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Is Hispanic an Ethnic Category or a Racial Category?

Sociologists use the terms race and ethnicity to mean different things even though many Americans use the terms interchangeably. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains why Hispanic origin is typically considered an ethnic category rather than a racial category. 

This post starts a bit differently than most. I want to begin with a few questions:

  1. What is race? Can you name two or three racial groups in America?
  2. What is ethnicity? Can you name two or three ethnic groups in America?
  3. What is the difference between race and ethnicity?
  4. Is Hispanic a race or ethnicity?

Sociologists use the word race to refer to categories of people who share distinct physical features. These physical features may be based in biology, but are granted social significance. For example, skin color, hair texture, and eye shape are all used in American society to determine a person’s racial categorization. In general, African Americans, Asian Americans, and White Americans are all considered racial groups.

Sociologists define ethnicity as a shared culture. For example, Jewish Americans would be considered an ethnic group because of their shared religious background. Chinese Americans would also be an ethnic group because of their shared nation of origin.

While many folks use the terms race and ethnicity interchangeably, they actually do refer to different things. Based on the above definitions of race and ethnicity, where do Hispanics fit?  Are Hispanics a racial group or an ethnic group?…

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Swim at Your Own Risk: Racial Disparities in Drowning

Is swimming a part of your summertime fun or does it feel you with dread? Does your reaction to swimming have anything to do with your race? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the role of race in swimming and drowning. 

I’ve swam in ponds, lakes, and creeks. I’ve swam in chlorinated backyard pools, public pools, and hotel pools. As an adult (who has spent most of my life in the landlocked-Midwest), I’ve managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Swimming has always been a part of my life. As a child, I took swimming lessons for one week each summer. It never failed that the week of my lessons, the weather would be about 70 degrees and overcast (i.e., too cold), but I still went. I was never very good. I like to say, that I knew enough not to drown. That may sound a bit over-confident, but I did know how to swim and learned some basic survival skills.

Little did I know that my access to public swimming spaces, swimming lessons, and risk of drowning had something to do with my race or the legacy of racial discrimination….

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Please Ignore the Racist In Front of the Curtain

Sterling and Bundy certainly said some horribly racist stuff. In this article, Bridget Welch argues that while what they said is horribly bad, the attention we pay to these acts is just a farce that allows the real racism to continue unchecked behind the scenes.

I don’t follow the sports. I can honestly say that I would have had no idea what city had a team named the Clippers (I’m not sure if I would have been able to name the sport) prior to the big racist meltdown Donald Sterling, the team’s owner, had when his girlfriend was seen at a game with a black man. I’m not going to get into the meltdown. It’s all over the internet for your listening … pleasure?

I do, however, closely follow grazing rights and am currently kicking butt in my fantasy public land use league with Cliven Bundy as an early pick. If that sentence made no sense to you it is because it’s one part dry humor and another part about illegal grazing of cattle which most Americans spend about 0% of their life thinking about. However, Cliven Bundy probably rings a bell because of his recent racist spiel that was cycled fairly often on all of the news channels.

Both men made comments that show attitude towards Blacks that can be traced directly back to our justifications for slavery. Sterling talks about how he takes care of his black players, evidently “giving” them cars and putting meals on their tables — I guess what he means is that he does this when they otherwise would not be able to support themselves. Bundy gets right to the point with his claims that Blacks would be better off back in the fields picking cotton because at least then they wouldn’t be asking for handouts. Both men are recycling the same tired tropes of the “happy” slave who relied upon the Master to provide for them and were content with their lot in life as long as they had a little rest and watermelon.

Please do not misunderstand as this post goes forward. What both of these men said was foul, highly problematic, and shows how much the historical creation and content of stereotypes still lingers. And I was happy to see all of the civil action in response. The problem is, the focus on these men is skewed towards paying attention to some stupid stuff someone said rather than the larger issues that actually perpetuate racism in American society.

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The Clippers, Don Sterling, and the Actions of Heroes

I used to teach the 2nd grade.  As a future sociologist, and life-long lover of justice, one of my favorite units to teach was the Social Studies unit “People Who Make A Difference.” I would begin by asking my class of 7-8 year olds, “What is a hero?” They would often respond by naming their favorite comic book heroes. Superman and Spiderman were sure to come up. As we moved past comments such as “someone who wears a cape” or “someone who has powers,” eventually a student would say something along the lines of “someone who saves people.” I would express a lot of excitement at this statement that eventually led the students to name people like Martin Luther King. Jr. as their idea of a hero.  In this post, Mediha Din explores the components of being a hero and creating social change through the three major perspectives in sociology.

As I watched the first minute of the Clippers basketball game Sunday, (a play-off game versus the Golden State Warriors) I waited to see if any heroes would emerge. I listened earlier to the recorded remarks allegedly made by the Clippers franchise owner Donald Sterling, instructing his girlfriend to avoid associating with black people in public. You can listen to the recording here.

Clippers Basketball Players

Many basketball fans awaited the response of the Clippers players and coach, wondering if they would refuse to play. The Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, made a statement earlier stating that he was not surprised by the comments. He also explained that the team met, the players were not happy about the comments, but they were not going to let anyone get in the way of what they have worked so hard for.

Just before the game began the players wore their warm-up shirts in-side out, hiding the Clippers logo. Commentators said this act was to represent their solidarity. Then the game began, basketball as usual.

I thought about Muhammad Ali. How he sacrificed his title to stand up for what he believed in. Ali declared his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War during the time of the draft. He was arrested, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license, and stripped him of his title. Some found his anti-establishment views infuriating, others found them inspiring….

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Framing & Fear of Young Black Men in America Part II

This is part two in a two part series. In the first post, Bridget Welch explains prototypes, schemas, and framing in relation to the stereotyping of young black and Latino boys as criminals. In this piece, she relates those concepts that helps us understand charges of racism made in recent Stand Your Ground cases.

Now that you know everything you need to know about schemas, let’s put that knowledge to good use in understanding charges of racism against Michael Dunn as an exemplar of stand your ground cases.

Prior to starting, we need to answer the question: What are stand your ground laws? You can read the statues if you want (here’s Florida’s), but basically stand your ground makes the use of deadly force when you have “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm” to yourself or another. As we will see, the important component here is the idea of reasonable. Reasonable to whom?

Michael Dunn saw a bunch of black young men listening to loud music (what he called “rap crap” in the courtroom) in a gas station parking lot. He asked them to turn down the music. They did. Dunn then reported that 17-year-old Jordan Davis pointed a gun at him (see story here). Dunn then brought out his own gun and fired ten times as the car fled, hitting Davis 3 times and killing him. No gun was ever found. Dunn was not found guilty of killing Davis, instead he was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder because of the other boys in the car.

As soon as Dunn saw the boys in that car, his schema for young black males was activated opening up all of the information he has about black boys. While I am not in his head and can’t give you the table of contents for his schema, we have a lot of information about what is most likely there….

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The Presentation of #SELFIE

Currently #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers is the number 20 song on the Billboard Hot 100. That’s right, the phenomenon of the selfie has grown so much that a song about the act is popular. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the selfie phenomenon and connects it to the sociological concepts of impression management and the presentation of self.

Everybody’s doing it. Ellen broke Twitter records with her Oscar selfie. This reporter made news by barely missing a baseball to the head while she was posing for a selfie. Heck, even the president has made news taking selfies during Nelson Mandela’s funeral. It’s official, the selfie is a thing[1].

Let’s analyze a selfie like a sociologist. First, note that people often take selfies in locations that are noteworthy. It’s often a way to say, “hey everybody, look where I visited”. Second, before you take a selfie you make sure your hair/clothes look good and then you make a face or “give a look” to the camera. For instance, consider the ridiculous trend of taking selfies with a “duck face”. Both of these facts tells us that the selfie is a manufactured presentation of self.

 

The Presentation of Self

While the selfie is new, the manufactured presentation of self is not. In 1959 sociologist Erving Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman argues that as we move through the world each of us engages in what he calls impression management. In other words, each of us tries to present ourselves as we want those around us to see us. So when I walk into the classroom I am trying to present myself as a professor in the hopes that my students will believe that I am a competent professor.

If Goffman were alive today, he would likely argue that all of social media is designed around the presentation of self. Everyone who uses social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. posts images and updates that show only one side of ourselves. Very few people tweet pics of themselves first thing in the morning or doing anything that is not particularly flattering. In my experience, Facebook has become a place to brag about your accomplishments, post photos of your vacations, and/or post images of all the fun/cool things you’ve been doing.

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“Kiss Me, I’m Irish American”

“Kiss My I’m Irish”? How about, “Kiss Me I’m Irish American”? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how St. Patrick’s Day celebrations can be a practice in symbolic ethnicity.

Happy St. Patricks Day

In March, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in my household. Growing up, I typically was lucky enough if I remembered to wear green on the holiday so no one would pinch me.

My only recollection of acknowledging the holiday as a child was that my elementary school teachers messed up our classroom once claiming it was leprechauns. I could even be misremembering the incident in that I know the teachers definitely did this once for Easter (Easter Bunny) and I am 85% sure they also did this once for St. Patrick’s Day.

So, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations of my childhood included wearing green so no one would pinch me and maybe the teachers turned over some desks in the classroom once. How’s that for memorable celebrations?

Even in college, I don’t recall any extra emphasis on partying on the day to celebrate or any other special rituals marking the day. Afterall, St. Patrick’s Day always fell on a day ending in ‘y,’ which was reason enough for many college students to go to the bar. While St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been very important in some regions of the country (e.g., Savannah, GA, Boston, and Chicago) for a number of years, these celebrations have spread to other parts of the country, too. (Read more about What Makes a Holiday.)…

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“Your Map is Racist” Here’s How

Can maps be racist? Aren’t maps just a reflection of reality? In this piece Nathan Palmer will show us how maps are actually a social construction and how they can lead us to think that anglo nations are bigger and more central to the world than nations of color.

A few years back I had the opportunity of seeing Jane Elliot speak at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln my alma mater. She was one of the boldest speakers I’ve ever heard before or since. She said[1], “The education system in the U.S. is racist and I’m going to prove it to you.” She then started to unfold a world map. “How many of you went to school looking at a map like this?” I raised my hand and so did most of the 400+ people in the room.

Mercator Projection Map

Elliot continued, “How many continents are there?” Someone shouted out that there were 7. “Okay, let’s all count them together”. She pointed at North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica and we all spoke their names aloud.

“Wait. Are there 8 continents?” We all looked at her with our crazy faces. “Don’t give me that look. You said that Africa was a continent, right?” We shook our heads and droned out a yes in unison. “Well look at greenland up there. It’s almost the same size as Africa. Why isn’t Greenland a continent?” Nervous laughter ran across the room.

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Framing & Fear of Young Black Men in America Part I

This is part one in a two part series. In this first post, Bridget Welch explains prototypes, schema, and framing and how these concepts help us understand the characterization of black and Latino boys as criminals. In the second post, she will help us relate these concepts to understand the charges of racism made in recent Stand Your Ground cases.

Close your eyes and imagine a dog. What does your dog look like? The dog you image is your “doggiest dog.” It’s the doggiest dog to ever dog. It’s your dog prototype. All other dogs are measured (and found wanting) in comparison to your dog prototype. It includes the list of attributes that you have about a dog (e.g. fur, paws, tail, wet nose) but also includes something more. The dog “essence.” What it does then is allow you to look at other things, like this thing:

and decide, “Is that a dog?”

And, if despite your better judgment you decide “Yes, that thing is a dog” what then happens is you activate your dog schema. While a prototype is your exemplar of a category, a schema is all your ideas about that category. Think of it as a file cabinet in your head with a drawer marked “dog.” When you open that drawer, all the information you have about dogs is right there. Information about what they eat, how they behave, your ideas about their loyalty, the Taco Bell chihuahua, the Dog Whisperer — everything that you’ve gathered about dogs from hearing about them, reading about them, watching TV or films, and of course interacting with them, all right there. And you use that information to decide how to interact, treat, and behave toward the new thing you’ve labeled “dog.”

We also have prototypes with related schematic content for things like “criminals” and “drug users.” If you closed your eyes and pictured a “criminal” what would that person look like? Would that person be a he? Would he be young or old? Would he be black? Research indicates that for most Americans, our prototypes for criminals are young black (and to lesser extent but still highly problematic, Hispanic) males. Indeed, as Kelly Welch (no relation) writes in her article about black criminal stereotypes:”stereotyping of Blacks as criminals is so pervasive throughout society that “criminal predator” is used as a euphemism for “young Black male.”…

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That Coke Ad & What it Means to be American

Social media gives us a great cause. “Boycott Coke!” But the reason for this boycott, not the one that this author would prefer. In this piece, Bridget Welch discusses the legal and social construction of what it means to be American and how Coke, for once, got it right.

“BOYCOTT COKE!” started trending after the Super Bowl. Usually a hashtag I could get  behind. But what was the reason for this call to social media arms?

Is it the realization that Coca-Cola takes all the water from nearby farmers in India and leaves them to struggle with drought-like conditions? How this has been argued to be linked to an increase in suicide rates by Indian farmers? The extremely high rate of pesticides in their soft drinks? Similar situations in Mexico, where locals need to drink Coke because the companies’ practices means the population doesn’t have excess to water? MORE accusations of Coca-Cola hiring paramilitary groups in Columbia and Guatemala to kill workers to block unionization? More countries charging that Coca-Cola is dumping toxic waste? Or was it just that someone finally realized how HORRIBLE the drink is for our bodies?[1] Turns out, not so much.

This boycott, the one that got covered by national news was based on a negative reaction to children singing “America the Beautiful” in several different languages.

Why the negative reaction? Perhaps Michael Patrick Leahy on Breitbart captured it best when he argued that Coca-Cola was providing a different view of America … one that is “no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution and American traditions in which English is the language of government” nor a nation “governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty.” His message is that this is a bad thing (seemingly disgusting really) that Coke should be ashamed of. As he concludes, “When the company used such an iconic song, one often sung in churches on the 4th of July that represents the old “E Pluribus Unum” view of how American society is integrated, to push multiculturalism down our throats, it’s no wonder conservatives were outraged.”

Let’s ignore for a minute that the US actually has no official language. And, let’s forget Latin and assume instead of “From Many, One” the motto actually means “For People Like Us, By People Like Us.” And, for goodness sakes, let’s ignore the fact that when he says “Anglo-American tradition” he is really talking about White European male traditions forged at the cost of the genocide of indigenous peoples and slavery (and other horrific acts). Instead, let’s look at where he’s right….

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