224 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

December 15, 2014

Police Misconduct as a Social Problem

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are you angry about the legal system’s decisions about the cases in which have police killed unarmed black boys or men? Or are you angry that people are angry about that?

It is not clear whether the rates of unarmed black man being killed by police are increasing, but we are seeing more media coverage when it happens. It’s about time.

Is this a problem of individuals? Yes, on the one hand. It’s a problem for them personally if it happens to them or someone in their life. But it’s also a problem for society. One of the key tenets in sociology is that the personal isn’t just personal, it’s societal, and it’s political. The things that we experience are linked to larger social structures.

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November 17, 2014

Aging, Living, and Dying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As a college professor, my students are almost always the same age—with a few outliers—but I continue to get older, which occasionally becomes more salient. Recently we screened the documentary The Central Park Five in our department, a film focusing on the attack on a jogger in 1989 and the subsequent rush to judgment that led to the wrongful imprisonment of five teen boys. The incident took place when I was a college student living in New York, and before most of the students in attendance were born. When we talked about the film, they were just as interested in hearing more about what it was actually like to be alive in the 1980s, as though I were a visitor from another era.

Admittedly, even I was struck by how old the hairstyles, clothes, and cars appeared in the documentary and I marveled at how quickly time can pass by. While focusing on the day-to-day challenges of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook the passage of big chunks of time until others point it out.

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November 07, 2014

A Socioanalysis of President Barack Obama

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I am writing this post on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, so I don’t know who the winners and losers will be. However, I do know one thing for sure: President Obama is not held in high regard these days. Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 42%, lower than the average approval ratings of the ten presidents that preceded him. For what it’s worth, Obama’s rating is actually significantly higher than the approval rating of Congress—the group of politicians whose partisan obstructionism and dogmatism are arguably responsible for much of Obama’s legislative troubles.  Embarrassingly, the approval rating of Congress is barely above 10%.

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October 27, 2014

Is Islamophobia a Form of Racism (And Does it Even Matter)?

2014-10-16 08.40.10By Saadia Faruqi

Graduate student

Department of Sociology, Baker University

 A couple of weeks ago, Ben Affleck called out Bill Maher for being a racist because of his views of Muslims. In a world still healing from the racism of the pre-civil rights era, in a world of Ferguson and Michigan, being called a racist is no laughing matter. Sadly, we live in a society where more Americans sit up and take notice when a Hollywood actor makes a statement than when the president of the United States does. What is Islamophobia? Is it related to racism? How does Islamophobia relate to sociology?

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October 17, 2014

Who is a Low Wage Earner?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The mayor of Los Angeles has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour in the city, and requested an analysis of the potential impact an increase would have on workers and businesses.  Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics produced a report and concluded that more than a half a million workers in the city would get a raise (those earning minimum wage and those earning below the proposed minimum wage).

The report provides a demographic profile on these low-wage workers. They comprise 37 percent of those earning wages in the private sector; 39 percent of women and 35 percent of men. The vast majority—83 percent—are persons of color.

Despite the widespread belief that most low-wage workers are teens earning extra spending money while attending school, in Los Angeles few of them are teens; 38 percent of low wage workers are in their twenties, nearly 22 percent are in their thirties, and 37 percent are over forty. The majority work full time, and 36 percent have children.

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October 02, 2014

Social Interaction and Drought Shaming

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

There is currently a severe drought in California, and this summer new rules went into effect to conserve water. For instance, a water feature (like a fountain) must re-circulate the same water. You cannot hose down the sidewalk, nor can you wash your car with a hose that doesn’t have a shutoff nozzle. Your lawn cannot be watered between 9 am and 5 pm (to limit evaporation). A violation of these new rules could result in a $500 ticket.

Authorities can’t possibly police every violation, so they are hoping that the public helps by complying and asking neighbors to comply. In response, a Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming has emerged to embarrass people caught needlessly wasting water. Tweets range from photos of neighbors overwatering their lawns to puddles in parking lots and public fountains. Perhaps the biggest example of drought shaming was the backlash to the recent “ice bucket challenge,” where people challenged others to dump a bucket of ice over their heads and post a video or photo to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Critics argued that this was a waste of water, albeit for a good cause.

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September 22, 2014

The Child-Migrant Crisis, Stereotypes, and Immigration

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

On a recent trip to California from the Midwest, I decided to take advantage of the long flight to relax, read one of my Australian murder mystery novels, use my free drink ticket for a glass of wine, and eat a bar of dark chocolate.

During the first hour of the five-hour flight, I settled in and began reading my e-book. The woman sitting to my left decided that she wanted to talk, and asked “So what do you think about all of this?!” I muttered that I didn’t know and went back to reading.

Again the woman interrupted me and said “This, here read it. What do you think about all these illegals coming here to this country?” I sighed, muttered again, and tried to go back to reading.

Continue reading "The Child-Migrant Crisis, Stereotypes, and Immigration" »

September 15, 2014

Ebola and the Construction of Fear

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

No doubt you have heard about the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which received heightened attention in the news after three Americans working as missionaries in Liberia contracted the virus. The first two, diagnosed in mid-August, become the topic of debate when they were given an experimental drug and airlifted home to the U.S.

Some wondered why they received the drug, while thousands of those infected in Africa did not (it is currently considered experimental and apparently in very short supply). Others expressed concern that they would spread the disease in the U.S. and should have been treated in Liberia.

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August 25, 2014

Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the Invisibility of Race

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Fans of the Colbert Report are familiar with Stephen Colbert’s long-running routine about not seeing race (here is one of many examples during his interview with Michelle Alexander).  Pretending to be a conservative talk-show host, Colbert often pretends that he does not see race and that we live in a society where skin color is no longer important. He is especially fond of emphasizing this last point given that we have a Black president in the White House.

Although Colbert is playing this role to get laughs from his audience, the sad irony is that the majority of conservatives and a fair number of whites actually subscribe to this point of view.  The idea that race is no longer important in the United States becomes particularly evident when there are confrontations between Black citizens and white police officers. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed Black man who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, offers a prime example.

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July 18, 2014

Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago I wrote about the importance of collective memories following the centennial coverage of the sinking of the Titanic. Collective memories are societal-level memories, shared by regularly told stories, and are often events we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s “slow speed chase” and subsequent arrest. Why are these events part of our collective memories?

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