Category Archives: race

reflexive anti-geneticism

This is my contribution to the ongoing symposium on genetics,race, and sociological theory as well as its twin on that other blog. A quick disclaimer: I was in graduate school with J. Shiao, lead author of the paper being discussed, and we talk occasionally at conferences.

My view of the original paper is that its contribution is real but quite modest in the scheme of theory. The best way to read it is as a social-constructionist “friendly amendment” to constructivism’s tacit, yet stubborn, insistence that there is no biological basis for racial categorization. Genetic information can be used “to distinguish race/ethnicity from the existence of genetic clusters” (emphasis mine). Shiao et al. suggest that constructivist approaches to race need not cling to a strong no-genetic-clustering claim in order to maintain most of the findings of constructivism (“In sum, relatively little of the empirical explanations made by sociologists of race/ethnicity require the claim of biological nonreality traditionally associated with racial constructionism.”). In short, race is a

social reality that is historical, processual, stratified, and analytically multilevel but that is also entangled with biological inputs inherited from the geographic distribution of humans in genetic watersheds over the past 50,000 years.

While I’m no fan of genetic essentialism, I don’t think that’s what’s actually going on in the Shiao et al. article, and overall I find the critiques in the special issue quite disappointing because by and large they respond reflexively to something else instead of engaging the article’s actual contents. I actually think the most important criticism of Shiao et al. is that it’s not really all that important of a finding: the idea that minor, generally meaningless, and ancient genetic variations produce phenotypes that then become inputs to the social construction of race and ethnicity is a minor correction to social constructionism. It becomes important enough for an article in ST because of the sheer symbolic importance of race and the reflexive anti-geneticism in the field. And the character of much of the responses provide further evidence that the objections are to the symbolic affront of the article instead of to its content.

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sociologists statement on Ferguson

Last week, a group of 10 sociologists gathered at ASA to discuss the terrible situation in Ferguson.* Following that meeting, the group wrote up draft text for a statement. Here’s how they diagnose some of the larger problems:

Law enforcement’s hyper-surveillance of black and brown youth has created a climate of suspicion of people of color among police departments and within communities. The disrespect and targeting of black men and women by police departments across the nation creates an antagonistic relationship that undermines community trust and inhibits effective policing. Instead of feeling protected by police, many African Americans are intimidated and live in daily fear that their children will face abuse, arrest and death at the hands of police officers who may be acting on implicit biases or institutional policies based on stereotypes and assumptions of black criminality. Similarly, the police tactics used to intimidate protesters exercising their rights to peaceful assembly in Ferguson are rooted in the history of repression of African American protest movements and attitudes about blacks that often drive contemporary police practices.

If you are interested in signing the statement, you can do so here.

* I was not at the meeting, and thus cannot provide any details beyond what’s in these documents. Links to the petition were circulated by Alison Gerber, who can perhaps answer queries.

racial coding in the skies

On the way to a wonderful vacation this summer, I flew Delta RDU-ATL-SEA and SEA-MSP-RDU. The flights in and out of SEA showed Delta’s edgy new safety videos, a version of one of which is here:

(The versions I saw were slightly different, as I’ll describe below. One was on a 767-300, the other on a 757-200). WARNING: Spoiler alert below the break.

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kloppenberg, reading obama

This is the next in the series of posts on what I read this summer. A friend had given me a copy of James T. Kloppenberg‘s Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition a while ago, but I hadn’t cracked it till this summer. It’s an engaging, sophisticated account of Obama’s intellectual pedigree and the political and academic sensibilities he carried into national politics. Continue reading

the riley flap and anti-intellectualism

For those who haven’t been following it thus far, Horowitz wannabe Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a screed about black studies as a paid blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education, following up on the Chronicle’s generally positive news story about the discipline. There’s nothing particularly special about the screed; it’s garden-variety right-wing anti-intellectualism, peppered with a well-honed tone of marginalized sanctimony. Given its subject matter, it’s clearly racist too, but as far as I can tell the racism is not the primary cause of the argument but a result of its defiant ignorance. Continue reading

blood pressure, the slavery hypothesis, and social construction

My wife is a physician, and like many doctors was taught in medical schools that African Americans are susceptible to hypertension, and particularly salt-sensitive hypertension, as a result of genetic selection through conditions during the middle passage. I raised this possibility in chatting with Liana Richardson, a postdoc here at UNC, about her very interesting work  on hypertension as a biomarker for stress over the life course, and in particular as a marker for high stress among African Americans. Her response was very interesting, and illustrates an example of cross-disciplinary information flows.

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gwen lister, courageous journalist, steps down

In 1985, in the midst of the Apartheid occupation, an incredibly courageous journalist, Gwen Lister, founded The Namibian, an independent, populist newspaper. It became one of very, very few independent papers to take up the cause of The People after independence. I worked for The Namibian in 1991-1992 as it was making the transition from fighting for national independence to being fiercely independent itself. Gwen stepped down as editor earlier this month, handing over the reins to protege Tangeni Amupadhi and fulfilling a long-term goal of letting the paper survive past her leadership. CNN did a great special on Gwen’s life work:

http://cnn.com/video/?/video/international/2011/10/31/african-voices-gwen-lister-namibian.cnn

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2011/10/31/african-voices-gwen-lister-journalism.cnn

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2011/10/31/african-voices-gwen-lister-print.cnn

Congratulations, Gwen, on a brave and amazing career at The Namibian.

tally’s corner, then and now

The New Deal Carry-out shop is on a corner in downtown Washingon, D.C. It would be within walking distance of the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and other major public buildings over the nation’s capital, if anyone cared to walk there, but no one ever does. Across the street from the Carry-out is a liquor store. The other two corners of the intersection are occupied by a dry cleaning and shoe repair store and a wholesale plumbing supplies showroom and warehouse.

So begins Elliot Liebow’s famous description of Tally’s Corner. Now — thanks to Liebow’s wife — we now know from where he wrote that description: 11th and M Streets in NW. This was revealed by Washington Post reporter and columnist John Kelly this week. The column includes a brief bio of Liebow and as well as a short description of the book and its importance.

This book is a standard in any class on urban sociology, and likely any methods class on ethnography. There are lessons embedded in just the introductory chapter that are still useful today. He sought to study black men in poverty because so much had been written about poor women and children because “[a]t the purely practical level, the lower-class Negro man is neglected from a research point of view simply because he is more difficult to reach than women, youths, and children” (p. 3). He looked to describe the everyday lives of his informants as “fathers, husbands, lovers, breadwinners,” which simultaneously highlighted their individual worth (and, sometimes, shortcomings) while showing how their lives were structured by the lack of opportunities available to them. This book, more than almost any other, exemplifies what can be learned by setting out to deeply describe the context in which people live their everyday lives.

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not sure she gets it

“I’m the least racist of anyone. Some of my greatest friends are black.”

That is what Tennessee state rep Terri Lynn Weaver said after news broke that she posted a picture of her Halloween costume on Facebook: her in black face with the caption “Aunt Jemima, you is so sweet.” Not sure what definition of racist she is using, but I’m pretty sure that under any definition I am familiar with she would not rank near the bottom. Who is to blame for this brouhaha? You guessed it, the Democrats!

ethnicity is the curse of culture

I wrote the above phrase in an email to a senior scholar (not a social scientist) I enjoy arguing politics with. I’m not entirely sure what I meant by it, but he liked a lot so I thought I’d flesh it out here.

I think the point I was getting at is that culture is about patterned behaviors, ideas, thoughts, styles, skills, habits–it’s something that’s done or thought. By contrast, ethnicity is a static label–a categorization implying exclusivity. It’s based on culture (whether practiced or just perceived), but it’s more than culture. Ethnicity is culture ossified, abstracted from culture and (re)presented to the bearer of culture, confronting her as if it were an alien reality beyond her control.

my jaw dropped

I study racial disparities in criminal justice, but this still completely blew me away. I started clicking around and have ended up collecting links to a large number of quite amazing videos of racial interactions that would be great discussion-starters in class. The two segments that just make my jaw drop were broadcast last February on ABC 20-20′s “What Would You Do?” series last February. They are a little over six minutes each after a 15 second commercial*. The setup is a parking lot in a public park in a White suburb. In part 1, for several hours three White boys overtly vandalize a car. Dozens of White people walk by, looking but doing nothing. Only one ever calls the police; a few say something to the boys. It’s quite amazing to see. In part 2, three Black boys do the same thing: lots of people call the police, many more people intervene.   Continue reading

i love appletree…

…a hilarious blog that wants us to rehash our most eloquent “is this image racist?” conversation of a few months ago by titling this image “…but if *I* asked to do this, they’d call me a racist:”

obama-kid

My vote: adorable.

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