246 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

November 12, 2015

“Where are You From?” Immigration, Identity, and Being a “True American”

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I winced the second she said it. My 73-year-old cousin asked the server in a Vietnamese restaurant, “Where are you from?” Now, aside from the good chance that the family of a waitress in a Vietnamese restaurant was at one point from Vietnam, I had to interject: “She could be from South Carolina.”

My 73-year-old cousin had good intentions; of course, she is a friendly person who is interested in people. I had to slowly explain effect of being asked, “Where are you from?” repeatedly could have the unintended consequence of alienating someone, rendering someone like our server a “forever foreigner.” 

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November 09, 2015

University of Missouri and the Power of Student Protests

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

 Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse,

 you can take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

These words come from Marge Piercy’s poem, "The Low Road." It is one of my favorite sociological poems about the potential power that is unleashed when people join together and fight for social change. I probably mention this poem at least once a semester in one or more of my classes and I will certainly be invoking it again as I discuss the recent events at the University of Missouri.

Black students at the University of Missouri have been protesting for months about ongoing racist incidents on campus. They are particularly frustrated by what they perceive to be the failure of the university’s administration, and particularly President Tim Wolfe, to adequately address these events. Using the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, in reference to the year that black students where finally admitted into the University of Missouri, the protesters were calling for the resignation or removal of President Wolfe.

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November 04, 2015

Racial (In)Equality in the U.S.

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Aside from my Netflix marathons, there are only a handful of network television shows that I make time to actually watch. And the new Fox prime time show Empire is one of them. Like so many great shows, it includes moments of fantasy, joy, and struggle that oftentimes mirror very real social issues that are on the forefront of their viewers’ minds.

For instance, the season two premiere opened with a #FreeLucious concert that paid homage to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and highlighted the overrepresented numbers of African-American men in our prison systems and their mistreatment by police. The imagery (particularly that of Cookie Lyon in a Gorilla suit and caged) and discourse used within that opening scene speaks to broader national issues. As highlighted by Gene Demby at NPR, however, these narratives are not common within prime time television.

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October 19, 2015

Sociology and Infamy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The news coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 was one of the events that inspired me to write my first book, It’s Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children, which was published in 2003. I had purposely decided never to mention the shooters’ names, which my editor didn’t quite understand. “Everyone already knows their names,” she said. The information was out there, she insisted. I would just be providing a historical account of the event.

But I didn’t want their names in my book. I didn’t want to type them, and I didn’t want those individuals to get even a modicum of attention from my readers. The book wasn’t about them anyway, it was about the problem of coming up with simple solutions like blaming popular culture for complex social problems like youth violence.  I stood my ground, and their names do not appear anywhere in the book.

I thought of this upon hearing of the Twitter hashtag #dontsayhisname, a request from many survivors and residents of Roseburg, Oregon, in response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Obscurity may be the ultimate form of shunning in the internet age. Sadly, we all-too-often remember the names of perpetrators and forget the names of the victims as time goes by. Perhaps this hashtag will help change that.

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October 08, 2015

Water and the Tragedy of Extra Credit

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

This summer, entering the fourth year of drought conditions in California, ordinary residents followed Governor Jerry Brown’s call to cut their water usage by a quarter. All cities met their water conservation targets. The Los Angeles Times, however, cites a UCLA study finding that wealthier communities actually used more water than usual during the water restriction.

One of the study’s authors notes that “…[t]he problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich.” Richer areas consume three times as much as poorer ones. “This disparity,” the report notes, “reflects different land uses, built densities, climates, and the vast differences in wealth.... [T]he top 5% earns over twelve times more than the bottom 20%.” (Here is a great article on golf courses in the desert areas of Southern California.) It is a wonderful portrait of how housing and spatial segregation shapes the perspectives of residents, not unlike Georg Simmel’s seminal "The Metropolis and Mental Life."

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September 25, 2015

To Live and Die in L.A.

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a graduate student, I worked as a research assistant on several projects for criminologists. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging project I participated in was a study of homicides in Los Angeles.

This was a comprehensive, multi-faceted study. I was given a great deal of responsibility for collecting data from police homicide files. The senior researchers had gained a court order that enabled us to have access to hundreds of files from 1993 and 1994, peak years in homicides for the city and county. I led the team that went to police and sheriff’s headquarters, reading files along with a team of students that I supervised who would read the files and then use a coding sheet to note key details about the incident. Over the course of the study I personally read hundreds of police murder files.

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September 03, 2015

Black and White Understandings of Urban Uprising

120 Howell_ABy Aaron J. Howell

Assistant Professor of Sociology SUNY-Farmingdale

Racial politics have come to the forefront of political and social debates in the United States (U.S.) over the last year. The Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray (just to name a few) cases have caused many communities to rethink police-community relations and begin to have some honest conversations about race.

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August 28, 2015

The Horror of Race in the United States

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I’m not a big fan of horror stories. I’ve never read Dracula, Frankenstein or even a Stephen King novel, and I don’t regularly watch movies full of chainsaws, ghostly figures, or creepy twins. But recently, I read a sociological horror story that I couldn’t put down. I was engrossed with it. It was beautifully written, painstakingly told, and depressingly disturbing.  Although it did offer details of death and destruction, these were not the scariest passages. What made this story so frightening and unsettling was the plain, unadulterated sociological truth it told.

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July 10, 2015

Social (Re)Construction of Place in Columbia, South Carolina

Colby kingBy Colby King

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Bridgewater State University

The ongoing debate about the confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina State House reminds us of the power of the symbols we put in our places, and the way we talk about those symbols and those places.

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July 08, 2015

Racial Construction and Appropriation

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you heard about the woman in Spokane, Washington, the former head of the local NAACP chapter who resigned when people discovered that her identified race did not match her ancestry?

I’m talking about the case of Rachel Dolezal. With white ancestry but a strong identification with African American realities, she maintains that her racial identity is black. She passed as black by changing her appearance until her parents spoke to the media about their confusion with her mismatched self-identity.

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