Posts Tagged ‘race’


Racism is Alive and Well in New Jersey

March 31, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

In mid-March, Wal*Mart shoppers in Washington Township, New Jersey were shocked to hear the following announcement over the store’s public address system.

“Attention Wal*Mart customers: All Black people leave the store now.”  (AP story about the incident)

As it turned out, the announcement was not made by a Wal*Mart employee; rather, the voice was that of a sixteen year old customer who had gotten his hands on the PA system mic.

We could probably write this off as a dare, or a brief moment of teenage stupidity, except now it has come to light that the young man in question allegedly did the same thing, at the same store, last December.  And so it seems we must address this not as a prank but as a pattern of race-based harassment.

This brings to light another of the central themes of my introductory sociology courses: the conflict between our values of equality and group superiority.  How is it possible, my students ask, for us to believe in both of these at the same time?  The U.S. is a country founded on the belief that “all men* are created equal” and yet we have this long and troubled history of inequalities based on race, gender, sexuality, etc.  I argue that these value contradictions are fundamental to our national identity, and that at various times in history one value will be more important than the other.  We can hope that we are moving towards a time when equality will win out over group superiority.

But that brings us back to the young man in New Jersey.  Is he just out of touch with the dominant values of the 21st century?  Or does this event signal a bubbling up of a racist subculture?  If nothing else, it serves to remind us that, no matter how much progress has been made towards that value of equality, we aren’t 100% there yet.

*Yes, the founding fathers really did mean white, landowning men.  These days, of course, the term is interpreted in a much more inclusive way.  Or is it?


A Girl Like Me

February 4, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


Socialization is characterized as the life long social experience by which individuals develop their human potential and learn culture.  The socialization process begins soon after birth, as babies are cared for (or not) by their parents or other loved ones from their family.  Of course that experience is as varied as there are cultures in our world.  We begin to learn at a very early age how to love, to hate, to care for, to fight, and to ultimately relate to other people in our society.

We also learn our position in society, particularly in terms of social class, gender, and race.  We are influenced by history and the social norms of society.  Norms aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but we gauge ourselves to the cultural standards in society, and as Mead would characterize, we develop that sense of self.

As an example of how we internalize what we perceive in society, watch the “Girl Like Me” video below

.  Many students question the validity of these girls’ interpretations of what others think about them.  Keep in mind these are the experiences of these girls, right or wrong, and it is the “job” of the Sociologist to ask the critical questions as to why.

What shapes their viewpoints?  What popular messages in society influence their perceptions?  What ideas and/or behaviors have they garnered from their family and peers that influences their sense of self?


Has America Become a Post-Racial Society?

January 21, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

Today is the first anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration. Depending on who you ask, today is the first anniversary of the inauguration of America’s first Black President, first African American President, first mixed-race President. That election happened less than forty years after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose legacy we honored earlier this week.

Barack Obama’s election has been heralded by some as a watershed moment in the history of race relations in America; some have even argued that his election is a sign that we are now living in a post-racial society. If we elected a Black man to be President, the logic goes, clearly we have reached a point in our history where race no longer matters. But is this really true?

In order to start answering this question, we first have to understand what the term “post-racial” (or “color-blind”) society means. The simplest explanation is that, in a color-blind society, everyone is treated equally regardless of their racial/ethnic identity. They are treated equally in terms of income, education, interpersonal relations. A color-blind society is one without racism.

Sounds like a lovely, idyllic world, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the facts on the ground do not bear out the argument that, by electing the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother, we have erased the remnants of the long and ugly history of race relations in the United States. For example, just focusing on issues of housing:

Doesn’t much seem like race doesn’t matter anymore, does it?

We could look at issues of employment, access to education, and numerous instances of blatant racism, and see basically the same patterns. From where I sit, it sure doesn’t seem like President Obama’s election means we’ve reached a point where race no longer matters.

What do you think? Did President Obama’s election point to a fundamental shift in the significance of race in America? Or is it going to take much more than that?


Equal Before the Law?

June 10, 2009

Some sociologists contend that people are not treated equally in our court systems. They hold that a person’s education, sex, income, and age are factors which might influence whether they are arrested, what they are charged with, whether they are convicted, and the severity of punishment. An example might be a speeding ticket. A ticket with a $250 fine might be a bigger punishment for a person who makes $15,000 a year than for someone who makes $350,000 a year. This might suggest a person’s income should be taken into account when determining a fine.

I guess you have to be looking at your speedometer and your dashboard clock on this road.

I guess you have to be looking at your speedometer and your dashboard clock on this road.

The associated press reported that in Helsinki, Finland, a man was fined $103,000 for doing 46.5 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. The speeder’s fine was not determined based on the severity of his crime, but on his income. In 1999, the driver reportedly made $5.2 million as a executive of a large corporation. The courts later reduced to the fine to $5,245, but many Finns were upset. They charged that people are not being treated equally by the Finland court system! Some members of Finland’s Parliament are demanding the processes of determining fines should be changed. They contend that no matter who you are, you should be treated equally under the law—sex, race, age,and income should not matter!

What do you think? Would you like to post a response to this article? If so, select a topic from below:

1. Do you think people are affected differently by laws based upon social characteristics such as race, age, sex, education, or income? If so, do you think the law should take these characteristics into account when determining if someone should be arrested, fined, or jailed? Why?

2. What would be some advantages and disadvantages of applying Finland’s approach to calculating speeding fines in America? What would be some advantages and disadvantages of applying it to more serious crimes such as drug sales?

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Obama’s Victory: Real Culture or Ideal Culture?

November 26, 2008


Posted by Wes Abercrombie

Real culture refers to how social institutions actually function, for better or for worse. Ideal culture refers to how social institutions are meant to function and the resulting idyllic lifestyles. Some sociologists argue that ideal culture identifies the social goals we strive for and real culture indicates our actual situation.

Many social scientists are interpreting the election of Senator Obama as an “historical event”—that Senator Barack Obama’s election identifies a shift in social conscious. Specifically, it demonstrates that race isn’t as important as individual character in our society. Some sociologists might interpret this as a narrowing between ideal and real culture. Other sociologists could argue this realization is passé, sighting the public careers of Edward William Brooke, Harold Washington, Hazel Reid O’Leary, Douglas Wilder, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Ron Brown, or Alan Keyes.

What do you think? Does the election of Senator Obama as President of the United States indicate a new shift in race relations or a social trend that has been building for some time?

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