Healey: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class – 7th Edition
PUBLIC SOCIOLOGY ASSIGNMENTS
Linda M. Waldron
PART I: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF MINORITY GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES
ASSIGNMENT 1: Revealing Diversity in Your Hometown
People often have a sense about what the diversity of their hometown neighborhood is. Since you grew up there, you feel as if you know something about the other people who live there. But your perception may not always reflect the actual demographics of that town or city. In this assignment, you will test your knowledge about your hometown by researching both current and historical demographics of the area.
Begin by writing down your own assumptions about your hometown. If you moved around a lot, pick the one location where you lived for the longest period of time, or simply pick the location of your current school. What do you think is the racial and ethnic background of the area? Do you think most people graduated high school? Is there a large military presence in the area? Do you think there is an aging population? What would you expect to find about the status of women in terms of schooling, jobs, and income?
Next, visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s website to find out some basic demographics of your area (www.census.gov). There are several ways to search this type of information, but an easy way to get some quick facts is to go to the “Data” heading, then click on the “American FactFinder” link, which provides data from the Economic Census, the American Community Survey, and the 2010 Census, among others. Put in the city and state, or zip code, to get basic facts about your community, or conduct more advanced searches if you are interested in other topics. (Keep in mind the most recent data available for most locations will be 2010 for Census Data and 2012 for the American Community Survey.) This will give you some basic background information about age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, and education of the population.
Now look into the history of your hometown. The best way to start this is to visit your local library. Most libraries now have a website if you aren’t traveling home anytime soon. Libraries often carry historical documents about the local area, including books, photos, and other archival materials. (Many towns also have local museums that you could visit.) Learn what you can about the area. Did it used to be an old farming village before a big corporation came to town? Was it known for its large Irish immigrant population? What year did the first church or synagogue open? When did the schools finally decide to racially integrate?
Next, find someone who has lived in the area for a long time to tell you about living in this community. Ideally, you should find someone who has lived in your hometown for more than 40 years. (This won’t be as difficult as you might think. Ask your local librarian for a suggestion, visit a senior center, or consider asking a neighbor who you think may have lived in the town for a while.) Tell this person you are researching diversity in your hometown for a class and ask if he/she is willing to be interviewed.
Conduct an informal interview with your local participant. Begin your interview by asking some basic questions. When did he/she move to the area? What does he/she like best about the town? Then, use the knowledge you have discovered from your research to develop some additional interview questions about some aspect of diversity you found particularly interesting. What have been his/her experiences with diversity over the years? How does he/she think the area has changed?
Compare and contrast the data you found about changing demographics in the area with perceptions about diversity that you and your interviewee had. Were your own assumptions about your hometown accurate? What assumptions did your interviewee have about the area? Did they match what you found? What was the most significant thing you learned about diversity in your hometown?
ASSIGNMENT 2: Graffiti: Cultural Expression or Discriminatory Act?
Historians note that graffiti dates back to ancient Rome, depicted in sacred messages written inside the catacombs and animal drawings carved inside caves. Today, graffiti can be found spray painted on the sides of buildings or written in marker on the walls of bathrooms. Social scientists continue to debate the merits of graffiti as an “unconventional billboard” (Calvin, 2005). It can be seen as an offensive expression of racist, sexist, and homophobic comments, as well as a symbol of violent gang activity in neighborhoods. On the other hand it can be used as a tool of social revolution, as it was with the graffiti placed on the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, or as an act of war, as demonstrated by the slogan “Kilroy Was Here,” first used by U.S. servicemen during World War II to mark their presence during combat. In popular culture, the rise of hip hop is said to be intertwined with the “tagging” of subway lines that essentially advertised the work of local rappers throughout New York City. More recently, there has been a commercial growth of video games that feature graffiti as part of the story line. Others consider graffiti high art, as represented in the 1980s when art galleries throughout the world began exhibiting the work of graffiti artists. Also, the Academy Awards gave a nod to Exit through the Gift Shop, a documentary about graffiti artists—in particular, the secretive Banksy, who has gained international notoriety for his satirical and subversive work. This assignment requires you to explore the nature and meaning of graffiti.
Use a camera to photograph graffiti in your community. This can include graffiti on public buildings, on street signs, in trains or buses, on school desks, or even inside bathrooms. Gather at least 10 photographs of graffiti and upload the photos to a computer.
Begin by attempting to discern what the graffiti is trying to represent. Consider starting off with some general categories, such as offensive, humorous, romantic, political, and artistic. It may take some additional research to uncover the meaning of the drawing. Use an Internet search engine, such as Google Images, to help you decipher certain symbols, or websites such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org) to help you uncover gang-related or hate-group graffiti.
Next, consider who may have written the graffiti and whether the artist intended to be anonymous or not. For example, a “Debbie loves Bob” inscription on a tree may have been written by that couple or perhaps by one individual (Debbie) who intended to express her affection towards the other individual (Bob). On the other hand, “MS13” inscribed on a tree is a pretty specific reference to the Mara Salvatrucha gang. This type of graffiti may have been written by a member of the gang, or a person hoping to become a member of the MS-13. Yet in this situation, trying to identify the actual artist is going to be a little more difficult than trying to find Debbie or Bob in the former case. And because belonging to a gang often involves illegal activity, the artist is more likely to want to remain anonymous.
Use PowerPoint, or a similar computer program, to create a presentation that allows you to represent and organize your results visually. For example, you could create one slide with photos of the gang-related graffiti you found, another slide with graffiti related to sexuality, one for graffiti that you believe use racist comments against a particular minority group, and another of graffiti that appear to be created by the same artist.
As you review the themes that start to emerge from your visual representation, try to speculate as to what the intention of the artist in each category might be. What were the general expressions of a particular subculture? Did the graffiti signify a possible conflict or threat against another person or group of people? Was it a statement that you think was trying to empower a person or group of people? In particular, try to consider how age, race, ethnicity, class, or gender relates to the graffiti. For example, as you try to discern the intention of the artist, do you need to understand something about youth culture to fully comprehend the graffiti? Are you starting to sense that gays or lesbians are often the target of the graffiti done by one group? Is the writing in Spanish and does this tell us something about the community, beyond the fact that the person who wrote it is likely bilingual?
As you consider the meaning of individual photos and groups of images in your collection, try to speculate more broadly about what the graffiti might tell us about our culture. This will require you to make some generalizations that connect the graffiti to dominant ideologies in our society. Even if you consider the graffiti humorous, at whose expense is the joke?
Include general statements as part of your presentation. Such statements might look something like this:
*Graffiti in boys’ locker rooms condemn certain sexual behavior, in particular homosexuality, which reinforce a hegemonic masculine norm of heterosexuality.
*Gay pride rainbows anonymously drawn on the side of local businesses express a pro-gay sentiment that is not often spoken about publicly in this conservative town.
*The word terrorist outside an Islamic community center signifies racist hate speech that has been on the rise since 9/11.
Finally, take seriously the location of the graffiti in order to think about how context might shift the meaning and power of the message. Several different gang tags outside a school building might signify a growing problem of school violence that officials may need to investigate, whereas similar gang tags under a highway overpass may go unnoticed for years. A derogatory comment in a school bathroom about a female cheerleader carries a particular meaning when placed in the girls’ bathroom and perhaps a different meaning when placed in the boys’ bathroom.
This assignment has hopefully made you more acutely aware of the graffiti in your community. Think about how you reacted to the different types of graffiti you found—were you offended by them, worried by them, impressed by them? Have you started to become more aware of the graffiti that surrounds you? Use your knowledge about graffiti to make a difference in your neighborhood. This might include initiating efforts to clean up graffiti that is deemed offensive or even helping to raise money for a scholarship fund for a young graffiti artist whose work may one day be considered a national treasure.
Banksy (Director). 2010. Exit through the Gift Shop. London: Paranoid Pictures. (This is a documentary about street graffiti artists, produced and directed by Banksy, which was nominated for a “Best Documentary” Academy Award in 2011.)
Calvin, Lisa. 2005. Graffiti, the Ultimate Realia: Meeting the Standards through an Unconventional Cultural Lesson. Hispania 88(3): 527–530
PART II: THE EVOLUTION OF DOMINANT-MINORITY RELATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
ASSIGNMENT 1: Race And Gender in Children’s Books
Following the civil rights and women’s movements, it might seem logical that publishing companies would begin putting out children’s books that provide a more accurate and diverse portrayal of characters for our young readers. The task of this assignment is to see whether or not this is the case.
Visit the children’s section of a local public library. Pick a sample of 20 books to examine. Although you could conduct a convenience sample by simply grabbing the first 20 books you come across, consider taking a couple of extra minutes to be a little more systematic, which will help you get a more representative sample. First, pick one section of the shelving area and count all the books on the shelves. Determine your sampling interval by simply dividing the total population of books by 20. (For example, if there are 200 books, your sampling interval will be every 10th book.) Then, pick a random book to start with and proceed from there by picking every nth book until you have pulled 20 books from the shelves.
Create a tally sheet to study the race, ethnicity, and gender of each book’s main character. In each row, list the book title and the year of publication. In the columns, include such categories as “male” and “female,” as well as different race and ethnicity categories (i.e., white, African American, Hispanic, etc.).
After you have gone through a couple of books, you may need to adjust your tally sheet to include such categories as “unknown”—for instance, when the main character is an animal and you can’t determine the race. Maybe you need to differentiate between male children, male teens, and male adults. Perhaps an extra row is needed for books that have more than one main character.
When you are done examining all 20 books, add up your columns and develop some general findings. How many main characters were male? Female? White? African American? Consider putting the list of books in order by publication date. Do you find that things have changed over time?
Take it one step further by selecting a small sample of the books to examine more qualitatively. Read each book. Consider the story line, word choice, and dialogue, as well as the pictures. What are the race, ethnicity, and gender of the other characters in the book? What is the relationship between the main character and the supporting characters? What roles do these characters have? What adjectives are used to describe the characters and their actions?
Identify stereotypes that are perpetuated in the books. Do female characters seem helpless and in need of a smart male character to help them solve a mystery? Are white characters given the role of the leader or boss in the book? Do Hispanic characters all know how to speak Spanish? Do dads work jobs and moms bake cookies? Also, consider how stereotypes are confronted in the books. Taken as a whole, do you think the book does a better job reifying or challenging stereotypes?
Share your findings with the reference librarian. Ask the librarian what she or he thinks about the changing nature of race, ethnicity, and gender in children’s books. Has she or he noticed any trends in children’s books, or perhaps trends in the book choices of children and which books they are more apt to check out?
Finally, consider what your findings may suggest about the socialization of children. What messages are young children being given about race and ethnic relations or the meaning of gender?
The local diner has a long history in American culture. Emerging in the Northeast in the latter part of the 19th century, diners constituted little more than horse-drawn lunch carts initially established to serve blue-collar workers during the Industrial Revolution (Anderson, 2008). Following World War II, this predominantly masculine space began to transform as women began to enter the workforce in larger numbers, serving as both middle-class consumers and cheap labor for restaurant owners (Anderson, 2008). Also, diners have had a long history of racial and ethnic segregation, a legacy that perhaps continues and may even be heightened in certain areas that have overt conflicts over immigration today. Keep an eye out for insights into how these forces may shape the everyday interactions in the diner.
Today, although the nostalgic version of the 1950s diner may no longer exist, most towns and cities still have some semblance of the local diner. Some continue to be places that serve working-class men lunch, whereas others offer coffee to the CEO on her way to catch the morning train into the city, while others still provide french-fries to a group of teenagers after dark. This assignment requires you to embark on an ethnographic investigation of the American diner.
Step 1 Locate a locally owned diner that has been in your community for at least a decade, and pick a time of day to observe that is most appropriate for the setting. This may require you to go to the diner and find out how long it has been in business and if it tends to get busy during breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Investigate the guidelines for conducting research with your university’s Institutional Review Board. Although projects of this scope may be exempt from board approval, it still is important to understand and follow the protocol for conducting ethical research that is laid out by your institution.
Ethnography is a qualitative research design that requires you to take detailed notes to gather rich descriptions of people in everyday life, so you will need to buy a small notebook to take notes. (It’s best to use a notebook instead of a computer, since this will be a less intrusive method of note taking.) For this assignment, you will take on the role of a participant observer, which means that you will let people at the diner know you are conducting research. Although there are cons to this approach (see discussion of limitations in Step 9), the pros are that notes help increase your level of accuracy in description and, since people know you are conducting research, they may volunteer to tell you relevant information or allow you to informally interview them, which will help you gather richer, more detailed notes.
Pick three days to observe your site. On the first day, simply observe and take jottings. Jottings are your own brief shorthand notes that help you recall details about the atmosphere, events, people, and conversations you observe, which you will later use to write up more extensive field notes. Limit your observation time to 1 hour, since it will take you almost twice as long to type these notes as it did to conduct the observation—as a general rule, for every hour you observe, you will have five pages of typed field notes.
Once you leave the setting, immediately type up your field notes so everything will still be fresh in your memory. Field notes are essentially a minute-to-minute account of your observation. The more detail, the better! Use complete sentences, write things down in chronological order, and avoid subjective statements. For example, instead of saying a customer was “sloppy,” describe the clothes they were wearing, their demeanor, the style of their hair, the dirt under their fingernails, etc. The more detail you give, the more objective your notes will be.
Start to look for some initial themes by coding your first set of field notes. Coding is simply a process that allows you to analyze your data in terms of certain variables. After you are done typing your field notes, print them out; as you read through them, write possible codes in the margin. For the purpose of this assignment, begin with demographic variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, and social class. This will help you start to see patterns emerge. For example, maybe you’ll start to notice that only male patrons sit at the counters or that most of the workers are white. Try also to develop your own codes. This can be anything from a code titled “food” or “music” to one called “nostalgia” or “gossip.” This process will not only help you systematically see patterns of behavior but will likely also introduce some unanswered questions about your site that you can investigate during your next visit.
Follow the same process of taking jottings and field notes during your next two days of observation, but this time, don’t be afraid to informally interview workers or patrons. This should help you answer some of the questions you have. In particular, try to find people to talk with who have either been working at the diner for a long time or patronizing it for years. This will allow you to get much more insight into the history and background of the diner than you would get if you observed alone.
Start to look for relationships between codes. What is the relationship between gender and work roles? How does ethnicity factor into the selection of menu items? How does the price of food influence the social class of the patrons? How have the demographics of the diner patrons changed over the past several decades? How does the diner represent a part of American culture?
Write a one- to two-page paper with your initial findings. Discuss the limitations of your research, including your role as participant observer, and how you might fix these problems if you were to continue with this research project. This should include a discussion of reactivity—how the participants of your study may have modified their behavior because they knew they were being observed—and reflexivity—how your own identity may have influenced what you observed and how you interpreted these observations.
Anderson, Erin R. 2008. “Whose name’s on the awning?” Gender, entrepreneurship, and the American diner. Gender, Place, and Culture 15(4): 395–410.
ASSIGNMENT 3: Historical Films in Modern Day Contexts
Films based on a true story or historical event are often critiqued for failing to present an accurate account of the facts. Regardless of this, many people watch these films as a way to learn something about history. It’s not necessarily true that people are naïve about historical films. For example, most people who have seen Titanic probably understand actors Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio represent a fictionalized depiction of a possible love story between a British aristocrat and a poor Irish boy. Yet at the same time historical films blur the line between fiction and reality. So while you might see their love story as being made up, you might still believe that the representation of social class division on the ship is still accurate, even if it is not. This assignment requires you to review a film that has been produced in the last decade but depicts a time period before, during, or following the Civil War. The film should also attempt to tackle some aspect of slavery. Such films might include Cold Mountain, Amazing Grace, Django Unchained, Lincoln, or 12 Years a Slave.
Step 1 Begin by writing a brief synopsis of the film. What was it about? Who were the main characters? What are the main storylines?
Step 2 Next, try to evaluate the historical accuracy of the film. How does the film portray pre-industrial America? How does it relate to the historical background provided in this book or in books you have read in other courses? When answering this question, consider such things as whether or not the characters are depicting real people (i.e. President Lincoln), what props are used in the setting and does it seem authentic, what music is playing the background, and which real events are portrayed and did they get the timeline correct?
Step 3 Closely examine the dominant-minority relations portrayed in the film. This book suggests the Noel Hypothesis as an explanation for why colonists enslaved black Africans. Is the Noel Hypothesis supported in the film? Consider the three characteristics of this hypothesis—ethnocentrism, competition and differentials in power between groups. Provide evidence from the film for each category. This could also include a discussion of specific scenes that seem to contradict this hypothesis.
Step 4 Overall, in terms of historical accuracy, do you believe the filmmakers “got it right”? Why or why not?
Step 5 Now, consider your analysis of the historical accuracy of the film in relationship to your own reaction to watching the film in today’s context. Did you like the film? Why or why not? Did you have an emotional reaction to the film? Explain your reaction. Do you feel like the film took seriously the nature of dominant-minority relations at this time period or did they try to oversimplify things?
Finally, speculate as to why you think this historical film resonates with a contemporary audience. What themes or ideologies do you think the filmmakers used to draw in an audience and make the film relevant today? Go on-line and look up the film’s website. Who made the film? Find some film reviews or visit blogs where the public has commented on the film. What has been said about the film? Overall, consider why you think people continue to be interested in historical films about dominant-minority relations in pre-industrial America.