Category Archives: Racial Equality

Black and Blue

I know I am not the only American who is struggling to come to terms with the events of the past week: the videos of police killing black men whose “crimes” consisted of selling CDs and driving with a broken taillight, the equally horrendous murder of Dallas police by a U.S. Army reservist bent on “killing white people,” and the use of a sophisticated robot to kill, rather than incapacitate or capture, that gunman.

Most reasonable people understand that every group–racial, occupational, whatever–has its bad apples, deranged or bigoted or otherwise damaged individuals. In the case of police, the rogue behaviors displayed by a small percentage of officers makes police work more difficult and more dangerous: for one thing, when people fear and distrust law enforcement, they are unlikely to co-operate and provide helpful information; for another, as we have seen in Dallas (and last year in New York),  shocking evidence of such behaviors can provoke attacks on all police by unstable individuals.

When one of those attacks, or another high-profile crime, is committed by a black person, it reinforces stereotypes of black criminality, making the lives of the vast majority of black citizens more difficult. (Of course, when whites like Dylan Roof massacre churchgoers, his actions do not feed into widespread beliefs that all whites are murderous. The fact that whites are not seen as monolithic and interchangable, while marginalized minorities are treated as if members of those groups (African-Americans, Muslims, etc.) are fungible, is one aspect of what has come to be known as white privilege. The difference is incredibly unfair, but it exists.)

The question before us is: what do we do?

There are practical steps we can take to reduce the likelihood of gratuitous police violence; many police departments are already implementing better training protocols and better psychological screening of applicants, and others–especially in smaller, less professionalized police forces– need to do so. We also need to eliminate systems like the one in Ferguson,where citations for low-level infractions actually funded the police department, incentivizing unnecessary confrontations between citizens and police. (For that matter, we need to stop criminalizing everything from not using your seatbelt to driving with a broken taillight, and let police focus on crimes against person and property.)

As many people have pointed out, when everyone is armed to the teeth, we shouldn’t be surprised by gun  violence. If not for the NRA’s stranglehold on our feckless lawmakers, we might be able to institute some reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.

Those and other measures should certainly be undertaken, but they ignore the elephant in the room.

Racism is certainly nothing new in America, but over the past few years we have seen an upsurge in nativism and bigotry of all sorts. It began with the ubiquity of talk radio–with Rush Limbaugh and his clones, who made money by appealing to the discontents of older white men, assuring them that women and African-Americans and various “others” were taking  jobs and status that was rightfully theirs. Fox News followed the script and amplified the resentments.

It got worse when we elected an African-American President; evidently, the thought of a black man occupying the White House was enough to make previously closeted white supremacists crawl out from under their rocks.

That led to Donald Trump, and his attack on “political correctness”–an attack seen by  legions of angry white guys as permission to discard hard-won norms of civility and respect. In Trump World, it is disdained as “politically correct” to refrain from ridiculing the disabled; “politically correct” not to display crass racism; “politically correct” to refrain from sexualizing or demeaning women.

Ultimately, what keeps police from disregarding the worth of black lives is a culture that genuinely values those lives. What keeps most citizens from breaking the law are social norms that value the rule and role of law. What keeps our diverse and polyglot nation from disintegrating is the conviction that we share an identity as Americans, that there is a “we” that supersedes our various tribal commitments.

Americans will probably never live up to our highest aspirations and principles, but when we discard them, when we celebrate crudity and name-calling and bigotry as “telling it like it is,” we betray those principles and degrade our communal life. Worse, we give damaged people from all groups encouragement to act on their anti-social impulses.

Last week wasn’t a face-off between black and blue. It was a test for us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There it is In Black and White

Since I’ve been on the subject of bigotry of various kinds…..

Recent news reports have highlighted academic research that confirms the degree to which animus toward President Obama is based on simple racism. I know that many readers will file this research under “duh,” but the fact that it merely confirms something we felt we knew, rather than telling us something we didn’t know, doesn’t make it any less valid or valuable.

The first study looked specifically at Obama’s election and the rise of the Tea Party.

Researchers at Stanford University found that when they showed white subjects photos of President Barack Obama with darkened skin, those people became more likely to support right-wing political organizations like the Tea Party.

According to the Washington Post, sociologist Robb Willer and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments from 2011 to 2015 in which they demonstrated that some white voters may be driven by unconscious racial biases against people with darker skin.

The study came about when Willard found himself pondering why racist hysteria has ratcheted up in this country since the election of President Obama in 2008. The ranks of white supremacist groups swelled after Obama entered the White House and watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center report that hate groups have become more active in recent years.

Willard’s study group published their work a few weeks ago on the Social Science Research Network. This research joins previous studies confirming  that racism has been an essential factor in Republican electoral victories.

In another study reported by the Washington Post, researchers from Harvard and Stanford found that racist attitudes remain stronger in areas of the South where slavery was most prominent. Not only was racism harder to eradicate in the counties where slavery had been most integral to the economy, but white Southerners who live today where cotton was king are substantially less likely to identify as Democrats.

Among otherwise similar counties, a difference of 20 percentage points in the enslaved population in 1860 was correlated with a difference of 2.3 percentage points in the share of white Democrats…

Polls consistently show that Republicans are more likely to hold racial prejudices, and not just in the South. Nationally, almost one in five Republicans opposes interracial dating, compared to just one in 20 Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. While 79 percent of Republicans agree with negative statements about blacks such as the one about slavery and discrimination, just 32 percent of Democrats do, the Associated Press has found.

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions about the present-day composition of the party of Lincoln.

Sears of the University of California has found that even among white voters with equally conservative views on issues unrelated to race, those with more negative views about African Americans are more likely to vote Republican. He and Michael Tesler, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, showed that there were many racially conservative white voters who supported John Kerry and President Clinton when they were candidates, but who voted against President Obama.

It is worth emphasizing that–just as all chairs are furniture, but not all furniture items are chairs–the fact that people with racist attitudes are more likely to be Republican is not the same thing as saying all or most Republicans are racists.

But these research findings–which tend to corroborate anecdotal observations–do help explain why Donald Trump’s attacks on “political correctness” and “those people” found enough fertile ground among the GOP base to make him the Republican nominee.

And the research also reminds us why America’s effort to eradicate the legacy of its slave-owning past is such a hard slog.

Words Fail–Edition Number Zillion…

Every day, it seems, Americans are waking up to new expressions of punitive hatefulness erupting in state legislative chambers, mostly but certainly not exclusively in the South.

From The New Civil Rights Movement, we learn that

Led by Republican Speaker Tim Moore (photo), Republican House lawmakers in North Carolina have just passed a sweepingly broad anti-gay bill in a special session called just for this one bill. The bill will void all local nondiscrimination ordinances. It will also mandate that all public accommodations ordinances, all minimum wage ordinances, and all employment discrimination ordinances come only from the General Assembly – state lawmakers – effectively banning any localities from protecting citizens in any of these areas.

The bill, HB 2, passed by a huge margin, 83-24, after less than three hours of debate and just 30 minutes of public comment.

HB 2 now heads to the Senate, who will take it up immediately.

It is expected to pass and Governor Pat McCrory, who called for the bill, is fully expected to sign it.

So–as long as we are striking back at LGBT citizens who have had the nerve to demand equal treatment before the law and the right to use a gender-identity-appropriate bathroom–let’s also pile on and punish the working poor, minorities, women….It is really hard to fathom what could impel an elected official to vote for a measure this hateful.

It’s worth noting that this North Carolina eruption is yet another illustration of the growing divide between urban and rural Americans; this special legislative session is a response to the passage of a nondiscrimination measure in Charlotte. In North Carolina–like other states, including Indiana–rural areas wield disproportionate influence in the statehouse.

It may also be that these lawmakers feel free to act on their bigotries because they are confident they will not have to defend their votes in a democratic election. After all, it can’t be coincidental that North Carolina is the most gerrymandered state in the country, and is currently embroiled in litigation over that fact, and over the state’s other assaults on voting rights.

I refuse to believe that this measure is an accurate reflection of North Carolina voter sentiment. This despicable behavior is what you get when the legislators choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

None of the Explanations are Pretty

Implicit bias, anyone?

Two profoundly depressing examples of implicit bias–not to mention the deficits of today’s media–were on display in Indianapolis last week.

The first–and arguably most embarrassing–occured when Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump; Fox 59 showed a picture of Trump with a photograph of Indianapolis Democratic African-American Representative Andre Carson superimposed.

Because all of “them” look alike?

And how oblivious to the political environment they cover did the newsroom have to be in order to confuse a black Democrat who happens to be one of two Muslims serving in the U.S. House with a sycophantic joke of a presidential candidate? Did they really think Andre Carson would have endorsed a xenophobe who wants to bar Muslims from the country?

Equally discouraging, if not as inexplicable, was the early reporting about a shooting involving an IFD officer. According to later, corrected reports, Michael “Kevin” Gill, a veteran of the Indianapolis Fire Department, was shot outside a house and ran into a nearby mosque seeking help.

Earlier, “breaking news” had reported that Gill was shot inside the mosque. (The definition of prejudice is to “pre-judge”…).

Tribalism–and its exploitation by demagogues seeking political power– is creating a meaner, more dangerous America.

 

Another Indicator–As If We Needed Confirmation

Time Magazine recently reported on a study of bias in the “sharing” economy.

Users of accommodations-booking site Airbnb that have African-American sounding names are less likely to have their rental requests approved by potential hosts, according to a new report that highlights the difficulties minorities face when taking part in the sharing economy.

The study’s findings probably shouldn’t come as a surprise; we have literally mountains of data demonstrating similar results among job-seekers.

This particular report joins daily news reports of attacks on Mosques and Muslims, pushback against efforts like “Black Lives Matter,” and of course, the increasingly unhinged and unapologetic racism of Donald Trump (which has thus far been met with only tepid condemnation from most of the other GOP candidates).

I doubt that Americans will ever be able to have a truly frank, open discussion of race and racism. Even the eruption of long-suppressed animus in the wake of Obama’s election has been met with denial; the existence of overwhelming, vicious hatred directed at the First Family has been denied, or–if admitted–attributed to Obama’s “leftism” (what a joke that is!) or other personal deficits.

And before I get angry posts to the effect that it is legitimate to disagree with the President’s actions and priorities, of course it is.  Criticisms of policies are perfectly reasonable. No one–certainly not this writer–is suggesting that any President is beyond reproach, or that he, or any other political figure, should not be subject to criticism based upon performance.

But let’s get real.Only the willfully blind can miss the obvious: the extent to which the ferocity of attacks on the President and First Lady are based upon the President’s perceived “otherness.”

Racism has been called “America’s Original Sin.” It’s time we dealt with it.

I certainly don’t have a magic wand, nor do I know how to change a culture that accommodates categorizing people on the basis of religion or skin color or sexual orientation. I do know that we can’t solve problems when we refuse to admit they exist.

And we definitely have a problem.