White [Not] Like Me: A Queer Sociologist

Roy Æ Hodges
Department of Psychology & Department of Sociology, Washington State University
WGSS-300: Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality
Dr. Lindsey Carman Williams, PhD
June 14, 2023

Opening literature with a quote not only invites attention via signs to a correspondent object, but also indexes objects which are culturally attributed with the sign. Thus, it is said to “stand on the shoulders of giants”. Where to turn next? Does the writer now serially position the attributed giant first or the phenomena said writer had been assigned attribution with? This presents a problem in serial positioning effects within sociological studies, and is evident not only in study, and the communications of the studied, but that which is studied. The awareness of “giants” and its culturally relevant performance indexing significance in market exchange is a form of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 2018/1973; Bourdieu, 1986/1983, 1996/1989).

The affordances (i.e., what environments offer, provide, and furnish; Gibson, 1966) of an individualized experience in awareness of said linguistic and serial position effects is itself a result of affordances culturally assigned through the command of higher compensations in a factorial assemblage of inferred beliefs in abilities of said individual in considering these themes. The last sentence itself is loaded with associations well positioned for beliefs in ability and potential.

This goes without saying that sentences deploy a great matter of signs and higher-order level of indexes in the arrangement of signs, concomitant what is written, what is intended, and what is read by a reader (i.e., locution, illocution, and perlocution; Peirce, 1955/1940). The unity of writer and reader in attention, and attitude is joint attention (Hobson, 2005; Okada, 2013), where its furtherance to full jointedness shares attitudes toward that object. Jointedness between writer and reader are fully influenced by all matters of a cognitive psychological field of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thoughts themselves are comprised of schemas which organize perceptions, where prototypes and exemplars become the dominant stereotype of the organized together (Piaget, 1976). Yet these are linguistically and psychologically associated themes. What of the sociological?

Wildman and Davis (1996/1995) maintained that “invisibility of privilege strengthens the power it creates and maintains” (p. 6) and claimed that a “big step would be for whites to admit that we are racist and then to consider what to do about it” (p. 21). Privilege for all intents and purposes is nearly congruous with the concept of affordances, where the environment of language and cultural schemas offer, provide, and furnish relative valuation. The privilege of a schema’s prototype recalled (e.g., a wealthy classed CEO as white male) may invisibly devalue that which does not match up with the prototype. What does the reader think of? 

Yet what has not yet been approached psychologically is the intersectionality or the consideration through which these schemas may activate simultaneously, rather than sequentially. Sociologists have already considered this simultaneity in aspects of privilege among studies of intersectionality of social division and have even applied the concept of privilege within privileged groups (e.g., poor white Appalachians amidst the stereotyped White wealthy; Collins, 1993). How does one approach therefore films like Jhally et al.’s (2013) White Like Me, when the writer’s family in majority is missing teeth, poor, and only “made” it for a brief amount of time until code switching had exhausted the author to major depression and near suicide?

Collin’s (1993) paper in defense of making visible the tokens amidst dominant types in social divisions (e.g., marginalized whites vs. dominant whites etc.) is refreshing, and inspires allyship. This is set against Jhally et al.’s (2013) film which renders invisible a vast segment of White. To “include” the invisible in a dominant group meets the effects of Kanter’s (1977) token, where the tokenized [poor whites] are bent toward the stereotype of dominant [wealthy whites] reinforced in narratives of media of a dominant class. White Like Me interpreted without explicitly identifying its intersectional target audience (e.g., Harvard faculty and students) not only risks but renders invisible the class-race boundaries that robs individuals of significance. Out of context, while sensational, it dangerous. This loss of significance itself is a known driver of radicalization and terrorism (Kruglanski et al., 2013, 2022).

The audience matters, and in example, the audience reading this paper is already familiar with the film so analyzed. This itself is cultural capital. It’s infuriating to be bent into a stereotype while one’s family as a result of deindustrialization layered in euphemistic language minimizing of labor arbitrage for increasing personal gains, cannot afford paint for a house, a plumber to fix a leaking pipe, a carpenter to fix a soft board leaking water into the home which leads to rot, and paint to prevent it from the first place. It is a voice robbed continually in media, in print, and in press. However, it is a voice aligned with LGBTQ+, Black, Asian, and of billions of people around the world. It is a voice that rejects social division because it is a queer voice, a voice that tends to and has adorned itself in liminality—between and betwixt—the ideology of [prototype and exemplar] dominance rather than the reality of [fractal] individuality.

However, it doesn’t escape the author, a functionally fixed (a-queer) homeostatic gestalt of covert motivation externalizing Durkheimian social facts objectivating attitudes into signed and indexed intimations concomitant schemas adorned in prototypes servicing Sykes and Matzian techniques of neutralization justifying past, present, and future anticipated resistance to said motivations. No Mr. Wise—I’m not white. I never was. To bend me into a sociologically dominant typology of dominant/token is itself tokenizing of individuality in a dominant media ascribed society. When it comes down to it, what society is there, when sipping tea?

However, to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid, requires going all the way down the rabbit hole with Alice, allied. As was discovered, self-concept had met, and continues to meet, every criterion of a value psychologically (Hodges, 2023). A self-concept framed by intersections of prototypes and schemas of not only cognitions but event scripts in advance of and trailing perception, expressed in behaviors. What divisions would there be without the queering of curiosity in describing from one person to the next, in society? 

That a queer writer can see layers of prototyping serial position effects and reject it, does not escape me, because that from which there is an escape, is also—not me—and this is a matter of empathy, in sociology. So, unlike the adorned in institutional cultural attribution, I stand not, but amidst the phenomena investigated directly by scientific curiosity, attributing reasoning to perception, not each other; attributing insight to perception, not great man; and attributing wisdom to billions and billions of years of “all this”. Here is a de-internalization, a de-objectivation, a de-exportation (c.f., Berger & Luckman, 1966)—amidst this is asserted, the greatest empathy. An empathy respectful and understanding of the great power of describing something as real and its real consequences (i.e., the Thomas theorem; Thomas & Thomas, 1928). 

Here the author writes from within institution, rather than without, because privilege is best addressed right here, not “there”, and right now, not “next time”. A queer sociologist does not stand on, stand under, stand in, or stand out—a queer sociologist stands exactly where they are, measuring, predicting, and explaining regardless of the Zeitgeist of yesterday, today, through to tomorrow. In this way we are not White, and there are many not like me—empathy.


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