Sociology Focus

“People Like Me Are the Real Victims of Discrimination!”

A study just came out that asked White and Black Americans to rate the level of discrimination targeting both communities. The study found that both White and Black respondents thought that discrimination targeting African Americans had declined over the last 60 years, but the white respondents reported that they felt that discrimination toward Whites was now more common than discrimination experienced by African Americans. In this piece Nathan Palmer tries to explain what’s going on in this study by exploring how our social location (e.g. race, class, gender, etc.) affects our perception of reality.

You are an expert when it comes to discrimination targeted at people of your social location (e.g. your race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, ability, etc). Chances are if I asked you, how is a person like you discriminated against today, you could come up with a few painful examples from your past or from the pasts of your friends and family. You might even be tempted to hold up this example of discrimination and say, “See! People like me are the victims of discrimination too!” And you’d be right. Everyone is victimized by stereotypes and discrimination. Everyone.

This truth brings up (at least) three interesting sociological questions:

  1. Why is everyone an expert on the discrimination facing people like them?
  2. Does our expertise provide us an accurate picture of current social inequalities?
  3. What is the lesson or meaning we should make out of our expertise?

Why Are We Experts?

I’m guessing you already know the answer to this, but humor me. If you are the target of a flavor of prejudice and discrimination, then you become an expert because it will seek you out. I can vividly remember a few times I’ve been called a cracker, had people assume that I can’t dance because I’m White, and the time in class as an undergraduate a classmate of color said, “God, I hate White people”. Like you, I’m an expert on the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination targeting people like me because it finds me and it stings.

On the other hand, as a white person myself, I may be totally unaware of the hostility and discrimination people of color in my community face. As a man, I may have never heard the hurtful and harassing comments other men say to women on my campus. Or more likely, I have seen a few examples of prejudice and discrimination targeting others and thought, “oh, it’s not such a big deal” or that it was a rare one time occurrence. It doesn’t matter if ignorance or minimizing is the culprit; either way, all of us have less expertise on the discrimination of others.

Does This Make Us Experts on the Discrimination Others Face?

No, not necessarily. Our bias toward awareness of discrimination targeting us may lead each of us to presume that people like us “are the real victims of discrimination today.” We can see possible evidence of this phenomenon in a forthcoming study in Perspectives on Psychological Science that asked both White and Black Americans to rate the level of discrimination people of their race faced in each decade over the last 60 years on a 1 to 10 scale. The major finding of the study was that while both Whites and Blacks thought discrimination toward African Americans had declined over the period, Whites on average thought that they were victimized more often by discrimination today then their peers of color. In a press release for the research TuftsNow reports that,

  • “On average, whites rated anti-white bias as more prevalent in the 2000s than anti-black bias by more than a full point on the 10-point scale. Moreover, some 11 percent of whites gave anti-white bias the maximum rating of 10 compared to only 2 percent of whites who rated anti-black bias a 10.”

If it were true that Whites experienced more discrimination than we would expect the material conditions and social circumstances African Americans experience to be on the rise, but that’s not what the evidence suggests. African Americans, and people of color more broadly, experience discrimination in almost every key aspect of modern life. For instance, the wealth disparity between Whites and Blacks recently hit an all time high. In the housing market people of color have historically been locked out or victimized by predator realtors/lenders and just last year Wells Fargo paid $175 million in a settlement for allegations that they discriminated against black and Hispanic customers. I could go on and on talking about discrimination in the legal justice system, the systematic attempts to keep people of color from voting, the trivialization of an entire culture into a scrapbook, a Halloween costume, and on TV sitcoms.

What Does Our Expertise Mean Sociologically?

Let’s recap what we’ve learned thus far: I am aware of the discrimination facing people like me, so therefore I assume that discrimination targeting people like me is the most prevalent in society today. If you’re not aware of the discrimination happening in your community, it’s easy to assume that it’s simply not a problem. Out of sight, out of mind. However, because each of us is particularly aware of the discrimination people of our social location face, it is easy to falsely assume that our awareness is a sign of the prevalence of discrimination today.

Always keep in mind that you have blind spots. There are experiences that others in your community are having that you are unaware of. When someone shares their experience with you, try to really hear them, even if their experience is completely opposite of the experience you’ve had or goes against you’re preconceived ideas.

Dig Deeper:

  1. How have you personally been the target of prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination?
  2. How are people of another social location targeted by prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination on your campus or in your community?
  3. The study discussed in the article found that Whites were more likely to inaccurately perceive the discrimination they face than their Black counterparts were. Do you think the fact that Whites are in the socially dominant group and have social privilege makes them more or less likely to make this perceptual mistake?
  4. It’s easy for anyone to be ignorant to the experiences of people of another social location. It’s also easy to minimize the experiences of others as being “not a big deal” or “just a rare one time thing”. What can you do to try to reduce your ignorance and keep from minimizing the experience of others.white

Princess Scientist

In this post Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how The Big Bang Theory relied on individual choice as the explanation for the lack of women in science instead of focusing on institutionalized sexism among scientists. 

Boy looking into microscope

The Big Bang Theory (BBT) jumped on the princess scientist trend in this week’s episode, “The Contractual Obligation Implementation.” The episode tackled a hot topic: recruiting more girls and women into the STEM fields (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields).

The white men of BBT where charged with figuring out how to increase the number of girls and women in STEM fields as part of their committee work at the university. Raj had his own dedicated storyline which involved a socially-awkward date fulfilling the “sexless Asian man” trope. Spoiler alert: Raj does not get a kiss good night.

The white men of BBT brainstormed to come up with brilliant ideas to recruit more women to STEM fields. Continue reading

Hot Pants in the Frozen Aisle: Shaming & Norming the POWM

The popular “People of Walmart” website has achieved a cult-like following, with an accompanying book and merchandise for faithful followers. Public shaming as a form of social disapproval doesn’t just happen in the town square anymore. As Ami Stearns argues in this post, public shaming on user-submitted sites like “People of Walmart” can effectively mark norm boundaries and reinforce classism, sexism, and more.


The next time you consider running into Wal-Mart wearing skin-tight cheetah-print leggings and matching sport bra, please reconsider. You may become the latest object of ridicule on the website “People of Walmart (POWM).” From its humble beginnings as a small-scale site for friends to post pictures of unusual characters shopping at Wal-Mart, has taken off into an Internet phenomenon where those who dare to breach appearance norms are captured with photographic evidence for the rest of the world to examine. To supplement the main page, there are videos, a Twitter feed, a Facebook Page, and just to cover all the requisite social media bases, a Tumblr. Users from all over the United States of Wal-Mart are invited to submit photos and a witty caption to the main website for dissemination to the rest of society. The photos that are included on the POWM website feature individuals deemed “inappropriate” in looks, hairstyle, clothing, or general appearance.

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The Meaning of Helicopters: Unequal Access to Trauma Centers

In rural areas, helicopters come to symbolize unequal access to trauma centers. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the meaning of helicopters varies depending on whether you are in an urban or a rural area. 

Life Flight Helicopter

When I lived in the city, helicopters meant one of two things: the media or the police. The news crews were either providing overhead footage of weather or traffic conditions. The police were looking for someone, most likely, an alleged criminal. These helicopters were things I learned to ignore.

When I moved back to a small town, helicopters took on a whole new meaning. Helicopters are rarely seen or heard in a small town and when they are, it means someone is on their way to a trauma center. Now when I see a helicopter, I know that they are typically transporting a patient to a trauma center. Helicopters remind me just how far rural people, including myself, are from trauma centers.

Around here you can buy a membership for about $60 a year to an air ambulance company that provides coverage for helicopter transport provided it is from their company. The first time I saw my parent’s sticker indicating this coverage (on the back of their cars in case of a car accident and on a window by the front door of their house in case the problem starts at home), I thought they had been scammed. “What a waste of money,” I thought. Then it dawned on me. Continue reading

The Many Statuses of Oscar Pistorius

In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines how South African runner Oscar Pistorius can help us understand the sociological concept of status, including ascribed, achieved, and master statuses.

The headlines when we in the Western Hemisphere woke on Valentine’s Day were surprising.
“A Nation Reels as a Star Runner is Charged in Girlfriend’s Death”
“Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder”
“‘Blade Runner’ Athlete Charged with Murder of Girlfriend”

Never fear, this isn’t going to be a blog post about yet another famous athlete gone bad. Instead, it’s about the adjectives used before his name. In these news articles, and many others, you find Oscar Pistorius described using terms like “Olympic and paralympic runner”, “BladeRunner”, and “Olympian”. Before Reeva Steenkamp’s death, and before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he was known as the double-amputee track star, the man who fought to prove that his carbon-fiber prosthetics didn’t give him an unfair advantage over runners relying on flesh-and-bone limbs. He was the guy who “lost” a race against a five-year-old girl wearing her own version of the legs he races on.

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Catfish and the Influences of Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation. This attitude leads people to value only traditional gender roles and heterosexual relationships while rejecting all gender, sex, and sexual behaviors that fall outside of this narrow box. Heteronormativity contributes to the creation of a society that is unwelcoming and even dangerous for people who do not conform to this norm. By using the popular MTV show, Catfish, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter explores some of the consequences of living in a heteronormative culture.

My partner and I do not typically like the same TV shows. It’s almost impossible for us to find things we both want to watch together. One lazy evening, we stumbled upon a documentary released in 2010 called Catfish that detailed a young man’s journey to meet a girl he fell in love with online, only to discover that, in reality, not all was what it seemed to have been online. We were enthralled… and, apparently, we weren’t alone.

The popularity of the film led MTV to create a show based on the same premise (aptly named Catfish: The TV Show) where host Nev Schulman helps individuals from around the country meet their online loves for the first time. In a nutshell: it’s typically a train-wreck. The anonymity of online communication allows people to present themselves in ways that differ dramatically from how they appear in real life, also known now as “catfishing” in popular culture. People can catfish others online by creating false personas that may involve fake careers, false geographic locations, and the borrowing of someone else’s photographs. (Catfishing, the verb, probably reached it’s critical mass when Notre Dame star football player Manti Te’o admitted in January that he’d been a victim of the hoax). Continue reading

Sociology & The Harlem Shake Meme

I tried to ignore. I hoped it’d go away. But oh, no… it wouldn’t. So fine I’ll do it. Here is how that annoying yet omnipresent internet meme The Harlem Shake is sociological. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses The Harlem Shake Internet meme to discuss cultural appropriation and how we make meaning of culture.

If you’ve turned on the Internet the last few weeks, then I bet you’ve seen one of the many incarnations of “The Harlem Shake” video. In these formulaic 30 second videos a single masked person dances while the people around him/her go about doing some inane activity like typing on a key board. Then the bass drops and the video cuts to people bafoonishly waving their arms around in a collective pandaemonium and then as quickly as it started the video slowmo’s and a loud “RAWR” plays as the video fades to black. I mean it’s just plain hilarious…

Or at least it was the first time I saw the shtick. But in the weeks since, hundreds of copycat videos have emerged. Here’s just a tiny fraction

I know what you’re thinking. 1. This is SO last week! (I know, believe me) and 2. Why are you talking about this on a sociology blog? To answer your first point: I know right! And to answer your second: “The Harlem Shake” is completely sociological. While I could use the meme to illustrate hundreds of sociological concepts, today I want to talk about cultural appropriation and the active consumption of media.

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Posted by Nathan Palmer

No More Olympic Wrestling?: A Gendered Perspective

With the exception of 1900, wrestling has been in every modern Olympic Games since 1896. This past February, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to cut wrestling from the Olympics due to reported low attendance, poor television ratings, and general lack of popularity. Wrestling has two different styles at the Olympic level, Greco-Roman and freestyle. Both will be offered in in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. However come 2020, wrestling – a sport with historic Olympic roots – will likely be slashed from the Olympic platform. In this post David Mayeda explains why the IOC’s decision is a slap in the face to women’s and girls’ sport.

3-time Olympic Gold medallist Saori Yoshida

Wrestling is a sport that is dear to my heart. I didn’t go that far with it, stopping after high school to pursue a collegiate track and field journey. Still, I’ll brag a bit about my high school wrestling team. Typically one of the less popular American high school sports, our team had over 100 athletes when I was a freshman. Four years later as a senior, we still had around 80 wrestlers on the team, and we were damn good, winning league championships at every level all four years I was there.

But “wrestling” at my high school actually meant “boys wrestling.” The sport was normalized as a masculine, males-only sport. You didn’t have to qualify naming it as “boys wrestling,” because everyone automatically assumed girls didn’t participate as wrestlers, or that women didn’t lead as coaches. As sociologists, we are trained to question that which is presented as normal – to expose the social forces that construct our everyday lives.

Historically, sport was divided along very gendered lines, even more so than in present time. In early twentieth century United States, sports like boxing, basketball, and track and field were developed as male-only athletic terrain. In contrast, tennis, swimming, and golf, were sports where women could participate with a bit more flexibility. Society’s leaders of that time argued that the physical contact between athletes in sports like boxing and basketball, or the heavy pounding involved in track and field events (e.g., powerful running and jumping) jeopardized women’s reproductive organs. Thus, if women were allowed participation in sport at all, it would have to be in sports that supposedly preserved women’s ability to bear children. Notably, when women did partake in sports like basketball, they were stigmatized for acting in ways that violated “proper” womanhood. Continue reading

Posted by David Mayeda under ,