Author Archives: Nathan Palmer
White supremacy is often mischaracterized as only a person or group of people (e.g. Neo Nazis & the KKK), but thinking of white supremacy in this way hides too many people who are affected by it. In this post Nathan Palmer will push us to think about white supremacy as an ideology and explore how each of us may personally believe it.
Every year we had a “multi-cultural day” at my elementary school. Usually in January (around Martin Luther King Day) or in February (to “celebrate” Black History Month). We’d eat foods from other cultures (there was always baklava), watch a movie about Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and learn about how racism used to be a problem in the United States. The overall message was clear to all of us kids, “racism is something mean people used to do and if you do anything racist today, you’re a big meanie”.
I can still remember the befuddled look on my teacher’s face when I walked up to her and asked, “If today is multicultural day, then what are the rest of the days?” Her face scrunched together, she folded her arms, and told me, “Oh, just go back to your seat this instant!”
I was thinking about my multicultural day experience recently because last week was the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martine Luther King. The message I learned at these multicultural days (that racism is only a problem at the individual level) I think is largely still present in our society. But in many ways the issue of racism is as much about acts of discrimination as it is about the ideas and ideologies that support prejudice.
The Ideology of White Supremacy
To fully understand white supremacy we have to separate it from the people who identify as white. White supremacy is not a person or group of people, it’s an ideology. Ideology is fancy-sociology-speak for a collection of ideas that work together to affect how we see and understand the world around us. As an ideology, white supremacy encourages us to value white people, white culture, and everything associated with whiteness above the people, culture, and everything associated with people of color. We can encapsulate all of that by using the common white supremacist tagline, “white is right.”
I tried to ignore. I hoped it’d go away. But oh, no… it wouldn’t. So fine I’ll do it. Here is how that annoying yet omnipresent internet meme The Harlem Shake is sociological. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses The Harlem Shake Internet meme to discuss cultural appropriation and how we make meaning of culture.
If you’ve turned on the Internet the last few weeks, then I bet you’ve seen one of the many incarnations of “The Harlem Shake” video. In these formulaic 30 second videos a single masked person dances while the people around him/her go about doing some inane activity like typing on a key board. Then the bass drops and the video cuts to people bafoonishly waving their arms around in a collective pandaemonium and then as quickly as it started the video slowmo’s and a loud “RAWR” plays as the video fades to black. I mean it’s just plain hilarious…
Or at least it was the first time I saw the shtick. But in the weeks since, hundreds of copycat videos have emerged. Here’s just a tiny fraction
I know what you’re thinking. 1. This is SO last week! (I know, believe me) and 2. Why are you talking about this on a sociology blog? To answer your first point: I know right! And to answer your second: “The Harlem Shake” is completely sociological. While I could use the meme to illustrate hundreds of sociological concepts, today I want to talk about cultural appropriation and the active consumption of media.
How do we collectively decide what we call a social problem? How do we decide who is at fault or to blame for the problem? In this article Nathan Palmer uses conflict theory to discuss how those with social power often use it to define social problems as the fault of the least powerful in society.
Stop what you’re doing and think of the word most commonly used in the United States to describe when people from other countries come to the U.S. without the appropriate legal paper work. What do we tend to call that? I ask my students this question during the first week each semester and the answer they always give is, “illegal immigration”. Now you may be thinking, “yeah, so what. Big deal”, but stay with me. Why do we call it “illegal immigration”?
Think of the industries that undocumented immigrants work in most often. Many undocumented immigrants work in low wage manual labor in agriculture, manufacturing, and in the service industry. So here’ s my question: do you think any of the products or services you’ve purchased were cheaper because the workers who produced it weren’t paid a fair wage or given proper benefits? How much higher would your grocery bill be if we paid the workers who produced the food that fills your cart a fair living wage? Probably a lot, right? So that means that you personally are the direct beneficiary of what is commonly called “illegal immigration”. You have more money in your pocket because of the undocumented workers in the United States. Or put more simply, consumers and corporations in the U.S. benefit from exploiting undocumented immigrant labor.
Conflict theory, one of the main theoretical camps of sociology, argues that those in power, use their power to ensure that they stay in power. To this end, conflict theorists argue, those in power use it to define social problems as the fault of the least powerful in society. With this in mind let’s go back to our original question: why do we often call it “illegal immigration”.
“Daddy brings home the bacon and mama fries it up in the pan,” this old and in so many ways outdated saying is actually a handy way to remember the sociologist Talcott Parsons complementary sex role theory. In this piece Nathan Palmer takes a look back at Parsons’s theories and shows us how a recent iPhone game called Girls Like Robots seems like it could have been designed by Parsons himself.
The world is a more stable place when women focus on taking care of children and maintaining the household. Wait! Wait! Don’t go! Before you write me an ALL CAPS email calling me a sexist, let me tell you that what I just said is actually the belief of one of the most prominent sociologists ever, Talcott Parsons. I personally disagree with Parsons, but it’s important that any student of sociology know about such a important historical figure in sociology. But before we talk about Parsons, let me tell you about Structural Functionalism.