This poster from the French National Front (a fascist political party) is a perfect illustration of using visual elements to convey political messages based on racism, nostalgia for a reconstructed past, as well as a dystopian future (if people vote the wrong way!). Of course, both images are themselves, well, imaginary: this is a past that never really existed and a future that is by no means certain or necessary. But the Manichean message is strong.
So, we’re supposed to choose: the France on the left is that of burning banlieues (set on fire by “these people”… the re-islamicized youth) with darkened silhouettes (never humanize one’s stigmatized out-group, never give them a face, always present them as threatening masses or gangs) that obviously have been destroying card in front of a more or less typical housing project somewhere in a working class suburbs. The France on the left is also that of the despairing homeless, no jobs, no hopes, a few dirty-looking possessions. The whole image looks like it was part of the movie The Road with its burning and/or ashen landscapes.
And then, on the right, is the ideal, imaginary, nostalgic France… oh so very white, heterosexual, at peace, where old-timers can do their shopping at the local market, under the sun. Of course, in this France, everybody lives in a small, semi-rural town, with bucolic background (although the scale is wrong in the composition of the different elements… probably photoshopped… a very shoddy job at that). The market is a local, small-scale one, vive le commerce de proximité! And the little shops and commerces, so dear to Pierre Poujade‘s heart. The place is colorful with blooming flowers, clean air, no car traffic, no poverty, and no dark-skinned people.
And the whole thing is not presented as a question but as an injunction: choose your France. And these are the only two options. The roaming immigrant bands of Rue Barbare or the peaceful France, with its français de souche. Apparently, it’s either one or the other.
It is pretty obvious that this is playing on fear: fear of immigration, of social chaos, of a social order that no longer keeps things under control. It is the image of a population that fears anything coming from the outside, whether it is immigrant populations or globalization that destroys local flavors (even though the local imagery used here is generic to the point of being a complete cliché). It is a fetishism of the local where everything is controllable and under control.
And the ideal France on the right (haha) is a patriarchal France where a man can take his woman outside without fear of violence from dark-skinned hordes, sit on a bench with his arm, paternalistically, around her shoulder, as opposed to the hopeless, and lonely bum on the left.
“Dr Gregg Homer of Stroma Medical, a clinical equipment company based in California, claimed his new “Lumineyes” treatment could be a permanent alternative to coloured contact lenses.
The treatment uses a laser to remove melanin, the brown pigment, from the upper layer of the iris, leaving the blue colour free to replace it within two to three weeks of the procedure.
But the process is irreversible because the melanin will not grow back and can not be replaced.”
And you know who else was interested in that? Yup:
“Throughout his stay in Auschwitz, Mengele collected the eyes of his murdered victims, in part to furnish “research material” to colleague Karin Magnussen, a KWI researcher of eye pigmentation. He himself also conducted several experiments in an attempt to unlock the secret of artificially changing eye color.”
We white people love to rescue poor, yet hard-working, and therefore deserving (by our own criteria) black people. And we love to have these stories to us in movies, like Blood Diamond, The Blind Side or The Help. We love these movies because they are conveniently guilt-free: the poor, deserving blacks, victims of their own dysfunctional culture (domestic violence in the Help, war in Sierra Leone for Blood Diamond, and generally messed-up black culture in the Blind Side), get the help they need from nice, kind white people (as opposed to the token nasty racist whites that provide a nice moral counter-point). The deserving blacks also get their negative counter-points in the form of “bad” black characters. In the process, of course, the white saviors get their own moral enlightenment thanks to the black people they help.
No discussion whatsoever of institutional racism and discrimination and the fact that racism is not just a few mean, racist white people doing racist stuff.
“If you’re an African girl in trouble, there are only two things you can rely on. Your courage … and Nicholas Kristof. At least, that’s what Kristof would have us believe.
The story Kristof tells is the story he’s told before. This time he’s in Sierra Leone. A 15-year-old girl named Fulamatu is raped by her neighbor. This happens repeatedly, and Fulamatu remains in terrified and terrorized silence. She loses weight, becomes sick. Finally, when two girls report that the pastor had tried to rape them, Fulamatu’s parents put two and two together, and asked their daughter, who reports the whole series of events. They take her to the doctor, where she is found to have gonorrhea. Fulamatu lays charges against the pastor, who flees.
That’s where Kristof comes in.
Fulamatu has the idea of having Kristof arrange, by phone, to meet with the pastor. The pastor shows up. The police arrest him. But it doesn’t end there. The pastor’s family comes to Fulamatu’s parents and begs forgiveness. The father agrees. The mother agrees. Then the mother “offers” to send Fulamatu away, to a distant village, one without a school. Then the father kicks the daughter out, but `fortunately’ Fulamatu has Kristof’s cell phone. She calls him just before the parents take the phone away. Later, Fulamatu is let, begrudgingly, back into the house, but the situation remains `fluid.’
This story is framed as part of the crisis of sexual violence, and child rape in particular, in Sierra Leone, in a delicate post-conflict zone. The only problem is that, except for the presence of celebrity witnesses, this story takes place across the United States, across Canada, across Europe. Girls are raped by family friends and by family members … everywhere. More often than not, they stay silent, sometimes forever. If they do speak, they are regularly abandoned or betrayed by surrounding adults who should care, from adult family members to police to the courts to the community and neighborhood, and beyond.
More disturbing is Kristof’s solution. He argues for US Congressional passage for the International Violence Against Women Act, but his story suggests a more important line of action. The story says, if you’re Black and a girl, in `a place like Sierra Leone’, you better have the phone number of a prominent White American Male. You need Nicholas Kristof.
That solution conveniently ignores, or erases, Sierra Leonean history. Fulamatu is indeed a courageous girl, and she is part of a history, in Sierra Leone, of courageous, hard working, truth telling, peace making girls and women. Some are in public office, like Jariatu Kamara or Mary Musa. Some are in groups that monitor public processes and empower and education women into becoming and remaining office holders, such as the 50.50 Group, a partner of WIPSEN – Africa, founded and led by Leymah Gbowee. Some of them are young women in their own movements, like Elizabeth M. Katta, of Young Voices, an organization that pushed the Sierra Leone government, in 2009, to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some are advocates and attorneys, like Sabrina Mahtani, who work with women prisoners, to secure due process and, often, freedom. Some are businesswomen, like Admire Bio, pushing and shoving to close the gender gap … and then some. Some are village women, like Yatta Gambai, who journeyed to India to study how to bring solar energy back to the villages and now are doing just that.
Some are peacemakers, like the members of the Women’s Movement for Peace in Sierra Leone or the unnamed hundreds of Sierra Leonean women who journeyed to the Great Lakes region of the Democratic Republic of Congo to march for peace, to march for an end to violence against women. Some are women, like Hawa, struggling with a health care system that, on one hand, is free and, on the other, still doesn’t deliver, especially when it comes to pregnant women and girls. Some are women farmers, targeted by major land grabs, struggling to resist and do better than survive. Not one by one. In groups and movements.
Sierra Leone is a tough place for women and girls, maybe among the worst. But that does not mean that the courageous ones are alone, any more than anywhere else, or that they’re waiting for Nicholas Kristof’s phone number. Another narrative is possible.”
Another narrative is certainly possible but it is what privilege does: it lets some people (based on class, race and gender) set the terms of the narratives that will be propagated in the culture.
“Black scientists in the US are much less likely to be awarded funding than their white counterparts, says a US government research-funding agency.
The National Institutes of Health said that out of every 100 funding applications it considered, 30 were granted to white applicants.
This compared with 20 to black applicants.
The study, published in the journal Science, found the gap could not be explained by education or experience.
It suggested small differences in access to resources and mentoring early in a scientist’s career could accumulate, leaving black researchers at a disadvantage.
Blacks make up 13% of the US population, but only 1.2% of lead researchers on biomedical studies are black.
The NIH said concerns over this prompted it to commission a study, which was led by University of Kansas economics professor Donna Ginther.
The research – which was published on Thursday – examined submissions for NIH grant applications by more than 40,000 researchers from 2000-2006.
The study found that 71% of grant-seekers said they were white; 1.5% said they were black; 3.3% were Latino; 13.5% were Asian; and 11% were identified as “other” or “unknown”.
NIH director Francis Collins said it would take action to address the potential for “insidious bias” in the grant process.
“This situation is not acceptable,” he told reporters in a conference call. “The data is deeply troubling.”
When applicants send proposals to the NIH, they identify their race, ethnicity and gender.
This information is removed from the application before the materials are sent to review.
Mr Collins said it was possible that reviewers could guess the race or ethnicity of an applicant by looking at names or where they trained.”
We know, from other similar studies on job applicants that this is exactly what happens, consciously or not. Applicants with African-American-sounding names are much less likely to be interviewed, compared to whites with similar backgrounds on every aspect. This is why some of them modify their names to remove the African-American aspect and pass for white, at least until the interview.
Always keep in mind: institutional discrimination is racism without racists. It is pervasive, far-reaching and has major consequences in terms of opportunities and life-chances. But because it is largely invisible, it is hard to detect and correct, especially because most Whites do not believe it even exists.
Looking at the persistence of the 2-to-1 Black/White unemployment ratio, Andy Kroll notes three major things:
1. That ratio resists explanation:
“The hollowing-out of America’s cities and the decline of domestic manufacturing no doubt played a part in black unemployment, but then chronic black joblessness existed long before the upheaval Wilson described. Even when employment in the manufacturing sector was at its height, black workers were still twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts.
Another commonly cited culprit for the tenaciousness of African-American unemployment has been education. Whites, so the argument goes, are generally better educated than blacks, and so more likely to land a job at a time when a college degree is ever more significant when it comes to jobs and higher earnings. In 2009, President Obama told reporters that education was the key to narrowing racial gaps in the US. “If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished,” he said.
Educational levels have, in fact, steadily climbed over the past 60 years for African Americans. In 1940, less than 1% of black men and less 2% of black women earned college degrees; jump to 2000, and the figures are 10% for black men and 15% for black women. Moreover, increased education has helped to narrow wage inequality between employed whites and blacks. What it hasn’t done is close the unemployment gap.
Algernon Austin, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., crunched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that blacks with the same level of education as whites have consistently lower employment levels. It doesn’t matter whether you compare high-school dropouts or workers with graduate degrees, whites are still more likely to have a job than blacks. Degrees be damned.”
Academics have thrown plenty of other explanations at the problem: declining wages, the embrace of crime as a way of life, increased competition with immigrants. None of them have stuck. How could they? In recent decades, the wage gap has narrowed, crime rates have plummeted, and there’s scant evidence to suggest immigrants are stealing jobs that would otherwise be filled by African Americans.
Indeed, many top researchers in this field, including several I interviewed, are left scratching their heads when trying to explain why that staggering jobless gap between blacks and white won’t budge
2. The Black unemployment rate is consistently underestimated as the usual figures do not take into account the incarcerated population:
“In the mid-1990s, academics Bruce Western and Becky Pettit discovered that the American prison population lowered the jobless rate for black men by five percentage points, and for young black men by eight percentage points. (Of course, this applies to whites, Asians, and Hispanics as well, but the figures are particularly striking given the overrepresentation of blacks in the prison population.)
Even that vast incarcerated population pales, however, in comparison to the number of ex-cons who have rejoined the world beyond the prison walls. In 2008, there were 12 million to 14 million ex-offenders in the U.S. old enough to work, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). So many ex-cons represent a serious drag on our economy, according to CEPR, sucking from it $57 billion to $65 billion in output.
Of course, such research tells us how much, not why — as in, why are ex-cons so much more likely to be out of work?”
3. The answer is the persistence of institutional racial discrimination:
“In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went hunting for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience. From June to December, they combed the Sunday classified pages in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and searched a state-run job site called “Jobnet,” applying for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery-truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers. There was one obvious difference in each pair: one man was a former criminal and the other was not.
If this sounds like an experiment, that’s because it was. Watching the explosive growth of the criminal justice system, fueled largely by ill-conceived “tough on crime” policies, sociologist Devah Pager took a novel approach to how prison affected ever growing numbers of Americans after they’d done their time — a process all but ignored by politicians and the judicial system.
So Pager sent those two young black men and two young white men out into the world to apply for perfectly real jobs. Then she recorded who got callbacks and who didn’t. She soon discovered that a criminal history caused a massive drop-off in employer responses — not entirely surprising. But when Pager started separating out black applicants from white ones, she stumbled across the real news in her study, a discovery that shook our understanding of racial inequality and jobs to the core.
Pager’s white applicant without a criminal record had a 34% callback rate. That promptly sunk to 17% for her white applicant with a criminal record. The figures for black applicants were 14% and 5%. And yes, you read that right: in Pager’s experiment, white job applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than black applicants without one. “I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race,” Pager says. “I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise.”
Pager ran a larger version of this experiment in New York City in 2004, sending teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men out into the Big Apple’s sprawling market for entry-level jobs — once again, with one applicant posing as an ex-con, the other with a clean record. (As she did in Milwaukee, Pager had the teams alternate who posed as the ex-con.) The results? Again Pager’s African-American applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than the whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a drop off of 9 percentage points for whites, but 15 percentage points for blacks. “Employers already reluctant to hire blacks,” Pager wrote, “appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories.””
[Update: the avalanche of comments accusing them of racism must have had an effect because they removed the post and replaced it with this one. There are cached copies though, since the Internet never forgets anything. And they say there’ll be another post about this tomorrow.]
Via Calvin Ho, but apparently, cluelessness ruled the day:
“When we arrived at The Cowshed we literally could not believe our eyes! Colonial everything! Army tents filled with Persian rugs, Union Jack flags and antique furniture, trophies filled with Roses and this was only the bar. The reception was equally decked out. Antique travel chests, clocks, globes and binoculars and an awesome Zebra skin. Dave and Chantal did it right. They hired actual colonial pieces from a prop-house that we put them in touch with in Pretoria. It was truly authentic.”
Now go check out the wedding pictures and have your mind blown by the oh-so blatant racism of the whole thing. But hey, let’s not ruin their special day.
What’s next? A Dachau affair? Complete with Jewish servers and musicians in striped pajamas? How rustic would that be?
Rebecca’s Skloot‘s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not a sociology book but there is certainly a lot of sociology between the lines. The book is a (well-deserved) best-seller, so, most people know what it’s about. There are several narrative threads: (1) the one that inspired the title, that is, the life of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who gave us the HeLa cells that are so widely use in medical research; (2) a bit of history of medical research, especially cell research, along with issues of consent and commercialization of cell lines; (3) Skloot’s journey as she tries to piece together Henrietta Lacks’s life and that of her family.
This gives the book a very structure that makes it highly readable, as Skloot mixes and alternates all three threads. And the science chapters are very well-written and make the topic very accessible to the non-specialist readers.
The three narrative threads are related, of course. The way in which Henrietta’s cells were extracted and used was fairly typical of the way research was done in the 1950s, and this also explains why the family was so extremely guarded when it came to sharing information with (especially white) reporters and journalists, hence, Skloot’s travails and tribulations when trying to contact Lacks’s relatives.
From a sociological point of view, this book perfectly illustrates what institutional racism and discrimination and structural violence are. The way Lacks’s cells were extracted, without her knowledge or consent (or that of her husband) typically reflects how the medical and scientific profession treated indigent and especially Black patients. These patients, often treated for free at places like Johns Hopkins, were considered fair game for testing, tissue extraction, etc. since they were not “paying customers”. And it is not that Lacks’s ended up in the hands of racist doctors. But she certainly ended up in a whole system of institutional discrimination where black patients got a different kind of care in a still segregated health care system. After all, the institution of medical research does not exactly have a glorious records when it comes to race, as the Tuskegee experiments remind us.
This leads me to the structural violence part. A great deal of the book is dedicated not only to the results of Skloot’s research but to that painstaking process itself. The children of Henrietta Lacks’s turned it into an obstacle course. Once you are past an possible initial reaction – “these people are nutcases” – it becomes clear that they bear the wounds of structural violence, that is, violence by social institution. Henrietta Lacks’s husband and children were lied to, manipulated, never really told what had happened to their wife/mother. And, of course, as the HeLa were widely commercialized, they never got a dime. But when it became known who had produced the HeLa cells, all of a sudden, a bunch of white people got interested in them, again, without compensation or recognition. As described in the book, they all lived in poverty and could not afford the medical care and medications that their mother’s cells had made possible.
And, of course, at the time, scientific and medical research was a white men’s world not well-known for enlightened views when it came to race and gender. And institutionally, those were the days before ethical standards, institutional review boards and HIPAA. And the culture was one of silent submission to authority, so, patients (especially women and minorities) did not ask questions and were treated in a somewhat disdainful and patronizing way.
The other kind of structural violence that Henrietta’s children suffered from came from within their family. Skloot provides painful description of the kind of massive abuse one of her sons suffered at the hand of his stepmother (which certainly accounts for his life of anger, violence and marginality) as well as the sexual abuse that one of Henrietta’s daughter experienced at the hand of a male relative, right under her father’s nose (and he did nothing). Male first cousin sexual abuse on female first cousin was apparently not out of bounds in the extended family. The other daughter, who probably suffered from some form of mental disability, ended up in one of these horrible mental institutions, never receiving any visitors after her mother’s death. Apparently, she was experimented upon while there.
Lacking a proper education, the Lackses end up either profoundly religious (of the revival kind, in the case of Deborah), having multiple brushes with the law, or at the very least severe behavioral problems. But all of them ended up prone to conspiracy theories as to what had been done to their mother and how the cells were obtained. None of which is surprising. But the depth of such structural wounds is highly visible as Skloot gets to meet different members of the Lacks’s family.
As I said, this is a fascinating read. Skloot has a great website with a lot of information as extension of the book, and this video:
Holy !@#$. Seriously. I guess this is the next stage in the controversy that followed the World Cup fiasco (which was discussed here). The political fall-out is this: it’s the Blacks and the Arabs that caused the mess in South Africa. There are too many of them in the French national team.
Let’s impose a quota at the source, the training centers that are such an essential part of the French professional football training system:
“Members of the French Football Federation’s National Technical Board, including the France team coach Laurent Blanc, have secretly approved a quota selection process to reduce the number of young black players, and those of North African origin, emerging from the country’s youth training centres as potential candidates for the national team, Mediapart can reveal.
The plan, presented in November 2010, involves limiting the number of youngsters from black and Meghrebi African origin entering the selection process from training centres and academies as early as 12 and 13 years of age.
Mediapart has also learnt that, during the November meeting, France national team coach Laurent Blanc said he was “favourable” for a change in the selection criteria for youth talent as of the age of 12 to 13 years in order to favour those who sources said he described as having “our culture, our history”. The sources added that Blanc cited the current would football champions Spain, reportedly saying: “The Spanish, they say ‘we don’t have a problem. We have no blacks'”.”
Oh dear. Of course, as sociologist Stephane Béaud demonstrated in his book, there was a lot more to the South African debacle than just a “rebellion of the savages”. There were structural factors involved. But from the get-go, the blame-game involved pointing the finger at the non-whites from the projects, described as thugs. So, it is not entirely surprising, but shocking nonetheless, that the FFF would propose such institutionalized – and probably illegal – discrimination plan. But it is a perfect illustration of the easiness with which leaders of various kinds jump to racial conclusions and measures and ignore others, and how easily these get accepted, even if not quite openly acknowledged.
Of course, this should be called “keep the brown-skinned people out of white Europe”, but let’s just call it a revision of the Schengen border treaty. It sounds much nicer. It is no surprise that this is proposed by France’s Sarkozy and Italy’s Berlusconi. It is one thing to cheer on the revolutions in the Middle East, it is quite another to accept their refugees:
“Italy and France asked the European Union today to revise the Schengen border treaty that permits passport-free travel through Europe to take into account “exceptional” situations like the recent massive flood of Tunisian immigrants.
France has harshly criticized Italy for granting temporary residency permits to some 20,000 Tunisian migrants who have arrived in Italy since the North Africa nation’s dictator was overthrown in mid-January. Most Tunisians want eventually to get to France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler, where many have relatives.
“We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed,” Sarkozy told reporters after the meeting. “We believe in free circulation but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules.”
Berlusconi said no one wanted to cancel the treaty but said “in exceptional circumstances we believe there must be variations.””
Right. Variations in the skin color of who can travel through Europe without passport.
“The two leaders warned that the upheavals in north Africa “could swiftly become an out-and-out crisis capable of undermining the trust our fellow citizens place in the free circulation within the Schengen area”.”
Anything to avoid saying “we don’t want the Arabs”.
Stephane Béaud’s Traîtres À La Nation – Un Autre Regard Sur La Grève Des Bleus en Afrique du Sud (en collaboration avec Philippe Guimard) is perfect and great example of public sociology. It very nicely and powerfully shows what sociological analysis can do, especially with respect to a very high-profile event, such as the “strike” by the French football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
I really do hope that this book will get an English edition. If that were the case, I would jump on it and make my students use in my undergraduate classes. It is written at the perfect level, uses a lot of concrete examples. There isn’t too much jargon but the sociological analysis is crystal clear and very powerful. And, of course, the topic is guaranteed to get people’s attention. One can point at this book and say “this is what sociology does.”
The starting point of the book, obviously, is the strike by the players of the national French team during the World Cup, followed by their shameful exit from that competition in the early stages (after a very controversial qualification), and the social and political fallout from these events. Considering how discussed these events have already been, what does sociology have to bring to the table? First off, most of the discussion has been tainted by moral, classist and racist considerations. Exit the glorious days of the “black, blanc, beur” winning team of 1998, now, the strike is denounced by politicians as the work of low-class, highly-paid little bosses and the hapless followers. The media and politicians engaged in moral condemnations. Putting oneself in the position of judge, prosecutor and jury is not what sociology does. The job of the sociologist, for Béaud, is the Weberian injunction of Verstehen.
The point of sociological analysis then is to put these events in the proper context (what I call SHiP – structure, history, power) and to retrace the sociological factors that shaped this French national football team (especially in contrast with the 1998 team). What Béaud engages in is what he calls “live sociology” in which moral judgment is suspended and social action is re-situated in is (muli-layered) context, understood as a system of constraints in which individual behavior occurs. That is, the challenge is to treat this event as a social fact (in Durkheim’s sense): the strike is a product of the deregulation of French professional football, structural causes, changes in recruitment, training and socialization of French footballers, the internationalization and precarization of football careers (based on changes in the legal framework). Alongside these structural factors are more institutional and symbolic factors, such as relationships between players and the media, as well as the group dynamics within the French team.
For those of you who don’t remember, the strike of the French team occurred after France’s main sports daily newspaper published the photo to the right, on its front page, after the defeat against Mexico. The comment between quotation marks is supposed to have been said by Anelka against French coach Domenech in the locker rooms. Following the alleged incident, Anelka was expelled from the team by the French Federation.
Arguing the fact that what goes on in the locker rooms is supposed to stay there, and never be divulged to the public, the players went on strike and issues a communiqué (actually drafted by the attorney of one of the players) also blaming the Federation for mismanaging the situation.
For Béaud, this reflects the growing tensions that have been building up between players and the media as well as the changes in these relationships. Whereas these relationships used to be simple and straightforward, if not friendly, they have become more formal, complex and marked by the professionalization of the players. While players used to be approachable, and locker rooms were not closed off to the press, interactions with players are now mediated by the entourage that is characteristic of the main players (attorneys, PR consultants, etc.) and the creation of mixte zones in stadiums is a perfect reflection of that. As a result, it is more difficult to get more than canned talking points out of the players who are already uncomfortable with public speaking.
At the same time, Béaud shows that what happened was not the product of the “little bosses” from the projects pushing the other players into the strike. The French team was indeed divided but not along racial and ethnic lines but rather into group statuses such as established players (incumbent players, those more or less guaranteed to play) versus substitutes. The established group is composed of players who have the most sport legitimacy and credibility, which puts them in positions of leadership.
Compared to other players also from the project, the established players are more sensitive to any feeling of symbolic humiliation and injustice, and they are more likely to experience a relative frustration with the poor game strategy of the French team in recent years, under the leadership of a discredited coach. So, in the 2010 French team, one finds the dominated group, the newcomers, and the recently selected players from African origin. Their lack of either integration in the team or football capital reduced the probability that they would go against the decisions of the established group. And the newspaper frontpage gave the team a unity it had never achieved before.
Add to this the role of the French Football Federation and its incomprehensible to reappoint a discredited coach (which appointing his successor right before the World Cup, thereby undermining him even further), the respective relationships between the players and this coach (certainly, several players from the established group had a grudge against him), the conflict between the FFF and the other major institution involved, the Professional Footballers League. And finally, the infiltration of the political and social tensions from the housing projects into the team all created a bundle of tensions that were bound to explode at some point… and did.
These events are also a reflection of the change in recruitment of players in French football. In the post-War period, one finds most French football players came from the blue-collar working-class (especially the clubs from Northern France). The trajectories of these players are quite different than what they are today. They usually spent their youth years in amateur football, still going to school to obtain technical and vocational qualifications. They become professional relatively late (in their 20s). Therefore, they receive a rather typical working-class socialization. The 1998 team is basically the last fling of that generation of players, with a specific sport and social ethos based on humility, collectivism, respect for the elders and explicit patriotism. This is the working-class before the precarization of the working-class of the deindustrializing years and the defeat of its political power. And the players of the 1998 team who did grow up in the housing projects did so before the ethnic contraction and marginalization of these areas and increased polarization.
There are three major differences between the 1998 team and the 2010 team, sociologically speaking:
(1) There are now more players in the great and economically powerful European teams of England, Italy and Spain. A minority of them now play for French teams.
(2) Players are now recruited by training centers (famous institutions that detect football talents and develop them over several years, with hopes of professionalization right after graduation. These centers have made France the second exporting countries – after Brazil – when it comes to footballers, but they also close off earlier and earlier any real education and occupy a greater part of the players’ socialization) at an earlier and earlier age, and especially from the lower classes. Fewer players now come from the working-class French heartland, and more and more from the housing projects on the outskirts of France’s largest cities.
(3) There are now more players of African origin, especially sub-saharan Africa, as opposed to the Maghreb, and from players from France’s territories (Antilles, Guadeloupe, etc.).
This greater internationalization of football out of France is directly connected to the legal context created by the Bosman Ruling, which allowed players to have greater freedom of movement from one club to the next. This greater freedom has also led to the massive inflation of footballer compensation. All of a sudden, the most powerful European clubs were able to recruit players from all over Europe, and the players were able to demand higher pay for their services. These teams have been accused of pillaging other countries for their own benefit. If French football creates great players, the French teams are not economically strong enough to retain them once these players fully develop their potential. This has led former players to deplore the lack of “fidelity to the jersey”. This also means that teams are less likely to have a trademark style of play, as the recruitment is no longer local and long-term.
Now, a player will typically enter a training center around 15 years old (if not pre-training centers that recruit even younger players) and they may leave for a non-French team even before their training is complete to start playing for the club that has recruited them. And the Bosman Ruling allows these young players to change club more easily (making more money in the process). As a result, their trajectories are much less smooth and their socialization more chaotic as they leave their families at a fairly young age. For the lower-class parents of these players, to sign a professional contract is a way out of the project for their son and club scouts start contacting parents as early as possible (the competition is extreme), making them incredible offers. From the clubs’ perspective, these young players are commodities, and they expect rather rapid returns on investment, so as to re-sell the players at an even higher price than they paid for him.
This means that, at a young age, players have to be surrounded by a whole entourage of agents, attorneys for themselves and their parents, along with the usual trainers, PR people, etc. But in the context of increased precarization for the lower classes, social tensions in the projects, and the ever-more repressive policies put in place by the Sarkozy government, who could resist?
So, Béaud argues that the strike of 2010 in South Africa is an act of civil disobedience and also a reflection of all these structural and cyclical factors: the changes in socialization of the players, transformation of the labor market for French football players, the impact of geographical and sport migration and the corresponding social uprooting, along with the pressures tied to the obligation to perform earlier, faster and better in a very competitive context… on top of the group dynamics and the interpersonal and institutional issues mentioned above.
Béaud wraps up his study with an analysis of the evolution of the players of Maghreb origin in French football, inserting it as well in the social context of immigration and integration. The last two chapters of the book are less directly related to the 2010 fiasco but they additional layers to an understanding of French football in its social context.
As I mentioned above, this book is a great read (something that does not happen enough in sociology!) and a great example of public sociology and live sociology. Highly recommended… if you can read French.
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><a href=”http://www.amazon.fr/Tra%C3%AEtres-nation-autre-regard-Afrique/dp/2707167169/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302999785&sr=1-1″ target=”_blank”><img style=”margin: 5px;” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41FnLegOc1L._SL500_AA300_.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”300″ /></a>Stephane Béaud’s <a href=”http://www.amazon.fr/Tra%C3%AEtres-nation-autre-regard-Afrique/dp/2707167169/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302999785&sr=1-1″ target=”_blank”>Traîtres À La Nation – Un Autre Regard Sur La Grève Des Bleus en Afrique du Sud</a> (en collaboration avec Philippe Guimard) is perfect and great example of public sociology. It very nicely and powerfully shows what sociological analysis can do, especially with respect to a very high-profile event, such as the “strike” by the French football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I really do hope that this book will get an English edition. If that were the case, I would jump on it and make my students use in my undergraduate classes. It is written at the perfect level, uses a lot of concrete examples. There isn’t too much jargon but the sociological analysis is crystal clear and very powerful. And, of course, the topic is guaranteed to get people’s attention. One can point at this book and say “this is what sociology does.”</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The starting point of the book, obviously, is the strike by the players of the national French team during the World Cup, followed by their shameful exit from that competition in the early stages (after a very controversial qualification), and the social and political fallout from these events. Considering how discussed these events have already been, what does sociology have to bring to the table? First off, most of the discussion has been tainted by moral, classist and racist considerations. Exit the glorious days of the “black, blanc, beur” winning team of 1998, now, the strike is denounced by politicians as the work of low-class, highly-paid little bosses and the hapless followers. The media and politicians engaged in moral condemnations. Putting oneself in the position of judge, prosecutor and jury is not what sociology does. The job of the sociologist, for Béaud, is the Weberian injunction of Verstehen.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The point of sociological analysis then is to put these events in the proper context (what I call SHiP – structure, history, power) and to retrace the sociological factors that shaped this French national football team (especially in contrast with the 1998 team). What Béaud engages in is what he calls “live sociology” in which moral judgment is suspended and social action is re-situated in is (muli-layered) context, understood as a system of constraints in which individual behavior occurs. That is, the challenge is to treat this event as a social fact (in Durkheim’s sense): the strike is a product of the deregulation of French professional football, structural causes, changes in recruitment, training and socialization of French footballers, the internationalization and precarization of football careers (based on changes in the legal framework). Alongside these structural factors are more institutional and symbolic factors, such as relationships between players and the media, as well as the group dynamics within the French team.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><a href=”http://e-blogs.wikio.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/LEquipe_Anelka_Domenech_UNE1.jpg” target=”_blank”><img style=”margin: 5px;” src=”http://e-blogs.wikio.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/LEquipe_Anelka_Domenech_UNE1.jpg” alt=”” width=”320″ height=”217″ /></a>For those of you who don’t remember, the strike of the French team occurred after France’s main sports daily newspaper published the photo to the right, on its front page, after the defeat against Mexico. The comment between quotation marks is supposed to have been said by Anelka against French coach Domenech in the locker rooms. Following the alleged incident, Anelka was expelled from the team by the French Federation.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Arguing the fact that what goes on in the locker rooms is supposed to stay there, and never be divulged to the public, the players went on strike and issues a communiqué (actually drafted by the attorney of one of the players) also blaming the Federation for mismanaging the situation.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>For Béaud, this reflects the growing tensions that have been building up between players and the media as well as the changes in these relationships. Whereas these relationships used to be simple and straightforward, if not friendly, they have become more formal, complex and marked by the professionalization of the players. While players used to be approachable, and locker rooms were not closed off to the press, interactions with players are now mediated by the entourage that is characteristic of the main players (attorneys, PR consultants, etc.) and the creation of mixte zones in stadiums is a perfect reflection of that. As a result, it is more difficult to get more than canned talking points out of the players who are already uncomfortable with public speaking.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>At the same time, Béaud shows that what happened was not the product of the “little bosses” from the projects pushing the other players into the strike. The French team was indeed divided but not along racial and ethnic lines but rather into group statuses such as established players (incumbent players, those more or less guaranteed to play) versus substitutes. The established group is composed of players who have the most sport legitimacy and credibility, which puts them in positions of leadership. Compared to other players also from the project, the established players are more sensitive to any feeling of symbolic humiliation and injustice, and they are more likely to experience a relative frustration with the poor game strategy of the French team in recent years, under the leadership of a discredited coach. So, in the 2010 French team, one finds the dominated group, the newcomers, and the recently selected players from African origin. Their lack of either integration in the team or football capital reduced the probability that they would go against the decisions of the established group. And the newspaper frontpage gave the team a unity it had never achieved before.</p>
One of the things I emphasize in my lectures on prejudice and discrimination, it is their arbitrariness presented as natural (often because based on biology), but if races are socially constructed out of physical characteristics (that have no social or individual properties in and of itself), we could just as well create “races” based on height.
Here is a nice (and satirical) illustration from the Catherine Tate Show:
One of the things I try to get across when I teach race and ethnicity is how much we live in a racist culture where white is associated with goodness, purity, and other good qualities whereas darkness is associated with evil. Based on this dichotomy, we have an entire symbolic repertoire that we are all socialized into. By default, we are all racist, especially those of us who are white. Being racist, not necessarily consciously, is the basic setting. It is NOT being racist that takes work.
How is this default setting socially and culturally produced? Well, through media products, for one. Take the main Disney animated films. Certainly, for the most part of the 20th century, white characters dominated.
Once Disney got into ethnic heroins, their ethnicity was considerably downplayed, just a little ethnic so the audience “gets” that the heroin is not White Anglo, but not too much so that the majority white audience is not unsettled. So, smooth features are the rule. On the other hand, villains are over-ethnicized (if that is a word) so that evil is associated with strong ethnic traits.
Shanyu, the villain:
Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog.
So, yes, the main characters are non-White, but that is settled within the first 20 minutes when they both get turned into frogs. And for the record, in frogs, females are usually larger than males. Not on cartoons:
And who is the villain in that film? He is black, of course (the setting is New Orleans), but look how much more ethnic he is:
It even works with animal characters. Take The Lion King, for instance:
Mufasa and Simba:
The point here, of course, is not to accuse the film makers of blatant racism but simply to recognize that when designers think of the traits of different characters, they fall back on cultural scripts we were all socialized into: a villain has overemphasized traits and one way to overemphasize is to push the ethnic button.