Structure v. Agency and Aboriginal People

One of the core questions raised in sociology is are we determined by society or do we determine society?  Comedian Tom Ballard interviewed journalist Stan Grant on his podcast Like I’m A Six-Year-Old.  In the second half of this episode (122) arguments of structure and agency arise around Aboriginal people’s rights and treatment in Australia.  Within the interview the two also discuss assimilation, defining a nation’s history, and the role of media in politics.

like i'm aimage from Tom Ballard’s website

The episode can be found at the above link or here: 122 – Stan Grant (Live At Yack Festival) Pt. 1


Whitewashing in Movies

Whitewashing in film is when either 1) white actors play characters of color and pretend to be of the character’s racial / ethnic heritage or 2) the story itself is changed and characters of color are made white.  This has long been a problem, but has reignited recently with casting of films such as Aloha, Ghost in the Shell, and Doctor Strange.

In the case of the film Hell Boy, actor Ed Skrein decided to back out of his portrayal of Major Ben Daimio.  He released the following on twitter concerning his decision:


Casting characters of color with actors of color can also be contentious.  In the case of The Hunger Games, the casting of Amandla Stenberg and Lenny Kravitz, casted as Rue and Cinna respectively, resulted in a racist twitter backlash.  Readers of the book assumed these characters were white, despite descriptions to the contrary.  Similarly, the casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as adult Hermione in the Harry Potter play was met with racist reactions.

Ancestry and Social Construction of Race

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard and host of PBS program Finding Your Roots, discussed ancestry and the social construction of race with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.  The clip can be seen here.
Finding Your Roots has courted controversy in the past for acquiescing to celebrity Ben Affleck’s request to exclude information about his slave owning ancestors.  The program also garnered attention for research into actor / musician Fred Armisen’s past, whereby they discovered that his ethnic heritage is Korean and not Japanese as he believed.

Stop and Frisk

A visually beautiful summary of Broken Windows policing with art by Molly Crabapple.

Jessica Williams points out the classism and racism innate to Stop and Frisk policies.

And the story and video from The Nation eluded to in the Broken Windows video.

Having ‘Juice’ and Being ‘Hard’

In Code of the Streets, Elijah Anderson discusses how poverty, racism, fallout from drugs, and a lack of faith in the criminal justice system in inner cities have resulted in alienation.  The code of the street is a set of informal rules governing interpersonal behavior that act as a framework for obtaining and maintaining respect or “juice.”  The code creates an alternative status system whereby respect is hard won and easily lost.  The presentation of self, such as facial expressions, body language, manner of dress, and word use can signal intentions.  Ignorance of the rules are no excuse; everyone is expected to know the code and behave in the prescribed manner.  

In Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt talks to academics and rappers about representations of masculinity and violence in rap music.  Though the documentary is a bit older (2006), the content is still relevant.  In an interview, rapper Fat Joe talks about how even at music industry events and in night clubs, everyone feels the need to present themselves as “hard.”  Later, rapper Mos Def talks about growing up as a black man you “don’t want nobody taking you for short…but when shit got critical, you can’t be no punk…and you will get tested.”  Hurt also includes discussion of the need for poor men who lack financial power to have control over their bodies and be able to present themselves as deserving of respect.

The Risk podcast, episode 510 “Impulsive,” featured a story called “Judgment Day” by J.J. about his experience coming from inner city poverty, going to college, and returning home to visit.  The storyteller gets in an altercation with a man from the neighborhood and comes very close to killing the man as retaliation for hurting his pride.

Assata, White Nationalists, and Twitter

Last week there has been a twitter argument centered around Assata Shakur, a black feminist who was convicted of the murder of a state trooper, escaped prison, and now has political asylum in Cuba.  The Women’s March tweeted a happy birthday message to Assata on July 16th.


Jake Tapper, generally liked by the moderate left, responded to the tweet.


Assata Shakur is a bit of a flash point for the “alt-right.”  This tweet was seen as legitimizing arguments of white supremacists.  The Women’s March responded with a series of 20 tweets explaining who Assata is and why they support her.  COINTELPRO, or the counter intelligence program of the FBI, became a talking point and some other journalists entered the discussion.

Shaun King

The Politically Reactive podcast with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu was in an interesting situation.  On July 13th they aired an interview with Linda Sarsour, the most well known of the Women’s March organizers, and the following week were scheduled to air an interview with Jake Tapper.  The podcasters reached out to both after the twitter argument but did not hear back.  They thought it would be inappropriate to simply air the second interview and instead made an episode “Hold Up, Wait a Minute: Twitter Feuds & Threat Models” featuring Prof. Jessie Daniels of Hunter College and CUNY College and cyber security expert Nicholas Weaver.

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