Category Archives: class

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.

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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.

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Racialicious Review: Who And What Really Has A Place At The Table?

By Andrea Plaid

Via jonathanjphalperin.com

Via jonathanjphalperin.com

 

Taking a break from the Crush column to review one of my favorite kinds of movies–documentaries–but I promise to include a Crush alum to keep some continuity!

So, let me keep my promise: I saw CrushR Raj Patel in a celebrity-powered version of Food, Inc., the well-regarded exposé on the effects of agribusiness and the US government subsidizing it on people living in this country and Latin America, the other night. The documentary, called A Place At The Table–as powered by Top Chef‘s Tom Colicchio (and co-directed and produced by Colicchio’s spouse Lori Silverbush), actor Jeff Bridges, and musicians T Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars–takes Food, Inc.‘s initial nugget of criticism on how agribusiness and its federal subsidies helps create food insecurity to create a solid framework on exactly how it’s done, from the Reagan-era dependence on food charities to fill in the needs of food-insecure USians as the administration cut federal spending on food programs (the film states that the US had 200 food banks in 1980 but now there are 40,000 food banks, soup kitchens, and pantries) to pricing many people living in this country out of being able to get healthy food (according to the film, the relative price of fresh fruit and vegetables has gone up by 40% since 1980, while the price of processed foods has gone done by about the same percentage) to business policies (like the fact, says the documentary, that we subsidize the basic ingredients in processed foods but don’t subsidize fruits, vegetables, and whole grains because the producers tend to be small producers as well as food suppliers and business owners determining that it’s simply not cost-effective to make fresh produce available to certain locations because they’re considered “out of the way”).

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Meanwhile, On TumblR: Bed-Stuy, Tupac, And Azealia Banks

By Andrea Plaid

Usually, this review spotlights an item or two that the R’s Tumblizens have been checking out/liked/reblogged during the week.

This week, though? Let’s just say that folks were feeling quite a few of the posts, starting with one about some mystery posters appearing in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood.

Racism Still Exists poster, via Colorlines.

Racism Still Exists poster, via Colorlines.

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Race + Fashion: Life, Labels, And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Michael Kors bag.

By Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn Eaton, cross-posted from Digital Femme

“Cheryl Lynn, you will have your first and last dollar.” My mother says it with blend of mirth, surprise, and exasperation–as if she cannot believe she produced a child who behaves in such a practical manner, a child who would dare complain that she had to spend twenty-four dollars on a purse due to the old one falling apart at the seams. My mother possesses a walk-in closet full of purses. Not one could be purchased for twenty-four dollars. The glint of a gold circle surrounding a bold M and K–the lack of one separating my leather satchel from her assortment–costs a great deal more.

Yet, my mother is a child of poverty; I am a child of the working-class struggle. She needs her talismans, her high-end upmarket logos, to make her feel as if she is of worth. I was taught to fear them, to believe that obtaining them would bring about financial ruin. I’ve jokingly told many friends that I’m glad I grew up working-class instead of rich, middle class, or poor because it has made me so paranoid about money that I’ll never purchase designer labels. Black working-class kids are raised to believe that one wrong move will have you back in the ghetto where your parents came from. Working-class kids are raised on fear.
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Voices: The US, New York City, And The Central Park Five–Then And Now

**TRIGGER WARNING**

Antron McCray climbed on stage in a Manhattan theater one night last week and stepped into the kind of spotlight that, until now, has almost always meant trouble for him.

Exiled from New York, his hometown, Mr. McCray was last seen in public two decades ago as a skinny 16-year-old, practically drowning in a suit that he wore to the Manhattan courthouse where he was tried on charges that he was part of a mob that raped a jogger in Central Park and beat her nearly to death in April 1989. In the television news footage, he often held his mother’s hand as he walked past screaming demonstrators.

The audience that had just seen him as a boy — in a baseball uniform, in a police precinct station house being interrogated, in the too-big suit going to court — and had listened to his voice throughout the film could now see him as a man. At 39, his shoulders were broader, and his waist a bit thicker.

There was something he wanted to tell the audience about his anonymity.

“Here’s the reason why I escaped New York: I just had to get away,” Mr. McCray said. “Start a new life.”

That logic took him to a shocking place.

“Actually, uh,” he said, “I don’t even go by Antron McCray no more.”

Saying that out loud seemed to take even Mr. McCray by surprise, a sudden tolling of what he lost. Words thickened in his mouth. On either side of him, two of the other men, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam, squeezed his shoulders and patted his back.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Junot Diaz

By Andrea Plaid

If we had to pick a Racialicious poster boy–that aphrodisiac of sapiosexuality–Junot Diaz would be it.

Junot Diaz. Photo: Carolyn Cole. Via Los Angeles Times.

The R’s Owner/Editor Latoya Peterson says this about his book, The Brief Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao:

My eyes drank in every word of “Wildwood,” the second chapter in Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. On the plane from Baltimore to Austin, the narrative gripped me solidly by the throat, turning a casual curiosity about Oscar into a desperate longing to hear more from his sister Lola.

When the plane touched down, my sweatshirt was crunchy with the salt from shed tears and I had run through six napkins while the story unfolded. I grabbed my bags, and called my boyfriend who had been badgering me about reading the novel for some months now.

“Why didn’t you mention Lola?” I asked.

“Who? Oscar’s sister? Why is that…oh.” His voice suddenly bloomed with recognition and we sat in silence for a few seconds.

In all the reviews I have read about the novel since I finished the final page, the character of Lola is generally a footnote. Described as a beautiful girl, or a troubled girl, or Oscar’s sister, the strength of her narrative and her story seem overshadowed by the book’s focus – obviously, Oscar – or by the story of her mother, Belicia, the beautiful prieta who seemed forged partially from the steel intended to break her into submission. And yet, to me, Lola’s story was the most compelling, reflecting back in stark focus so many emotions, trials and ideas that were intimately familiar to me and the other girls I knew growing up.

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Because in the book I read – as in life – the men in each of these women’s lives were not central figures. There are men, yes, and Oscar is the unifying force in the narrative, but the people Belicia and Lola were involved with were not the point unto themselves. The men stood for the method of escape. With the exception of The Gangster and Yunior, all the men in the book that Lola and Belicia were involved with were ways to get the hell out.

Lola’s boyfriend Aldo is the method to escape her mother. Sure, she loved him. Kind of. But reading through the lines, the catalyst for her leaving with Aldo was that he asked to her to come live with him. Sex was part of the travel cost. As I have written before, a guy is the easiest way to escape a fucked up family life.

But this easily overlooked difference belies the true genius in Oscar Wao. It isn’t just a documenting a fictionalized account of the things that happen in our real life communities. The book shines in how Diaz fills in what would normally be an outline, and shows us the after. Or more appropriately, how Diaz demonstrates how there ain’t no happily ever after. There are just choices and consequences.

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PSY’s “Gangnam Style” And “Gangnam Oppa” In “Architecture 101″ (1)

By Guest Contributor Jea Kim (aka Onsemiro), cross-posted from My Dear Korea

  1. What the Heck Is Gangnam Style?

PSY finally set the world on fire with a song, Gangnam Seutail (강남스타일, “Gangnam Style”), written and performed by himself. The song is the title track of his sixth studio album, Yukgap (육갑), which can be interpreted two ways: (i) the word originally  means “the sexagenary cycle;” but (ii) it is mostly used in a derogatory way as meaning “a total retard.”  However, PSY chose this word to express his hope that his sixth (육(六), “six”) album would be the best (갑(甲), “best”). He made a wish and his wish came true.  In fact, the song turned out to be a greater success than he had hoped; it became an instant YouTube, and iTunes hit upon its release and also has immediately become a worldwide phenom.  And people are beginning to wonder what the heck is “Gangnam style.”

Generally speaking, “Gangnam” is the south of the Han River in Seoul while “Gangbuk” is the north of the river, in which gang means “river” (that is, the Han River); nam is “south,” and buk is north.  More specifically, though, it refers to the areas that include Gangnam-gu and Seocho-gu districts as seen below.  (Note that Songpa-gu can be considered to be part of Gangnam in a broader sense.)
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