Colorblindness, Being Rich vs. Being Smart, Feminism for Men

‘…but some of my best friends are black’

If you think spending time with diverse friends keeps your prejudices in check, Eileen O’Brien and Kathleen Odell Korgen might encourage you to think again.

Face-to-face contact can challenge racial prejudice by forcing us to re-think our beliefs about racial groups based on relationships with individual members of those groups. However, O’Brien and Odell Korgen argue that America’s “colorblind” ideology can actually make interracial interaction have the opposite effect (Sociological Inquiry, August 2007).

The authors interviewed whites who have close black friends and whites participating in anti-racism activism. Traditional “contact theory” would predict that whites with black friends would have strong anti-racist views, and that anti-racism activists would have close personal ties to blacks.

The authors actually found the opposite for each group. They attribute this finding to colorblind attitudes. “Colorblindness” encourages Americans to treat all people purely as individuals and not as members of racial or ethnic groups. As a result, their respondents didn’t re-evaluate their view of a racial group after positive individual contact: they simply exempted that individual from what they thought about the racial group.

Perhaps the surest route to challenging racist stereotypes is to, well, challenge racist stereotypes—no matter how many black friends you have. J.S.

unnecessary roughness

Kids get plenty of benefits from playing team sports, but some sports seem to create more violent kids outside the locker room.

In a recent study of adolescent males, Derek A. Kreager (American Sociological Review, October 2007) found that boys who play football are 41 percent more likely to get into a serious physical fight than their non-athletic peers. For wrestlers, it’s 45 percent. These patterns hold even after controlling for a host of background factors, including past violence and delinquency.

Not only are football players more likely to fight, but so are their friends. Peer group influence, on top of playing sports, affects the likelihood of getting into a serious physical fight. At the same time, playing tennis, a non-contact, less stereotypically masculine sport, decreases the risk of fighting by 35 percent.

These findings have paradoxical implications for how schools treat and view their athletes. On the one hand, as Kreager says, communities expect their athletes to set a standard and act in conventional ways; on the other, they put athletes in situations that “support violence as a means of attaining ‘battlefield’ victories, increasing peer status, and asserting ‘warrior’ identities.” H.M.

richer is better

Being smart might make you healthier. But being rich is even better.

Bruce Link and colleagues (Journal of Health and Social Behavior, March 2008) report that socioeconomic status trumps intelligence when predicting better health, a finding that provides new fodder for public debate about the underlying causes of health disparities.

We need some degree of mental agility to make sense of the barrage of medical information we receive everyday from the news, Internet, and pharmaceutical commercials. However, Link and his co-authors found intelligence had little to no effect on health outcomes when they took income and education into account.

Rather, the underlying causes of better health remain the resources bestowed on those with higher socioeconomic standing, such as more money, more power, and more friends with medical expertise. These people also tend to live in neighborhoods with less pollution, less crime, and better gyms and parks.

If intelligence isn’t the missing link on the road to better health, then initiatives like consumer-based healthcare miss the mark. Drawing upon our wits to sort through complicated health options may have little impact if we can’t afford screening tests or ask the neighborhood doc for friendly advice. W.L.

let us eat (cup)cake

Hamburgers, macaroni, and meatloaf. Traditional working-class fare or signs of a populist revolution?

These lowbrow treats have joined foie gras and duck confit as the centerpieces of gourmet food writing. Although the ascendancy of the cupcake may look like a democratic swelling within the ranks of highbrow cuisine, a recent study by Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann (American Journal of Sociology, July 2007) suggests gourmet food is still all about taste and distinction. Food critics have simply become more “omnivorous”—well-versed in many different cuisines—by showcasing the more obscure traits of everyday foods only a refined palette can discern.

According to the authors, what makes a roadside diner or homemade casserole gourmet is their authenticity and exoticism. Critics assess the authenticity of a dish by highlighting its geographic region, simplicity in preparation, or the chef “behind the scenes.” A local fish sauce produced in Phu Quoc, an island off the coast of Vietnam, is “nuanced, delicate, and unlike any other fish sauce” you may find in the grocery store. Simplicity shines through in another article describing the “unschooled” techniques of a “mama’s kitchen” in rural Louisiana. Exoticism, on the other hand, refers to how dishes represent something unusual or exciting, such as Catalonian blood sausage or black Chinese rice.

However, what counts as exotic or authentic depends on the expertise of someone with first-class taste and loads of frequent flier miles.

So that homemade meatloaf gracing the cover of your favorite gourmet rag? Remember the discriminatory palette that put it there may be keeping the democratic upheaval at bay. W.L.

never mind the bollocks, do it yourself

Social scientists know punks resist mainstream culture via the subversive quality and shock value of their fashion and rituals. Ryan Moore, though, adds creating, writing, recording, and distributing independent music and publications to the list (Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, August 2007).

For three years Moore observed and interviewed producers of San Diego’s punk music and “fanzines”—low-cost, fan-produced publications about a specific cultural phenomenon. He found the punk scene infused with a “do-it-yourself ethic,” which discourages fans from being passive consumers and spectators and encourages them instead to form their own bands, create independent record labels, and publish or write for low-budget magazines and publications, and thus buck the corporate and industry arms they think are strangling their scene.

These activities, Moore suggests, have been neglected from the scholarly discussions of what constitutes resistance despite the fact that the products are outlets for creative expression, cultural participation, and help form a sense of community. The DIY ethic gives people with no great musical or writing skill (or commercial viability) the power to play the key roles in the creation and maintenance of punk culture—an act of resistance as meaningful as any treatise on the symbolic significance of guitar smashing and studded collars. K.C.

how i learned to stop worrying and love the military

Want to avoid a life of violent crime and improve your economic and social standing? Visit your local recruiter’s office.

Two works, one by Ivan Y. Sun and the other by Edward L. Kick, Byron Davis, and Jeffrey Kentor (both from Journal of Military and Political Sociology, Winter 2006), suggest military participation lowers both national homicide rates and inequality.

Looking at 96 countries Sun found that, although income inequality and unemployment are admittedly better predictors, countries with more military personnel have somewhat lower homicide rates. That’s because, the author says, soldiers largely are “young males in their crime-prone ages,” the military is a rigid standardized system, and the military has its own vernacular and system for building the “soldier’s identity.”

Kick, Davis, and Kentor analyzed data from 66 countries from 1970 to 1990 and found support for the classic argument that participation in the military reduces inequality. This is a result, they argue, of militaries’ integrative and egalitarian functions, which provide opportunities for upward mobility for “unskilled, uneducated, and unemployed” populations.

It seems, then, the value of the military experience goes beyond structure, discipline, and the G.I Bill. K.C.

a culture of fear

Examining how dictatorships maintain such power for so long can teach us how to save societies from authoritarian regimes and fearmongering leaders.

In a fascinating study on Peru, Jo-Marie Burt (Latin American Research Review, October 2006) argues Alberto Fujimori’s reign (1990–2000) was indeed due in part to structural factors like a weak civil society and economic crises, as others have articulated. But it also relied on a culture of fear and the per- petuation of personal insecurity.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with activists between 1992 and 2000, Burt notes the regime created an “authoritarian consensus” founded upon coercion. Using repression (disappearance, jail, and/or torture for political opponents) and exploitation of existing fears in society (of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement and economic chaos), Fujimori was able to legitimize his power and fragment civil society, thus keeping political com- petition to a minimum. It also kept the people terrified, and willing to surrender “their rights in exchange for the promise of order and stability.”

The key to preventing these kinds of despotisms in the future, Burt argues, is to guarantee the rule of law and accountability of public authorities. R.A.

when do leaders matter?

On January 21st the nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the 21st time. Sociologists wonder why we commemorate leaders and not the movements, and Sharon Erickson Nepstad and Clifford Bob (Mobilization, March 2006) argue it may be the dynamism leaders possess.

Leaders aren’t just surfers riding a social movement wave but rather have “leadership capital” that enables them to inspire those waves, the authors say. They also often play a seminal role in the movement’s direction and ultimately its success or failure.

Informed by cases from Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America, the authors identify three types of leadership capital: social, cultural, and symbolic. Social capital refers to the leader’s networks of contacts, cultural capital to the local knowledge with which a leader can connect to a community, and symbolic capital to the leader’s legitimacy to direct the movement.

Leaders’ capital can, in fact, compensate for many problems social movements commonly face, such as lack of material resources, a closed political structure, or a deficit in the organizational structures.

So as the nation commemorates leaders like King and presidents like Washington and Lincoln, sociologists can reflect on the fact that there is still much to know about the critical roles these and others like them play in their struggles for a better world. R.A.

the slow lane on the information superhighway

The pace of Internet adoption among low-income citizens isn’t keeping up with the adoption rate among the more affluent, at least within the United States, according to Steve Martin and John Robinson (Social Problems, February 2007).

Each year more people have access to the Internet than the year before, but the spread of access has slowed in recent years. The slow-down has been greater for low-income Americans than the more affluent, the authors found.

If the Internet is to live up to its promise to democratize access to information, this is a problem. Low income and no Internet access can mutually reinforce negative effects on social mobility. In other words, low-income individuals can’t improve their economic well-being or participate politically without the information on the Internet.

Notably, this trend doesn’t hold in many other countries. For example, the United Kingdom has similar levels of income inequality as the United States, yet its levels of inequality with respect to Internet access by income are decreasing. J.S.

the lingering effects of puberty

Early puberty puts girls at risk for far more than unrelenting bra-snapping. Girls who mature earlier than their peers are more likely to hang out with older girls and boys, do worse in school, have a negative view of themselves, and experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

There are also long-term consequences, according to a new study by Shannon Cavanaugh, Catherine Reigle-Crumb, and Robert Crosnoe (Social Psychology Quarterly, June 2007). Not only are early maturing girls more likely to fail a class in their first year of high school, but they’re less likely to graduate. Those that do graduate are more likely to have lower grades than their peers.

The physical transition of puberty coincides with an important social transition. The new physical changes that push girls to hang out with older kids puts them at risk for getting into more trouble, developing bad habits, and acquiring the label “troublemaker.” These early events can disrupt their path through high school and perhaps beyond, the authors say.

So parents’ desires to keep their kids young forever may be rational after all. J.S.

the kids are alright

Many commentators lament the future of today’s youth, partly in light of the “Stop Snitchin'” campaign and ambivalence toward police in general. Young people, especially young minority males, are thought to be not only anti-police but rejecting the rule of law outright.

To understand what’s causing this phenomenon, Patrick J. Carr, Laura Napo- litano, and Jessica Keating (Criminology, May 2007) interviewed 147 youth in three ethnically segregated Philadelphia neighborhoods. While they found many youth in these communities hold negative views of the police, at the same time the majority want increased policing to help control crime.

To make sense of this apparent paradox, the authors suggest we abandon the subcultural model that says youth mistrust police because they’ve been taught to do so. These youth have negative views of the police because of negative experiences with them. They don’t seek a state of lawlessness and anarchy, but rather an honest and fair police force that works within the community, which points to a hopeful future for community policing programs. J.W.

stop violent crime by punishing non-violent crime

In the 1990s New York City transformed from the place where tourists feared to tread to a family-friendly haven, as violent crime rates dropped by more than 75 percent.

Some argue it was due to what sociologists call Order-Maintenance Policing (OMP), or more popularly, “broken windows” policing. By heavily monitoring and prosecuting smaller “quality of life” crimes, the argument goes, the police send the message they’re paying attention and won’t hesitate to enforce the law. Thus, crime in general should decrease.

But according to Richard Rosenfeld, Robert Fornango, and Andres F. Rengifo (Criminology, May 2007), OMP may not have been the cause of New York’s pre- cipitous crime drop. While they found evidence to support the notion that OMP does reduce the violent crime rate, they concluded that in the case of New York City in the 1990s, OMP was responsible for at most 5 percent of the drop in the robbery rate and 12 percent of the drop in the homicide rate. And these effects were mostly confined to areas already the most highly monitored, such as predominantly African-American or working-class neighborhoods.

While we have yet to determine what caused New York’s dramatic trans- formation, we can safely say fixing broken windows plays only a small role in preventing violent crime. J.W.

feminism: not just for women anymore

In every country women are more likely to be depressed than men. Surprisingly, in countries with high levels of gender equity, there’s a greater difference between men’s and women’s depression levels than in countries with low levels of gender equity.

This finding has prompted some to argue that gender equality is actually bad for women’s mental health, perhaps because of the increased stress levels and time pressures associated with balancing both traditional male and female roles.

However, Rosemary L. Hopcroft and Dana Burr Bradley (Social Forces, June 2007) find that when you take a closer look at the data, the interpretation changes.

Overall, depression levels are actually lower in gender equal societies for both men and women. However, the difference between men’s and women’s depression levels is greater, not because women are more depressed, but because men are far less depressed than their counterparts in gender unequal societies.

In other words, gender equality seems to be good for everyone, especially men. C.S.

eastwood, m.s.w.

More Ph.D. students are women and they receive more doctoral degrees than ever, but they’re on career tracks segregated from their male counterparts, according to Paula England and colleagues (Sociology of Education, January 2007).

The study analyzed gender compositions and salary effects and found that between 1971 and 2002, the trend toward gender segregation in Ph.D. programs changed very little.

Male-dominated fields, like electrical engineering and physics, continue to be mostly male; likewise with more feminized fields like nursing and education. As a field becomes more feminized (which the authors define as more than 25 percent of the field being female), men are deterred from entering and earning doctorates. Ironically, as a field becomes more feminized, women become more discouraged about entering it as well.

The authors say their findings “contradict the idea that money is the whole story.” They speculate that the stigma for men in being in “too-female” fields is the major reason why they avoid them. Apparently, creating a “macho” image for an academic field is the key for success in gender desegregation.

If only Clint Eastwood had played a social worker. C.S.