Photo by Steven Guzzardi, Flickr CC

Another U.S. Independence Day came and went, along with cheers of ‘Murcia! and sentimental Facebook posts about American pride. But how do racial and ethnic minorities experience being “American” while systemic racial oppression continues to target people of color in the U.S.? A lot of the focus has been on the experiences of Black Americans, but social science shows that other racial minorities are similarly marginalized when they are excluded from whiteness.

For example, while stereotypes like the “model minority” myth seemingly valorize Asian American achievement, other stereotypes exclude them from the “American” label by depicting them as foreign. Moreover, Asian Americans are a pan-ethnic group – meaning there are many nationalities included under the umbrella term “Asian American.”  And darker-skinned, poorer Asians, like Cambodian refugees, are excluded from characterizations of excellence and success.
Even though many Arab Americans have lighter skin, enjoy middle class success, and identify as White, they are still “not quite White” because of the ways they are racialized. Negative stereotypes about Arab people as “backward” and “uncivilized” have resurfaced in recent years as the racialization of Arab and Muslim men as criminals and threats to national security became mainstream talking points in the War on Terror.
Institutions may also dismiss important differences among various Black ethnic groups. For Somalis who come to America, it is often the first time they are considered Black. However, their religion, language, and cultural identities may be more salient, differentiating them as “foreign” from Black Americans.
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In recent months, Facebook faced intense scrutiny due to the streaming of violent acts on their live streaming service. Beyond the live sharing of violent crimes, the proliferation of social media has transformed criminal activity, ranging from the advent of cyberbullying to the widespread dissemination of terrorist propaganda and recruitment. And social science research also suggests that gang members are also employing social media. These gang affiliates, typically adolescents and young adults, use their online presence to promote their gang identity and gain notoriety, in a phenomenon often called “cyberbanging.”

Gang members use the internet at equal rates and in similar ways to their non-gang peers, but their online behavior serves an additional symbolic purpose: demonstrating a gang affiliation. A survey of 137 adolescent gang members found that 74% reported using the internet to show or gain respect for their gang. Therefore, the Internet does not appear to be a tool that gang members use to further the interests of their group by recruiting members or promoting activities; rather, the web is a space for existing members to demonstrate and solidify gang status by watching videos of gang fights or posting taunts against competing gangs. Gang members are increasingly aware that the police monitor their activity online, so they attempt to avoid posting anything publicly about specific criminal acts, which could threaten the gang as whole.
Like other groups, however, the social organization of gangs determines their behavior both offline and online. Gangs that have been around longer, have an established hierarchy, and have a set of rules and responsibilities are more likely to have a website and organize or post activities online, while newer gangs are more likely to use the internet as a recruitment tool. This pattern would be predicted by sociological research on organizations , which finds that the social context of a group’s founding shapes its future development. Preliminary evidence also suggests that gang members are engaging in more online criminal activity, such as pirating music or selling drugs, than non-gang or former gang members, but this online criminal activity is, as expected, more common among those with higher levels of computer skills. Despite these emergent trends, we still know very little about how gangs use the internet and what role social media plays in gang culture and crime. Gang researchers are therefore looking beyond “gangbanging” on the streets and into the “cyberbanging” on the web.
Cartogram of Total Disenfranchisement Rates by State, 2016. The Sentencing Project.

Amy Bach, a lawyer and criminal justice journalist, built a free public tool titled “Measures for Justice” that contains data on over 300 county court systems in 6 states. The nonprofit has received funding from the burgeoning activism of the tech community — Google gave Measures for Justice a grant for $1.5 million dollars and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative recently announced they would be awarding the nonprofit $6.5 million. Due to the fragmented nature of the criminal justice system, the Measures for Justice research team frequently had to travel to individual counties in order to request records.

Sociologists who study punishment have long recognized the importance of geography in structuring disadvantage, at multiple levels. For instance, there are tremendous differences between states in the scope and impact of felon voting restrictions. Florida, for instance, contains 27% of all disenfranchised felons in the United States—in large part due to its policy of disenfranchising people after they have completed their sentences.. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and Maine allow even prisoners to vote.  Another way that geography structures punishment is through children’s experiences of parental incarceration, which varies substantially by region. Moreover, the extent of racial disparity also varies regionally, with African American children experiencing the highest risks in all regions, and Latinos experiencing the most disadvantage in the West and Northeast.   
In a similar vein, even new forms of cybercrime are structured by geography. Sociologists have recently started to explore how these new types of crimes, such as cyber-victimization, are shaped by state-level characteristics.
These efforts could prove useful for scholars and for the public. For example, Measures for Justice developed a “Fair Process” indicator, which is closely tied to the social science concept of procedural justice — the idea that citizens will be more likely to comply with the law and requests of law enforcement if they perceive the system as fair. Recently, reforms and police training based on procedural justice have begun to be widely implemented.

Veronica Horowitz is a Ph.D Candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies punishment, mercy, and gender in the U.S. criminal justice system.

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Last month, a Texas law enforcement officer opened fire on a van of several Black teenage boys, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. His death reminded many of the cell phone footage showing a Los Angeles off-duty white officer dragging a 13-year-old Latino boy by the collar while pointing a gun, or the McKinney, TX officer who drew his gun on multiple Black youth at a pool party in 2015. During media coverage of Edwards’ death, the media emphasized his honor roll status and the fact that he was a “good student,” and thus not deserving of this treatment. This is not always the way mistreatment of minority youth is framed, however, and sociological research on youth victimization finds that minority youth are often excluded from the category of “true” or “ideal” victimhood, which ultimately works to legitimize their victimization.

Societal notions of childhood characterize children as innocent and pure in contrast to the deviant adult world. Society employs these images of innocence to address children’s vulnerability to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. However, when children’s behaviors contradict traditional notions of innocence and purity, adults tend to exclude them from the social and legal protection that childhood often affords. 
This inclusion and exclusion of some children from social and legal protection is highly racialized. Images of childhood innocence and victimization typically feature mainstream images of white girls and boys, leaving minority children excluded. Not only that, schools and law enforcement view Black and Latino boys as dangerous and often ignore or downplay their everyday experiences of violence.
Despite encountering high levels of street and interpersonal violence, Black and Latina girls’ victimization remains largely neglected in comparison to their white female peers. Minority girls living in high crime environments often feel pressure from adults to adhere to notions of being “good girls.” Yet, to survive such environments, many minority girls feel they must forgo traditional feminine roles and engage in physical confrontations with other girls and/or men. In doing so, they are criminalized, depicted as bad girls and “ghetto chicks,” and excluded from societal ideals of victimhood.
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A stage play inspired by early boxing great Barbara Buttrick recently premiered in the United Kingdom. The play, title Mighty Atoms (after one of Buttrick’s nicknames, “The Mighty Atom of the Ring”), marks a departure in the history of women in boxing, away from condemnation towards acceptance, and has important implications for how we think about gender and women in sport.

Women participating in fights goes back to at least the 1700’s, in the form of Elizabeth Wilkinson, the “European Championess,” who competed in bare-knuckle boxing matches in the streets of London. Her combination of showmanship and fighting prowess made her popular in fighting circles. Still, for many, Wilkinson represented an awful kind of brutalism that lessened the value of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, in the United States, women boxers were seen as a side-show, forced to compete alongside snake charmers and trapeze artists in American carnivals.
Sport scholars have shown that these ideas are stereotypes about women in boxing continue today. While often used to marginalize or exclude women from the sport, they can also provide a source of identity and meaning for female fighters.
Finally, it is worth noting then even when women’s boxing was finally included in the 2012 Olympic Games in London–the site of this week’s theatrical premier–the addition was met with opposition.
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Sex education is a contentious subject in U.S. politics. Before Obama’s presidency, the federal government only funded abstinence education, but in 2009 Obama created the Office of Adolescent Health and diverted some of these funds to create an approved list of practices shown to prevent teen pregnancy (several sources show abstinence-only education does not) through research. With Trump as president, the future of sex ed is an open question, but sociologists can offer some insight regarding what we already know.

Public sex education or “social hygiene” appeared in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century in response to concerns about increasing urbanization and growing sexual temptations. During the 1960s and 70s, sexual cultures in the U.S. underwent further shifts, influenced by feminism, youth culture, and the gay rights movement. However, anxieties about sex, especially for youth in the U.S., remained. Debates about what kind of sex education to provide for youth seemed to occur between two poles — sexual liberals who supported a comprehensive sex education in schools and sexual conservatives who supported abstinence-only education. 
No matter which type of sex education is implemented, sex ed is ultimately about regulating youth sexuality. Political actors and popular conversations alike frame youth sex as a social problem that requires intervention. Much of this discourse focuses on sex as a danger for children and young adults. Thus, sex education in the U.S. draws on an assumption of risk, relying on prevention-based education.
However, sex educators and the curriculum they use do not assume all children are equally innocent or at risk. Scholars show that sex education often draws on racial stereotypes of youth of color as sexually deviant. Youth of color are “adultified” and thus perceived as more sexual than their white peers. For instance, teachers often characterize African American girls as sexually opportunistic and assume Latina teens are inherently at risk of teen pregnancy. Further, boys are assumed to be sexually aggressive, and girls are held responsible for dealing with boys’ desires.
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Today we are featuring a guest post by students at Oberlin College, who submitted a #TROT post as part of an active learning exercise for their political sociology class, taught by Professor Christi Smith. If you or your students would like to submit a post, please email    

In today’s contentious political climate, campus political environments have become hotbeds of activism. In addition to the recent slew of (sometimes violent) demonstrations protesting conservative speakers on campuses, some conservative students report that they feel physically endangered by the fervor of their liberal peers. This is leading many to keep a low profile about their political views, or some to even transfer. Others, however, are becoming highly defensive, polarizing, and contrarian in their political views, and are more likely to become a “firebrand” of conservatism as a result of their experience. Sociological research shows how these trends are not entirely new, and a college’s institutional culture can shape conservatives’ attitudes and activism.

We traditionally assume that young adults tend to be more liberal, and then grow more conservative as they get older. Yet political views are more contingent on the act of rebelling versus conforming. Classic sociological research shows that conservative students  in the 60s often followed the views of their parents, while more liberal students said they were actively rebelling against theirs.
More recent studies focus on mobilization in college conservative movements, finding that institutional features of different schools can change how these groups express their beliefs. College professors tend to be more liberal, due to their advanced educational backgrounds, the disparity between their level of education and their income, and their demographic trend towards identifying with more liberal religious chapters. Some schools foster a culture of dialogue where conservative students can engage these ideas as equals, while other, often larger, schools create an environment where confrontational activism is the best way to be heard.
Secular Hall Lamp, Leicester. Photo by Chris Hoare, Flickr CC

President Trump recently signed an executive order that removes the financial threat churches face when their leaders publicly support a political candidate. While many argue that the order is largely symbolic and too narrow to mean any real change, others think it went too far, and the order has sparked discussions about the proper place of religion in what many see as an increasingly secular country. Long-standing discussions among social scientists about the meaning and measurement of “secularization” help put Trump’s order in context and reveals the complexity of religion’s role in American society.

At its most general, secularization is defined as the process whereby the political and/or societal significance of religion and its institutions wane slowly and religion becomes differentiated from the secular public spheres of social and political life. But the way religiosity is measured in studies of secularization matters. For example, while many have pointed to a decline in church attendance, or behavior, in both the U.S. and Britain as indicators of secularization, others argue that this trend has not resulted in a loss of religious beliefs.
Social scientists typically measure religiosity using the “3 Bs” approach — belief, belonging, and behavior. This approach accounts for the different ways that religious individuals hold religious beliefs, belong to and identify with specific religious belief systems and denominations, and enact those beliefs and belongings through behaviors like prayer, religious service attendance, and fasting. Individuals can combine the “3 Bs” in a multitude of ways, and while some “believe but don’t belong,” and others “belong but don’t believe,” an increasing number of individuals eschew religious beliefs, belongings, and behaviors entirely.
Similarly, scholars have identified multiple “levels” of secularization: religious decline, differentiation of secular and religious spheres, and the privatization of religion. While the traditional conceptualization of secularization assumes that each level is linked, some argue that each is a distinct process and that one does not necessarily lead to the other. Trump’s recent executive order is a step towards the deprivatization of religion in the U.S, where religious groups are stepping back into public life and engaging in political and social debates more than they have in the past. But this deprivatization can and is happening alongside trends of religious decline, as the U.S is also seeing increased religious disaffiliation among younger generations.  
Photo by Jeremy Nixon, Flickr CC

Today we are featuring a guest post by students at Oberlin College, who submitted a #TROT post as part of an active learning exercise for their political sociology class, taught by Professor Christi Smith. If you or your students would like to submit a post, please email    

Lobbying is defined by the United States Senate as “the practice of trying to persuade legislators to propose, pass, or defeat legislation or to change existing laws,” and lobbyists get paid to advocate on behalf of the private sector, corporations, government officials, and other interest groups. This political activity takes place at all levels of government. While lobbying as a way to engage with the government is interpreted as free speech, and is thus protected by the Constitution, the ethics of lobbying are much debated due to the unequal socioeconomic power and influence certain individuals and groups can have. Recent sociological research helps provide some perspective on the extent of lobbying in U.S. policymaking.

Corporate lobbying is one of the chief means by which businesses exercise political power in the United States. Corporate lobbying is not easily reducible to firms’ size and market interests, but rather includes their internal capacity for evaluating policy issues, participation in business policy networks, legacies of previous engagement, and economic circumstances. Firms that lobby have annual sales that are nearly four times higher on average than those who do not. More heavily regulated industries that are dependent on government contacts tend to lobby more often. And corporate influence is especially effective in influencing tax policy, financial deregulation, and anti-union activities by advocating for more political restrictions on unionization.
Lobbying can raise awareness and create urgency about certain issues. Professional lobbyists can have a greater impact than mass movements by participating at the early stages of the policy process and shaping the content of legislative content. But does it work? It is difficult to measure the actual direct impact of lobbying, as much of this activity takes place through private conversations and interpersonal encounters. In contrast, most nonprofits use indirect lobbying rather than the direct lobbying used by business and unions. For congressional voting patterns, interest groups’ lobbying influence is actually quite modest. It is actually less effective than protest is in advocating for certain policies regarding issues like civil rights and environmental sustainability, and it is less productive than whistleblowing in monitoring policy implementation. In short, the role of lobbying efforts in shifting the long-term priorities and resources of political institutions is still largely unknown.
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Public outrage about missing Black and Latina girls struck the nation’s capital in March, with many calling the number of missing girls of color a crisis. While the number of disappearances has not risen considerably in recent years, and there weren’t actually 14 Black girls missing in 24 hours in DC, the question is an important one for sociological analysis. Who is considered a “victim” of violent crime and whose victimization goes unnoticed?  

Whites, particularly white women, are the most likely to be framed as victims of crime. Take laws named after victims in the U.S. (e.g., Megan’s law) — while Blacks suffer far more victimization from violent crime than whites, of the 51 laws named after victims in the U.S. from 1990-2016, 86.3% are named after white victims. Only four are named after Black victims, and three after Hispanic victims. Additionally, 65% of these laws were named after female victims.
The construction of whites as victims and Blacks as offenders extends to the reaction of law enforcement when girls are reported as runaways. Scholars argue that running away from home is particularly gendered, pointing to the high number of girls that run away compared to boys and their reasons for running away. Of girls that were considered runaways in the U.S. from 1997-2003, Black and Hispanic girls were significantly more likely to have a runaway charge than white girls. White girls were more likely to get off with a warning.
Similarly, Black girls are more likely to be punished in schools. A recent study showed that Black girls are three times more likely than white girls to get an office referral, a higher likelihood than white boys in the same school. Black girls also got referrals for more ambiguous infractions like dress code violations or disobedience.

What does all of this mean in the context of missing Black girls? It means that institutions, like schools and law enforcement, are far more likely to criminalize Black girls than their white counterparts, which means that they are less likely to see them as victims.