

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. . .

My article in Contexts on teaching about Ferguson from a sociological perspective…

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. . .

March 5, 2015

Read the full justice department report here

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. . .

New York Times visual graphics of “what happened in Ferguson” (click the image to go to the full story)

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. . .

A good article (that I use in my class) on the patterns of and  institutional support for the epidemic of police killings of unarmed black males:

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Common structure:

  • Absence of external necessity
  • Confrontation created by police
  • Force obedience
  • Reduce to an object
  • Use of lethal force

. . .

Friday, March 6th, 2015

As usual, click on the image for a link to the full story.

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“The judge was also named among a group of white Ferguson officials found by Department of Justice investigators to be writing off citations for themselves and friends while punishing residents for similar offenses.”

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“Mudd, 64, was linked to an email sent in November 2008 which suggested Barack Obama “would not be president for very long because ‘what black man holds a steady job for four years?’,” according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, which first reported the officers’ names. Henke, 59, was said to have been associated with an email sent in May 2011 that stated: “An African American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers’.””

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White privilege?

“The federal investigators found that in March 2014, a friend of a relative of the clerk emailed her with a scanned copy of a ticket and asked “if there was anything she could do to help”. The clerk responded: “Your ticket of $200 has magically disappeared!”, the report said. The clerk had at least one more ticket dismissed for the same person three months later.”

 

Back from early February…

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… “What we’re seeing is a growing effort to generate revenue off the backs of the poorest using the police and court system,” Karakatsanis said, adding that the practice had exacerbated tensions between citizens and authorities in Ferguson.

“When you actually talk to the people living in the communities, one of the most central issues is the constant harassment and threat of incarceration because of their poverty,” Karakatsanis said.

. . .

March 4th, 2015

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. . .

March 10th, 2015

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“The Justice Department report accused city officials of running the Municipal Court system as a moneymaking venture and having a racially biased police force that regularly violated people’s constitutional rights.

In another instance outlined in the report, Mr. Shaw acknowledged a Council member’s complaints that the municipal judge was not doing a good job, but noted that “the city cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our courts, nor experience any decrease in our fines and forfeitures.”

. . .

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. . .

March 14th, 2015

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“Now, eight candidates, many first-time political hopefuls, are trying to fill three of the seven Council seats; all three are being vacated by members who decided not to run again. City officials said the candidacies were unprecedented: Four African-Americans are running this year, compared with a total of three in Ferguson’s previous 120 years.”

. . .

“VICE News and the New York Review of Books have partnered to create Talking Heads, a series about the big issues of the day as seen by the Review’s distinguished contributors. In this episode, Darryl Pinckney discusses his essay “In Ferguson.” He visited Ferguson, Missouri, in November, when a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The dissatisfaction Pinckney felt as he followed news coverage of events in the area compelled him to visit and bear witness. Once on the ground, he discovered that despite sometimes violent expressions of anger within the community, the danger he felt was always from the police. “

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 6.01.29 PM[click on the image to go to the video]

. . .

March 18th, 2015

Ferguson, MO Police chief resigns, gets a full year’s salary ($96,000) as severance. Click on the image to read the full story that also includes Ferguson residents’ efforts to recover.

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. . .

March 20th, 2015

57% of White Americans think we talk too much about race.

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. . .

April 6th, 2015

Will an organized movement be born out the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson?

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. . .

May 5th, 2015

New polling data shows that white and blacks now both have nearly the same negative outlook regarding race relations in the US. As other shootings and police killings of unarmed black men continue, a majority of whites are beginning to see that race relations are generally bad. However, it seems that whites still have greater trust in the police and police bias to using violence against blacks.

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. . .

May 21, 2015

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“‘It was done in a dignified way so I thought that was respectful,’ said Tony Rice, a veteran activist of the Ferguson protests, who watched the memorial be taken down piece by piece. ‘But I don’t think the plaque is enough. The old memorial symbolized the epicenter of where black lives actually matter. If you ever needed to question how much people care about an 18 year-old black man’s life you could point to that memorial.’”

. . .

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. . .

July 14, 2015

An art exhibit here in Chicago contains a replica of a dead Michael Brown as he appeared on the streets of Ferguson after being shor by officer Daren Wilson. It is part of a show by artist Ti-Rock Moore on white privilege. The artist is white. Is this exploitation? How might the show be perceived differently if created by a black artist. The gallery owners are black and it is located in historically black Bronzeville neighborhood.Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 5.13.28 PM

. . .

July 23, 2015

Another tragedy related to municipal police forces using SWAT teams in excess:

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. . .

July 24th, 2015

New polling data on police and race from the New York Times:

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. . .

A New Yorker article about Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, but was not indicted or found to have done anything wrong.

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. . .

From the New York Times…

“Local prosecutors have historically paid no price for taking up residence in the pocket of the police department. That changed on Tuesday, when Democratic primary voters in the counties that include Cleveland and Chicago turned veteran prosecutors out of office for mishandling cases against police officers who shot and killed black citizens.

The defeats of Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney of Cook County, Ill., and Tim McGinty, county prosecutor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, show that many voters are no longer willing to tolerate cover-ups and foot-dragging in cases of killings by the police and other abuses. Still, it will take more than changing the name on the prosecutor’s stationery to reform the way such cases are handled.” Read the full commentary here.

. . .

A new documentary explores how the police became so militarized and what the consequences are.

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. . .

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.04.49 PMAn understanding of the sociological imagination can be difficult in our very individually focused society. As a topic, the sociological imagination is usually the first or second class of every introduction to sociology course. Teaching topics by relating them to students’ immediate context (especially early in the semester) is one way to help them see how the sociological imagination works.

So…how can we use the sociological imagination to help  students understand why they are sitting there in the classroom? Especially for first year students, the seemingly very individual process of deciding if and where to go to college is fresh in their minds.

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C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) presents the sociological imagination as the ability to see the relationship between one’s individual life and the effects of larger social forces. One way to help students see all the external forces that have influenced their arrival in your classroom is to push them to answer the question: “Why did you enroll in college?”

“To learn.” Can’t you learn on your own? Studying what you want, when you want at a much lower cost?

“Okay, so to earn a degree.”  This is a great place to talk about how our society is increasingly credentialed. The college, accrediting organizations, deans, professional associations all define what it takes to be awarded a degree, a certificate that serves as a cultural symbol of legitimation and distinction, helping to sort people into categories. You see these hung on walls in offices to signal expertise to others. As an individual, you make choices, but those choices are influenced by a modern social context that makes the consequences of those choices very real.

“If I don’t have a degree, I won’t get a good job.” After WWII, the options for those with a high school diploma to earn a middle class living in the US were far greater than they are now. The largely successful effort of companies to break unions have greatly decreased the number of employees that can collectively bargain with management. Additionally, neoliberal globalization of the economy has contributed to deindustrialization – many manufacturing jobs have moved to less developed countries with lower wages. The context with which individuals make decisions changed, the social context changed.

“If I don’t get a good job I will struggle to afford housing, health care, and a college education for any children I have.” Additionally, we live in an economic market that requires people to earn wages, mostly by selling their labor (hello Marx). Few if any of your students will work for themselves, own a business, or avoid wage labor. Their “choice” to pursue a college degree was hardly a choice. This can be seen by exploring the alternative…what would they be doing if they were not in college? Compared to many other advanced industrialized nations, the US has a weak social safety net that leaves individuals vulnerable to market forces.

While embedded in the time, place, and structure of our own society, it may be difficult to see the social forces that Mills encouraged us to see in order to more fully understand our world. By looking at college enrollment rates over time, students can see that the historical moment, the society, that they occupy now is very different compared to 50 years ago. Mills speaks of the intersection between history and biography. Looking at a different point in time shows us how our biography may have been different. Especially for women, the likelihood that they would have been enrolled in college if they were transported back to 1967, a different social context, is much smaller. More than double the rate of women are now enrolled.

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Increasingly, international students make up larger portion of the student body at colleges and universities in the US. This is a dramatic change from your parents experiences in higher education and has been largely facilitated by changes in our social context: increasing globalization, financial stress of colleges and universities, changing demographic distributions in the US that will decrease the overall number 18 year olds applying to college.

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Enrollment levels in other nations today also help us use our sociological imagination and to see that society has an influence on our individual decisions. The figure below shows UNESCO data for 2011 enrollment in tertiary education (post-secondary of any type, including college) across select nations.

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Living in a different society, with different resources, economy, culture, and institutions would dramatically alter your “individual” decision to enroll in college. To understand this is to use the sociological imagination.

Society not only influence how many people go to college, but a college education influences society in many ways as well.

In the most recent presidential election, the counties with the highest rate of college educated citizens overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. While the counties with the lowest rates of college educated population voted for Trump.

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Not surprisingly, people with higher levels of education in today’s society earn more money and have lower rates of unemployment on average.

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Here is another way of looking at that shows, on average, how much more people earn per advancement in education.

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Also, the greater the education level, the more likely to be married and he more likely to vote.

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Teach well, it matters.

 

Additional resources:

See my previous post on illuminating the sociological imagination by looking at marriage across time and other cultures.

Massengill, Rebekah Peeples. 2011. “Sociological Writing as Higher-level Thinking: Assignments that Cultivate the Sociological Imagination.” Teaching Sociology 39(4): 371-381.

Nell Trautner, Mary; Borland, Elizabeth. 2013. “Using the Sociological Imagination to Teach about Academic Integrity.” Teaching Sociology 41(4): 377-388.

Noy, Shiri. 2014. “Secrets and the Sociological imagination: Using PostSecret.com to Illustrate Sociological Concepts.” Teaching Sociology 42(3): 187-19

Packard, Josh. 2013. “The Impact of Racial Diversity in the Classroom: Activating the Sociological Imagination.” Teaching Sociology 41(2): 144-158.

Unnithan, N. Prabha. 1994. “Using Students’ Familiarity and Knowledge to Enliven Large Sociology Classes.” Teaching Sociology 22(4): 333-336.

Staggering rates of mass incarceration are impacting minority communities disproportionally and it is the consequence of changes in policy and the economy- changes in the social context – rather than changes in individual behavior.  “An African American male born in 1975 and who didn’t finish high school has a nearly 70 percent chance of serving jail time by his mid-thirties.”

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That should be enough to get everyone’s attention. The following draws mostly on resources from the Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institute (brought to my attention by Ezra Klein’s piece on Vox), and Bruce Western‘s 2006 book, Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation).

For both Whites and Blacks, lower levels of education matter. In the figure below you can see that, compared to their peers of similar race with average levels of education, White males that fail to earn a high school diploma are 5-10% more likely to have been imprisoned by the time they reach 30-34 years old, Black males 5-50% more likely to have been imprisoned by the time they reach 30-34 years old. For Black males, more recent cohorts that do not finish high school have a much greater chance of being imprisoned compared to the older cohorts. Education increasingly matters.

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Race also matters. Black males of all education levels are still, on average, at higher risk of having been imprisoned by the time they reach 30-34 than White males without a high school degree.

As Bruce Western notes, the current cohort of Black males with low levels of education are more likely to have been incarcerated than to have served in the military, earned a Bachelor’s degree, or been married –  other key life course milestones.

Income also matters. Young people from families with lower incomes are more likely than those from middle or upper income families to get into a fight, become a member of a gang, steal something, or carry a gun. All income levels consume marijuana and sell drugs at similar rates and youth from upper income homes are more likely to use other drugs.

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But it is not just demographics, but policy that matters. The emergence of mass incarceration did not happen due to a simple formula of PERSON+CRIME=PRISON. Society seems too comfortable in such an individualistic calculation that mass incarceration is simply result of the cumulative effects of individual choices. The figure below shows the introduction of three policies that contributed to mass incarceration: the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and the several year period in the early 1990s that twenty-four states implemented “three strikes” laws.

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Chapter 3 of Bruce Western’s book, Punishment and Inequality in America, presents data that indicates that imprisonment rates grew faster in states under Republican governors — 6-14% higher rates compared to states with Democratic governors. See the complete book for more details.

Compared to other similar nations, the US is an outlier in the rate at which we imprison people. in 2012, the US had a population to incarceration rate fourteen times that of Japan, nearly ten times that of Germany, and four and half times that of the United Kingdom.

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In this entry I have mostly focused on data. Students also need to understand why. For that I recommend the primary source of this data, Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America, as well as the edited volume, Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and  Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress by Becky Pettit.

Teach well, it matters.

Additional resources:

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. . .

Addendums and updates:

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. . .

July 23, 2015

The Washington Post did a great story on the impacts of mandatory minimums on the trends in mass incarceration. It would serve as a great case study and a more intimate read for students.

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. . .

October 1, 2015

Signs that at some things may be changing…

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. . .

Nacirema, that “exotic”, far-off place where people do “strange” things is one of the best ways to help students look at American culture as an observer rather than as the standard by which all other cultures should be compared. The paper, written by University of Chicago trained anthropologist Horace Miner was originally published in 1956. It examines the body rituals and practices of US culture the way anthropologists used to “other” cultures in seemingly distant lands that seemed unusual, if not “weird”.

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For example, Miner writes The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.”

Now without the photo below (but maybe skewed by the photo above) and in the context of the rest of the paper, many students do not recognize this as our daily habit of brushing our teeth. When described the way the Miner does, it sounds strange and maybe even a bit gross.

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What one culture does and believes to be normal, others may see as unusual. Remembering that practices are driven by the culture someone is situated in, including our very own practices, is key to avoiding ethnocentrism – the mistaken belief that your culture is the standard by which others should be compared. The photo below shows different tools for cleaning one’s teeth – yes, even the sticks.

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In some of my classes, as part of a paper exploring the concepts and influence of culture, I ask students to explore a ritual within their own culture but from an outsider’s view – as if they were witnessing the practice for the first time and trying to understand it. The following is an excerpt from one of the excellent papers I received from a student, Emily Ong (used with her permission). She does a great job of describing the US rituals of the Christian holiday, Christmas.

“Holidays are integral parts of different cultures and by looking at them through the eyes of an outsider, we can see how culture influences perspective. For example, we can look at Christmas from the perspective of someone who is not a part of American culture. I can imagine that person’s evaluation would be something like the following: During this holiday called Christmas, families take great care to ensure that they decorate their houses and various shrubs with wires. These wires are attached to a side of the house and only come on at night. When they do, the house and shrubs look very bright, and not a single house on the street is without these wires. These Americans, thus, are all quite concerned with the overall presentation of their houses: they make sure other people see and admire them. One could almost call them obsessed, as some houses have giant men, white bears, and black and white birds puffed full of air in front of their houses. Such houses, I have observed, draw people’s eyes as they pass by.

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Families also make sure they get a hold of a rather sizable green tree, but they go outside of their property to find such a tree. The ones immediately outside their house are apparently not fit. They desire a different one, which holds more importance. In addition, for some reason, the tree must be a rather large tree with lots of foliage. The small and thin trees with exposed branches are often not given a second look and are left with the person selling the trees.

Once the family has picked out their rather plump tree, they have to go through the challenging and exhausting task of bringing it back to their home. They have to lift it up and tie it to the top of their vehicle, and then drive very slowly so the tree will not fall off the car. Once they get home, they have to lift it once again off the car and into their house. Sometimes it doesn’t fit very easily through the entrance to their house, and many members of the family have to help get the tree through the doorway. Once the tree is inside, for some reason they put it in the center of the room, and proceed to decorate it with various gaudy balls and gems on strings. They also put some wires around it, which when attached to the wall, make the tree look very bright. The most peculiar act, however, has yet to be done. A star, or in some cases an angel or other figurine is put on top of the tree, and it seems to be an honor for the person who is allowed to put it there. They must be of some great importance or have some great wisdom, which allows them the honor of completing this task. Once they do, everyone admires the tree even more. The tree also seems to serve as some kind of offering place because people gradually place decorated boxes around the tree in the days leading up to Christmas. People also stop and like to gather around the tree and gaze at it.

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An odd ritual occurs the night right before Christmas: children hang socks above a structure that houses a fire although they look far too large to be anyone’s sock. Then they leave hard biscuits shaped like men and a cup of milk out next to the tree. I do not understand the importance of this, as usually the father of the family just eats the biscuits and drinks the milk anyway, and it is always late at night when he does this too. Does the eating of the man-shaped biscuits represent some sacrifice? This I do not know. Anyhow, in the morning, more boxes appear, and children act very wild, almost savage-like. They rip up all of the paper covering the boxes, and leave a mess on the floor. It seems that the boxes were for them all along, not another being or deity. That is curious. Why did they not just give them to the people in the first place? What is even more confusing is that these items in the boxes are often not kept. They are taken to a store where, when presented with a slip of paper, can be exchanged for currency. Why is so much trouble taken to offer the items to people, wrapped and put under this gaudy tree only to be given away? The material items that are kept, though, seem to consume all the time of the children. One child was given a circle with a hole in it, which was in a rectangular case, and he put this circle into a box and proceeded to stare at the screen and hold a device attached to the box by a wire. He clearly thought that was more important than spending time with his family or friends. In fact, most of these Americans I have observed highly treasure their material items from under the tree as they pay more attention to them than to fellow Americans.

What’s more is that once Christmas is over, all of the gaudy gems and balls on the tree have to be removed and the tree must be moved out of the house. It is so much work to get a hold of the tree and to decorate it, and it seems very important, yet at the end of the day many of the trees are thrown away. So much hard work gone to waste. The only normal part of the holiday seems to be the family gathering for dinner on Christmas day. Everything else, I do not understand.”

Through this exercise, students hopefully see both their own and other cultures in a new light – one that understands how we are all so embedded in a culture that it is difficult not to see dramatically different rituals as “exotic” or “weird”. By looking at our own cultures as outsiders we can see that we are under the same influence of the power of culture as others are.

Teach well, it matters.

When most people think about “globalization” Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 8.05.08 PMthey likely think about the global economy. In the more recent era, globalization was pushed into public debate in the 1990s when NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was being debated and the WTO, World Bank and IMF were making significant strides in implementing the neoliberal economic model on a global scale. In a previous post I wrote about global commodity chains, here I will explore some of the ways that the global economy is measured and tracked.

The value of imports and exports, along with foreign direct investment (FDI) are the most common measures of economic globalization. How much stuff is crossing national borders to be bought, sold, or assembled in another nation? How much money is coming from investors from overseas? For a time, many may have assumed that globalization was something that would just continue to grow. New data assembled by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, shows a peak in the percentage of the global economy that came from the cross-border trade of goods, services and financial flows in 2007. Since then, the percentage of global GDP from “globalization” has dropped from over 50% to just above a third of the world’s GDP. After three decades of growth, globalization seems to be slowing. Whether the trend will continue is yet to be seen.

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Additionally, the figure above shows the continued dominance of goods over services and financial flows in the role of the global economy.

By 2011, the trade of goods was becoming much more global (beginning to live up to its name). In the figure below, the thicker the line, the larger the percentage of global GDP accounted for by cross-border trade between the regions. In 1980, we see trade between Western Europe and North America and between Western Europe and the Middle East/Africa as the most dominant routes of exchange. Three decades later, trade between numerous regions has become over 1.00% of global GDP.

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Another source of flows of capital across national boundaries is remittances, wages that foreign workers send back home. The Pew Research Center has an interactive tool that maps the 2012 flows from most countries in the world. It is a fascinating indirect look at the flow of labor and subsequently wages. Below you can see how far and wide wages from the US get spread through remittances.

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Compare the outgoing flows from the US, to the incoming flows to Kenya below.

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The World Bank also provides country level data on various measures of trade: exports (volume, value, and percent of GDP), imports, energy imports, and high-tech exports. Their data tools include a simple and fast graph-making tool that allows you or your students to select specific indicators and nations, allowing for cross-national comparison. Below we see that, compared to the world, Mexico and India in particular, the percentage of GDP from exports in the US is quite low.

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Hopefully, these tools help students understand some of the primary elements of globalization and their trends.

Teach well, it matters.

. . .

August 2015

China’s economy is increasing tied to the global economy and vice versa. Below is a recent map from the New York Times that illustrates the influence of the Chinese economy on different nations around the world. Click on the image to go to the original article.

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. . .

The social construction of race is made Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 8.11.33 PMevident when we see how the boundaries and distinctions that supposedly distinguish one race from another are unclear. Additionally, this is made clear when “official” categories, that seem fixed, are altered. The first of two tools that I have found to clearly demonstrate the social construction of race to students is a series of photographs from National Geographic.

The series consists of 25 photographs of people that do not identify as a single race. One of the exercises I do in class is have students try to identify the person’s race in a few of the photos. This does two things, one it reinforces the fact that race categories are based on superficial physical characteristics rather than deeply distinguishing genetic variation. Staring at the photos, we are perplexed by the lack of Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 8.12.01 PMa distinct racial category and left digging for clues…”Well their skin tone makes me think this, but their hair…” The second thing it does is make clear, that where one race category begins and the other ends, is not clear…even if the labels are distinct.

Under each photograph it provides the person’s name, age, city and self identified racial category, ranging from “Blasian” (half Black half Asian) to “human being” , as well as the box(es) they checked on the last US Census form.

Speaking of the US census form, this is the other tool I use to show how race is in flux rather than fixed. Question 8 and 9 of the 2010 short form deal with ethnicity and race. In 2000, it was the first time that people were allowed to check more than one box. In 2010, 9 million people, up from 6.8 million in 2000, checked more than one box to identify their race/ethnicity. [read the US Census’ own pdf report HERE].

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So, in 1990 you had to chose one box on the document that officially counts the population of the US. A decade later, your race could have “officially” changed. The Census Bureau is considering additional changes. According to the Pew Research Center the form under consideration for 2020 would combine race and ethnicity questions into a single question.

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The goal is to decrease the number of people who check, “some other race”. Quick…get people back into a box!

One of the best exploration of changes in the US Census racial categorization over a century is Sharon M. Lee’s article in Ethnic and Racial Studies, “Racial classification in the US census: 1890-1990”. It is a good read for all, including undergraduates.

Teach well, it matters.

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Why don’t we eat dogs? That question Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.32.32 PMwill always get student’s attention. The definitions of “appropriate” food are socially constructed and it is often only through norm violations that we see how much stronger the sociological forces are compared to actual biological limitations of the calories available to us. (In a previous post I provided resources for making norm violations for cell phone use clear.)

The first tool to help us see the social and cultural forces at work in our food choices is a spoof website called “Pets or Food”. The no defunct site seemed to offer the sale animals that one could purchase as either…you guessed it...pets or food.

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Our sense of the “natural” is jolted by reframing what we see as lovable pets into meat that is “just the right size for a pit barbecue.” Cows, chickens, and pigs are food that come in the form of steaks, burgers, strips, ribs, and hot dogs. Beagles on the other hand are pets that we call by name, buy accessories for, and snuggle on the couch with. From a caloric (biological) standpoint, we COULD eat dogs. Culturally, in the US, most find the idea repulsive.

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Guinea pigs are one those animals that are given different meanings in different cultural contexts. In the US, they are consider pets. In the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes they are important sources of protein. They are small, single-meal-sized (requires no refrigeration like a side of beef), rapidly reproducing animals. While traveling in Peru a number of years ago, I distinctly remember seeing sacks full of live guinea pigs in the market for sale along side fruits and vegetables.

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An NPR story explores guinea pig consumption in Peru and their emergence in South American focused restaurants in the US.

You can bring this directly into the classroom with edible bugs – again, a source of protein that is culturally off limits in the US, but biologically possible. I found them at the grocery store once and you can order them online.

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Crickets, grubs, and termites are all eaten in other counties, often as delicacies. In western Kenya, the site of much of my research, the first rains of the season bring out swarms of termites from their large earthen mounds that dot the landscape. A flashlight in the dark night attracts the termites. People collect them and sauté then up with a little oil and salt. They taste like popcorn. See this Budget Travel essay for pictures of 13 edible (and eaten) insects from around the world.

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Yes, it is biologically required that we eat. What we could eat is much broader than the cultural limits that define what we should eat and what we would even find appetizing. We will only understand this by using our sociological imagination.

An additional resource:

Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society by Alan Beardsworth and Teresa Keil

Bon appetit.

Teach well, it matters.