Category Archives: class

Poet Clint Smith on Food Deserts and Urban Warriors

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally posted at Sociological Images

In this powerful spoken word, poet Clint Smith, who is also a teacher in Washington D.C., tells the stories of some of his students. It puts names and details to the struggles of young people trying to thrive in an urban environment that is all too often indifferent to their survival.

Via Upworthy.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.

Is Economic Mobility Destined to be a Zero Sum Game?

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury


In the New York Times, Richard V. Reeves is smacking sacred cows, positing that there is no way for everyone to win in our society. Writing on “The Glass-Floor Problem,” Reeves looks at mobility and “sticky floors,” noting:

It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. If we want more poor kids climbing the ladder of relative mobility, we need more rich kids sliding down the chutes.

Even the most liberal parents are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea that their own children should fall down the scale in the name of making room for a smarter kid from a poorer home. They invest large amounts of economic, social and cultural capital to keep their own children high up the social scale. As they should: there is nothing wrong with parents doing the best by their children.

The problem comes if institutional frameworks in, say, the higher education system or the labor market are distorted in favor of the powerful — a process the sociologist Charles Tilly labeled “opportunity hoarding.” The less talented children of the affluent are able to defy social gravity and remain at the top of the ladder, reducing the number of places open to those from less fortunate backgrounds.

Many New York Times commenters rejected this framework entirely – the idea that someone else has to lose for another to win was too unsettling to consider. And yet, when we compete in an economy of “elites” and there are limited spots available for the most desired schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, that is exactly what has to happen. However, what interested me more than Reeves’s initial argument was a large piece of his solution: access to more elite colleges.

College matters a lot for social mobility. For someone from a poor background, getting a four-year degree virtually guarantees upward mobility. Elite colleges act as gateways to the best career paths. Getting more poor kids into colleges, and getting the brightest into the best colleges, ought to be a national mission.

In essence, Reeves wants to solve a problem by reinforcing the foundation of the problem. Continue reading

An Open Letter To Kal Penn On Stop And Frisk

"The Time Machine" PremiereBy Guest Contributor Bridget Todd

Dear Kalpen Suresh Modi,

I’ve been a big fan of yours for some time.

Even though I don’t know you, you always struck me as someone who was thoughtful about race.

When I heard your stage name Kal Penn really came from your wanting to see if white casting directors would be more responsive to “Kal” than to “Kalpeen,” I found it was so hilariously insightful that I couldn’t help but become a fan.

For whatever reason, I assumed you and I were similar. But on Tuesday when you tweeted that you were supportive of Stop and Frisk, I knew we weren’t as similar as I once assumed.

We had a brief back and forth about the policy on twitter, and while I appreciated you taking the time to share your thoughts, 140 characters isn’t enough space to adequately tell you misinformed you really are on Stop and Frisk.

Continue reading

Quoted: Mark Anthony Neal On Black Dads On TV

John Amos in Good Times. Via obnug.com.

John Amos in Good Times. Via obnug.com.

With Father’s Day this Sunday, I’ve been thinking about how fathers have been portrayed on television over the years.

As a child growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s, the TV fathers who I best remember were Jim Anderson, Robert Young’s character on “Father Knows Best,” and Mike Brady, portrayed by Robert Reed in “The Brady Bunch.” Both men were typical of the kinds of men that many expected to be the “head of the family” in 20th-century American society.

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Brady were also in stark contrast to my father and many of the working-class black men I knew in my neighborhood or saw on TV, characters like Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford and John Amos’s James Evans, Sr., who was much closer in spirit to my own dad.

That all changed in the fall of 1984, when America was introduced to Bill Cosby’s Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, who quickly took on the unprecedented role for a black man as America’s “favorite dad.”

There was a need to celebrate a character who challenged historic stereotypes of black men as fathers — often portrayed as absent, shiftless, unemployed and overly chauvinistic. But was an upper middle-class professional not dramatically different than his white male peers really what black audiences were looking for? Where were the black male characters who represented the complexities of what it means to be a black in contemporary America?  Would we even know them if we saw them?

In my recent work researching the intersection of African-American and pop cultures, I have been examining the ways that black men are legible to us in the popular imagination. In the ways that seeing a black man on television with a basketball or on a newscast about crime is terribly familiar to us, more complex images of black men as fathers seem few and far between. Indeed, the recent Samsung Galaxy II commercial–featuring basketball star LeBron James engaging with his sons over breakfast–seems almost revolutionary.

–Mark Anthony Neal, “On Occasion, TV Captures Complexities Of Black Men As Fathers,” The Herald-Sun 6/12/13

Six Things You Can Do Instead Of Shaming Unmarried Women For Having Children

5565091983_4fac3f5f8d

Image Credit: AfroDad

By Guest Contributor  Deesha Philyaw

A few years ago, there was an orchestrated online blogging effort to shame black women for having children outside of marriage.  This effort masqueraded as a movement of concern seeking to reduce poor socioeconomic outcomes for black children.  Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  As a co-founder (along with my ex-husband) of co-parenting101.org, I was asked to participate in this effort.  I took note of the fact that my invitation to participate came after the movement launched and was found to be wanting.  I mean, after you castigate women and call their children “bastards,” and critics are calling you out for it, it’s definitely time for Plan B (no pun intended).  Well, I wanted no parts of it, and I made my reasons clear when I declined the invitation.  Co-parenting101.org was created to support and encourage parents and their children, not demonize them.

Further, I refused to participate in something that I felt would dishonor the struggles of my single mother, who did not raise me to be ashamed of the circumstances of my birth nor of her marital status.  But for a variety of reasons, I did grow up feeling ashamed about it.  And I know that I’m not the only child of unmarried parents who experienced this shame, or the shame that’s heaped upon people simply because they are poor.  It’s a shame that predates blogging and the internet. Shame clearly isn’t effective birth control.

I also chose not to participate out of respect for my relatives and grade-school classmates who later became young, unmarried mothers unexpectedly.  Because I know that on several occasions, I was just one day in my menstrual cycle or one broken condom away from that same situation. We went to the same free clinics together in 8th and 9th grade, got our “foam and rubbers” to use until the birth control pills were reliable, and had sex while holding our breath.  Nobody said a word to us about HIV and AIDS in 1985.  A lot of them got pregnant before they wanted to; I didn’t.  I don’t feel superior.

That said, I absolutely care about the fact that half of all children raised in single-mother-headed households grow up in poverty.  But shouldn’t we be attacking poverty, instead of attacking people who live in poverty, if that’s really the concern?  Imagine if even a fraction of the $1 trillion in resources and public support for the failed “War on Drugs” of the past 40 years had funded a “War on Poverty?”  But that didn’t happen, of course, because it’s easier to simply blame poor people for being poor.  In the absence of actual solutions comes blame, shame, and the politics of respectability.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are six alternatives to shaming and blaming unmarried women for having children:

1. Get Your Stats Straight

Here, here, here, and here are some statistics that are often mentioned to highlight concern for children raised by single mothers in the U.S.:

*While half of all children raised by single mothers grow up in poverty, only one in 10 of their counterparts in married households grow up poor.

*Nearly 3 out of 4 black children are born outside of marriage.

*Most babies born to women under 30 are born outside of marriage, and in the last 20 years, the fastest growth for this trend has been among 20-something white women who have some college education.

However, a statistic that’s far less widely known is that most single mothers in the U.S. are separated, divorced, or widowed.  And these moms have higher poverty rates than single moms in other high-income countries, despite working more hours.  Across the board, single US mothers’ employment experiences and support from the social safety-net lag behind that of their counterparts abroad.  

2. Support Public Policies That Support Women And Children

Why are US single working mothers and their children faring so poorly? And why is marriage put forth as a cure-all for their predicament?

Writing in The American Prospect, Amanda Marcotte observes, “To justify obsessing over non-married-ness—at the expense of, say, asking why a single income isn’t enough to be middle class, as it was for huge percentages of the population in the 1950s—requires believing that single women need a bit more scolding…”

And if single women need more scolding, single black women–with our wanton baby-making selves–need 10 times more.  But, oh, right…it’s about the children.  Our children face a harder row to hoe than their white counterparts, hence the urgency of the situation…and the extra heaping of scorn.  

Except scorn never fed a child’s mind or empty belly the way, say, early childhood education and his mom’s equal and higher wages could.  Scorn doesn’t enact better family- and sick-leave policies, and it doesn’t protect the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or food stamps (SNAP) from Republicans hell-bent on destroying the social safety-net.

And scorn never gave a woman or girl access to birth control and abortion when politicians on the right want to eliminate access to both…at the same damn time.  

3. Ditch The Marriage Myths About People With Low Incomes

According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, people with low incomes subscribe to more traditional values with regard to marriage and divorce than those with moderate and higher incomes.  Thomas Trail, UCLA postdoctoral fellow in psychology and the study’s lead author, notes that lower-income partners “have no more problems with communication, sex, parental roles or division of household chores than do higher income couples.”  But, according to the study, they may still choose to remain single because they recognize that sustaining a marriage is particularly difficult when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and they don’t want to end up divorced.

The study also concluded that unmarried women with lower incomes have children because while they may have no role models for successful, healthy marriages and may not trust the men they know with their “financial and family future,” they do feel capable of raising a child because they have role models for successful single motherhood.

Unfortunately, government policy is based on false assumptions about what people with lower incomes value and how they relate.  The result? A billion dollars spent on educational curricula to promote marriage to people who already believe in it.

Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and senior author of the study, says increasing social mobility, through educational and career opportunities, is the best way to lower teen pregnancy rates.  In general, government money is better spent helping people with the “day-to-day challenges in their lives” such as transportation and affordable child care, not on relationship education.

4. Remember that Life Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

Relationships and marriages fail.  Birth control fails.  Some women choose not to marry people they deem to be unsuitable mates, while still choosing to have a child. Things happen that we don’t anticipate.  Punishing ourselves or teaching our children that they should feel less-than when life doesn’t go as planned isn’t productive.  As parents, our job is to help our children make wise and healthy decisions.  But it’s also our job to raise resilient children who know how to be resourceful, how to cope, and how to bounce back when bad, difficult, or unexpected things happen.

5. Stop Talking About Single Moms…and Start Listening To Them

Stacia L. Brown, founder of BeyondBabyMamas.com, makes so many excellent points about the diverse social, personal, and economic experiences of single moms in her piece for The Atlantic Sexes, “How Unwed Mothers Feel About Being Unwed Mothers,” that I’m just going to link to it here.

6. Remember That Not All Single Moms Are Parenting Alone

Research, anecdotal evidence, and plain old common sense bear out the fact that children can thrive when their fit and willing parents play an active role in their lives, even if their parents aren’t married to each other.  If the government wants to spend on curricula for parents, then funding ongoing, quality co-parenting classes–not just the handful sometimes required by family courts–would be a wise investment.

Someone can make a terrible mate, yet still be a great parent to their child and a great parenting partner to their ex-mate.  This isn’t always easy, to say the least, and our cultural expectation is that exes will be hopelessly combative.  Yet some co-parents manage to put their animosity side and put their children first.  Some previously absentee fathers do the hard work of re-engaging in their children’s lives.  And some single moms parent with the support of a “village” of extended family, other moms, and friends.

~

Children born to unmarried parents are not a foregone conclusion. Condemnation of single parents doesn’t allow for the myriad of possibilities of their children’s lives.  But for black folks, embracing these possibilities requires us to let go of cultural presumptions about deadbeat baby daddies, child-support-misspending, promiscuous baby mamas, and their “illegitimate” children.  Our children deserve better.  They deserve our advocacy and our activism–not our contempt.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author (with her ex-husband) of “Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce” and the co-founder of co-parenting101.org. She is a remarried mother of four girls–two daughters and two bonus daughters.

 

Meanwhile, On TumblR: English As A Language of Conquest And Two Stories of Employment And Race

By Andrea Plaid

Via www.goodreads.com.

Via www.goodreads.com.

Racializens, my Feminist Wire cohort Monica Torres wants to extend her deepest appreciation for all of you loving the hell out of her excerpted post about the meaning of being an Latina who’s an English major:

I’m an English major. It is a language of conquest.

What does it say that I’m mastering the same language that was used to make my mother feel inferior? Growing up, I had a white friend who used to laugh whenever my mother spoke English, amused by the way she rolled her r’s. My sister and I tease Mami about her accent too, but it’s different when we do it, or is it? The echoes of colonization linger in my voice. The weapons of the death squads that pushed my mother out of El Salvador were U.S.-funded. When Nixon promised, “We’re going to smash him!” it was said in his native tongue, and when the Chilean president he smashed used his last words to promise, “Long live Chile!” it was said in his. And when my family told me the story of my grandfather’s arrest by the dictatorship that followed, my grandfather stayed silent, and meeting his eyes, I cried, understanding that there were no words big enough for loss.

English is a language of conquest. I benefit from its richness, but I’m not exempt from its limitations. I am ‘that girl’ in your English classes, the one who is tired of talking about dead white dudes. But I’m still complicit with the system, reading nineteenth-century British literature to graduate.

Continue reading

Managing Stigma: Doing Race, Class, And Gender

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

I featured the two-page ad below in one of the first posts I ever wrote for SocImages (it was October of 2007 and we’d written less than 100 posts; today we’re approaching 5,000, but I digress…).  It’s still one of my very favorite images.

I use it in Sociology 101 when I argue that race, class, and gender are, among other things, performances. Activities, items, and behaviors carry class, race, and gender meanings. In order to tell stories about ourselves, we strategically combine these things with the meanings we carry on our bodies (a gendered shape, skin color, and hair texture etc., and signs of economic wealth or deprivation).

The ad for PhatFarm deftly balances Blackness (the body), upper-class Whiteness (the sailboat), and femininity (the pink sweater).  In strategically using culturally resonant signifiers, he challenges popular representations of the Black body.

1

This happens in real life, too.  Journalist Brent Staples powerfully discusses how he adds a signifier of upper-class Whiteness to his large Black body in order to avoid the discomfort of frightening people on the streets of New York.

…I employ what has proved to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers. Even steely New Yorkers hunching toward nighttime destinations seem to relax and occasionally they even join in the tune. Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

“It is my equivalent to the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country,” Staples adds, referring to the fact that being perceived as dangerous can itself be dangerous, as we know from the example of Trayvon Martin and Rodrigo Diaz, who was shot in the head in January when he accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway thinking it belonged to a friend.

Thinking of class, race, and gender as performances gives us credit for being agents.  We don’t have control over what the signifiers are, nor how people read our bodies, but we can actively try to manage those meanings.  Of course, some people have to do more “damage control” than others.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Retrolicious: Downton Abbey And Mad Men Edition

Welcome to Retrolicious, a series of discussions and analyses about period dramas. First–get your pinkies up–editors Andrea Plaid and Tami Winfrey Harris explore the lives of English nobility, as presented on Downton Abbey, contrasted with 50s/60s cool of Mad Men. Oh…and spoilers are all over this post.

So, shall we?

Downton Abbey blew up Twitter timelines this year. We may never hear Laura Linney exclaim (per Scandal’s advertising) that it’s “the #1 show on Twitter” (!!!!), but it gets its fair share of love. Why?

Tami: “Why?” really is the question.

I love a good period drama. Mad Men and Downton Abbey stay on my must-watch list. (Though, after this last season, Downton’s days may be numbered.) But this idea of exploring period dramas came from the team at the R interrogating just that question.

Embedded in a lot of the love of Downton and shows like it, is a romanticizing of “good old days.” And though Downton can be frank about issues like gender inequity, it also (I think more so than, say, Mad Men) minimizes other oppressions, like that of gay people, in order to make characters appealing to modern sensibilities. The result is a lot of modern people sitting about yearning for what really were “bad old days” for all but a privileged few, because of the pretty dresses and dashing gents in white tie.

Andrea: But I think this “why” is more specific than just interrogating period dramas, though we’ll get to that question later on. This particular “why” is “why Downton Abbey over other Masterpiece Classic shows, or even other PBS shows?” I mean, are we going to tweet about the Jeremy Piven-led costume drama Mr. Selfridge? Maybe…and I’m sure PBS is hoping we will.

Tami: Jeremy Piven? Eeechh…no.

Andrea: I know, I know. He plays some pretty gross characters. See, I think Piven was a sexy MF circa Ellen…with his chest full of hair. I hold out hope against hope that he’ll grow it back. But I digress…

So, there’s something about Abbey specifically that gathers people around screens and carrying on on my timeline.

And after slogging through three seasons of this show, I’m still at a loss. I’m still suffering boredom from watching this show. Maybe I’ve lost my taste for period dramas?…No, because I’m totally down for The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, Mansfield Park, and old Masterpiece Theatre (before they re-branded themselves to Masterpiece Classic) joints like The Buccaneers. And, if they’re still on Netflix, I want to check out a couple more Masterpiece Theatre classics: Brideshead Revisited and Upstairs, Downstairs. But Downton Abbey gives me a case of the “mehs,” though it’s a beautifully shot show.

Continue reading