PART III: UNDERSTANDING DOMINANT-MIONRITY RELATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
ASSIGNMENT 1: School Cafeterias and Race Relations
In 1999, social psychologist Beverly Tatum Daniels published a bestselling book whose title posed a rather provocative question: Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together? And Other Discussions of Race. Daniels’ interest in this question began when considering her own childhood experience, growing up as an African American girl who attended a predominantly white school. She grew interested in why, today—despite the racial diversity of schools and progress in race relations—children still tend to self-segregate by race and ethnicity. Her book draws on racial identity theory to consider the process by which children develop meaning and significance in relation to a particular race or ethnic group, a process that she argues happens in a social and cultural context involving not just our family and friends but larger structures of politics, media, and the history of our society. This assignment requires you to consider whether or not “all the black kids are sitting together” in your own school’s cafeteria.
Get a sense of what the overall racial breakdown of your school is. Using your school’s website, look up some demographic information about the student population. At minimum, most schools will provide percentages of the basic racial and ethnic categories (i.e., white, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American). If you cannot find this information on your school’s website, consider visiting the National Center for Education Statistics website (http://nces.edu.gov), which provides institutional profiles of every school in the United States under the “School, College, and Library Search” link.
Visit your site before you begin any observations and create a diagram that represents the seating chart of the cafeteria. You may want to recreate this on your computer and make several copies of it so you can easily take notes on the seating patterns of the people you are observing.
Pick a typical mealtime (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) to observe a cafeteria at your school for several days. If your school has more than one cafeteria—for example, one in each dorm—consider observing multiple sites.
Spend 1 hour each day taking notes of the race and ethnicity of the students in relationship to their seating patterns. Keep in mind, your observations should be unobtrusive; so the race or ethnicity you identify for each person you observe will be somewhat flawed since it will be based on your perception of the individual’s race rather than on actual knowledge of his or her racial identity. In addition to keeping track of the race and ethnicity of individuals at each table, try to take notes on anything else that seems significant, such as the gender of the individuals, clothing, or conversations that people may be having.
Try to quantify your results to see if there is a relationship between race and ethnicity and seating patterns. Since people often get up and down during a mealtime, it may be useful to pick just one moment in time to do this. If it appears that everyone at the table knows one another, then use the number of tables as your base of observation for calculating some simple frequencies. For example, from 11-11:20am, of the 10 tables observed, 5 appeared to have mixed racial groups (50%), 2 appeared to be all white (20%), 2 appeared to be all black (20%), and 1 appeared to be all Hispanic (10%). If you cafeteria has long, rectangular tables that run the width of the room, try to determine the groups of people who seem like they are sitting together and use that as your observational base. For example, row one may have 5 distinct groups, where four of them seem to be multi-racial (80%).
Consider some other factors about the overall makeup of the groups. How large or small are the interracial groups compared with the monoracial groups? (For example, maybe there is only one group of interracial cohorts, but this group has 12 people in it, as opposed to three tables of monoracial cohorts that have only 2 or 3 people.) Are the interracial groups made up of mainly women, men or both? What is the race or ethnicity of people who appear to be sitting alone?
Use your knowledge of the school to consider why students may be sitting together, beyond race. For example, did it seem as though the multi-racial table was a group of freshmen that might be sitting together just because they were all from the same dorm? Was one table a group of students who appeared to be studying for a big final exam? Was another table a group of basketball players or fraternity members?
What did you learn about the self-segregation of students by race and ethnicity? Does it seem to exist at your school? What surprised you the most about what you learned? Share your results with some of your colleagues. Did anything surprise them? Have they seen similar patterns?
Consider the relationship between the observational data you collected and the demographic data you discovered about the school. How might the sheer number of students of each racial or ethnic group at your school influence how students decide to sit together? Is there a relationship between the athletic recruiting at your school and minority student enrollment? Were there some organizations on campus that seemed to foster better interracial relations than others?
Think about the possible limitations of your observations. (Hint: One is already mentioned in Step 4.) Also, consider both the positive and negative reasons why race and ethnicity might influence how and why people interact with each other at your school.
ASSIGNMENT 2: The Portrayal of Family On Television
Images of family surround us every day. Advertisements display a family of four eating at McDonald’s, news programs depict gay couples lining up to get married in San Francisco, magazine covers happily announce a celebrity’s fourth wedding, and signs at every college post the dates for “Parents’ Weekend.” Images of family are constantly changing, and our notion of family changes along with it. “Family” can be organized in many different ways—for example, “traditional” two-parent families, stay-at-home moms, the increasing visibility of gay families, the changing faces of adopted children, and the growing number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Your job with this assignment is to examine the representations of family on TV from a sociological point of view.
Pick two major television networks and a 1- or 2-hour time slot to view this network for several days. Although prime time is ideal (8 p.m.–11 p.m.), depending on the networks you pick, alternative times or days should be considered.
Develop a hypothesis about the depiction of families. A hypothesis is essentially just a theory, or logical explanation, that you can actually test—in this case, a theory about what you think might be occurring on these shows. An easy way to do this might be just to compare one network with the other or to compare one time frame with another. For example, maybe you think one network may depict more diversity than the other, or perhaps you think shows that air earlier in the day might include more traditional representations of family than shows that air later in the evening.
Create a simple tally sheet that allows you to collect some information about the shows that is related to your hypothesis. Although each television show you examine will have its own tally sheet, every tally sheet should be exactly the same. (Essentially, you are conducting a quantitative content analysis.) If you were collecting information about diversity and were interested in racial diversity, you would create a column for every possible race that might be depicted and then just count the race of each family you see. Be sure to include every possible category—for example “biracial” or “multiracial” for families that consist of several races or “don’t know” for those incidences when you just can’t determine race.
Collect your data in a way that makes the most sense for your hypothesis. For example, if you are comparing networks, you may want to pick one of the networks for the first week and watch it during the days and time slot you are examining. Then, during the second week, watch the second network during the same days and time slot. Overall, try to be logical and consistent.
Add up your columns and create some basic frequencies. For example, if 20 total families were represented in the time you collected your data and only 2 of them were African American on the first network but 10 families were African American on the second, it would be safe to conclude that the second network has more (50%) representations of African American families than does the first network (10%).
Speculate about what these representations teach us about families in the United States. Do they provide an accurate depiction of diversity? Do they fail to accurately represent certain groups of people? Why do you think this might be?
Consider the limitations to your research. What do you think might have happened if you had picked different networks or a different time slot? What if you collected data for months instead of just days, would you expect the same results? Instead of collecting data on how many families were depicted, what would you expect to find if you instead focused on how the families were represented? Every research endeavor has its limitations, so be sure to consider what you could do better if you were to continue this assignment!