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.
“Who benefits?” That’s the a question critical sociologists such as Karl Marx, C. Wright Mills and more recently William Domhoff have explored. Instead of just observing the social world, critical sociologists evaluate society and work to create social change. Let’s take a look how critical sociologists apply the, who benefits question, to contemporary immigration detention in the US.
Immigration enforcement has become a top priority in the US. When non-citizens, including legal and undocumented immigrants (adults, families, and children) are picked up, they are placed in confinement until the US determines what will happen to them (i.e., deportation, asylum, etc.). Like the prison system, the US is also number one in immigration detention, detaining nearly half a million individuals each year. In the US alone, it costs around 2 billion per yer to detain immigrants and people seeking asylum.
Immigration Industrial Complex
The immigration industrial complex is the joining of the “public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric” (Golash-Boza 2009: 295). The immigration industrial complex stems from the prison industrial complex (PIC) and the military industrial (MIC) complex. Tanya Golash-Boza (2009: 306), a sociologist who studies race and immigration explains that all three of these complexes perpetuate fear, bring together powerful interests of the public and private sector, and blame disadvantaged groups. She explains:
With the military build-up during the Cold War, the ‘others’ were communists. With the prison expansion of the 1990s, the ‘others’ were criminals (often racialized and gendered as black men). With the expansion of the immigration industrial complex, the ‘others’ are ‘illegals’ (racialized as Mexicans).
Sociologists, Martinez and Slack (2013: 15) also take note of the similarities of the “mass incarceration of African Americans and the criminalization of largely brown Mestizo and indigenous undocumented migrants from Latin America. “Juan Crow” appears to be riding in on the tail feathers of Jim Crow.”
Who Benefits from the Immigration Industrial Complex?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) manages the immigration detention system and hires private companies, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and country jails to maintain detainees. Beginning in 2009, Congress implemented a yearly detention bed quota, which is currently up to 34,000 beds per year. No other law enforcement agency in the US operates on a quota system.
In this essay, Nathan Palmer discusses the scandalous environmental tragedy in Flint, Michigan and shows how the catastrophe illustrates the connection between social inequality and environmental inequality.
For over a year in Flint, Michigan, the tap water has been a disgusting brown color. For over a year, local residents have been protesting in the streets, shouting at town hall meetings, and pleading with government officials to declare an emergency and clean their tap water. For over a year, state officials told the residents that the brown water was safe to drink. But, it wasn’t. The water was highly corrosive and contaminated with lead.
How Did This Happen?
The Social Roots of Environmental Catastrophe
When I tell people that I teach environmental sociology, typically their first question to me is, “what does the environment have to do with sociology?” It is as if the natural environment couldn’t be farther from the social environments that humans inhabit. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Environmental sociology exists to highlight how the way we think about and interact with the environment is shaped by our society’s culture and social structure. One of the greatest contributions sociologists have made to environmental science has been revealing the many ways social inequality is connected to environmental degradation. Simply put, social inequality often leads to environmental inequality.
Environmental inequality describes any situation where one social group is disproportionately affected by environmental hazards (Pellow 2000). One specific form of this inequality is Environmental racism which, “refers to any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color” (Bullard 1993: 3). In study after study, researchers have found that poor people and specifically people of color live in environments that are more toxic and more prone to environmental catastrophe (Brulle and Pellow 2006). Two primary reasons for this environmental inequality are sociological: residential segregation and NIMBY politics.
In this essay Nathan Palmer provides some helpful suggestions for how to deal with personal social privilege and strategies for reducing social inequality in general.
Have you recently been told that you need to, “check your privilege”? Has someone just told you that they experienced something you said or did as a microaggression? Did you have a conversation about race, sexuality, religion, etc. go horribly wrong? Are people upset with you? Are you trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone that, “that’s not what I meant”?
I feel you. I’ve been there myself more times than I care to admit. As a white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied man I have most if not all of the social privileges a person can have. Getting “called out” about your social privilege is not fun, but it can be a learning experience, if you let it be. Here’s some strategies for how to make the best out of these uncomfortable moments.
Start by Actually Listening
When those around you tell you that you words or actions are hurtful or exclusionary, it’s very easy to bunker down behind all of your defenses. If you try with all your might to convince everyone that they got it all wrong, don’t be surprised if they try just as hard to convince you that your social privilege is real and creating problems. Instead of getting defensive, try to really listen to what those around you are saying. Hear them and repeat back to them what you think they are saying.
Accept That Other People Experience The World Differently
When discussions of privilege or discrimination come up, it is only a matter of time until someone of privilege says, “you’re seeing things that aren’t there.” First, we have a name for that; it’s called being delusional. Second, it’s unlikely that people of color, women, gender-sexual minorities, etc. are all suffering from the same collective delusion. So if it’s not a mass collective delusion, then how can two people see things so differently?
In major cities across the U.S., communities are using smartphone apps to alert one another when they are victimized by crime and to report suspicious people who they believe are about to commit a crime. In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses how this effort is increasing both social integration and racial profiling.
In Georgetown, a wealthy and predominately white neighborhood in Washington D.C., Terrence McCoy reports that 400 residents, retailers, and police officers have been using the smartphone app GroupMe to send alerts when crime happens and photos of suspicious looking people in their shops or walking on the street. The program, which was codenamed “Operation GroupMe”, is just one of many similar efforts taking place in major cities around the country. McCoy discussed what his reporting uncovered in an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers last month:
Those who support initiatives like Operation GroupMe argue that they make communities safer. On the other hand, critics argue that initiatives like these encourage racial profiling and reveal how hostile these posh neighborhood can be toward people of color and those who are not highly affluent. Sociological theory can help us better understand both sides of this issue.
This post is Part One of a two-part discussion addressing this October 13th article in The Washington Post. The story describes the effects of a private app called GroupMe that enables users to send out real-time notices of suspicious activity in the neighborhood. In this first post, Ami Stearns suggests that the concept of the Panopticon can be applied to the racialized nature of this smartphone surveillance app.
“Big Brother is Watching.” That’s the famous phrase from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, and the theme of a popular TV series where every move of the cast is recorded every moment of the day. In the late 1700s, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham envisioned a building that enabled a single, invisible, watchman to monitor everyone. This building design could be applied to prisons, schools, factories, asylums, and hospitals. Bentham theorized that this “Panopticon,” as it became known, would confer power to those performing the surveillance, largely because those inside the facility would know they were being watched at all times, but were unsure when exactly the eyes were upon them. He argued that this would address any behavior problems. A more modern example can be seen in most retail establishments. The shopper may see a sign with something like, “Smile, you’re on camera” or may see the large cameras themselves in the ceiling. Whether or not anyone is actually monitoring the consumer at that very second is unknown, but it is this threat of being watched that works to convince people not to steal or misbehave.
In some countries, closed circuit televisions (CCTV) cover much more than an individual store or restaurant- these cameras capture streets, sidewalks, the subway, and entire neighborhoods. So, a heavily CCTV-saturated place like the UK should be the safest on earth, right? Actually, an evaluation undertaken by highly-regarded Campbell Collaboration suggests this mass surveillance only has a “modest” impact on crime rates….
In this essay April Schueths discusses transracial adoption and the laws and policies that govern how children are placed with adoptive families.
Should White parents be allowed to adopt children of color? This question is one that social service workers have been wrestling with for years. Before you answer this question, you should know a couple of other facts. First, the majority of parents looking to adopt are White. Second, the majority of children in foster care who are eligible for adoption are non-white. If you say that children of color shouldn’t be placed with White families, then you are in effect arguing that children of color should stay in the foster care system; perhaps for their entire childhood. On the other hand, are White families equipped to help children of color develop a healthy racial identity and cope with interpersonal and institutional racism? The issue at the heart of this question is what sociologists call transracial adoption. Before you settle on your answer, let me give you a little bit of the history of transracial adoption and the controversies surrounding the laws that govern it.
What is Transracial Adoption?
Transracial adoption is when an adopted child doesn’t share the same race or ethnicity of the adopted parent(s). According to the National Survey of Adoptive Parents, 4 out of 10 adopted children in the U.S. are transracially adopted. Most adoptive parents are white, while most adopted children are non-white. However, Hannah Rau and Lisa Wade (2013) from Sociological Images point out that proportionally, white people are actually less likely to adopt than nonwhites.
Historically, transracial adoption was not the norm. In the 1970s the National Association of Black Social Workers argued that in order to preserve African American families, White families shouldn’t adopt African American children for any reason. Instead they argued that African American children should be placed with family members. Up until the 1990s social service workers tried to place children in adoptive families that shared the child’s racial-ethnic background. This all changed in the 1990s….
In this article Nathan Palmer discusses Viola Davis’s historic Emmy win, her powerful acceptance speech, and what both have to teach us about the racial structure of media in the United States.
Last week, Viola Davis the How to Get Away With Murder star became the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best leading actress in a drama. In her powerful acceptance speech, Davis made one of the clearest structural explanations of inequality I have ever heard:
- “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Davis’s cogent argument illustrates the widely documented and long standing unequal racial structure within Hollywood. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s take a step back and discuss what social structure is and how it affects our lives and our communities.
Structure is All About Opportunities
Sociologists are always talking about how social structure influences individuals and groups. However, despite sociologists incessant use of the concept, we have done a rather terrible job at defining what it means (Rubinstein 2001)….
In multicultural societies, different cultural groups are bound to share their respective norms, exchange traditional values and learn from one another. Present-day technology has helped make our global society smaller. Not only do people migrate at faster rates, in larger numbers and with varying levels of privilege. Additionally, information technology expedites cultural interchange and movement of financial capital across global platforms, often times in a matter of seconds. If cultural interchange is an inevitable by-product of globalization, how should we interpret use of culture for capital gain? In this post, David Mayeda offers analysis of a recent commercial, which presents rugby icon Richie McCaw and Māori culture as symbols to sell products for Beats by Dre, and asks if this representation of Māori culture is cultural appropriation.
With expected victories and massive upsets, the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) is now in full swing. Back in 2011, New Zealand’s All Blacks were winners of the RWC, led by team captain and rugby legend, Richie McCaw. Though aging, McCaw is still an impact player and continues his role as captain. An icon in the sport, it’s probably no coincidence that Dr. Dre’s “Beats by Dre” company released the following YouTube video featuring McCaw at the start of this year’s RWC. While watching, note inclusion of New Zealand’s indigenous Māori practicing haka that adds to the commercial’s ambiance.
Haka is a Māori war dance, used historically in times of conflict and coming together. In contemporary New Zealand, haka are still used to signify an occurrence’s importance, and in popular culture it is not uncommon to see haka performed at sporting events by Māori and non-Māori alike (to learn more on the connection between the haka and NZ rugby, watch the video, below; to see the All Blacks perform at this year’s RWC, click here). According to the New Zealand Herald, the haka in the above commercial was written specifically for the Beats by Dre ad….
Nobody likes being told they have it easy, especially if they’ve overcome obstacles to get where they are. This is one of the reasons white people sometimes find the term white privilege bothersome, perhaps even offensive. The fact is, people from all ethnic backgrounds typically need to work hard in order to get through life, including those of European descent. Consequently, understanding and accepting white privilege can be a difficult task. In this post, David Mayeda takes an example of a recent New Zealander who moved to London to inspect the concept of white privilege.
The New Zealand Herald recently published a letter written by a young, ambitious New Zealander named Alex Hazlehurst who moved to London aiming to expand her professional work experience in broadcast journalism. Titled, “I’m talented. I’m hard-working. I’m blonde. So why can’t I find a job in London?”, Hazlehurst explains, she arrived in London with a university degree, solid work experience and a positive attitude. In turn, she expected to find meaningful work relatively quickly.
Unfortunately upon arrival, Hazlehurst encountered a London employment market that was cut-throat and highly competitive: “It doesn’t matter if you are Kiwi, Aussie, Canadian or British; London has become the Hunger Games of employment. So much so, a job will go up online and within 48 hours it has 786 applicants.” Indeed, tough odds for any applicant.
Hazlehurst explains further, the inability to find gainful employment had rippling effects on her morale: “It was starting to feel like this city hated me. I was angry, broke, drinking a lot, and lacking any of the confidence I arrived with four months ago.” Fortunately, Hazlehurst persevered, landing “a permanent job, at a great company, in the heart of Leicester Square.”
Undoubtedly, it takes courage for a 25-year-old to move half way across the world to a city twice as big in population as her home country. Likewise, it takes talent and determination to grind through the process she did to find meaningful work. So if this individual struggled to succeed, how could she be privileged? How might she have white privilege?…