Sunday, September 28, 2014

Teaching Sociology: The Illusion of Race & The Reality of Racism

In my Introduction to Sociology courses, I dedicate three weeks to theoretical and practical examinations of race and racism.  This section tends to be the most difficult for students because it brings to the surface all sorts of suppressed and contradictory thoughts and emotions on the topics of race and related issues.

To start, we define the meaning of terms we commonly (mis)use for the benefit of a historically accurate conversation.  We have come to a consensus that getting a dirty look is not racism, while being followed in store and label suspicious could very well be indicative of racism.  We have also drawm a very important distinction between personal racism and institutional racism.

We watch the PBS documentary "Race: The Power of an Illusion" and discuss the false believe that groups of people are vastly different on a biological level.  From here we transition to racism as a social reality in our society and how that is directly related to the creation of race as biology.  My greatest teaching aid continues to be the society in which we live.  Black and Latino working class people continue to bear the brunt of violence, whether it be poverty related or institutional.  Every day we see the social realities of homelessness, mass incarceration, drug use, gun violence, police abuses, gender-based violence, etc. and pick apart how all these sociological issues are related.

We also look at how lies about race and racism are spread through the stories taught in our American national tradition.  We explore how all of us have internalized the image of what criminals, terrorists, angels, and our God(s) look like, and talk about the racialized history of these images.  The goal is to get to the root of where these perceptions, believed to be "fact," emerged and who benefits from their perpetuation.  This brings to light that we are all affected by race and racism because it is a part of our lives, our early teachers, and our ongoing ignorance of some very important realities.  Toward this goal, I assign students an excerpt of a book by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva titled Racism With Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States.

Lastly, we talk about the difference between passively not being racist and being an active anti-racist.  For me, the difference is the call to action that anti-racism implies.  It includes first thinking about these issues that we see in the news and on the internet, talking about them in our social circles, building coalitions with others either in the classroom or out to communicate our anti-racist allegiance, and finally, finding an active outlet to to use our collective voices and hands to change the present reality.   For this, we look at historical and present day examples of multiracial, inter-generational, international anti-racist fight back.  From the brave young people who participated in the Freedom Rides (Eyes On The Prize, PBS documentary) to the international support of community members in Ferguson, MO, we discuss how change is made everyday by first small then coordinated larger actions.

I wanted to share my take on how to tackle these very serious issues in a short amount of time with other educators of all levels and people just interested in how to start these conversations.  I hope I have provided a basis from which to start.  Below is a partial list of films and shorter video clips that I suggest for friends, community action groups, organizations, etc. to watch that will also be beneficial.  I believe and teach that one cannot separate the experiences of race, gender, and social class, so many of these videos that I use to highlight issues of race and racism will overlap with other social conditions.

- Section hour long clips of Eyes on the Prize (see above)
- Section clips of People Like Us (Tammy's Story and Update on Tammy's Story)
- Unnatural inequality making us sick?
- The Line Documentary
- Race: The Power of An Illusion, Vols. 1-3 (follow the sequence from this link)
- How Do You Identify Racism? The Angry Eye with Jane Elliot
- The Event: How Racist Are You with Jane Elliot
- The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
- Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow" - 2013 George F. Kent Lecture
- Tim Wise: Pathology of White Privilege (various clips found though following links)

**feel free to check my course YouTube page, subscribe, and share with others.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NWI Times Article 9/15/2013 - "PUC Professor to Review Daniels-Zinn Controversy"

September 15, 2013 6:30 pm  • 
 original post from The Northwest Indiana Times

HAMMOND | A Purdue University Calumet professor will explore academic freedom and censorship when he reviews the controversy surrounding the release of emails by former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels regarding a book by the late Howard Zinn.
David Detmer, a Purdue University professor of philosophy and former student of Zinn, will present, "Mitch Daniels and Howard Zinn: Objectivity and the University" at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The presentation will be in the Gyte Building.

Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, wrote emails in 2010 instructing his subordinates to make sure Zinn's book, "A People's History of the United States," would not be used anywhere in Indiana. After inquiring about how to eliminate the book, Daniels commented in email, "This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state." Daniels expressed a preference for a book by fellow Republican politician William Bennett titled "The Last Hope."
Once the emails were made public, Daniels denied his actions constituted censorship or compromised the principle of academic freedom.

The book has been used in an Indiana University course for teachers focusing on the civil rights, feminist and labor movements.

Hillary Anderson, president of the College Democrats of Indiana, said as an Indiana University student, she was disappointed in Daniels' statements regarding the removal of Zinn's book from the classroom. Anderson, of Carmel, is a senior economics major at IU Bloomington.
"I believe that his actions constituted censorship as he tried to deliberately suppress the work of an author with whom he personally disagrees," Anderson said. "We are best educated when we integrate ideas and opinions from a diversity of sources into our curriculum. I think this upcoming discussion has the potential to be very informative and help give students a better understanding of censorship and the role of politics in academia."

Detmer said he was a student of Zinn's at Boston University in the late 1970s. Zinn died Jan. 27, 2010, at age 87.

"I thought he was an excellent teacher," Detmer said. "I'm going to talk about some of the criticisms that Mitch Daniels made about Zinn. I'll explore the issues of academic freedom, censorship, propaganda, objectivity, intellectual standards, historiography and the place of politics in scholarly research and teaching."

Detmer said he doesn't see any evidence that Daniels read the book.

"The main way he defended his harsh criticism of Zinn was by quoting four historians who criticized Zinn, but one of the three is dead," Detmer said. "The other three have criticized Daniels, and one of those three said he uses Zinn's book to teach his class. That doesn't mean that Zinn is beyond criticism. But to say he's un-American and a fraud, that's ridiculous, and I'll try to demonstrate that in my talk."

An employee at Barnes and Noble in Valparaiso said sales of Zinn's book increased in July following the publication of Daniels' email. The employee, who did not want to be identified, said the bookstore generally keeps about half a dozen copies of the book on its shelves.

"We saw a few more copies being sold," he said. "I heard customers mention the controversy. It didn't fly off the shelves, but there was definitely an increase in sales. Then, it went back down after a couple of weeks. It sells regularly enough that we need to keep stocking it."

Ingrid Norris and Carolyn Strickland, Lake County Public Library assistant directors, said the library carries 11 copies of Zinn's book, and last year it circulated 13 times. After the Daniels-Zinn controversy, circulation nearly tripled for the book this summer.

"We had more than enough copies for our patrons who wanted to read it," Norris said. "We purchased the book in electronic form in 2010 and the total ebook usage is 27 times, with seven holds for that item. Five of those holds were right after the release of the governor's email."

While the Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 in Calumet City has not used Zinn's book in about 10 years, district spokeswoman Iyana Mason said she read the book in college.
"I read it in about 2005, a year before I finished undergrad," she said. "I thought it was a relatively easy way of understanding historical concepts. It told the history from the perspective of groups that have generally been marginalized and forgotten about."

If you go

David Detmer, a Purdue University professor of philosophy and former student of Zinn's, will present, "Mitch Daniels and Howard Zinn: Objectivity and the University" at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The presentation will be in the Gyte Building.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Armed Department of Education Agents Raid CA Home for Student Loan Fraud

The following is a video posted to YouTube that shows news coverage of federal agents invading a man's home because of his wife's student loan debt. Video posted by user XRepublicTV.

The Department of Education has been given police power of search and seizure under the Homeland Security Act in 2002. The American Bar Association (ABA) reported, "The Education Department purchased 27 Remington 12-gauge shotguns last year, saying they were needed to police waste, fraud and abuse involving federal education funds..." 

The Department of Education stated this raid was carried out to investigate a case of student loan fraud, not defaulted student loans. (See Huffington Post Education News Article - 6/18/2013)  It is unclear if fraud is defined as simply signing an agreement to repay and failing to do so, or if this is a case of false information being given.  The Department of Eduction declines to comment further given this is an ongoing investigation.

According to the Household Debt and Credit: Student Debt presented on Feb. 28, 2013 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the total amount of student loan debt owed in the U.S., as of the end of 2012, is $966 billion.  If this is the trend of collection methods for the federal Department of Education, holder of Direct Loans and other federal loans, how many people could be next for the same treatment?

Questions relevant to sociological thought:
*given that we do not know what actions constitute fraud for the Dept. of Ed. in this case, these questions should be taken as points for conversation, not to conclude factual information.  

- What are the implications for this level of criminalization for people who owe student loans?
- What inequalities may exist in the process of who is chosen for this type of collection/investigation?
- Can we see instances where people who have been convicted federally of corporate fraud have been subjected to this type of treatment?  If not, why wouldn't they be subjected to this type of treatment?
- By these actions of our federal government, how is deviance being defined?
- Who is more likely to be overwhelmingly treated to these types of collection/investigation methods and why?
- Since these action are legal under the Homeland Security Act, what do you think is the recourse for recuperating damages caused by agents? 

*Please post your answer to the following question in the comments section below.
- Overall, what is your opinion of this particular use of force by the federal government to collect student loan debts/investigate student loan fraud?

Gary woman sentenced to die at 16 to be released from prison ~ NWI Times News Story

Story from 

 Paula Cooper was 16 years old when she was sentenced to death for the brutal stabbing murder of an elderly Bible school teacher. The Indiana Supreme Court commuted her sentence to 60 years, and she is scheduled to be released Monday.  

INDIANAPOLIS | A Gary woman put on death row at age 16 for killing an elderly Bible school teacher is scheduled to be released Monday after serving a prison term that was shortened after the state Supreme Court intervened.

Paula Cooper's death sentence at such a young age sparked international protests and a plea for clemency from Pope John Paul II. Now 43 years old, Cooper is being given a second chance at her life.

Cooper was 15 when she and three other teenage girls showed up at Ruth Pelke's house May 14, 1985, with plans of robbing the 78-year-old Bible school teacher. Pelke let Cooper and two of the teen's companions into her home in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood after they told her they were interested in Bible lessons.
As the fourth teen waited outside as a lookout, Cooper stabbed Pelke 33 times with a butcher knife. Then she and the other girls ransacked the house. The four girls fled with Pelke's car and $10.
The murder involving the four teenagers from Gary's Lew Wallace High School left the region shaken.

Cooper's three accomplices were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 25 to 60 years. But Cooper, who confessed to Pelke's slaying, was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. At the time — in 1986 — she was the youngest death row inmate in the U.S.
Some people believed Cooper deserved to die, but the punishment enraged human rights activists and death penalty opponents around the world, including those who viewed the teen as a victim of a racist criminal justice system.

Pope John Paul II urged that Cooper be granted clemency in 1987, and in 1988 a priest brought a petition to Indianapolis with more than 2 million signatures protesting Cooper's sentence.
The Indiana Supreme Court set Cooper's death sentence aside in 1988 and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison after state legislators passed a law raising Indiana's minimum age limit for execution from 10 to 16. The state's high court also cited a 1988 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court barring the execution of juveniles younger than 16 at the time of the crime.

Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute anyone younger than 18.
"People still know about this case," Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford, who was the Lake County prosecutor during Cooper's murder trial, told The Indianapolis Star. "The name Paula Cooper still resonates, and she's going to attract some attention when she is released."
But, he said, Cooper has done her time and may yet contribute to society. Crawford said he has come to oppose the death penalty since Cooper's conviction.

Cooper's sister, Rhonda Labroi, said she hopes people will see Paula as more than a killer. After getting in trouble 23 times during her time in prison, Paula Cooper turned to education. She earned a bachelor's degree in 2001.

"She was just a child at the time that happened, and now she is an adult and people should wait and see and give her a chance," Labroi said. "Give her an opportunity. Maybe she'll do some wonderful things for children who are growing up and aren't so fortunate, like she was.
"There are second chances," she said. "It seems like God has given her another chance. I think if people give her a second chance, she'll do fine."

See this link for a video about the story and Cooper's plans for life after prison.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Not Your Parents' Racism: Neo-Racism and the Generation Gap

 I am increasingly and humorously aware of the widening generation gap between myself and the students in my sociology classes.  Seemingly small differences in pop cultural references can make the meaning a clever example on my part irrelevant, or result in a total breakdown in communication due to my lack of knowledge about youth culture jargon.  

More substantial are the different perceptions of racism held by my students.  Younger people have more of a shared culture now than in previous years.  Styles of dress, music, slang terminology, and access to technology are more likely to be similar than different for this demographic of students living in a close geographic area.  Because of these similar lifestyles, some perceive that racism, and discrimination in general, no longer exit.  Additionally, due to the utter lack of historical knowledge taught in schools or in the home, younger people are barely aware of the present societal and institutional affects of legalized racism in the U.S. 

Recently, while talking about overt vs. covert racism, a student asked about the significance of a noose because he, and many in the class, had never heard of lynching.  A separate class of 27 students did not know the definition of abolitionism.  More students in yet another class had never heard of the massacres that took place at the Pine Ridge Reservation and were surprised to learn of the economic, psychological, and social peril that native people are still subjected to.  This lack of a reference for racism, institutional racism specifically, is the most dangerous threat to anti-racism.  Not knowing or being able to recognize racism in all its forms and vehemently denying its affect on relationship-building among people is the victory of all proponents of modern racism.

We know that legalized racism no longer exists.  Racism in its most familiar forms, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, vocal objections to the presence of racial minorities in public spaces, etc. are less and less present in our lives.  However, neo-racism, racism disguised as everyday practices that go unacknowledged by the majority, is what plagues society currently.  A broader vision of racism as a practice that overwhelmingly (as opposed to only) negatively affects people identified as a particular racial group must be employed in order see the effects that this powerful ideology has on our lives.  Seeing the after effects of Hurricane Sandy in New York, the lack of response from otherwise vocal members of the predominately white faction of the mainstream feminist movement when a 9 year old Black girl was called a cunt in a public forum, and the continued apathy of all members of society at the increasing murder rate of Black youth versus the rare occurrence of mass shootings in predominately White communities requires that we look more critically at these events and identify the systemic problems in each.  Another aspect of neo-racism is that the proponents could very well be racial minorities.  This fact can prevent an accurate analysis of racism from being made.  A person who does make that analysis can be accused of being racist themselves or of playing the race card, an accusation that serves to delegitimize that presence and effect of racism.

The knowledge and accurate analysis of history is imperative to understanding racism.  Without this understanding how can we recognize it in all of its changing and evolving forms?  This is especially necessary for those not old enough to remember the extent of physical segregation and its contribution to racist ideologies.  Often for people, young people especially, if they cannot see something it does not exist.    For others who are not as young, our memories tend to be short and yesterday’s news is soon forgotten. Racism is very much still here, but its form has changed. The purpose of recognizing and bringing attention to racism, racist practices, and racist ideologies is to combat and defeat it.  Without awareness and a correct analysis, this feat is nearly impossible.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Data Analysis & Quantitative Sociology: Daily Mail - The Racist Map of America, Tweets analyzed for offensive keywords reveal the most bigoted parts of the US and which people are the most hated

This is a great example of the use of data analysis tools and quantitative sociology!

Referred to as a 'hate map' on social media sites, what can you deduce from this map?  Do concentrations of hate words in a certain region automatically equal higher levels of racism in those areas? What is unique about these areas that would make people more likely to use hate language in their social media, specifically Twitter, interactions?  Does this make you think about how you express yourselves via social media or in person?

Full article:
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The racist map of America: Tweets analyzed for offensive keywords reveal the most bigoted parts of the US and which people are the most hated

  • The project Geography of Hate was created by cartography students at Humboldt State University
  • Students analyzed 150,000 tweets containing hate words sent between June 2012-April 2013
  • Researchers looked at usage of 10 slurs in three categories: racist, homophobic and disability
  • Use of offensive term n***** was not concentration in any single region, but had pockets of concentration in Iowa and Indiana

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Al Jazeera English - Opinion - The wrong kind of Caucasian

 "In 1901, a 28-year-old American named Leon Czolgosz assassinated US President William McKinley. Czolgosz was born in America, but he was of Polish descent. After McKinley died, the American media blamed Polish immigrants. They were outsiders, foreigners, with a suspicious religion - Catholicism - and strange last names.

At a time when Eastern European immigrants were treated as inferior, Polish-Americans feared they would be punished as a group for the terrible actions of an individual. "We feel the pain which this sad occurrence caused, not only in America, but throughout the whole world. All people are mourning, and it is caused by a maniac who is of our nationality," a Polish-American newspaper wrote in an anguished editorial.

It is a sentiment reminiscent of what Muslims and Chechens are writing - or Instagramming  - today, after the revelation that Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, are of Chechen descent. At this time, there is no evidence linking the Tsarnaev brothers to a broader movement in Chechnya, a war-torn federal republic in southern Russia. Neither of the brothers has ever lived there. The oldest, Tamerlan, was born in Russia and moved to the US when he was sixteen. The youngest, Dzokhar, was born in Kyrgyzstan, moved to the US when he was nine, and became a US citizen in 2012." (cont The wrong kind of Caucasian - Opinion - Al Jazeera English)