350 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

September 21, 2020

Health, Racial Inequality, and Residential Segregation

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos, Sociology Doctoral Student at Rutgers University – New Brunswick

We often talk about health as a strictly biological concept. After all, poor health outcomes such as heart disease and cancer are heavily dependent on biological factors such as our genetic makeup and our age. Public discourse is also rife with notions that viruses, such as COVID-19, “do not discriminate” and affect all of us equally – regardless of the vastly different social circumstances under which people in the U.S. are living.

Sociologists, however, have long emphasized that health outcomes are far from strictly biological. In fact, the subfield of medical sociology – one of the American Sociological Association’s largest sections – is entirely devoted to the study of how social contexts and structures influence health, illness, and healthcare. Although certain poor health outcomes are indeed influenced by factors outside of the social world, medical sociologists stress the importance of social influence in examining e.g. who gets sick and why.

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September 14, 2020

Antiracism as a Process

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I stumbled upon a celebrity story that actors Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds recently apologized for getting married at a former plantation where people were held as slaves.

My initial response was, well, confusion. How do people who think that a plantation is a fine location for a wedding (and there are apparently many that do) decide a few years later that it is something to apologize for? Isn’t one’s wedding location something that one gives a great deal of thought and consideration in advance? Why didn’t the idea of getting married on a plantation bother them in 2012, but it does now?

This post is not about bashing or praising the actors, who have since donated large sums of money to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. It is instead about understanding that becoming more aware of the tangled web of racism in the United States is a process, one that we all stumble through imperfectly. This is a learning process, especially for people who do not regularly experience the negative effects of racism.

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August 10, 2020

On Being, and Not Being, a “Karen”

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

My name has become a trendy insult.

“Karen” has become a shortcut for an entitled, middle-aged white woman who is prone to throwing a fit. Sometimes it is because she doesn’t think she has to follow rules, particularly now with mask restrictions becoming more common. Paradoxically, she also contacts authorities to report what she views as others’ transgressions, particularly if they are persons of color.

While the use of my name to describe this insufferable character is not new (apparently it is at least three years old), it has proliferated over the past few months both in social and traditional media. A proposed San Francisco law to charge people who call the police for racially motivated reasons is called the CAREN Act. You can find regular updates on #KarensGoneWild and numerous other Twitter hashtags.

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August 05, 2020

Gender, Ethnicity, and the COVID Recession

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The recent economic downturn has impacted millions of Americans. As of this writing, about 30 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits. Those earning less than $40,000 have endured the greatest job losses; according to the Federal Reserve, 40 percent of these workers have lost their jobs in recent months. In contrast, just over one in ten households earning more than $100,000 have experienced job losses.

You might have seen news reports that women have been more likely to experience job losses during the current recession. The Great Recession of a decade ago hit construction and finance particularly hard, and came to be known as a “mancession” because those fields tend to be male dominated.

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August 03, 2020

Empty Pedestals, Monumental Culture

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

A non-trivial aspect of the wave of protests over the last few months has been focused on public monuments.

The Theodore Roosevelt statue at the National History Museum will be replaced because of its representation of racism and colonialism. Controversial former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo’s statue has been removed. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other confederates are being removed on Richmond’s Monument Ave. Christopher Columbus statues are also being brought down in several states. This movement didn’t start weeks ago, however. The University of Texas Austin campus removed its statues of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson in 2016.

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July 29, 2020

The Panopticon and Protest Surveillance

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

There is no doubt that the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd will be one of the defining features of the year 2020. Following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, this recent wave of outcry and activism has dominated public discourse and gained traction—even among those who were previously skeptical of the movement.

The explosiveness of the protests, particularly in metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, have created more tension between civilians and law enforcement, who have at times escalated peaceful protests or harassed protesters. These are just a few of the many visible examples of the mechanisms government officials and law enforcement use to control and manipulate protests. However, to fully grasp the nature of this conflict, it is equally important to discuss the invisible, subtle ways that protestors are surveilled and punished.

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July 20, 2020

Bandage, Sort, and Hustle: What is it like to be an Ambulance Worker?

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

The recent COVID crisis has drawn our attention to the risks health care providers take in treating patients. Ambulance personnel are on the front lines, often the first responders in treating injuries and illnesses.

As this recent PBS Newshour interview reveals, not only are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in high-outbreak areas regularly exposed to COVID, they bear the emotional scars of feeling like there is little they can do to help the COVID patients they transport, all while earning relatively little pay.

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June 29, 2020

Collective Trauma and COVID-19

Liana tuller author photoBy Liana Renée Tuller,  Research Fellow at Northeastern University's Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence

Numerous newspaper and magazine articles, health advisories, blogs, radio segments, and op-eds have dubbed COVID-19 a “collective trauma.” What does that mean? And, if our city, our country, and our world is, indeed, experiencing a collective trauma, what lessons can previous collective traumas offer us to help us cope?

Unquestionably, COVID-19 has affected people’s psychological state, not only through grief when loved ones die, but also through the stress of job loss, fear of being infected, isolation imposed by social distancing, and anxiety that life will never return to normal. These emotions, communally experienced, could indeed be described as traumatic.

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June 22, 2020

Putting the “Diplo” in Diplomacy: Music as Soft Power

Jonathan Wynn author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

This summer, I’ve been obsessing over Wind of Change—a podcast about the CIA’s possible involvement in the titular 1990s global mega hit by the German rock band, The Scorpions. The story unravels the sometimes-shadowy threads between music and foreign policy, and gets us to think about how culture is used.

I absolutely remember ”Wind of Change,” but didn’t think it was as big a hit as ”Rock You Like A Hurricane,” a song U.S. readers might recognize from a commercial. But “Wind of Change” was a theme song for the revolutions behind the Iron Curtain, culminating in the end of the cold war, and I was shocked to learn that it is the fifteenth most purchased song in history, outranking any Beatles song. The podcast is a fantastic journey into how the U.S. government has secretly used American music, from jazz to hard rock, to further its own interests overseas.

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Race, COVID-19, and Payday Loans: How “Race-Neutral” Policies Reproduce Racism

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos, Sociology Doctoral Student, Rutgers University

More than three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become abundantly clear that the virus has impacted the U.S. along racial and class lines. Previous posts on the blog have already commented on how people of color – Black Americans and Latinx immigrants, specifically – are at much higher risk of COVID-19 than White people. This is in part the result of significant class-related inequalities: people of color are vastly overrepresented among those deemed to be “essential workers” who can’t work from home, have less access to healthcare, and are more likely to be using means of transportation that involve potential exposure (e.g. taking the subway or bus). Of course, poor Whites are also at risk for these same reasons. There is no doubt that the long-lasting economic repercussions of the pandemic will also hit these populations the hardest.

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