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Captain America: Symbol of White Privilege?

In this essay, Jesse Weiss evaluates the symbolic representation of Marvel Comic’s Captain America as depicted in the recent film Captain America: Civil War. Drawing from the research of Peggy McIntosh, Weiss explains that Captain America can be seen as a symbol of white privilege.

Never has fiction seemed more representative of my reality than it is now. As voting results from the 2016 Presidential election came in, they indicated that working class white voters exerted themselves in support the Republican candidate. Making up almost one third of the electorate, whites without a college degree overwhelmingly voted Republican, representing a 14 percent increase from 2012. It could be argued that this election was meant to reassert white privileges that some may believe were lost in the last eight years of the Obama Administration. While some rejoice, others protest in what seems to be an ideological war of words, prompting many to make sense of “what is going on.” Is it possible that some of the answers lie in the pages of the comics and the movies based on them?

In 2006 and 2007, Marvel published a series of comic books that pitted two iconic heroes against each other in a battle of powers and ideologies. On one side was Captain America, the performance enhanced super soldier and defender of truth, justice, and the American way. On the other side was Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist with a technologically advanced suit of armor. The ideological clash between the two divided the Marvel Universe right down the middle and centered on who should have the power to regulate the actions of superheroes. Fast forward ten years and this comic book event came to be depicted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War.

Captain America: Civil War was widely praised and millions saw the movie in their local cinemas in the summer of 2016. I, like many others, not only saw the film in the theater but also when it was released on DVD later that fall. It was upon this second viewing that I came to see the plot of the film differently. Maybe it was the way that the 2016 Presidential election catapulted race back into the public consciousness or the fact that I just lectured about it in class, but I started to see Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) differently. The hero of the film may actually represent something that many experience but few discuss openly. Is it possible that Steve Rogers may not protect the interests of Americans, at least not all of Americans? Could it be that Captain America is actually a symbol of what sociologist Peggy McIntosh (1988) calls privilege?

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As Marijuana Becomes Legal, The Legacy of Structural Racism Still Haunts Many

In this essay, Beverly Yuen Thompson describes the structural racism created by the War on Drugs era and shows how the racial inequality it created may continue to disproportionately oppress people of color in the emerging legal marijuana economy.

While the 2016 U.S. presidential election will be remembered by history for the shocking election of Donald Trump for president, it should also be remembered for the 8 states that voted to legalize marijuana for adult and medical use. Continuing the trajectory established by the previous two elections, marijuana legalization increased its momentum by passing eight of the nine initiatives put forth. Medical marijuana became legal in Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas, and Florida, bringing the national total to twenty-eight states (plus Washington D.C.). Four states legalized marijuana for adult-use: California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine, doubling the total to eight states nationally. Only one state rejected an adult-use legalization measure: Arizona. However, after this election multiple questions surrounding legalization remain. For instance, what will be done for individuals previously convicted or currently imprisoned on marijuana charges. Furthermore, how will our legal system treat felons seeking employment in this now legal industry?

The New Jim Crow and Structural Racism

“After 40 years of impoverished black men getting prison time for selling weed, white men are planning to get rich doing the same things. So, that’s why I think we have to start talking about reparations for the war on drugs. How do we repair the harms caused?”

–Michelle Alexander (2014)

Jim Crow laws enforced continued segregation of African Americans from white Americans in places such as public schools, restaurants, hotels, and rest rooms, after the Reconstruction period, and lasted until they were challenged in the mid–1960s by the Civil Rights Movement. Michelle Alexander points out in her book The New Jim Crow, that the drug war has been overwhelmingly oriented towards disenfranchising Black Americans convicted of possessing narcotics.

Jim Crow laws and the “War on Drugs” demonstrate how structural racism is enacted. While we may think of racism as an individual’s biased perception of other people, structural racism demonstrates that institutions themselves can uphold racism, such as segregated public places or discrimination against those seeking home mortgages. A modern example of structural racism can be found in the “good moral character” clause that bars many people of color from the legal marijuana industry….

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Systematic Solutions for Systematic Problems:
Or How TRIO Programs Changed My Life.

In this piece, Nathan Palmer tells us how TRIO programs changed the course of his life and asks us to think about how systematic inequalities require systematic solutions.

Walking into the conference room, I knew I was in trouble. It was the summer of 1997 and I was taking summer school classes to make up for a bad semester my junior year of high school. Everything in the room reeked of the 1970s, from the shaggy orange carpet to the earth tone curtains and the giant square conference table made of real hardwood. At the far end of that table sat my math teacher and the director of the Upward Bound program that was paying for my summer school classes.

“Do you know why we’ve called you in today, Nate?” The director asked. I remember she had stringy brown hair and how her presence alone intimidated me. All summer I had dodged her eye contact. “My grades,” I said to the floor.

“No. We brought you in to talk about college.” Surprise snapped my head up from the floor. “Mr. Jones and I have been talking, and we think the only thing standing between you and a college education is… well, you.” At that moment, I was failing Mr. Jones remedial math class, so I was more than a bit taken aback. “You’re too smart, Nate, to be earning grades like this,” she said sliding my math test across the table towards me. The circled cherry red D+ next to my name made me feel like Hester Prynne.

“You’re not studying. You’re not doing your homework until 10 minutes before class starts.” The exasperation in Mr. Jones voice felt familiar. “You’re not trying in the slightest, and it pisses me off.” My hands clenched into fists reflexively. At 17, after spending a decade in the special education program, I was more than prepared me for situations like this. I knew how to appear dutiful without actually listening. I had a stock pile of snappy comebacks cocked and ready for classmates who called me retarded[1].

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A Sociologist Visits an Art Museum: Race, Art, and Selfies

When a sociologist visits an art museum, what do they see? In this instance, Stephanie Medley-Rath connects the racial composition of the place to the artwork on display and the photography behavior of the patrons. In particular, what are the norms of selfie-taking? 

I recently visited the Art Institute of Chicago. I went with the purpose of seeing the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit. While the Van Gogh exhibit was interesting and very crowded (too crowded to be enjoyable IMO), I also explored some of the other highlights of the museum. I did not tour the whole museum due to limitations on time and the stamina of the seven-year-old with me. My observations are limited to only those exhibits I saw on a Saturday afternoon Easter weekend of 2016.

One thing that immediately struck me at the art institute was how race mattered in the museum space. Among the visitors, I saw a sea of mostly white faces and bodies. Among the museum protection staff (i.e., security officers), I saw nearly all black faces and bodies. The museum protection staff are to remain mostly invisible. They are there to protect the art. They are quick to gently remind visitors to not use flash photography or stand too close to the art. Otherwise, they stand in place and do not interact with the patrons. The racial composition of those working in the museum and those visiting the museum was similar to my observations at a St. Louis Cardinal’s game in 2012. In other words, it is hardly noteworthy because the racial difference between those who are serving and those being served is normative in cities that are highly racially segregated like St. Louis and Chicago (which is the third most segregated city in the nation)….

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Racial Educational Inequality & The Importance of Affirmative Action

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for university admissions offices to consider an applicant’s race when making enrollment decisions. In this piece, Nathan Palmer discusses why racial educational inequality remains a problem and the role affirmative action plays in addressing it.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Texas may continue to consider a student’s race when it decides who to admit. After her application was denied in 2008, Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas arguing that as a White woman, her race was an unfair and unconstitutional impediment to her pursuit of a college degree.

Last year outside the courthouse, Fisher said, “Like most Americans, I don’t believe that students should be treated differently based on their race.” While on the surface, this argument may seem straightforward and sensible, it ignores the fact that race affects how students are treated from kindergarten through college.

Racial Inequality in Education

In the United States educational inequality is produced on two fronts: within the schools students attend and within the homes they return to after the final bell. White students are more likely to attend schools that are better funded and offer more educational resources opportunities than their peers of color (Kozol 1991; 2005, Lafortune, Rothstein, and Schanzenbach 2016; Reardon, Kalogrides, Shores 2016; Roscigno, Tomaskovic-Deveym, Crowley 2006). Schools with higher funding can afford to provide their students with state-of-the-art resources, more advanced placement (AP) courses, and a wider array of extracurricular activities. All of which give their disproportionately white graduates an advantage over students from less well funded schools in the competition for admission to the most prestigious universities. This is a form of inequality that is created by the public policy choices of state and local leaders. We could choose to fund all schools and students equally, but we don’t.

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Activewear Everywhere: The Sociology of Conspicuous AthLeisure

In this post Nathan Palmer explains why increases in sales of athletic clothing haven’t corresponded to increases increased participation in athletics by discussing Veblen’s theory of the leisure class.

When I was a kid, the saying was, “if you leave your house in sweatpants you’ve given up on life.” My how things have changed. Today sales of athletic clothing have been booming, celebrities like Kate Hudson and Beyonce have their own athletic fashion lines, and wearing your workout clothes outside of the gym is increasingly become the norm.

The days of wearing $8 Hanes drawstring sweats are over [1]. Today, many customers will gladly pay over $100 for a pair of Nike sweatpants. Sweat pants have even gone “high fashion” with runway models strolling down the catwalk in $800 sweatpants(!).

Ready to say, “no duh”? Well, here you go; most of the people buying these athletic clothes aren’t exercising in them. This fashion trend is often called athleisure, because these athletic clothes are often worn by people who aren’t working out. For instance, in the Wall Street Journal Germano found that sales of yoga apparel grew approximately 45% in 2013, but yoga participation that same year only grew 4.5%. In many social circles, it has already become the norm to wear athleisure clothes in everyday situations, and some journalists have suggested that wearing sweatpants at the office or yoga pants in a board meeting may soon become the norm.

Athleisure & Symbolic Fitness

Symbolic interaction is a sociological theory that examines how we use symbols to communicate with one another who each of us is and what each of us thinks is going on at the moment. Dramaturgy, which is a more specific theory within symbolic interaction, argues that every second of the day we are performing our identities. We use costumes, props, settings, and movement to perform for one another. From this perspective, our bodies are like walking billboards that tell those around us who we are and where our place is within social hierarchies.

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When (not) to Talk About Money

In this piece, Sarah Ford examines the process of socialization in to norms about money.

Recently I was at dinner with my family and a friend’s family. During our weekly family dinner date, my daughter’s friend Mister T[1] crowed,

“… and my grandma also gave me fifty dollars!”

His mother glared at him. He, like a typical nine-year-old, was oblivious until she asked him, “Why am I upset with you?”

He hung his head. “Because I was talking about money.”

“That’s right. It’s not polite to talk about money. We don’t do it.”

Inside this little mother-son exchange we can see a lot of socialization taking place.

Socialization and Developing Your Generalized Other

Socialization is the process through which we learn our culture’s values and norms (the ways that we translate those values into behavior). The process of socialization begins at birth, if not before, and goes on throughout our lives. The first “agent of socialization” that we come into contact with is our family, and they take primary responsibility for making sure we can get along in society.

Many of the lessons of social interaction that we learn from our families and other early agents of socialization are relatively concrete. We learn not to hit people when we don’t get our way, we learn basic table manners, and even infants understand turn-taking in conversation.

According to George Herbert Mead, one of the key components of socialization is learning to “take on the role of the other”. This means that we learn to see situations from the perspective of other interactants, and to anticipate and respond to their interpretations of our actions. When we teach children not to hit each other, for example, we make this explicit by pointing out to them that hitting hurts their friends and asking whether they would like to be hit in a similar situation….

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Teacher to Steph Curry: I Love You, But Please
Don’t Visit My High School

Matt Amaral, a teacher in the San Francisco Bay area and life long Warriors fan, wrote an open letter to Steph Curry where he asked the NBA MVP not to come visit his high school. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses Mr. Amaral’s letter to examine social inequality and the Weber’s concept of life chances.

Just days after Steph Curry was named the 2015 NBA MVP, Matt Amaral, a high school english teacher and lifelong Golden State Warriors fan, wrote an open letter on his blog titled “Dear Steph Curry, Now That You Are MVP Please Don’t Come Visit My High School”. And you can’t dismiss Mr. Amaral as merely a hater; in his letter he makes it clear that he loves Curry as a player and as a person.

Yet despite his admiration, Amaral argues that, “Coming to poor high schools like mine isn’t going to help any of these kids out, in fact, it might make things worse.” Amaral explains that he isn’t afraid of what Curry will say to his students, but rather he fears what the MVP won’t say.

You see, Steph (I hope you don’t mind if I call you Steph), if you come to my school you will be your usual inspiring, humble, hilarious, kind self and you will say all the right things. But the reason I don’t want you to come has to do with what you won’t say.

You won’t say that since the day you were born you had a professional one-on-one tutor who helped you hone your skills on a daily basis. Your father Dell Curry was an NBA great just like you are after him, but you will not remind the poor kids at my school that they have never had such a wonderful instructor and they never will.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Social Construction of Cosmetically Challenged Food

Have you ever bought a potato that looked like Abraham Lincoln’s face, an eggplant that had arms to hug you with, or an orange with a strange growth? Why is it that in America, we pass over “ugly” produce that is nutritionally sound in favor of pretty produce? In this post, Ami Stearns argues that the designation of our fruit and vegetables as edible or non-edible has been socially constructed.

In America, a quarter to a third of all food grown is simply never eaten. In fact, much of it is discarded before it even has the chance to reach the grocery store shelves. When organic “trash” is added to a landfill, dangerous methane gas is produced, which is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. Not only is trashing organic matter dangerous, it is a moral and ethical issue as well. According to Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland, twenty-five percent of the food that Americans waste would provide three daily meals to over 40 million people. We are a culture that celebrates throwing things away as a symbol of high status. American sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote about our consumer culture in the late 1800’s, arguing that the higher one’s social standing, the more one should consume, discard, and consume again.

Our throw-away culture replaces phones not when they wear out but when a new one is introduced, and also re-creates this behavior with food. Because we live in an environment of excess, we are free to be wasteful. Food waste is an issue at all levels, from individual families to mega-corporations. The average family throws out food that costs them $1,365 to $2,275 per year. The food waste that restaurants discard is now equal to approximately 15% of the average landfill waste. A full 20% of crops grown are turned away by grocery stores based on the cosmetic appearance of the fruits and vegetables.

The Ugly Fruit Movement

Grocery stores insist on a certain “perfect” look for their produce. Skin discolorations and other unsightly blemishes, shapes, or textures are deemed not fit for the fruit and vegetable aisle. Many good-looking tomatoes make it all the way to the grocery store loading dock only to be rejected due to bumping and bruising from the long trip. Because this practice leads to so much waste, food activists have begun raising awareness about the waste of perfectly good, unattractive food. Let’s call it the ugly fruit movement….

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Your Spring Break Location is Often Determined by
Your Social Location

In this piece, April Schueths challenges the stereotype of spring break debauchery and asks us to consider how our spring break plans reflect the social stratification/inequality in the United States.

“What are you doing for spring break?” We all know the spring break stereotype of unruly beachfront debauchery; watch Jon Stewart break down Fox News’s “Exposing Spring Break” to see the stereotype in action. A stereotype is “a simplified and often negative generalization about a group (i.e., college students) that is often false or exaggerated” (Manza, Arum, and Haney 2013: A–11). Clearly, some students will head to the beach, and some will even engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, law violations, etc. Yet, it’s simply not true that all college students will do so.

It turns out that many students spend their time productively, volunteering or visiting family while others will take the time to work or catch up on coursework. It is interesting that students’ perception of what their peers are doing on spring break do not match their own self-reported plans.

Spring Break & Social Stratification

We also have to acknowledge that for many students, spending a crazy week at Daytona beach isn’t something they can afford. Some students have fewer spring break options than others. Low-income and working-class students often have difficulty even paying for the basic costs of higher education (i.e., books, housing, food, etc.) and thus work more than their higher income counterparts. Soria, Weiner, and Lu (2014: 14) point out:

“Low-income and working-class students face continued financial challenges while enrolled in college and are more likely to make decisions based on financial needs, rather than educational ones.” In addition, he majority of college students raising children and caring for family members work full-time while attending school.

The point is that the spring break stereotype is built on top of another stereotype; the false idea that all college students are 18–24 year olds without jobs or kids who have family money and student loans to pay for everything. If you fit that stereotype, then cheers to you, but there are many of your peers who don’t. Research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2013 over a third of all full-time students aged 16–24 were employed and for part-time students the percentage jumped to over two-thirds (See chart below)….

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