Along with the national release of Dear White People earlier this month, PBS recently debuted a series with a unique take on US race relations called The Whiteness Project. Citing a lack of critical examination of whiteness and white identity as its motivation, the program conducts one-on-one interviews with white Americans “from all walks of life and localities.” In part one of the series, participants from Buffalo, NY are shown responding openly, sometimes jarringly, to questions about race, whiteness, and white privilege. Whitney Dow, the producer/director of The Whiteness Project, claims that through these interviews, the project hopes to examine “both the concept of whiteness itself and how those who identify as ‘white’ process their ethnic identity.”

Scholars from numerous disciplines have written thoughtfully and critically about Whiteness and how it pertains to U.S. race relations. Matthew M. Hughey and Matt Wray, both TSP contributors, have also written on the subject.

The new season of TV programing is sporting a decidedly more ‘colorful’ look, with non-white creators, producers, and/or lead characters being featured on a number of recently launched series. Among all the major networks, ABC appears to be contributing the most to this trend toward diversity. Not only are they signed on for another new series by famed African American producer/director/writer Shonda Rhimes, titled How to Get Away With Murder, they are also credited with reviving the TV presence of the non-white middle-class family, with new shows about African (Black-ish), Latino- (Cristela), and Asian- (Fresh off the Boat) American families. Most critics, though welcoming of this change, are hesitant to mark this as “progress.” What might social scientists think about this?

Though it’s been a few years, shows like Black-ish, Cristela, and Fresh off the Boat aren’t the first we’re seeing of non-white middle class families on TV. Herman Gray has written extensively, and critically, about television’s discourse on “diversity” and “blackness” and the role played by artists of color in the production process.
Looking more broadly, scholars like Catherine R. Squires write critically about the ways we as a supposedly “post-racial” society now consume those discourses about “diversity” and “multiculturalism” on TV:

News and images of an influx of unaccompanied child migrants have swept across the nation in recent weeks. In late June, USA Today reported that since Oct. 1, 2013, “more than 47,000 migrant kids primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” have been caught entering country through the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, government officials have estimated that this population could grow to 90,000 by the end of September. These children, many of whom have journeyed to the U.S. hoping to reunite with family, are being held in numerous southwestern detention facilities while awaiting trials to determine their fates. Most will be deported back to the countries that they fled.

Child migrants locked up and awaiting deportation, feared as future voters, pushes us to think about how the idea of “immigrant child threat” reveals the ongoing negotiation over the value of different kinds of children. So, while Clay Jenkins, a Democrat elected Dallas County judge in 2010, argues that “these are children—they are precious children,” he is expressing a contested view.

This is not the first time children have come to the U.S. based on rumors that they would be allowed to stay. Today it is cause for alarm and a desire to close borders; in the 1950s, the faulty rumors were CIA-sponsored tall tales of Communist child-eaters during Operation Peter Pan, rumors that served to get thousands of Cuban families to give up their children to foster families in Miami, never to be reunited after the Cuban Revolution.
We see how immigrant children are devalued when we compare them to another group of child migrants: transnational adoptees. Research on legislation regarding children’s citizenship argues that adoptees were granted the privilege of their adoptive parents’ citizenship while children of immigrant parents, who had arrived through official channels, could not access social citizenship rights because of their parents’ non-native status.
Society’s “value” of children changes over time and in different situations. While children were once members of household production in the 19th century—say, just another worker on the family farm—they may now be “sacralized” as priceless, if economically worthless, in the 20th century. However, as adoption scholar Laura Briggs writes on the children of deportees from the U.S., “[T]his is still a fight, a question; immigrant children are not seen as a cute, innocent, victimized population.”

For more on how immigration to the U.S. has changed over time, check out this roundtable.

2014 has been a triumphant year for gay professional athletes. Earlier this year, Jason Collins was the first openly gay player to sign a contract with the NBA. More recently, Michael Sam became first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. In a team sporting culture where camaraderie and success have traditionally been tied to masculine overtones and homophobic gestures, these and other moves have undoubtedly ushered in a new era of professional sports­­–one in which a greater number of athletes, teams, and leagues are willing to take a stance against the exclusion of players based on their sexual orientation.

Collins and Sam are bringing to light a public issue that sociologists have seen coming in a wide range of sports and social settings.
These athletes’ stories are a particularly important development in a social arena which is traditionally dominated by men and masculinity.

These trends also reflect broader shifts in gender and sexuality over the past few years. For more information on shifting norms regarding sexual orientation in other institutions, check out Kathleen Hull’s recent TSP white paper on the changing public perception of same-­sex marriage in the US.


Earlier in the week we looked at the new television series Cosmos and the fervor it caused between pro-science and pro-­religion camps. Lost within this science vs. religion debate, however, is the obvious racial angle surrounding Cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson—the series’ host—is one of the few widely-recognizable black scientific figures today. He himself has stated that there is a distinct lack of representation of African Americans in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields. What broader trends in race and science might this show illuminate?

Research affirms deGrasse Tyson’s opinions, showing that there are indeed significant inequalities in career attainments in STEM fields for women and minority groups:
Given the limited ways in which African Americans are typically represented in the media, deGrasse Tyson’s well established media presence as an African American scientist proves doubly important:


The documentary series Cosmos debuted in March with as much public opposition as fanfare­­—with some groups openly criticizing the scientific viewpoints covered on the show, and others applauding its attempts to bring science back to the mainstream. A followup to the 1980 series of the same name, Cosmos provides scientific perspectives on a number of ­oft-debated topics, such as the creation of the universe, the evolution of life on Earth, and the importance of scientific knowledge and education. Not surprisingly, much of this controversy surrounding the show has been political and/or religious in its nature. Has the show hit a fault line in American culture?

Sociologists writing about the apparent political divides between supporters of science and religion often find that there isn’t a clean divide between the two. Many scientists are religious, and their findings don’t always challenge religious claims.

Also, in a recent post in Sociology Lens, Huw C. Davies uses theory from Foucault to cut through the “religion versus science” debate and show how both institutions vie for power through “discourses of truth.”

Stay tuned for Part II of our take on Cosmos later this week, where we’ll review work on science and race in the United States. 


Arthur Chu, an Asian American insurance analyst from Cleveland, recently became an overnight celebrity after amassing a small fortune with consecutive victories on the popular and long-running game show, Jeopardy! Unfortunately, the publicity Chu received was not all positive. Instead, Chu’s winning ways incited many angry Jeopardy! fans to tweet negatively about his unorthodox style of play, supposedly smug demeanor, and his penchant to interrupt the show’s longtime host, Alex Trebek.

Fan backlash toward Jeopardy! contestants is not completely unheard of. In an op-ed on Slate, 74 time-winner Ken Jennings, for example, noted that he was all too familiar with the public ire that Chu was receiving for his success on the show. More provocatively (and sociologically), Jennings went on to suggest a “racial angle” to the hostility leveled at Chu stemming from the fact he was a “bespectacled man with rumpled shirts and a bowl cut” who played into “every terrible Asian-nerd stereotype.” Is there truth to Jennings’ critique?

Asian American men have long been portrayed in the US media as sinister and conniving threats. This in turn has has affected the racialization of Asian American men in contemporary times:
Even successful Asian American men such as professional basketball star, Jeremy Lin, have had to deal with unflattering stereotypes and racist caricatures from the media and general public:
All this connects back to what sociologists claim is the tendency for Asian Americans to be perceived as both racially inferior and culturally unassimilable:

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Well everyone, it looks like it’s that time of the year again! That time when men and women across the nation gather together in bars and living rooms to share in the great American pastime of…watching commercials? Of course, there’s that pro football game, too. But diehard fans know that the game breaks are where the real action is at. Corporations, it appears, also agree with this sentiment. Why else would they dole out around $4 million dollars for 30 seconds worth of ad time between plays? Given the Super Bowl’s chart-topping viewer ratings and its exorbitant costs for ad time, advertisers are willing to do all it takes to make their commercials leave a lasting impression. Yet, doing so is easier said than done. What kind of tactics have corporations used in the past?

Researchers argue that marketers are well aware of the male-centric bias of professional sports viewership and tend to focus products and ads that they think will appeal to them:
As times and demographics change, however, so do the ads. For instance, Super Bowl ads in the early-to-mid 2000s relied on the trope of men as “happy losers” as a way of attracting a wider audience:
In more recent years, though, researchers have noticed a backlash of sorts to the “happy loser” motif, with an increase in Super Bowl ads touting a supposed “crisis of masculinity”:
Which theme will prevail this year? Watch and find out!


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Marvel Comics recently set the comic book world abuzz after announcing the rebirth of Ms. Marvel, one of their most-famed female superheros, as a 16 year old Muslim American suburbanite named Kamala Khan. Khan, a Jersey City resident born to Pakistani immigrants, has the power to shapeshift her body. While this isn’t the first time the world has seen a female Muslim superhero, or a Muslim American superhero, it does mark Marvel Comics’ first attempts at a series with a lead Muslim protagonist. This change will undoubtedly be welcomed by many in the Muslim American community given the mostly one-dimensional portrayal of Muslims in mainstream media and art since 9/11.

While portrayals of Islam and Muslims have always been rather shallow, research indicates that they have been particularly defamatory and offensive in recent decades:
Research also shows that post 9/11 discriminatory policy and stereotyping has had a profound negative influence on the identity formation of Muslim American youth and young adults:
Image from P T via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from P T via Flickr Creative Commons

The US federal minimum wage has been a hot topic in 2013, starting with President Obama’s proposal in February to increase the federal minimum wage to $9/hour. Then, over the summer, McDonald’s was the source for national ridicule after releasing a financial planning document for its workforce that suggested employees would need to work two full-time entry level jobs in order to pay for basic monthly expenses. Most recently, thousands of fast food workers from across the nation went on strike to increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour. Is living on a minimum wage income really that tough? And if it is, why is it so difficult to simply increase it?

In most cases, living off a minimum wage income is simply not feasible, especially for single parents.
Much of the reluctance to increase the minimum wage stems from the fear that higher wages would force companies to raise prices and hire fewer employees. However, these anxieties are largely unfounded.