Wednesday, June 25, 2014


In a recent Slate piece, Aisha Harris points to a new College Humor video, coining the term "Columbusing," i.e., what white people do when they "discover" something that already exists as a reality for nonwhites, as in "Columbus discovered America." The video should stimulate class discussion about other ways members of privileged groups often appropriate as their own those things belonging to others.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

slave labor and big retail

This Guardian video describes the involvement of megachain retailers, such as Walmart, in selling shrimp that was produced through slave labor. 
See the entire Guardian series on Modern-Day Slavery at
Also see the Guardian's YouTube playlist at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

rise of the catladies

This post was contributed by Calandra Silvestro, UTSA student in SOC 3013, Social Stratification.

As a child, I remember hearing the term "catlady.” I thought, until recently, this referred to a woman who was an empty-nester; she was alone since her children had left. Today, it appears the word means you never had any children, you just have cats.
Having children is a choice; just like any other choice. Would someone look down on you if you decided never to eat out? That’s also just a normal choice. Sometimes it’s a smart decision to wait and have children when you are more settled and established. Some women don’t want to have children until they are successful. Some may want to finish school and get a decent job that pays the bills and can also take care of a family. Also, children are- very expensive (according to the video, in 2011, the cost of raising a child until the age of 18 was $234,900 on average); they also need to be cared for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The article “Check your ‘Cat-Lady’ Preconceptions About Childless Women” suggests new thinking about childless women. It appears more women are choosing not to have children. The birth rate dropped to 8% in 2010. 1 in 5 women, ages 40-45 choose not to have children. This number has doubled since 1976. This article also mentions that some women who decide not to have children have very fulfilling lives. Radhika Jones, the executive editor of Time Magazine says in the video “different opportunities come up and you start to realize that you have different fulfilling and rewarding relationships that maybe don’t involve you being a mother”.
“If you want to be successful in your career, don’t have children”, says Kristen Houghton, in her article “Why (Most) Successful Women are Childless.”.  She addresses both sides: having children and not having children. Houghton says about working, “whether in the corporate, financial, or even artistic realms, to reach the top in your career requires a single-minded drive, dedication and passion.” If you decide to become a mother, you won’t have this drive and passion for working as you would for your children. Houghton also states, “The truth is that most women who have achieved professional success have chosen not to have children”. Houghton references an article titled “In Corporate America, Still a Struggle for Female Execs”. This article mentions several big companies and how many “women on board” and “women named executives” they have.
Women who have children are 44% less likely to be hired and are paid $11,000 less than women without children, according to Kelly Hagan, who wrote the article titled ‘New Study Shows That Childless Women Succeed More Than Mothers in the Workplace”. This study (that found the 44%) was done in 2005 by Cornell University.  Hagan mentions the study in her article. According to Hagan, men’s incomes rise to 75% more than a women’s income 15 years after they finished college, even if they had the same income and worked the same number of hours after finishing college.
I am still not quite sure if having children or not having children affects women’s hiring or not. I understand why some companies would not want to hire a woman with children. Children need care and they take up a lot of time. Some companies might need you to travel and if you have children that might be a problem. Also, most work places don’t want you to take time off. What happens if your child gets sick or has an appointment? You would have to take time off for that. Also, women would have to take maternity leave. I can certainly see both sides. Some women just have that motherly instinct and have always wanted to be a mother and some have passion and drive for a certain career.

Hagan, K. (2010, August 22). New study shows that childless women succeed more than mothers in the workplace. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from ABC website:

Houghton, K. (2013, April 15). Why (most) successful women are childless. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from Huffington Post website:

Mclntyre, D. (2011, August 22). In corporate America, still a struggle for female execs. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from Daily Finance website::

Wallace, K. (2014, June 5). Check your 'cat-lady' preconceptions about childless women. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from CNN website:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

racial disparities in drowning

This post was written by Stephanie Medley-Rath and originally appeared in Society in Focus.

I’ve swam in ponds, lakes, and creeks. I’ve swam in chlorinated backyard pools, public pools, and hotel pools. As an adult (who has spent most of my life in the landlocked-Midwest), I’ve managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming has always been a part of my life. As a child, I took swimming lessons for one week each summer. It never failed that the week of my lessons, the weather would be about 70 degrees and overcast (i.e., too cold), but I still went. I was never very good. I like to say, that I knew enough not to drown. That may sound a bit over-confident, but I did know how to swim and learned some basic survival skills.

Little did I know that my access to public swimming spaces, swimming lessons, and risk of drowning had something to do with my race or the legacy of racial discrimination. This is what white privilege looks like. As a child, it was easy for me to assume that most people had similar opportunities as me. As an adult (and trained sociologist), I know that most people did not have similar opportunities as me. I also know that these opportunities differ not only on obvious factors like social class, but also things like race and gender (for this post, we’ll focus just on race).

For the first time, the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swim team had three members of African-American descent (two of which medaled) out of 49 total members. These three swimmers account for 6.12% of the swim team, while African Americans account for 13.1% of the population overall.

While African Americans (and people of African American descent) are underrepresented at the elite levels of American swimming, they (along with American Indians/Alaska Natives) are overrepresented in the number of drowning victims.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that racial disparities persist in risk of drowning:
  • “Among non-Hispanics, the overall drowning rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) was twice the rate for whites, and the rate for blacks was 1.4 times the rate for whites.”
In other words, there is a statistically significant difference in the likelihood of drowning by race. (Also of note, drowning risk varies by age and setting–pool, bathtub, natural water.) Statistically significant means that this difference is not due to chance, but is correlated with race (along with age and setting). But why? In particular, why are African Americans more likely to drown compared to other racial and ethnic groups?

Part of the answer lies in the history of racial segregation as it relates specifically to swimming. Racial segregation of pools was strengthened about the same time that pools were integrated along gender lines in the 1920s and 1930s because swimming pools are perceived as an intimate space. In a culture that has long feared the intimacy of white women and black men (and has inflicted deadly violence at the thought of it), pools could not be both racially and gender integrated.

During the 1940s and 1950s, pools were racially desegregated, but like other arenas that desegregated, whites fled. Whites chose to build their own pools at home or in private clubs where they could restrict access by blacks. What America is left with is a long history white Americans limiting access to swimming pools by African Americans. Now, think about what you know about socialization. What are the implications of past segregation of swimming pools on present circumstances? If your own parents did not grow up swimming, how likely is it that you are going to grow up a swimmer? Moreover, the legacy of whites fleeing racially-integrated public pools (along with changing priorities) can still be felt in the declining public-support for public swimming pools. In other words, access to public swimming pools is still wanting.

This is the classic sociological lesson. Who you are and what happens to you is often a product of where you are within our social system. That is, if you grow up with parents who know how to swim and in a place with ample opportunities to swim, you are less likely to drown. This is just one of the many examples of how your social location can have impact your life and death.

Dig Deeper: 
  1. Did you learn to swim as a child? If so, ask your parents why they made sure you learned to swim. If you did not, ask your parents why you never learned to swim. What role (if any) did your race, class, or gender play in you learning or not learning to swim as a child?
  2. What opportunities did you have to swim as a child? What role did your race, class, or gender play in your access to swimming? In other words, was there a public or private pool you had access to?
  3. What role did discrimination and prejudice play in limiting the swimming opportunities of African Americans in the past?
  4. What strategies could be used to ensure that a greater percentage of all children learn basic water safety (including swimming lessons)? Read this article on the challenges of increasing access to swimming among low-income children to help develop your strategy.