Category Archives: race

The Curious Evolution of the Sign Spinner

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

In the midst of the recession a new occupation emerged: the sign spinner.  These individuals stood on sidewalks outside of businesses, dancing with signs or arrows that they threw and twisted in the air and around their bodies.  Some of them were pretty cool, actually.

Yesterday NPR discussed the replacement of some of these spinners with mannequins. Robots that are programmed to spin the sign.  Of course, they aren’t nearly as good as a halfway decent human sign spinner.  But, it was argued, they’re getting the job done.

From human to machine, then.  But no one commented on the bizarre race- and sex-change that accompanied this shift.  In my part of the country, most human sign spinners are black or Latino men.  I suspect that’s true wherever there’s a substantial non-white, non-Asian population.  But the mannequins appear to be overwhelming white women.

The Google image search for each somewhat supports this narrative.  The mannequins are overly white women and the humans are almost all men and, arguably, disproportionately men of color.

Google search for “sign spinners” (click to enlarge):

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Google search for “‘mannequin sign spinners”  (click to enlarge):

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Isn’t. This. Interesting.

When the business owner or manager can make choices about what race and gender they prefer, they choose white females.  Presumably because “sex sells,” the female body (in a bikini) is the universal symbol for sex, and white women are the most valuable commodity in that market.

When we’re hiring low wage human workers, however, business owners and managers have less control over the race and gender composition of their workforce.  It appears most would prefer to hire white women in bikinis for everything but, because of institutionalized racism and the sex segregation of occupations, they get men and, perhaps, men of color.

How amazing that something so simple — the evolution of the sign spinner — can tell us so much about who we value and why.

Here’s a commercial for the new robotic sign spinners, to drive the point home:

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

Quoted: Simon Tam of The Slants on trademarking his band’s name

The Slants courtesy of TheSlants.com

The Slants courtesy of TheSlants.com

 

According to NPR, Portland-based band,The Slants describes themselves “as one of the first Asian-American rock bands. Their music caters to an Asian-American crowd, they’ve spoken at various Asian-American events, and they’re proud of all of it.” But the group’s four-year effort to trademark its name has been bound up in discussions of what constitutes a racial slur and how derogatory words can be reclaimed. Band member Simon Tam says of The Slants’ battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:

They said because of our ethnicity, people automatically think of the racial slur as opposed to any other definition of the term. In other words, if I was white, this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

The term ‘slant’ means a lot of different things. And [the lawyer from the PTO] even acknowledged that, so [we asked], ‘Why did you choose to apply the racial connotations to this application, but you’ve never done that before in the entire history of this country? Why this case?’ And they said it was because I was Asian-American.

Read more at NPR…

Race + Tech: Watch Black Girls Code’s Kimberly Bryant’s TED Talk

By Arturo R. García

The opening of Kimberly Bryant’s video lays it out: “Just to say the words ‘Black Girls’ is revolutionary.”

In this presentation from a TED Talks event in Kansas City in August 2013, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant takes us through not just the development of BGC, but her own upbringing in Memphis, a hub of social change in its own right.

“As a child of the ’60s, I like to think that revolution and radical action was running through my veins, from the time I set foot on the Earth,” she explains. What she has built, she says, is a movement not just for the nerdy girl she was growing up, but for girls like her daughter, and girls “who believe the revolution of this generation is, indeed, technology.”

Beauty = White: Photo Editing Software Edition

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

Here is something quite simple, sent along by Judy B.  It’s a screenshot of Gimp, an open source image editing application.  An optional plug-in, created by a user, offers a series of filters for images, including ones that “beautify.”  One of the options is “skin whitening.”

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This is one more reminder that we live in a racist society that conflates whiteness with beauty.  Remember, too, though, that someone — very possibly a set of people — had to make a conscious decision to include skin whitening as an option and position it as a sub-category of beautification.  Then they had to, literally, type the words into the program and make it so.

This shit doesn’t just happen.  It’s not random.  Racism isn’t just an ephemeral cultural thing.  It involves actual decisions made by real people who, if not motivated by racism, are complicit with it.

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

The racial empathy gap

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

In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I proctored law school exams to earn extra money.  At the end of one exam, while I was collecting the final papers, I overheard two students discussing their answers on an essay question about sentencing.  One said to the other: “I gave the rich guy a lesser sentence because I figured, since he had such a cushy life, it would take less punishment to get through to him.”  There’s your next crop of lawyers, I thought, doling out the prison sentences to the poor and letting the rich off with a slap on the wrist.

Well, it turns out that there is a well-documented psychological phenomenon behind what I’d overheard.  Morten B. sent along an essay by Jason Silverstein in which he reviews the literature on the racial empathy gap.  All things being equal, if you show a person an imagine of a dark- and a light-skinned person being harmed, they will most likely react more strongly to the latter.  Studies have found evidence of this using both self-report and measures of brain activity.  Notably, both Black and White people  respond similarly.

Here are the results of six studies using self-report; in the first four, the relationship between race and how much pain subjects attributed to the target was statistically significant:

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What’s going on?

Silverstein explains that this isn’t necessarily about racial animosity or even identification with one’s own group (remember that both Black and White people show this response). Instead, it appears to be related to the perception that Black people have already had to cope with a great deal of pain — from racism, poverty, poor health, etc — and, as a result, have a greater pain threshold.  In other words, they are less sensitive to pain because they’ve been hardened.

Efforts to parse out whether this effect is due to race specifically or perceptions of whether a person has lived a hard life suggest that it might be primarily the latter.  But, as Silverstein points out, we tend to homogenize the Black population and assume that all Black people face adversity.  So, whether the phenomenon is caused by race or status gets pretty muddy pretty fast.

In any case, this is perfectly in line with the soon-t0-be-lawyer I overheard at Wisconsin.  He gave the “hardened criminal” a harsher sentence than the person convicted of a white-collar crime because he believed that a greater degree of suffering was required to make an impact.  That was just a hypothetical case, but Silverstein reviews research that shows that the racial empathy gap has real world consequences: undertreatment of pain (even in children) and, yes, harsher sentences for African Americans convicted of crimes.

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

Solidarity is for white women and Asian people are funny

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By Guest Contributor Lindsey Yoo: originally published at Filthy Freedom

Disclaimer: The discussion of inclusivity and solidarity is relevant to many constituencies in different ways; this is my unique take as an Asian, female-identified individual.

I’ve come to a curious, heightened recognition these past few weeks: My ethnicity is something to laugh at. When an Asian woman is denigrated and exoticized by a group of white men in an offensive video entitled “Asian Girlz”, I am told I shouldn’t be so upset because the woman clearly enjoyed it and the video was clearly just a joke. When the lone Asian character in the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” perpetuates negative racial tropes through easy, cheap humor that capitalizes on her awkward silences and accented, broken English, I’m supposed to double back in laughter, shake my head, and say “Well, at least they have Laverne Cox!” When I express my anger at careless, racist reporting of an Asiana Airlines crash that killed two teenage girls–KTVU fired a producer after the network broadcast the pilots’ names as “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow”–the immediate reaction I get is a giggle and a laugh.

 #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen was a worldwide trending hashtag originally created to expose the tendency of feminism to exclude the experiences and narratives of women of color. The hashtag led to robust and much-needed discussions that unmasked the tendency of all progressive circles to work in silos instead of calling for true solidarity across multiple race and gender identities. Filthy Freedom founder Bea Hinton and I both participated in the discussions and watched as they yielded hashtags such as #blackpowerisforblackmen, which highlighted the privileging of black male voices in discussions on black empowerment, and #fuckcispeople, which called out the tendency of all social justice narratives to focus solely on cisgender struggles. Through the steady stream of well-formulated tweets (and angry trolls), I kept wondering: Is my voice, as an Asian, female-identified individual, relevant at all?In Matthew Salesses’ “How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans,” Matthew recounts how he came to realize that Asians seem to have no place in discussions about racial hierarchies:

For my day job, I organize a seminar at Harvard on the topic of Inequality. I attend these talks both out of responsibility and out of interest. But after two and a half years, I can only remember Asians being mentioned twice, once in direct response to a question by an Asian student. I remember sitting beside another Asian American student and listening to a lecture earlier this year. He said something like, “Nobody ever talks about Asians,” and I said, “Asians don’t exist in Sociology.” We both laughed. It was a joke, but it stung with a certain truth.

I also learned that Asian-Americans occupy a very limited niche in conversations about social justice. In my sophomore year in college, after I learned of Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama’s role in the civil rights movement and asked a sociology professor why none of our classroom discussions included any mention of her role, she told me that “bringing an Asian into the discussion on civil rights would just confuse people.” When I pointed out to another sociology professor that the statistics we were studying that day, on the parenting styles of black and Hispanic parents versus white parents, did not take into account the unique perspective of Asians, she told me bluntly that “the Asian perspective can be found in the stats on white people.” Continue reading