The Brownies’ Book: A Monthly Magazine for the Children of the Sun, the first major periodical for Black children, had a short but marvelous run between 1920 and 1921.[i] On the 100-year anniversary of its publication, The Brownies’ Book still has much to offer scholars of children and youth. Through poems, images, games, and stories that were by, for, and including Black Americans, The Brownies’ Book wanted nothing less than to decolonize children’s literature. While W. E. B. Du Bois is often credited for being the magazine’s chief architect, The Brownies’ Book was led by a dedicated team.[ii] Augustus Granville Dill was the business manager and had collaborated with Du Bois on a number of research studies. The artistic heart and soul of The Brownies’ was Jessie Redmon Fauset, a gifted writer who lent her talents to The Brownies’ Book and recruited Harlem Renaissance artists to contribute their work to the magazine.
From its very first issue, Brownies’ was a fascinating universe all its own. The magazine captured Du Bois’s affection for mixing genres, as historical facts mingled with propaganda, racial melodrama, and stories of the occult.[iii] Biographical portraits of influential Black Americans were nestled alongside little nuggets describing the achievements of ordinary young people. The March 1920 issue celebrated the achievements of William Cofield, an aspiring actor. “Some boy!” the magazine announced. Many young people contributed original work. A story in the January 1921 issue by 11-year-old Gwendolyn Robinson explained how an old couple’s bickering lives on today in the quarreling between thunder and lightning.
W. E. B. Du Bois and Childhood
Du Bois wore many hats, but he is not typically viewed as an historian or theorist of childhood. Yet young people were a central concern of his and he wrote about “childhood” in capacious terms: children as a metaphor, as a discrete group with their own needs and desires, as playful, and as future race leaders. Du Bois fought to restore the possibility of “freedom’s child,” the first generations of children coming of age after the end of slavery, but whose potential had been diminished by Jim Crow.[iv] While Du Bois dedicated Brownies’ to Black youth—the “children of the sun”—Du Bois spoke of African Americans as the “children of the moon.” In a poem of the same name from Darkwater, the moon represents the Black Messiah: “Heaven and earth are wings / Wings veiling some vast / And veiled face / In blazing Blackness.” In Du Bois’s interpretation, “Heaven and earth” represented the hypocrisy and failures of white Christianity, whose gospel veiled the immortal youth of Black people. The white supremacy that buttressed white Christianity would ultimately stand in judgment before a Black God who represented “the limitless potential of African Americans.”[v]
In his writings, Du Bois blurred the boundaries between adulthood and childhood. The Brownies’ Book made clear that Black youth should not be shielded from racial violence, just as the magazine created a world of fantasy and boundless imagination where children could simply play and live as children. In fact, the magazine spoke to an audience of both youth and adults. Here, Brownies’ employed the “cross-writing” that was an essential strategy of the New Negro literature movement: one that “draws on a construction of a sophisticated and militant Black childhood” where “the child thus becomes race leader.”[vi] The cross-written nature of Brownies’ therefore exemplified Du Bois’s pragmatist sensibilities: affirming various dialectical tensions (adulthood and childhood, race leadership and protectionism) and proposing an action-oriented solution in adapting a children’s magazine for political purposes.
Race scholars have documented the systematic exclusion of Du Bois by mainstream sociology in the early 1900s. The field of psychology was also culpable. G. Stanley Hall’s enormously influential text Adolescence (1904) is now regarded as racist and paternalistic because it advanced the notion that the development of white children into adulthood recapitulates human evolution. Less well known is how Hall’s recapitulation theory implicates Du Bois. While Hall was aware of Du Bois and his work, he failed to cite Du Bois in Adolescence. Instead, Hall commends Booker T. Washington’s industrial training program in support of the idea that Blacks were members of an “adolescent race.” Yet Du Bois’s mission was to critique the very foundations of this “racialized modernity”—the contemporary period’s entanglements of racism and colonialism—which nurtured those racist recapitulation theories, and by extension, visions of desirable white futures.[vii]
The Legacy of The Brownies’ Book
Brownies' is noteworthy for being among the first children’s literature to address violence, trauma, and political activism. The Red Summer of 1919 was the final impetus Du Bois needed to start a children’s magazine, as children were among the many victims of that summer’s race massacre. The riots in Chicago began after 17-year-old Eugene Williams drowned after being pelted with rocks. A digital remake of Brownies' rightfully points out that mass racial violence that harms Black youth continues today in the form of “Stand Your Ground” laws, school surveillance, and mass incarceration.[viii]
The Brownies’ Book also helped introduced the fantastic—a genre encompassing the supernatural, the mystical, and the marvelous—to Black youth. In “The Gypsy’s Finger-Ring,” written by Willis Richardson in the March 1921 issue, a group of children meet a gypsy born in Egypt. The gypsy is wearing a ring that allows its holder to see the past, present, and future. One girl wishes to see slavery so that “will urge us on.” Viewed in this light, the magazine’s many fairy tales are deeply political. Through fairy tales and mini dramas, Brownies’ elaborated on Du Bois’s strong interest in the fantastical emerging from African epistemologies and spirituality. More recently, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas has identified these fantastical stories as a predecessor to Afrofuturism and other forms of Black speculation.[ix] Black girls, according to Thomas, are trapped in a cycle of the “dark fantastic” that finds them perpetually endangered. Counter-narratives help to break this cycle and point the way to emancipatory futures. In its brief moment in the sun, The Brownies’ Book urged Black children to imagine these very possibilities.
[i] For access to each of the issues, see http://childlit.unl.edu/topics/edi.brownies.html.
[ii] Dianne Johnson-Feelings, ed., The Best of The Brownies’ Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
[iii] Susan Gillman, Blood Talk: American Race Melodrama and the Culture of the Occult (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003).
[iv] Mary Niall Mitchell, Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future After Slavery (New York: NYU Press, 2008).
[v] Edward Blum, “‘There Won’t Be Any Rich People in Heaven’: The Black Christ, White Hypocrisy, and the Gospel According to W. E. B. Du Bois,” The Journal of African American History, 90, no. 4 (Autumn 2005): 368-386, 383.
[vi] Katharine Capshaw Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), xix.
[vii] José Itzigsohn and Karida Brown, The Sociology of W. E. B. Du Bois: Racialized Modernity and the Global Color Line (New York: New York University Press, 2020).
[ix] Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (New York: NYU Press, 2019).
While sociologists debate whether the gender revolution is stalled (England 2010, Scarborough et al. 2019), the very meaning of gender is fundamentally being challenged. In several states, people can now retroactively change the sex category on their birth certificate to reflect their current gender identity or choose to opt out of either category on their driver’s licenses. Many college classes now begin with each person declaring their pronoun. New laws and pronouns reflect a newly emerging identity, genderqueer or non-binary, positioned beyond the gender binary. Cultural practices and social policy have far outpaced social science research, although research is now catching up (Darwin, Barbee and Schrock, Garrison).
What we do know is that young people are leading the way to wherever it is the gender revolution is now headed. Estimates of how many people identify as non-binary are wildly inconsistent, from less than 1 percent of young people in the US (Meerwijk and Sevelius, 2017) to reports that 27% of California youth believe that others view them as gender non-conforming (Williams Institute, 2017). Prevalence rates are challenging because some researchers simply collapse those who reject categories into the transgender umbrella, using the combined category transgender/gender-non-conforming while others use discrete categories. . While there is no accepted estimate of the number of people who reject gender categories, one forthcoming study (https://psmag.com/ideas/gen-z-the-future-is-non-binary) suggests that the numbers are exponentially increasing among teenagers, primarily among those raised as girls.
My research adds to a small but growing literature on non-binary young people. What we know from Darwin’s (2017) virtual ethnography of a Reddit social media site for genderqueer users is that there is little consensus even among those who use similar identity terms as to what they mean, whether or not a non-binary identity is also being transgender one, or even how to “do non-binary.” Other research by Barbee and Schrock (2019) suggests that rejection of gendered pronouns and changing gendered bodily presentation are common attributes of college-aged non-binary identified Americans, at least among those who are white middle class college students.
My research team is beginning to explore how non-binary people understand and operate within our contemporary gender structure. How do young people who identify outside the gender binary come to this identity? How do they experience their gender as identity? How do they navigate interactional gendered expectations? And how do they deal with the binary cultural logics that organize every social institution from school to work, to voluntary organizations? Will the existence of non-binary identities disrupt the gender structure itself or will new categories simply turn a binary into a set of multiple categories, leaving intact gender stratification? We are currently collecting data. At this point we have 12 interviews collected in 2012-13 and 16 interviews in 2017. The first wave of interviews was completed for my recent book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure. In 116 interviews for that book, we had 12 people who identified outside the binary. In the fall of 2017 our team began collecting data again, now advertising specifically for those who identify outside the binary, as neither women or man. This blog reports patterns now becoming apparent in our on-going research and the difference between the two data collection waves.
We noticed patterns that differed from interviews completed in 2012-13 and those only five years later. While our sample size is far too small to be confident, here I share some exploratory analysis. In 2012-13, nearly all the respondents were very political, understanding their own rejection of gender at the individual level, including bodily presentation, as part of a radical project to overcome gender oppression. In the 2017 data, only five years later, many still spoke with strong political motivations, but not all. As the idea of the possibility of escaping gender categories has become more widespread, some young people we talked to recently had fewer political goals and were primarily motivated to escape their assigned gender category because the normative gendered expectations felt oppressive.
Another very clear change over time was how “out” respondents were with their identity and that showed in their use of non-gendered pronouns. In the 2012-13 interviews, very few respondents had considered non-gendered pronouns, and none used them regularly outside of a support group, or a very close circle of friends. In the interviews just five years later, respondents were far more likely to be “out” in a variety of social contexts and to bring up the subject of pronouns by themselves in an interview. By 2017, almost half of the respondents felt strongly that gender neutral pronouns were important and several others didn’t care one way or another, using them sometimes without bothering to correct people that mis-gendered them. For some, being able to name their pronoun felt empowering.
Another difference between the interviews in 2012-13 and the later ones in 2017 was that in the more recent interviews, we heard more about the existence and comfort of queer spaces. One respondent told us that “there are a lot of really strong and amazing efforts taking place, led mostly by women, who are like intentionally making spaces that are inclusive and safe.” Others talked about less formal queer community based on friendship groups with shared identities. In the earlier interviews, our non-binary respondents often had romantic partners who were uncomfortable with their gender non-conformity, but in the 2017 interviews several respondents indicated that having a partner who explored identities with them was a source of support.
In both waves of interviews, non-binary respondents identified with newly emerging language of genderqueer or between the binary. Many of the people we interviewed considered gender a journey and left open the possibility of identity changes in the future. They reject the category of woman or man, and most, at least those raised as girls, do so by refusing to “do gender” with their bodies or clothing choice. Among those we have spoken to more recently, some don’t make a connection between their gender identity and the need to display that identity with their body, and so the need to name their pronoun is all the more important. At both waves, all the respondents were proud to own androgynous personalities and reject limits on self-expression that gendered expectations impose.
This is a very new area of research, and I am hoping that those of you reading this blog who also do such research will contact me, If there are enough of us, it would be exciting to organize a small working conference as a way to stimulate more research on young people and emerging adults who reject the gender binary.
Barbara J. Risman (Ph.D., University of Washington) is College of Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the editor of Gender & Society. Her most recent books are Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure (Oxford University Press, 2018) and the co-edited volume (with Carissa Froyum Roise and William Scarborough) the Handbook on the Sociology of Gender (Springer, 2018). She is also author and editor of several other books, and over two dozen articles published in such journals as American Sociological Review, Gender & Society, and Journal of Marriage and Family. She has been editor of Contemporary Sociology and serves on the board of directors of the Council on Contemporary Families. This year she serves as the Distinguished Lecturer for the Southern Sociological Society. She has received a number of honors and awards, including the Public Understanding of Sociology Award from the American Sociological Association in 2011 and the Katherine Jocher Belle Boone Award from the Southern Sociological Society in 2005. She was named Feminist Lecturer by the Sociologists for Women in Society in 2003.
Anna Mueller asked Eve Ewing the following questions about writing Ghosts in the School Yard, working for Marvel Comics, and authoring a children’s book.
AM: Your book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, came out to rave academic and lay reviews, including a comment from NPR calling it “superbly written and researched…at once poignant and deeply troubling.” Could you tell us about the book and your inspiration for writing it?
EE: The book comes from my dissertation research, which in turn was inspired by my own experiences of loss and uncertainty when the school where I had taught grades six through eight was slated for closure as part of the 2013 mass school closings in Chicago. I wanted to better understand the relationship between this policy decision and the history of racism and segregation in Chicago. I also wanted to provide a useful tool for teachers, community members, and young people to have a framework for thinking and talking about school closures and education policies more generally. And I wanted to provide an accessible text for people at all academic levels—undergrads, graduate students, and faculty members—to think through what racism actually is, how we talk about it, and the implications of that discourse or silence.
AM: On top of your outstanding academic work, you are involved in a substantial number of artistic endeavors (including writing the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics and books on poetry!). How do your sociological training and research and your artistic work inform each other?
EE: I often say that I am the least capable person of answering this question, because in my brain all of these things are kind of jumbled together. They manifest in different ways in the world, but they are all engaged in a similar set of questions and concerns. I think the best way that I can describe it is that all of these works draw on modes of close looking and inquiry. The poet’s job and the social scientist’s job are to look closely at the things that other people take for granted and ask why they are the way they are.
AM: I am really excited about your forthcoming children’s book. I am always on the hunt for books for my nieces and nephews that also teach deeper lessons about how the social world works. What was your inspiration for writing a children’s book and can you tell us a bit about it?
EE: Thank you! I love literature for young people and I always expected that I wanted to write some eventually but didn’t plan for it to be so soon. It’s just that a character came into my head and she refused to leave and so I had to write it all down. The book is called Maya and the Robot and it’s about a young girl who, through happenstance, becomes best friends with a sort of hodgepodge refurbished robot she finds in the back of the corner store in her neighborhood. In terms of deeper themes, without revealing too much, it’s also about the way that gun violence affects communities beyond just the nuclear family, the way that we struggle in our culture to deal with mourning and loss, and the ways that we are all accountable to our communities and that our work has meaning beyond each of us as individuals. But in a way that I hope is engaging, fun, meaningful, and relatable for kids between the ages of seven and eleven or so years old.
AM: There have been many debates recently about the relationship between sociology and social action/activism and how we can use our research and knowledge to effect change. What sorts of choices (e.g., professional and/or practical) have you had to make in order to be the sociologist inside and outside of academia that you want to be?
EE: I’m really befuddled by this debate. The first thing is that I am inspired by the Black intellectual tradition, which has always married theory, empirics, and social engagement with a variety of publics. The second, related thing is that I don’t understand what it would mean for someone to not be concerned with the way their work has an impact on the world. What would it mean to do work on, say, incarceration, or poverty, or educational injustice, and proclaim to be somehow neutral? As though these are issues where there are multiple reasonable sides to take on within any sort of ethical or moral framework? And the third, related thing is that for me, caring about social issues is why I entered academia. The purpose of rigorous study and inquiry, to me, is to make people’s lives better. That’s why I’m here. So I have a hard time engaging with those kinds of debates at face value or in good faith.
Any time you are engaged in any kind of knowledge production, that project is inherently a political project and an ideological project. None of us, no matter what folks may think, are actually capable of producing apolitical work, because we live and breathe and move in a dynamic social and political context. The question is, how do we make intentional decisions about the kind of political impact our work may have? To me, thinking through those questions isn’t “activism,” and I don’t identify as a “scholar-activist.” I identify as a scholar who cares about who my work helps or hurts, and who cares deeply in particular about the liberation of Black people.
I like the way you framed the second part of the question. I would reframe it just slightly and say that I am trying to move through the world as a certain type of person. An inquisitive person, an accountable person, a courageous person, a kind person, a hard-working person. I believe it’s an incident of good fortune that my efforts at striving toward those dispositions also strengthens my sociological work.
AM: What is next on your agenda (academic and non-academic)?
EE: I’ve got some projects cooking that I’m pretty excited about. This past year I’ve been working on a study of how middle school students understand and make use of concepts of consent in their interpersonal interactions, and I’m going to be working on a couple of papers related to that. I’m also beginning research for my next academic book project, which will be about Black out-migration from Chicago and a reframing of what people refer to as the “inner city.” The working title is Outer City Children: Chicago at the End of the Black Century.
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Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago. She is the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side. She is also author of Electric Arches, which received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America and was named one of the year's best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She also writes the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics. Ewing is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues.
Getting into college seems harder than ever before.
As an alum college interviewer, I am often astounded by the caliber of prospective college students I talk to who are not only at the top of their classes but also competitive athletes, state-recognized musicians, and start-up founders.
Colleges across the country have seen massive increases in applicants and rapidly decreasing admittance rates. Take, for instance, my alma mater—Rice University—which has seen a 30% increase in applications between the 2018 and 2019 application cycles. At the same time, admissions rates have dropped from 16% in 2015 to 11% in 2018. From a lay person’s perspective, it does seem that college admission is an increasingly more competitive feat.
The difficulty of getting into the right school and the importance of college-going more generally are often discussed in the media in terms of meddling parents who over-schedule their children’s calendars with extracurricular activities or take more drastic measures to ensure their children gain admission to the colleges of their choice. Less attention, however, has been paid to how competitive college admissions also shape the opportunities youth have to identify themselves, find friends, and otherwise navigate the high school social landscape.
The wide array of college-level courses and extracurricular opportunities available to high school students has indirectly shaped the high school social landscape. Although classes and clubs are attractive to colleges, they are also important avenues by which youth are clustered into peer crowds that share similar characteristics, activities, and values (e.g., college aspirations). These peer crowds are the location of much of the identity work, friendship formation, and social ranking that are developmentally important for adolescents. In the current demographic moment, when college-going is more consequential for later life prospects and high school offerings are more diverse than ever before, peer crowds that value college-going are likely to increase in number and in social status.
In a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Adolescent Research, my colleagues and I set out to map the current high school landscape given the increased focus on college-going that characterizes adolescents’ current reality. We were particularly interested in the ways in which college-bound students—an ever-growing, diverse subset of adolescents—experience their high schools.
We find that college-bound youth do indeed identify multiple “college-bound” crowds, including familiar crowds like the Smarts, who have historically been viewed as college-bound, and the Populars and Jocks, who have only recently developed a newfound focus on college.
Several other “college-bound” crowds are newer on the scene, including the Fine Arts and Good-Ats, who are not just academically gifted but also “good at” other extracurricular activities (e.g., swimming, chess, dance). This crowd may be a response to adolescents diversifying their activities to become more attractive to colleges looking for “well-rounded” applicants, not just the highest-scoring youth.
We also see that adolescents who are themselves college-bound see explicitly college-focused crowds as higher on the social hierarchy than other—and consequentially “counterculture”—crowds like the Emo/Goths and Druggie/Stoners, among others.
Although college-bound students may see crowds without normative college aspirations less favorably, they do not view all college-bound crowds as having similar status. For example, Smarts are relegated to the bottom of the totem pole, compared to Populars, Jocks, and Good-Ats who occupy similarly high positions in the high school food chain. This hierarchy suggests that it isn’t enough to just have high test scores; adolescents ascribe more status to those college-bound youth who have interests beyond the classroom, which may also translate into higher odds of getting into competitive colleges.
Are these changes in high school peer crowds and social hierarchies solely the perceptions of college-bound youth? Maybe. But as more and more students have their eyes on attending college and as college admissions become increasingly more competitive, the perceptions of college-bound youth will likely become increasingly important in shaping what is considered “cool in school” and what activities youth choose to cultivate over others.
Lilla Pivnick is a fourth-year graduate student in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a NICHD Pre-doctoral Research Trainee at the Population Research Center. Her research interests include gender and health, demography, education, and children and youth. Her work examines the ways in which high school peer crowds have changed over time and how adolescents use peer crowd heuristics to make sense of their social worlds. You can follow Lilla on Twitter at @1i11a.
"It's not fair."
If you spend time with kids, you probably hear those words a lot. And for adults, it's easy to respond with "Life isn't fair." But for kids growing up with privilege, that response is problematic.
It’s problematic, because when a privileged kid says, "It's not fair," what they almost always mean is "I'm not getting what I want." So if an adult responds with "Life's not fair," what the kid hears is "You're not getting what you want, and that's not fair."
That response teaches privileged kids to see fairness only through their own eyes. To ignore the real injustices that exist in the world, or, maybe worse, to see their own inconveniences as equally "unfair."
The recent college admissions scandal suggests that privileged kids—and privileged parents—may have a broken sense of what’s fair. Court documents revealed that dozens of celebrity and CEO parents cheated to get their kids into “top” colleges—by paying for fake test scores, fake learning disabilities, and even fake athlete profiles.
But the kids in those families weren’t just innocent victims of their parents’ crimes. George Caplan, one of the fathers named in the indictment, described how he (and other affluent parents) tried to game the system of legal accommodations for students with learning disabilities. Caplan arranged for his daughter to be evaluated for a learning disability and then coached her to “be stupid” during the test. Having a diagnosed learning disability would qualify Caplan’s daughter for extra time on tests. Not just on the SATs but on every test she took in high school and in college. And that extra time would give Caplan’s daughter a chance at higher grades and higher scores. Caplan’s daughter knew she didn’t have a learning disability, but she played along. And she got what she wanted in the end—a spot at a top school.
As Shamus Khan’s research shows, the kids of celebrities and CEOs have long had a broken sense of what’s fair. But they’re not alone. Plenty of mundanely privileged kids—the kids of lawyers and doctors and even college professors and teachers—have a broken sense of fairness, as well.
As I describe in my book, middle- and upper-middle-class white kids see themselves as above the rules. They demand support and attention far in excess of what's fair or required. They break rules with impunity. When they get caught, they try to talk their way out of punishment. And they often succeed.
They succeed because of the power of their privilege. Because teachers and school administrators are afraid of what privileged kids (and privileged parents) will do if privileged kids aren’t allowed to win the game.
As one of the working-class white parents I interviewed explained:
“Parents here don’t make their kids accountable or responsible for anything. They do everything for their kids. Everything. It’s ridiculous. They don’t make their kids responsible for anything. I remember when I was a kid that if something happened at school, the teacher would call and tell our parents, and we would be scared to death and we wouldn’t do it again. It doesn’t seem like that anymore. It seems like the teachers here are afraid of the parents.”
That parent was right. The teachers I worked with were afraid of the parents—or at least the privileged parents. And that’s because saying “no” to privileged parents (or privileged kids) came with real risks.
For teachers, saying “no” often resulted in a deluge of emails, complaints to the principal, or even threats from parents about getting lawyers involved. One teacher I worked with was even “blacklisted” by a group of privileged parents—they wrote letters requesting that their children not be placed in that teacher’s class in fifth grade, and one privileged parent even pulled her son out of that teacher’s class and had him moved to a different class one week into the school year. Why? Because the teacher was seen as “unresponsive” to parent requests.
Those risks extended to principals and superintendents, as well. In the schools I studied, privileged parents spent countless hours volunteering and raised tens of thousands of dollars annually for the PTAs. They also supported the schools during fights with the school board over resources and teacher pay. And their children’s high test scores helped maintain the schools’ status as “good” schools. If the schools said “no” to privileged parents or privileged kids, they risked losing those critical resources and support.
Given those risks, it’s not surprising that schools and teachers say “yes,” even when they want to say “no.”
And of course, no one likes to be told “no.” But when privileged kids hear nothing but “yes,” they feel entitled to “yes.” And they bristle at hearing “no.”
So if you’re the parent of a privileged kid, or if you work with privileged kids, don’t be afraid to say “no.” And when they (inevitably) respond with "It's not fair," acknowledge what they're feeling, but challenge their meaning of "fair."
What does that look like? As the parent of a four-year-old, I can give you plenty of examples.
The other day, for example, she demanded a second snack, and I told her “no”— she’d have to wait until dinner. Stomping her foot, she glared at me and insisted: “It’s not fair!” And here’s what I said in response: "You're not getting what you want. But that doesn't make it unfair. Fair is when everyone gets what they need, and when everyone has the same chance to get what they want."
And of course, that wasn’t the beginning or the end of the conversation. That night at bedtime, for example, we read Maddi’s Fridge, a beautiful (and not overly preachy) book about friendship and about families struggling with food insecurity. And we talked about privilege and about the difference between wants and needs.
And some might argue that it’s not fair to put all that on a four-year-old. But I’d say instead that avoiding those conversations is what’s really not fair. Avoiding those tough conversations isn’t fair to the other four-year-olds who don’t have the privilege of being blissfully unaware.
But avoiding those tough conversations also isn’t fair to my four-year-old—because she needs to understand the inequalities that exist in the world. And she needs to understand where she stands in that unequal system. And she needs to understand what she can do to make the system fair.
Essentially, I’m arguing that kids, and especially privileged kids, need what Durkheim calls a “moral education.” They need to be taught to believe in the public good. To be good citizens. To care about the collective as much as they care about themselves.
Some kids are getting that kind of “moral education” at home. As I’ve found in my research, parents from marginalized groups coach their kids to be respectful and responsible. To put a bright line between right and wrong. In an interview, Ben, a student from an upwardly mobile family, talked about his disdain for classmates who would ask teachers to check their work on tests before turning them in (something I saw regularly in the classrooms I observed). As Ben noted:
“I never really did that. Because I think that’s kind of like asking someone to do it for you. But they want to get a good grade, I guess. And I want to [do that too], but I think it’s kind of cheap. Like, it’s your work, you have to do it. Instead of having the teacher check to see if it’s wrong. And so I’ve definitely gotten a lot wrong.”
Even when the deck was stacked against them, the marginalized kids I observed were reluctant to cheat to get ahead.
And yet, marginalized kids are also the ones being targeted for “moral education” at school. They’re the ones who go to the kinds of “no-excuses” schools Joanne Golann describes in her research. And as scholars like Carla Shedd and Victor Rios have shown, they’re also the ones being disproportionately punished for breaking the rules.
Privileged kids, meanwhile, don’t appear to be getting that same moral education. At home or at school. Unlike Ben, for example, the more privileged kids I interviewed didn’t seem to see anything wrong with getting teachers to check their work on tests. Or asking for extensions on assignments. Or talking their way out of punishment when they forgot their homework or got caught running in the halls.
And so I would argue that we need to be asking: Why aren’t privileged kids getting that same moral education? And what would it take to teach them? That kind of moral education might not be what privileged kids (or privileged parents) want. But that doesn’t make it unfair.
Jessica Calarco is an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University. She studies inequalities, especially class-based ones, in education and family life and is the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School (Oxford University Press 2018). Her work also has appeared in such journals as the American Sociological Review and Social Psychology Quarterly. She has received a number of awards for her scholarship, including the Distinguished Early Career Award from the ASA Children and Youth Section and the Doris Entwisle Early Career Award from the ASA Sociology of Education Section. You can follow Jessica on Twitter at @JessicaCalarco.
Three sociologists who study children and youth and race and ethnicity, Elizabeth Ackert, Margaret Hagerman, and Ranita Ray, answered questions from the ASA Section on Children & Youth’s Communication and Publications Committee about their work and about race and ethnicity in the contemporary United States. Check out their full interviews here.
Questions for Elizabeth Ackert: As someone who studies the experiences of Mexican-origin children and youth, could you comment on the current situation of Mexican and other immigrant parents and their children in the United States? What do you think is most important for children and youth scholars to keep in mind about the current situation?
EA: First, it is important to remember that there is a diversity of experiences among the immigrant population in general and among the Mexican immigrant population in particular. As social scientists, we often compare mean outcomes between groups, but when focusing on immigrant populations it is always important to think about within-group variability (by national origin, by citizenship status, by authorized/unauthorized status, by levels of acculturation, etc.). My current research looks at place of residence (immigrant destinations) as another source of diversity within the already diverse immigrant and Mexican-origin populations. Highlighting diversity in characteristics and outcomes among these groups should be fundamental to research in this area.
Second, we are in an era of political scapegoating of immigrants, including Mexican immigrants. This scapegoating involves the characterization of migrants and asylum seekers as “invaders” and attempts to link immigration to societal ills such as crime and disease. This scapegoating is not new, unfortunately, but the rhetoric is heightened right now. It is important for scholars to document both qualitatively and quantitatively how national and local dialogues and policies surrounding immigration are influencing development and wellbeing among the children and descendants of immigrants. One new area of my research, in collaboration with Stephanie Potochnick from the University of Missouri, examines how local immigration enforcement (287g agreements and deportations) varies across immigrant destinations and determines whether Latino/a families in areas with higher immigration enforcement are less likely to utilize health care. Click here for Elizabeth's full interview.
Questions for Margaret Hagerman: Your new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, is based on two years of ethnographic study of affluent, white parents and their children. Very briefly, you find that white racial socialization involves not only what affluent, white parents do for their children (e.g., choices about neighborhoods, schools, and extracurricular activities), but also what they say to their children (e.g., whether they talk openly to their children about race), and that white children do not always agree with their parents about race. What effect did this particular research and book project have on you as a sociologist?
On the positive side of things, I now believe that it is possible for our research to have an impact on the choices that individual people make and how people see the world. Honestly, I always feared that my work might be pointless in terms of actually challenging inequality. But I have had so many conversations recently with affluent, white parents who have told me that my book has influenced them, that they are thinking critically in new ways about their own complicity with white supremacy, and that they want to make different parenting choices moving forward. I hope that they do. However, on the negative side of things, I have also learned that the statement “all children should be worthy of consideration” is possibly the most controversial statement I could make. I have been absolutely horrified by the hateful response to my suggestion that all children should be valued in our society, even if they are not one’s own affluent white child. Click here to hear more about Margaret's experience.
Question for Ranita Ray: In your recent book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City, you draw upon your three years of ethnographic study of sixteen black and brown youth living in an economically marginalized community to challenge the commonly-held belief that targeting risky behaviors (drug use, gangs, violence, teen parenthood) is the key to ending the “cycle of poverty.” What should be done instead and why?
RR: I think it is imperative we not place inordinate focus on risk behavior prevention because not only does this come at the cost of supporting youths’ educational and occupational goals, but it actually causes harm by reinforcing racist and classist stereotypes. For example, many non-profits in Port City actually invested resources and energy on pregnancy and violence prevention at the cost of, say, providing assistance with college admission or mitigating food insecurity. But it’s not just that. This focus often lead youth to internalize the idea that they’re potential social problems—for example, even after being admitted to a four-year university, one youth chose to join the military to “become disciplined.” Teachers, non-profit workers, community members, and sometimes the youth themselves, policed and stigmatized youth as potential social problems.
This focus also places the burden squarely on the individual as it indicates that ultimately behavioral change is the answer to challenging inequality. In reality, it is wealth inequality, discrimination, low-wages, tax laws that benefit the wealthy, and profit systems that result in hunger and eviction as white wealthy people accrue wealth that hold youth back. Given drug use is evenly distributed across communities, for example, why do we primarily focus on drug use within communities of color instead of, say, raising minimum wage or focusing on estate tax reform to challenge the racial wealth gap?
When we construct Black and Latinx youth as social problems to be solved, even if through our benevolent desire to do good, we are ultimately reproducing systems of racism and classism. For more from Ranita, click here.
About the Contributors:
Elizabeth Ackert is a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her individual and collaborative work examines explanations for why racial/ethnic and immigrant-origin groups are unequally distributed across contexts—including schools, neighborhoods, and immigrant destinations—and evaluates the consequences of this contextual inequality for disparities in outcomes in domains such as education, residential mobility, and health. She is particularly interested in understanding how the attributes of immigrant-receiving contexts, including states, communities, neighborhoods, and schools, influence the educational and health outcomes of children and adolescents of Mexican origin.
Margaret Hagerman is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University and is a Faculty Affiliate in both the African American Studies and Gender Studies programs. Her qualitative research focuses on the study of racial socialization. In addition to her new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America (NYU Press, 2018), Hagerman has published articles in Journal of Marriage and Family, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Sociological Studies of Children and Youth.
Ranita Ray is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is an ethnographer specializing in children and youth, women of color feminisms, urban inequalities, and education and policing. In addition to her book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City (University of California Press, 2018), Ray has published other work related to children/youth, urban inequalities, race, class and gender, including book chapters and articles in such journals as Social Problems, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Sociology Compass.
This ASA guide is a sneak peek of some our upcoming newsletter content:
Conferences can be intimidating for even the most seasoned researchers, let alone first-time attendees. Below are some tips—a list of what not to do at conferences and what to do instead—that we have put together from our experiences as graduate student conference attendees.
Don’t fill every time slot with an activity. Instead, give yourself time to rest. Conference burnout is real!
Don’t stay in every night. Instead, attend section special receptions and dinners.
Don’t only mingle with people you know. Instead, reach out to faculty who inspire you in advance via email and plan to meet for coffee. In our experiences, professors are more than willing to meet with students during conferences.
Don’t drone on and on about your dissertation. Instead, practice your elevator pitch before the conference.
Don’t only attend sessions in your subfield. Instead, attend sessions on topics that interest you but are different from those you study.
Don’t sweat it if you can’t book a room at the conference hotel. Staying at the conference hotel is preferred, but if that doesn’t work out, stay in an Airbnb in a quirky nearby neighborhood.
Don’t carry around the paper program. Instead, utilize the ASA app to help you keep track of talks and events you want to attend. To download the app, click here.
Don’t forget to enjoy the city. Instead, explore famous landmarks, do touristy things, and eat local cuisine. For some ideas on things to do in Philadelphia, click here.
Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes. Or if you do, make sure to keep a comfortable pair in your bag for foot emergencies.
Don’t worry if you are worried. Conferences can be anxiety-provoking experiences, especially if you are a graduate student who is attending for the first time. It’s perfectly normal to feel awkward, anxious, or stressed…everyone feels this way at points during a conference.
· Advice for Attending Academic Conferences
· How to Give a Fabulous Academic Presentation
· How to Work the Conference
· The 6 Ways You’re Acting like a Grad Student (And how that’s killing you on the job market)
Lilla Pivnick is a rising fourth year graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin and the student representative to the Children and Youth section for 2018-2019.
Michela Musto (PhD, University of Southern California) is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
What steps can parents, teachers, and students take to reduce the risks of a mass shooting in their community?
The most important thing community members can do is report any suspicious or concerning behavior or statements to law enforcement. Although many people are familiar with the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign “If You See Something, Say Something,” they often assume that it primarily applies to the behavior of strangers. In reality, you are far more likely to see warning signs among your family, friends, or acquaintances, because you spend so much more time with them, and they are more likely to let their guard down and reveal their thoughts or plans when they are with people they know.
What is the clearest sign that someone may be at-risk of committing a mass shooting?
Many people do not realize that public mass shooters often openly admit that they are interested in committing a mass shooting before they actually attack. In 2002, a joint study of school shooters by the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education (DOE) found that in 81% of cases, “at least one person had information that the attacker was thinking about or planning the school attack,” and, in 59% of cases, more than one person knew about the impending attack. In these cases, the person who knew was almost always a peer, friend, or family member. This should not be surprising, given that mass shooters are often suicidal, and previous research has similarly shown that approximately 80% of suicidal people tell someone what they are planning in advance. But it is extremely important not to dismiss these statements as “jokes” or solely attention-seeking behavior, because they may be our best chance to prevent a mass shooting.
Although the Secret Service/DOE study is now 16 years old, its findings are just as applicable today as they were in the past, and apply to all types of public mass shooters, not only those who attack at schools. The 2015 Charleston church shooting, 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting, and 2018 Parkland school shooting are just a few of many recent examples where offenders made explicit admissions that they were interested in committing an attack. This information may be revealed in face-to-face conversations, text messages, social media posts, or other forms of communication.
What other warning signs should people be looking for?
In a recent journal article, I identified three major warning signs: (1) suicidal motives or life indifference, (2) perceived victimization, and (3) desires for attention or fame. School shooters, workplace shooters, and other public mass shooters (including those who claim terrorist motives) often want or expect to die, feel like they have been profoundly mistreated or disrespected by others, and hope to gain fame or notoriety through their attacks. However, these factors are not always easy for observers to recognize in advance, so in the article I provide detailed checklists with specific things to look out for. If anyone would like a copy of the article, they can request one here.
If I report someone who seems dangerous, will that person be arrested or committed to a psychiatric facility?
There are many potential outcomes from reporting people who are at risk of harming themselves or others, and in most cases, they do not involve arrest or institutionalization. Depending on the laws where you live, it is possible that the person you report will be prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms, which significantly reduces the risks to the community. And sometimes reporting someone actually leads to an improvement in that person’s life, through counseling or other positive interventions.
If I report someone to a teacher, administrator, boss, or law enforcement officer, does my responsibility end there?
Unfortunately, there have been many cases where members of the public have done their part by reporting suspicious or concerning behavior, but that information was not taken seriously enough to prevent the attack. The Parkland school shooting was just the most recent example of this disturbing trend. After you “see something” and “say something,” you should continue to pay attention to make sure that the authorities have responded appropriately. Ask follow-up questions about their response, if necessary.
If the potential threat has not been sufficiently addressed, you may be able to put pressure on the teacher, administrator, boss, or law enforcement officer by reminding them that you have documentation that you brought your concerns to them, and that if something tragic happens, they will be directly responsible for not doing their due diligence. If they still continue to dismiss your concerns, you can contact me directly for further advice or assistance.
Adam Lankford is Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at The University of Alabama. Prior to becoming a faculty member at The University of Alabama, Lankford helped coordinate Senior Executive Anti-Terrorism Forums for high-ranking foreign military and security personnel in conjunction with the U.S. State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. He conducts research on many types of social deviance and criminal behavior, including mass murder, mass shootings, and terrorism. He is the author of two books, The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers (published in 2013) and Human Killing Machines: Systematic Indoctrination in Iran, Nazi Germany, Al Qaeda, and Abu Ghraib (first published in 2009), as well as numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, Lankford has been interviewed many times by a variety of news outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, BBC World News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, NPR, and BBC Radio. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Justice, Law & Society from American University and his B.A. in English from Haverford College.
It's that time of year! Please don't forget to renew your membership to the Section, and consider gifting a membership to a student or colleague. Student memberships are $6, and $14 for regular members.
Here's a friendly guide on how to gift a membership:
GIFT MEMBERSHIP INSTRUCTIONS
ASA members can gift an ASA membership for students or section memberships for any membership type at https://asa.enoah.com (Login required).
To purchase a gift ASA membership for students
Once logged into the member portal, please click “Purchase a gift membership for a student” under the Contribute/Give heading. Students can be searched by name through the online member database. A new contact record can be created by the member if the student is not found in the database.
Your gift will be redeemable by the recipient for a ASA student membership (or a $51 discount on another membership type). Your gift recipient will receive their gift credit via email immediately after your purchase. Gift memberships are not refundable if unredeemed by the end of the 2018 membership year, September 30, 2018. Gift memberships are not tax deductible.
The deadline for a 2018 gift ASA membership for students is July 31, 2018.
To purchase a gift section membership
Once logged into the member portal, please click “Purchase a gift section membership” under the Contribute/Give heading. Select the section and search for your recipient by name. Section membership requires 2018 ASA membership. Only 2018 ASA members who do not already have a membership in that section are eligible to receive a gift. Your recipient will receive an e-mail immediately after your payment notifying them of the section gift. (Your name will be included in this message). If the recipient declines the gift within 30 days of receipt, you will receive a refund by mail. Gifts are not tax deductible.
The deadline for a 2018 gift section membership additions is July 31, 2018.
Webinar for Section Members: Helping Journalists Interpret and Use your Research, Associate Professor Amy Schalet
Most of us conduct academic research hoping that we can have a positive impact on society. Yet our scholarly writings reach only limited audiences. One way to engage publics beyond the academy is by sharing our research with members of the media. Yet, our academic training rarely prepares us to speak with journalists in a way that is effective and satisfying.
In this webinar, Amy Schalet discusses some of the “rules of the game” of interacting with the media, providing tips on preparing for and conducting an effective media interview, and discussing differences between writing for academics and popular audiences. Amy has written op-eds for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post. She has appeared on CNN, and she has been interviewed by over fifty journalists across different print, radio, and new media outlets. This webinar will present highlights from her chapter: “The Media: Helping Journalists Interpret and Use your Research” published in Making Research Matter: A Psychologist’s Guide to Public Engagement (Linda Tropp, ed.) out from the American Psychological Association inNovember, 2017.
Section on Children and Youth