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Breaking Down Barriers Through Social Contact

In this post, Jena Morrison illustrates how Allport’s Contact Hypothesis can create meaningful conversation about racial divides and historical monuments out of confrontation.

On Saturday, September 16th a protest about Confederate monuments was set to occur in what is basically my own backyard. As a sociologist, I felt obligated to go and observe the situation given the current social climate surrounding the statues, the controversial nature of these pieces of stone and metal from history, and to see how my own hometown planned to handle the situation. According to the news, a group from Tennessee in support of Confederate monuments was planning to arrive and organize a protest. Subsequently, a counter-protest had been planned by other groups in response to ideas of white supremacy, racism, and the idea of “outsiders” coming to the area to tell the locals what should be done. Neither side was issued a permit for the assembly. That didn’t stop either side or numerous groups across the entire spectrum from showing up. Groups represented at the protest included the Tennessee group, local members of the White Rose Revolution, local militia members, individuals seemingly associated with Antifa, community members and residents, field medics, the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, students from my alma mater (VCU), the Associated Press, dozens of news crews, law enforcement from at least five different jurisdictions, and several others that I was not able to place. Many items were barred from participants at the event (ie. Bats, helmets, etc.); however, the state laws allowing for open carry of guns was honored. This explosive potential for confrontation between members of these various groups combined with the numerous weapons present left many in the community scared, avoiding the area, and even warned by the Chief of Police to stay away from the event.

While there was a verbal confrontation earlier in the morning, much of the day was spent with people mulling around waiting for the next round of drama to occur. And, as the morning stretched into the afternoon, I got to witness a fascinating evolution in the scene from one of confrontation and discord to one of open dialogue and interest. Pockets of people from the different factions and with different, even opposing views, of the meaning of the statues and what should be done with them gathered in small groups. The conversations I overheard from these small gatherings were ones that allowed contrasting views to be shared openly and rationally. And, each person’s argument was met with curiosity and openness, thereby bridging the ideological divide and breaking down the barriers that had existed earlier in the day.

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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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What Am I Supposed To Do About Social Problems?

In this piece, Nathan Palmer acknowledges that sociology disproportionately focuses on society’s problems and offers some suggestions for how students can create social change on these issues through community based social-marketing.

It’s getting near the end of the semester for many of us and this is the time that many sociology 101 students ask, “Sociology is great at pointing out the problems in society, but what the heck am I supposed to do about any of them?” While I agree that sociologists spend more of their time trying to understand the structural and cultural roots of social problems, sociologists also study how to create social change.

The Three Myths of Creating Behavioral Change

Dr. Jeni Cross, from Colorado State University, for instance, studies and teaches classes on applied social change. As she makes clear in the TED talk below, many of us fundamentally misunderstand how to change people’s behavior. In her talk, Dr. Cross identifies three myths about social change that are commonly believed.

  1. Education will change behavior.
  2. You need to change attitudes to change behavior.
  3. People know what motivates their behavior.

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It’s Only Deviant Until Everybody’s Doing It

Tattoos are quickly become mainstream in the United States, especially for younger people. Until recently a tattoo could disqualify a person from becoming a police officer, joining the military, and many other jobs. In this post Nathan Palmer discusses tattoos as example of how individual actions can change social institutions.

I am too fickle for a tattoo. I can’t commit to an image for my phone’s lock screen, so the idea of committing one image on my body for the rest of my life blows my mind. Recent research suggests that a growing number of people do not share my aesthetic commitment issues.

One in five U.S. adults today has a tattoo. That was the main finding of a Harris Poll survey of 2,016 people published in 2012. As you can see in the chart above, the proportion of tattooed adults has been steadily rising over the last twelve years. Given that people under the age of forty were more likely to report having a tattoo, there is reason to expect this trend to continue to grow over time.

Not too long ago tattoos were associated with gangs, bikers, and prisons (DeMello 2000). However, that stereotype is fading and today tattoos are associated with reality television shows, celebrities, and the art world. As more people get inked and old stereotypes fade, many of our social institutions are being forced to adjust.

Tattoos, until very recently, disqualified an applicant for many jobs, but as the pool of job applicants fills with ink, some employers have adjusted their stance. In April the U.S. Army changed its policy on tattoos, removing previous limits on the size and number of tattoos a soldier was allowed. Around the country in places like Seattle, New Orleans, Manchester, NH, and Tarpon Springs, FL police departments are also relaxing their polices to allow the tattooed to protect and serve. At the same time however, the Army still bans face, neck, and hand tattoos and many police departments still have policies against tattoos (especially for ones that are visible while in uniform).

How Individual Acts Can Change Society

The shifting landscape around tattoos is a good demonstration of how individual acts can change social norms. First a quick refresher on norms. Every society has cultural values that tell us how things ought to be. Cultural values tend to be abstract concepts, but they are refined into specific rules of behavior that are called social norms. Any act that violates a social norm is considered deviant and is likely to receive a sanction (i.e. formal or informal punishments). For example, in many societies honesty is a cultural value and there is a social norm against lying. People caught in a lie often are shamed and punished.

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“All we have is us!” Changing Lives with Football & Social Capital

In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses how the The River Rouge high school football team has developed social capital to achieve both on the field and in the classroom.

Just south of Detroit, in a neighborhood struggling with poverty and crime is a shining example of what we can accomplish when we work together. Head coach Corey Parker has The River Rouge Panther high school football team focused on a vision and committed to each another.

How are the Panthers defying the odds? Why are these young men achieving academically when roughly a third of their peers won’t even graduate? How did coach Parker change the culture of the football team? Social capital.

How Social Capital Transforms Lives

Why do some schools do better than others? That was the simple question that sociologist James Coleman wanted to answer. The intuitive answer to this question was, money. It would make sense that schools with fewer resources would have lower educational outcomes (e.g. low grades, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates). However, in 1966 Coleman published a study which suggested that the amount of money a school had to spend on it’s students had only a modest impact on student outcomes (e.g. graduation rates, GPA, etc.)[1]. So if not money, what else could explain school success? Coleman believed that differences in school performance were due to differences in social capital.

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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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