It’s Black History Month, and we at TSP have rounded up some of our favorite, timeless posts about the history, meaning, and importance of celebrating black history. These #TSPClassics include articles about Black History Month itself, as well as articles about research related to racial identity, racism, and anti-racism. Read about Black scholars’ early contributions to social sciences, recent innovations in scholarship about race, ongoing issues of racism and inequality, new strategies and actions in advocacy, and much more below; happy Black History Month!

From Our Main Page

Did you know W.E.B DuBois was a pioneering sociologist? Read more at “What Would W.E.B DuBois Do?
Photo of a mural honoring black history in Philadelphia. Photo by 7beachbum, Flickr CC.
Read about black women’s advanced sociology and social science at “Unearthing Black Women’s Early Contributions to Sociology.”
Read about why the idea of a “white history month” ignores the history of race and racism at “Why We Don’t Need a White History Month.”
“Black Panther,” one of the most successful movies in the Marvel universe, was a momentous film for black representation and imagery in Hollywood. Read more at “Black Panther as a Defining Moment for Black America.”
The word “racism” can mean a lot of different things in different contexts; read about different definitions, forms, and research traditions regarding “racism” in the USA at “Different Dimensions of Racism.” 
Even in the 21st century, Black Americans have to navigate racist stereotypes, imagery, and perceptions, and many learn such strategies at a young age. Read about related parenting strategies and challenges at “How Black Mothers Struggle to Navigate ‘Thug’ Imagery.”
Recent research about black identities, experiences, and community analyzes how themes studied by early sociologists of race relate to twenty-first century technology, such as social media platforms and digital communication. Read more about these and other new research directions at “A Thick Year For Tressie McMillan Cottom.” 
Tressie Mc Millan Cottom displays her essay collection Thick, which was nominated as a National Book Award Finalist. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Black athletes represent a new generation of leaders and anti-racist advocates; read more at “A New Era of Athlete Awareness and Advocacy.” 
Should educators promote colorblind rhetoric in the classroom? Read about problems with colorblind teaching practices at “Color-Blind Classrooms Socialize Students to Disregard History.”
Research shows that skin color intersects with race and racial identity in ways which perpetuate racial inequality. Read more at “Skin Color, Self-Identity, and Perceptions of Race.” 
Social norms, rules, and laws about mixed-race relationships have changed drastically across history, but many issues of inequality and identity remain for contemporary multiracial families. Read more at “Navigating Multiracial Identities.” 
Photo of a multiracial family by taylormackenzie, Flickr CC.

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Rural Appalachia is often discussed as a mainly-white region, but did you know about the richness of black history in the mountains? Read more at “Hidden Black History in Appalachia.”
Rural sharecroppers in Appalachia. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, businesses, corporations, and groups try to celebrate Black History Month in ways which are tone-deaf, ignorant, and just plain racist. SocImages archives several cringeworthy incidents over the years at “From Our Archives: Black History Month.”


The field of sociology studies racism, but we’re not above criticism; read about why social science must divest from whiteness and white-centric logic at “Yes, Sociology is Racist Too.”
Why don’t we make WEB DuBois’ birthday a holiday? Read more at “A New Black Holiday, or Why W.E.B. DuBois’s 150th birthday matters.”
Well into the 21st century, discrepancies in the justice system are still a major site of racial inequality; read about racial inequality and policing at “Black and Blue.”
Hand holding a diamond. Photo via pxfuel.

Over one million people will get engaged on Valentine’s Day, and as a result, diamond sales usually uptick around this time. Diamonds are both historical and cultural objects; they carry meaning for many — symbolizing love, commitment, and prestige. Diamonds are highly coveted objects, and scholars have found about 90 percent of American women own at least one diamond. In the 1990s, war spread throughout West Africa over these precious pieces of carbon, as armed political groups vied for control over diamond mines and their profits.

Given their role in financing brutal West African civil wars, diamonds became associated with violence and international refugee crises, rather than financial prosperity and love. Diamonds became pejoratively known as blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, and consumers became more likely to perceive diamonds as the result of large scale violence and rape.  As a result, major diamond producers have attempted to reconstruct the symbolic meaning of diamonds, turning them into symbols of international development and hope.
As the diamond trade became immoral and socially unjust, new global norms emerged around corporate and consumer responsibility. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lobbied for the diamond industry to change their behaviors and support of conflict mines while simultaneously creating new global norms and expectations. In the early 2000s, international NGOs, governments and the diamond industry came together to develop the Kimberley Process — to stop the trade of conflict diamonds. Today, 75 countries participate, accounting for 99% of the global diamond trade. 
Bieri & Boli argue that when NGOs urge companies to employ social responsibility in their commercial practice, they are mobilizing a global moral order. Diamonds provide an example of how symbols, products, and meaning are socially and historically constructed and how this meaning can change over time. The case of blood diamonds also illustrates how changing global norms about what is and is not acceptable can redefine the expectations of how industries conduct business.
A student takes notes by hand. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

If you believe that taking notes longhand is better than typing (especially that typing leads to verbatim transcription but writing helps with processing ideas), you have probably seen a reference to Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). We even featured it in a TROT last fall. The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard has over 900 citations on Google Scholar, but is also a staple on Twitter, blogs, and news articles. According to Altmetric, it has been cited in 224 stories in 137 news outlets the past two years (two years after it was published), and linked to on Twitter almost 3,000 times. 

But new research suggests that its fame was premature. How Much Mightier Is the Pen than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer argues that research has not yet determined whether writing or typing is categorically better for class achievement. The new study (a direct replication of the original study) did find a slight advantage for those taking notes by hand, but unlike in the original study, the differences were not statistically significant. 
The new study also expanded the original by including a group with eWriters, an electronic form of notetaking that allows students to write on a screen. As our original blog noted, much of the research on laptops in the classroom revolves around their potential to be distractions, and research on notetaking needs to take into account advances in technology that could lead to better notetaking environments as well as assisting students with disabilities. Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson find that eWriters, although not in common use, could be a bridge between paper and the distraction-laden environment of laptops. 
Photo of ten boys sitting together all wearing matching blue football jerseys. Some have blue face paint under their eyes.
Photo by Donovan Shortey, Flickr CC

After writing several bestsellers on girls and sexuality, journalist Peggy Orenstein has turned her attention to boys. Her new book, Boys & Sex, draws from hundreds of conversations with boys and young men about how they understand and participate in sex. Many of these boys struggle with ideas about what it means to be a man and how to live up to these ideals (or not). 

A desire for sex with women is a key component of “hegemonic masculinity” — the idealized, dominant form of masculinity. From a very early age, boys learn they should desire girls. For instance, preschool teachers regularly encourage “crushes” between boys and girls in their classrooms. 
Part of the way boys can demonstrate or prove their masculinity is by talking about their sexual experiences with their peers. Another way is through putting other boys down and undermining other boys’ heterosexuality with homophobic name-calling. 
As boys enter adolescence, they face even greater pressure to have sex with girls to demonstrate their masculinity. However, many boys do not actually buy into these expectations  — some openly reject the idea that they should be having sex with girls; others simply try to avoid the subject or deflect questions about their own sexual prowess when their friends bring it up. Those who do accept that sex with girls is part of showing their manhood often struggle with feelings of inadequacy if they do not live up to these expectations. 

Both social scientists and popular authors like Peggy Orenstein are contributing to public conversations around youth sex and sexuality. Their work shows the importance of understanding and addressing the sexual expectations that come with masculinity.  

A volunteer donates blood. Photo via pxfuel.

In the past year, the American Red Cross issued several statements regarding critical blood shortages in various locations throughout the United States. Blood shortages are not unique to the United States; a recent study by the World Health Organization found 107 out of 180 countries have insufficient amounts of blood. While organizations like the American Red Cross try to remedy blood shortages, sociologists have found that blood shortages are closely related to donors’ feelings of altruism and the existing structures of donor organizations. 

Social psychologists have explained the decision to give blood in terms of altruism, acting in the interest of others, while sociologists tend to explain blood donation in terms of organizations and institutions. Voluntary donations have historically been portrayed as more desirable or as a civic duty, but scholars note that the most common reason for not giving blood is simply not being asked. They also find that personal motivations (such as a general desire to help, sense of duty, and empathy) are more likely to be strengthened with each donation, while external motivations (emergencies, peer pressure, etc.) are likely to decrease over time.
As a result, donation centers have been encouraged not to pay donors due to a fear that this would discourage altruistic givers. Paying donors also raised other concerns, such as the belief that paying donors would encourage exploitative relationships between economically unstable individuals and donation centers. Additionally, there were also fears that paid blood was unsafe blood, as it would motivate high-risk groups to lie about their status for money. 
Altruism is not random or individual, it is driven by institutions. For example, in places where the Red Cross is prevalent, people involved in religious or volunteer organizations donate the most blood. Alternatively, in countries where independent blood banks operate, this is not true. In fact, state systems, according to Healy, tend to have larger donor bases. Thus, the organizational, rather than individual desire to give, largely drives blood donations.
Photo by torbakhopper, Flickr CC

Originally published July 30, 2019.

As candidates gear up for this week’s democratic debates, constituents continue to voice concerns about the student debt crisis. Recent estimates indicate that roughly 45 million students in the United States have incurred student loans during college. Democratic candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed legislation to relieve or cancel  this debt burden. Sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom’s congressional testimony on behalf of Warren’s student loan relief plan last April reveals the importance of sociological perspectives on the debt crisis. Sociologists have recently documented the conditions driving student loan debt and its impacts across race and gender. 

In recent decades, students have enrolled in universities at increasing rates due to the “education gospel,” where college credentials are touted as public goods and career necessities, encouraging students to seek credit. At the same time, student loan debt has rapidly increased, urging students to ask whether the risks of loan debt during early adulthood outweigh the reward of a college degree. Student loan risks include economic hardship, mental health problems, and delayed adult transitions such as starting a family. Individual debt has also led to disparate impacts among students of color, who are more likely to hail from low-income families. Recent evidence suggests that Black students are more likely to drop out of college due to debt and return home after incurring more debt than their white peers. Racial disparities in student loan debt continue into their mid-thirties and impact the white-Black racial wealth gap.
Other work reveals gendered disparities in student debt. One survey found that while women were more likely to incur debt than their male peers, men with higher levels of student debt were more likely to drop out of college than women with similar amounts of debt. The authors suggest that women’s labor market opportunities — often more likely to require college degrees than men’s — may account for these differences. McMillan Cottom’s interviews with 109 students from for-profit colleges uncovers how Black, low-income women in particular bear the burden of student loans. For many of these women, the rewards of college credentials outweigh the risks of high student loan debt.
Photo of a plaque commemorating Ida B. Wells. Photo by Adam Jones, Flickr CC

As Black History month draws to a close, it’s important to celebrate the work of Black scholars that contributed to social science research. Although the discipline has begun to recognize the foundational work of scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, academia largely excluded Black women from public intellectual space until the mid-20th century. Yet, as Patricia Hill Collins reminds us, they leave contemporary sociologists with a a long and rich intellectual legacy. This week we celebrate the (often forgotten) Black women who continue to inspire sociological studies regarding Black feminist thought, critical race theory, and methodology.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was a pioneering social analyst and activist who wrote and protested against many forms of racism and sexism during the late 19th and early 20th century. She protested Jim Crow segregation laws, founded a Black women’s suffrage movement, and became one of the founding members of the NAACP. But Wells is best-known for her work on lynchings and her international anti-lynching campaign. While Wells is most commonly envisioned as a journalist by trade, much of her work has inspired sociological research. This is especially true for her most famous works on lynchings, Southern Horrors (1892) and The Red Record (1895).
In Southern Horrors (1892), Wells challenged the common justification for lynchings of Black men for rape and other crimes involving white women. She adamantly criticized white newspaper coverage of lynchings that induced fear-mongering around interracial sex and framed Black men as criminals deserving of this form of mob violence. Using reports and media coverage of lynchings – including a lynching of three of her close friends – she demonstrated that lynchings were not responses to crime, but rather tools of political and economic control by white elites to maintain their dominance. In The Red Record (1895), she used lynching statistics from the Chicago Tribune to debunk rape myths, and demonstrated how the pillars of democratic society, such as right to a fair trial and equality before the law, did not extend to African American men and women.
Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) was an avid educator and public speaker. In 1982, her first book was published, A Voice from the South: By A Black Woman of the South. It was one of the first texts to highlight the race- and gender-specific conditions Black women encountered in the aftermath of Reconstruction. Cooper argued that Black women’s and girls’ educational attainment was vital for the overall progress of Black Americans. In doing so, she challenged notions that Black Americans’ plight was synonymous with Black men’s struggle. While Cooper’s work has been criticized for its emphasis on racial uplift and respectability politics, several Black feminists credit her work as crucial for understanding intersectionality, a fundamentally important idea in sociological scholarship today.
As one of the first Black editors for an American Sociological Association journal, Jacquelyn Mary Johnson Jackson (1932-2004) made significant advances in medical sociology. Her work focused on the process of aging in Black communities. Jackson dismantled assumptions that aging occurs in a vacuum. Instead, her scholarship linked Black aging to broader social conditions of inequality such as housing and transportation. But beyond scholarly research, Jackson sought to develop socially relevant research that could reach the populations of interest. As such, she identified as both a scholar and activist and sought to use her work as a tool for liberation.

Together, these Black women scholars challenged leading assumptions regarding biological and cultural inferiority, Black criminality, and patriarchy from both white and Black men. Their work and commitment to scholarship demonstrates how sociology may be used as a tool for social justice. Recent developments such as the #CiteBlackWomen campaign draw long-overdue attention to their work, encouraging the scholarly community to cite Wells, Cooper, Jackson, and other Black women scholars in our research and syllabi.

Photo by Andrew Turner, Flickr CC

Originally posted July 8, 2019.

On July 4th, 1776, signers of the Declaration of Independence declared their intent to “dissolve the political bands” holding the United States and Great Britain together. That subtle language quells the imagery of violent revolution — over nearly a decade of warfare, thousands died in the conflict. Today, in the midst of flags and cookouts, the violence of the revolution may yet again fade to the background. But many social scientists examine such violence deeply, and in doing so showcase the power of violence to remake identity, redraw state boundaries, and bring power to marginalized groups.

Acts of violence can redefine the boundaries of groups. During crises like civil war or political upheaval, political elites may seek to unite ethnic, racial, or religious groups to consolidate power. Threats of violence may motivate these groups, for fear or for self-protection, to mobilize. Historically, these changing groups have influenced national boundaries — indigenous groups were often targeted for violent elimination in order to conquer a space for a particular identity group, or areas were conquered to make more space for a group in power. In these ways, many of the symbolic and physical boundaries in the world around us carry traces of violence.
Violence and conflict can also create opportunities for those with limited political power. Elisabeth Jean Wood, for example, analyzed how insurgent groups of impoverished and exploited workers could use organizing and sometimes violent tactics to convince powerful leaders to negotiate, thus installing democratic governments. Marie Berry examines political power in the aftermath of conflict, showing how the participation of women in traditionally male spaces after violence enabled political organizing and gains in power. Though the extent and longevity of these changes differ between conflicts, violence and its aftermath have the capacity to result in political change.
While the transformative power of violence looks different across cases, its power doesn’t exist in a vacuum — global norms and regulations around violence often impact its destructive and constructive capacities. Today’s belligerents are often aware of laws surrounding the use of violence, like regulations about who or what can be targeted and what types of strategies are permitted. To garner favor with powerful international actors, many combatants abide by these regulations. Others abide selectively, like signing onto treaties in order to partake in other forms of violence with less oversight.

In the centuries that have passed since the revolution, many Americans now think of July 4thas a day of parades and parties, as representations of conflict have faded over time. But amongst the fireworks, social science shows the centrality of violence in national histories, international relations, and the relative power of social groups. 

Student Athletes from the Sierra College Football team play in the pre-season football scrimmage at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. on August 20, 2016. (Photo by davidmoore326, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanksgiving has NFL games, Christmas has the NBA, and New Year’s has college football. This season as you sit down to watch bowl games or the college football playoff, check out some of the sociological college football research from our partner Engaging Sports

Football can be a path toward economic opportunity, but scholars find race and class patterns in who takes this risky path. For example, Black players are generally from more disadvantaged areas while white players come from more advantaged areas, perhaps indicating that white players benefit from more resources in training while financial necessity drives black players. 
Fans may not have a say in recruiting college athletes, but they certainly have strong opinions about the young athletes at their favored schools. Fans stay away from overtly racist language on message boards, but a criminal record did affect fan support of prospective athletes. 
Finally, both American football and the NCAA seem to constantly be dealing with scandal. Read the articles below for some context on current scandals within the NCAA and how the concussion crisis is affecting a number of sports. 
A woman walks alone in a dark alley. Photo by renee_mcgurk via Flickr.
While opinions of particular environments, situations, or objects may appear to be objectively dangerous or safe, sociologists argue otherwise. Instead, they find that opinions about safety are subjective. While there is a physical reality of harm and fear, beliefs about safety and danger spread through socialization, rather than direct observation. For example, Simpson notes that snakes and turtles can both cause illness and death through the transmission of venom or bacteria, yet snakes are seen as dangerous and turtles as benign. In other words, danger and safety do not exist on their own; they are contextual.
Socialized beliefs about safety and danger are also raced, classed, and gendered. While statistics indicate that men are predominantly the victims of violent crime, women express greater fear of crime. This fear often acts as a form of social control by limiting women’s daily activities, like when they leave the house and what they wear. Furthermore, the construction of fear and crime is often tied to racist legacies. In the United States, white women express prejudicial fear about areas marked as “dangerous” or “sketchy,” due to the occupation of this space by men of color.
Safety and danger are also constructed at the international level, as national security is politicized. For example, instances of large-scale political violence, such as genocide, war, and acts of terrorism revolve around the social construction of an enemy. More generally, national enemies are constructed as dangerous and a threat to the safety of a nation’s people. This construction of the enemy and perception of fear can move people to join terrorist organizations, participate in genocidal regimes, and enlist in state militaries.