Wednesday, November 12, 2014

from Jose to Joe = job search success

The following post was contributed by Laurie Gleason, student in my Fall, 2014 Social Stratification class.                                               
With the ongoing concern over illegal immigration, Hispanics still find themselves routinely overlooked for decent jobs, regardless of their citizenship status. Many Americans feel immigrants serve a "worthwhile" purpose by taking unskilled labor positions like field work or housekeeping--backbreaking, under-compensated work which most Americans feel is beneath them.

Cate Matthews in a recent Huffington Post article describes José Zamora's futile attempts to obtain gainful employment until he Americanized his name. As José, he claims he did not receive a single inquiry, despite placing as many as 100 applications per day. However, "Joe," sporting the same résumé, received job offers from the exact same companies shortly after he applied. 

In this modern age, where applications are submitted online, does a person's name become the simple key for unlocking the door to a decent job? The video "Jose vs. Joe" clearly relates to the larger question of the continuing role of status ascription as critical for achievement in societies, such as ours, that purport to be meritocracies. 

Students interested in exploring this issue further should address research that has been done in this area, such as the Bertrand and Mullainathan study conducted over a decade ago that is now a classic.   

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

teeth: the great class divide

Consider teeth as a significant marker of class division in the U.S. We have a dental system that provides excellent care and treatment, but only if you have money or insurance. Preventive-care coverage is available to poor children through Medicaid, but such coverage, as well as dental disease treatment, is largely inaccessible to the balance of low-income Americans. 

Read these anecdotal stories about teeth and social class:
The Shame of Poor Teeth in a Rich World 
What Pennsatucky's Teeth Tell Us about Class in America

For a scientific assessment of role of class and race, read Social Class and Dental Health 

PS - FYI for OITNB non-watchers: Pennsatucky only received dentures after suffering a prison beating. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

critiques of labels

This post was contributed by Ayanna Allen,student in my Fall, 2014, Social Stratification class. This post was later cross-posted to The Sociological Cinema.

I had to watch Stayceyann Chin’s video several times before her message began resonating within me. She critiques the notion that we must side with one group over another, arguing that we need to have a sense of understanding about each other that transcends differences. She does a phenomenal job in challenging the common claim that "if you are not for us, you are against us.” She well articulates that we miss the beauty of our being by living in fear of ridicule, and when "people get scared enough, they pick a team" that may satisfy others, but not themselves. Our need to box-in and stereotype what we cannot understand or agree with only limits our ability to see each other as common creatures.

Child star, Raven Symone makes a similar point in her adamant denial about the personal relevance of labels ( Oprah warns her during the interview that she will get push-back for doing this, and she indeed did receive significant adverse publicity in claiming the she is neither lesbian nor black/African-American. Such reactions to a pronouncement from a person who seems before her time, from a generation that believes they are ahead of their time, indicate how uncomfortable people are when group labels are deemed irrelevant for establishing personal identity. It also suggests associated questions, including: What is wrong about failing to identify as either black/African-American or lesbian? Does it betray those who are otherwise like her, but who do see themselves as belonging to such categories? Moreover, are we truly free to be individuals, even in a society held to promote the value of individual autonomy?

Of course, Stayceyann and Raven are not the first to renounce labels, and they will certainly not be the last. And it may well be impossible to rid ourselves of labels, but in my opinion it is not ridiculous to believe that every person has a basic right to define themselves and where they want to fit into society without being persecuted.

I wanted to share these videos because they strongly challenge the substance of what much of social stratification seems to be about. They offer the refreshing counterpoint that humans are dynamic, evolving beings, rather than “social types” who can be easily defined, sorted into categories, and kept in “their place.”