31 July 2017

The American Left's strategy for racial equality is self-defeating

The following was written to some close friends and family, after I opted out of a discussion of race issues in America inspired by a book club meeting.


To begin with, let me make clear some things I am in agreement about.
I agree entirely that racial disparities exist, in incarceration, in income, in health and longevity, and many other metrics, and I agree that it is a problem

I agree entirely that the root causes of these disparities,histrionically, are slavery, Jim Crow, racism, etc, which continue to have effects today

I agree also that racism exists, and that some portion of disparities are likely a result of racism.  

While I disagree, I do understand the reasons for the focus on racism and oppression- it really was about 100% of the reason for disparities for 100s of years, and up until very recently.  Most of the people involved in our discussion are actually old enough to have been alive as it was happening in real time (even if not in the actual places it was most prevalent)

But the thing so many of today's Social Justice Warriors and activists and protesters and reporters and authors and commentators haven't seemed to consider is that society actually can, does, and has changed.  Slowly, to be sure, but it does, and like the lobster in the pot, the change may be too gradual to notice in real time, but there is a threshold past where the change is significant.  
Racism is explicitly illegal.  
We have black cops and judges and CEOs.  
And yes, even a president (well, 1/2 is close enough).  

Activists and others who counter the "post-racial" claims, that having a black president does not end the conversation are correct: this fact, these facts, they do not end the conversation on race.  
But they sure as hell should change the conversation!  They should change it a whole heck of a lot. 
Yet the talking points today remain largely the exact same ones heard during a time when a (half) black president was completely inconceivable.
The power structers, the laws, the cultural norms, the dynamics of everything about society have changed.  Its time for the social justice activists to catch up.

While I agree that racism plays some role in todays inequality, we disagree on how big an effect that is.  Where we diverge is in how much of today's disparities are actually a result of racism.  The implication of nearly every opinion and discussion on the topic is that all or nearly all is explained by racism in one form or another.  I would suggest that the real percentage of disparities explained by racism is closer to 1-10%; and as such is not worthy of consideration if the goal is to reduce those disparities.

There is today still blatant literal racism. There are "Bubba"s of the world who have no shame in proclaiming the racism publicly. The only thing is, they have no power, no influence what-so-ever on what goes on in the inner city.

Subconscious racism is much more prevalent - but it is not created by parents or media stereotypes, it is created by living in the world, and observing real trends

Acknowledging reality is not racist.  Acknowledging reality is an absolutely necessary first step in solving any real world problem.  

There was a time when "Black on Black crime" was a term.  It was something you would hear in articles and conversations about race.
At some point someone decided that acknowledging this problem out loud was itself racist  (the "PC" movement, like that which believes it is the actual word which makes something offensive, and therefor keeps picking new words to mean "retarded", as though schoolkids won't just immediately start using the new term to make fun of each other)
The black community lost something very important when people stopped talking about it.  When people decided talking about it out loud was a form of (or contributed to) racism, everyone forgot it was happening.

It would be racist to assume that, because the black crime rate is higher than average, therefor any given black individual is probably a criminal.
It would also be racist to claim that the reason for black crime rates was something inherent to black people. 
But of course those claims are simply not scientifically valid, while the underling reality of differential crime rates is still a thing.

In fact, history and psychology show it is common for any group which meets 2 criteria: 

1) poor relative to the main society they are in, 
2) culturally isolated from that main group; is consistently higher in crime than the mainstream society.

See the Romani ("gypsies") in Europe, or early Irish in America (the Gangs of New York - prior to the civil war Irish made up 60% of New York City jail population), Chinese Tongs - (something you never hear about when people talk about the Chinese Exclusion Act, but it was not by coincidence that it came immediately after the Tong Wars), and later Italians (to the extent of an entire mafia during prohibition).

These groups all no longer have particularly high crime rates, and therefor no longer carry the stereotype of such.  The reason is self-evident: cultural integration.

Owing in large part to the history and circumstances of African immigration into the country, to how long slavery lasted, how long legal discrimination lasted after that, the length of time and degree of struggle it took to end that, and therefore how deeply ingrained a sense of separatism and how entirely separate a culture has developed, it has been much more slow for full cultural integration to take place.
As a result, the problems of poverty, crime, and lack of education have been locked into a cultural pattern which is self-perpetuating.

This is the big thing I'd hoped was self-evident in the book, which most people might have little to no idea about without any direct exposure: the cultural norms themselves are the biggest single factor in preserving the status-quo.

You don't have to trust the statistics; spend time in East Oakland.  
One counter-argument of the suggestion that crime rates play the biggest role in incarceration rates focuses on similar levels of drug use by race - but actually go into the streets and look around.  Both as a peer of users, an ex of a dealer, a private security patrol driver, and a resident of E. Oakland, anecdotally that is easy to explain: white drug transactions occur indoors.  Either buyer or seller drives (or bikes, or whatever) to the home of the other, knocks, goes inside, before money changes hands.  Black urban culture dictates that drug sales occur on the street.  The dealers are fairly obvious.  So you don't have to look to prejudice to explain why more black low-level dealers get caught.  Of course the low vs high level dealers caught can be explained the same way.  

And murder statistics can't be easily faked.  There's a body.  Cops aren't "just looking the other way" when a young white guy commits a murder.  The statistics show young adult black males murder other people at around 20-40 times the rate of the rest of America (90 per 100,000 vs 2.5 per 100,000)
That makes America (minus young black males) as safe as wealthy western European nations, while looking only at that demographic gives a rate slightly higher than Honduras (modern murder capital by country)

The ironic tragedy of the left abandoning the term and concept of "black on black crime" with the PC notion that it is racist to acknowledge this reality, is that the overwhelming majority of the victims of these murders are also black.

By choosing not to call out black murderers for fear of reinforcing negative stereotypes, the real victim is the black community itself.

Instead of calling out those who are actually killing black people in large numbers, the Black Lives Matter movement focuses exclusively on cops and white people.
An unarmed black man has a several thousand higher chance of being murdered by a (civilian) black man than by a cop.
While the words themselves in the slogan "Black Lives Matter" could hypothetically be applied to all of those civilian murders, the reality is they aren't.  
There has not been one single march, one protest, one vigil, not even an editorial or a blog post or a social media blurb circulating that calls attention to even one of the several thousand civilian murders of black people by black people every single year.

What message does that really send to the people committing these murders?

Imagine an elementary school with a mixed population.
At midday recess, several fights break out.  Many of the fights are fairly one-sided, with one kid clearly dominating and another clearly the victim.
There are about 20 black kids beating up other black kids.  There are a small handful of white kids beating up other white kids.  There are about 4 black kids beating up white kids.  And there is exactly one white kid beating up a black kid.
All of the teachers and staff members come running out to the yard - and all of them go directly to that one white kid winning a fight against a black kid, and they grab him, pick him up, yell at him, remove him from the playground.  He goes to the principal's office, and after detention is over he is suspended.  A week later, when he comes back, he has to go in front of the school during a special assembly on tolerance, and publicly apologize.
Meanwhile, no one reacts at all to any of the other fights going on.  

And this pattern is repeated, day after day fights within a race are ignored, and the relatively few black on white bullying is ignored, but anytime a white kid hits a black kid - no matter what the circumstances - he is both punished and publicly shamed.

What message does this send to the black bullies?  Even if every time you frame the resulting assembly as being about peace and love and tolerance for all, the real take-away they learn is that no one cares what they do.  No one cares about their victims.
It sends a message of implicit approval by the American left.

Given that black people murder white people at twice the rate that white people murder black people, yet only the latter gets national outcrys and attention, is it really so surprising that so many middle America conservative white people are reactionary against the movement?  Is it really so unreasonable of them, given that statistical reality, to modify the slogan to "All Lives Matter"?

In contrast to all this, was the response to the 80/90s crime wave of "tough on crime".  Yes, it is true that a disproportionate number of Black men, relative to the demographic population ratio, were arrested under those policies.
It is also true that a disproportionate amount of crime victims of that time were black.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I am not defending the "tough on crime" policies.  I disagree with the fundamental premise that the purpose of the justice system is to punish, and plenty of research shows that prison is far from the most effective way to deal with most crime, and most especially drug related ones.
But it is important to remember - when judging the motivation of the people coming up with the policies - that a disproportionate amount of the victims of the crime wave were black.

The left often differentiates themselves from the right as being more compassionate or empathetic.  Many cases it is fair to say that the right just puts their sympathy elsewhere.  While the left holds compassion for a woman with an unintended pregnancy, the right holds compassion for (what they believe to be) an unborn "baby".
The left holds out the conflict to be about women's rights, when obviously the underling fundamental question is "what constitutes human life?"  or "at exactly what point is an embryo or fetus human?".  This question is part science, part philosophy, and part religious.  While we can all agree that women are people, and deserve the same rights and protection and access to healthcare as any person, none of those things are even relevant to the question at hand.  
This may seem like a big tangent, but its a really important example of how the left makes up motivations to ascribe to the opposition, even in a case where the opposition is extremely clear and consistent about what they believe.
It is easier to vilify anyone who disagrees with a viewpoint on a complex and nuanced topic with no clear or definite answer.  
(If there's any doubt of the sincerity of anti-abortionists, read something written from within the circle meant for an audience of like-minded people; something I stumbled upon looking up adoption info)  
Its this same sort of "anyone who disagrees with me must have evil intentions" mindset that leads to equating "tough on crime" with "racist", even though the people who are most being protected from violent crime are in fact black.

In the discussion there was a claim that prosecutors are not reacting the same way to the current - mostly white - drug crises.
This is simply false:

The rate of black (and Hispanic) incarceration is plummeting nation wide.  The rate of white incarceration is decreasing slightly - but in the small population (rural), mostly middle-America, conservative, and over-overwhelmingly white, areas of the country, where the modern drug crises is mostly centered, the "tough on crime" mentality is alive and well and that population is the fastest growing in prisons (specifically white women)

Like with conservatives placing their empathy with fetuses, on the issue of crime all of their empathy goes to victims, while up to a slight majority of left empathy goes to perpetrators (and the accused).  Like with the abortion question, its hard to find any single objectively "correct" answer to something like that.  And, just like with abortion, our side consistently assumes the most negative possible interpretation of the motivation of those with an opposing view point.

Which - not surprisingly - does less than nothing to foster dialogue about the most effective ways to deal with what we all can agree is an actual problem: the crime rate itself.

Calls to, for example, simply open all the prisons, are worse than just idealistic.  The people who would most suffer from something like that actually happening are those living in the communities with the highest violent crime - i.e. the poor black urban communities.  But this is exactly the sort of solution we should expect to hear called for when the entire issue is framed as "institutionalized racism" in the "justice system".

Looking into that phrase deeper: what exactly is it even supposed to mean?
The "justice system", of course, is not any single intensity. Its millions of people in completely different roles most of whom have no contact with each other.
So, breaking it down: the common / conventional wisdom about cops stopping black people disproportionately doesn't stand up to scrutiny after adjusting for the differing crime rates.  For all the attention shootings of unarmed black men gets in the press, the statistics show no significant difference in the rate of getting shot at by cops by race.  What makes a significant difference is actually having a gun, and/or committing a crime, and/or fighting the cops.  

Unfortunately, the present reality is black men do all 3 things significantly more often than white men do, which automatically means cops - even completely color blind cops - would arrest (and occasionally shoot at) black men more often.

So then there's the whole trial.  In the US guilt in a criminal trial is determined by a jury, made up of 12 randomly selected private citizens who live in the general area.  They are no part of any "system".  They are ordinary random people who got a jury duty notice and didn't have a good enough of an excuse to get out of it.

This system was a deliberate and conscious move on the part of those wacky "founding fathers" specifically to ensure there wasn't unchecked government power, and to avoid any kind of institutionalized or systemic bias.  They were not likely thinking about race, per say, but none-the-less, in the absence of super intelligent completely objective computers, a jury of randomly selected people, manged by a judge who is knowledgeable on the technicality of laws but not given a vote in deciding the verdict, who is constrained by various laws of evidence, is about the most fair and impartial way to determine guilt that could be.
Which means that if any racial bias shows up in the outcomes of trials
(and, of course, we know from the statistics that they in fact do), that bias is not coming from the "justice system" itself, it is coming from the minds of random ordinary civilians.

Touch briefly on the fact that the prison its-elf has very little say in who ends up there, their job is just to house the people that a jury found guilty.  While on the topic, one brief aside to point out how little for-profit prisons have to do with anything:
the link also shows the crime waves - the last peaked 1984-1993, basically right in the bulk of my childhood :)

And now back to the (mostly subconscious, but sometimes overt) racism of the jury - and, for that matter, back to Bubba, from the very beginning.
I assume everyone is familiar with the various psychology experiments that show random ordinary people's implicit bias - easier to associate a dark color with evil, easier to expect to see a dark person as having a gun, etc.
What those studies don't tell you, don't even attempt to explore, is why that is true.

In the absence of an answer, it leaves people to fill in their own assumed answers.  And in today's political climate, the PC answer has something to do with culture norms, media portrayals, prejudices passed on from parent to child.

In my personal experience, I've had overt racism directed at me twice.
Both were from with drug addicts who were so low on the totem pole of life that they were disowned by family members and evicted from trailer parks.  (just by coincidence, the two were completely unrelated to each other and in entirely different locations and circumstances).  More often I've heard comments spoken to me, about others, from people who assumed I was different than the people the comments were directed to.  Those comments have uniformly been from one group: recent immigrants.  Not from any one place, though.  Recent immigrants from countries all over the world, to the Bay Area, have a negative view about black people.
They haven't been here for the cultural legacy of slavery, or for our media portrayals.  The weren't here to hear subtle things from their parents.  
All they have to go on is their own experience, what they see in front of them.  And, being recent arrivals, they also missed all the after-school specials, all the unity rallies and black history months and MLK days.  They missed all the messages that the native born Americans have gotten about making a point to be anti-racist.  
So that leaves them to just witness who is smoking pot or drinking alcohol in public, who is playing car stereos at excessive volume or playing moderately loud music on a crowded commuter train or bus.  They can draw their own conclusions upon actually being threatened or mugged or having a car broken into and seeing the person who did it fleeing, or watching drugs being sold.  No one has to teach them to be racist.  You just live in a poor, high crime, mixed race neighborhood, and pay attention, and without a strong message coming in from somewhere reminding them constantly that not everyone of the same color is the same, the human mind will do what the human mind does.

Roughly 50% of all people are male.  Another 50% are female.  This is not strictly accurate, there are some people who don't fall neatly into either category (although, biologically, a lot fewer than one might think...) and the distribution varies by age, and location, but rounded to the nearest whole number, its 50%

over 93% of all US prisoners are male.
While I pointed out earlier white women are the fastest growing prison demographic, that is growing from less than 7% up to its current record of 7%.  

If we just looked at that statistic in isolation, obviously men are being incarcerated at a grossly disproportionate rate.  And if we were to make a direct analogy to race, we would conclude that the entire justice system was biased on the basis of gender, that it contained a systemic sexism.
Of course nobody makes that claim, for two reasons: 1) the standard Narrative of Oppression only allows for one oppressor and one victim in any given demographic, and it is already understood that bias is in favor of males, and (hopefully) more importantly: 2)  we all know that men are more prone to crime and more violent in particular on average.

Men aren't much more likely to do drugs, but in great contrast to popular belife, most prisoners are in jail for violent offenses.

In fact violent offenses are a plurality by a pretty large margin (i.e. more than any other crime category) at over 40%.  All in all, crimes with a victim (violent and property), or a potential victim (DUI and illegal weapons possession), make up the vast majority of prisoners, at almost 80%.
Non-violent drug offenders only make up 20%, (half the rate of violent offenders).

Now we all know males who are not violent, nor any other kind of criminal.
In fact, the vast majority of men are decent people.
We seem to have no problem holding these two facts in our mind at once: most men are good people, AND, men are overwhelmingly more likely to be violent criminals.
We can encounter some random guy we haven't met before at a party and interact without any apprehension - not even subconsciously.

And at the same time, I think it is a fair assumption that almost anyone, no matter their own gender, will feel differently encountering a group of unfamiliar young men when alone at night on the street, then when encountering a group of unfamiliar women.
We wouldn't fault a woman for feeling differently when she finds herself alone with a strange man in an elevator or a subway car than with a woman.  No one would call that sexism, or worry about what people's reaction to him might do to his self-image or psychology.  We would just call that normal, call it awareness, and any small thing she might do, (say, crossing the street to avoid a male stranger at night), would be considered caution.  Because we know (and have no problem admitting) that a given random man is 10 times as likely to murder you (90% of murders of strangers or non-related acquaintances are committed by men).

Men are also more likely to commit pretty much all other crimes as well.  
And the human mind, as part of its job of helping us navigate the world, seeks out patterns and rules that can help simplify this very complex reality.

These two things naturally create a bias.  If men are 10 times more likely to commit crime, chances are, if you are a cop, you are going to suspect any given man faster than you suspect a woman when looking for a suspect.  If you are a juror, you are more than likely going to have a different view of a male on trial than a female.  Even if every other factor in the case is the same.  
And this bias explains why women receive lighter sentences for the same crime, and why, even accounting for the difference in rates of committing crimes (and especially drug crimes, for which the difference is very small), males are incarcerated disproportionately.  

Specifically, men commit 75% of all felonies, yet make up 93% of the prison population.  This actually reflects a much higher bias in conviction rates after correcting for crime rates than the difference by race.

Emotionally, though, this just doesn't feel like all that big a deal.  Hence the absolute lack of attention it gets.
My point here is not to lament male criminals who have it so tough.
It is just to point out the contrast in how we look at the issue.  
Its easy to see how individual juries might have sympathy for individual women, and how preconceptions about femininity might make people make assumptions about an individual's guilty, and how these individual assumptions can build up to a wide-scale national trend, without it being evidence of anything "systemic" or "institutional".
Its just the natural consequence of having humans, who naturally see actual patterns that really do exist (males on average are more violent, etc) making decisions about individual cases (a particular man or woman who was violent).

Now lets go all the way back to Bubba again.
He's actually a real person.
He has a little tattoo parlor in Alabama.  It has a secret door, which purportedly is there so that any black person who happens to wonder in will only be aware of the front of the shop, and not even know to want to venture into the larger back area where the bar and pool tables and other entertainment are.
He lives in a rural town that's almost all white, and where one of the largest local employers unashamedly named the business "K3".
He made a comment, while knowing he was being recorded for national radio, about how paying taxes goes to paying for the family of some black guy who is in jail.
He didn't use those exact words though...
Unquestionably, undeniably racist.
And just generally not someone I'd want to spend time with, even if I happened to be white.
But can we just write him off completely as ignorant and backwards?  Because we know that black males have the highest incarceration rate per capita, with some age groups and communities as high as 1 in 10.  That's actually true.  Its a fact that people on the left point out regularly, in criticizing the system.  So, while he may be a racist lowlife scum bag,  and he almost certainly makes the prejudiced assumption that all black people fit his stereotype, and the racist assumption that there is something inherent to race that makes people behave differently, the actual facts that support his view aren't entirely wrong.  There is some truth to it.  Just like with the racist immigrants, all he has to do to hold his view point is pay attention.

And so, if we actually want to change people's views, we maybe need to reevaluate the public relations strategy.  Pretending it isn't happening isn't fooling anyone (well, except middle class white people on the left who aren't exposed to the crime in largely black urban poor communities).  Pretending that it is all some big conspiracy perpetrated by the government isn't fooling anyone either.

We need to start by being honest, because if we can't do that, its pretty understandable why Bubba and the recent immigrants are going to write-off anything we say after that.

Only after we admit, first to ourselves, and then to the world, that cops are not the problem, is there any chance of anyone listening to us as we try to find solutions to the actual problems.  

Certainly bias accounts for some percentage in the disparity in prison rates by race.  But that bias is a result of the differences in crime rates by race, not the cause of it.  And, just as importantly, the percentage of the disparity caused by bias pales in comparison to the disparity caused by actual differences in crime rates.  

If the differences in crime rate disappeared tomorrow, in a few years the bias would start to disappear, just like it did with the Irish and the Italians and the Chinese.  
In a few decades, as sentences ran their courses, the disparities themselves would disappear.

Yet on the other hand, if everyone in America became color-blind tomorrow, nothing would change.  

This is the big thing that activists and commentators on the left will not recognize.  The conditions of today have already been set in motion.

They are self-perpetuating now.
"The Beautiful Struggle" detailed how, now that we are where we are, the culture itself is what is holding people down.  It is hard to advance when the expectations of those around you is anti-education and pro-violence.  The author himself had a strong counter-influence at home, at school, from himself, but most of the neighborhood peers didn't even have a father at home in the first place, never mind an ex-revolutionary-history-and-literature-buff who promoted and was involved in education.
The struggle was all within the community.  
Just about the only references to cops or courts in the system were an arrest for auto theft which resulted in nothing beyond the arrest, and an acquaintance going to jail for robbing a church. 
Yet, somehow, that's where the conversation about the book went...

The US government, the CIA (and sometimes FBI) have had a lot of wacky schemes over the years.  They tried to give Castro an exploding cigar.  They gave LSD to prisoners.  They thought they could convince the Vietnamese not to become communist.  But the fact that they try something is a far cry from saying it actually had any significant effect on the real world.  In the case of introducing crack into Black communities, well that one isn't even a crackpot scheme of theirs.  It never happened in the first place.  That idea is a "telephone" game rumor blown out of proportion of a claim by a reporter which itself was never substantiated.  The involvement alleged was that they helped to launder drug money made by drug rings, which sold to gangs, back to the Contra rebels.  There is a big difference between funneling money from drugs that have already been imported and sold to a particular place, and actually importing and selling those drugs.  Even that link was found in numerous investigations to be overblown.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_involvement_in_Contra_cocaine_trafficking

But the idea that they would have, it fits so perfectly the Narrative of Oppression, it seems almost inevitable that the story would mutate from "CIA helps funnel drug money to Contras" to "CIA imports drugs to the US and sells it to gangs".

Similarly, the comment / rhetorical question "where did all the guns come from?" implies a conspiracy, dependent on the assumption of the Narrative of Oppression which simply has no evidence: the areas of the country with the highest rates of gun ownership are - unsurprisingly - the white conservative areas that one tends to associate with the NRA
The areas with the lowest gun ownership are the coastal cities
including areas with some of the highest homicide rates, like New York and LA.
Personally, I'm in favor of most control measures, but this, like many arguments made by the pro-gun lobby, is factually accurate.  The amount of guns has virtually zero effect on homicide rates.  It is entirely a question of how they are used. The answer to why there are so many guns on the streets is "the second amendment".  Like it or hate it, it is the reality, and so there is no need to look for a conspiracy.

The Narrative of Oppression seems to be perhaps the single largest focus of every political and social movement on the left.  It - we - seem to be completely obsessed with oppression.  Every issue gets framed somehow as being a part of it.  

But really, its more just a manifestation of normal human psychology.  We're primed for social interactions, specifically in tribes of about 100 people, give or take, as we would have lived for the majority of human existence.
As a result, one of the big things we're sensitive, something we innately have very strong feelings about, is a sense of "fairness".
We all intuitively feel that fairness is one of the most important parts of morality - even though, logically it is hard to find an argument that ties it to ethics at all; in many cases a less fair outcome may actually be the best option for everyone involved.

This manifests differently on the ends of the political spectrum, with the left relatively more focused on equality (especially of outcome), and the right focused more on individuals "reaping what they sow", but both come down ultimately to a feeling that fairness is intrinsically important.

It also manifests as an near obsession over things that some other person does on purpose.  What matters rationally is outcome, but people are far more interested in bad outcomes that were the result of an intentional action than a bad outcome due to negligence.
So, for example: the rate at which children (2-14) are killed in auto accidents is (depending on the year and who and how data gets complied) somewhere in the range of 4,000% to over 10,000% higher than the rate of abduction and murder by strangers.
That means that choosing to drive a child to school in order to avoid the "risk" of walking alone actually puts them in 40 to 100 times higher risk of death.
This trade-off feels worthwhile, though, because a person deliberately kidnapping just feels worse than an "accident" (even though close to 100% of so-called auto accidents are really cases of negligence)

Similarly, there is lots and lots of attention in the press recently about random shootings, esp. "mass" ones.  Even though violent crime and murder rates have been dropping for decades and are at the lowest they've been in a very long time, and a tiny fraction of what they've been for most of history, and even though mass shootings are no more common now than they have ever been.
Meanwhile, auto accidents claim many more victims before their time than firearm related homicide, yet there is zero attention given to the issue, zero calls for any of the simple ways these deaths could be reduced to negligible numbers almost overnight if anyone cared enough to do it (for example, mandating speed governors set to 65 mph or less on all new cars; putting in automated radar camera speed traps along all major highways that mail tickets based on license plate number; making all undivided highways or those with intersections have a limit of 50 or less; treating the use of any portable electronic device while driving as exactly equivalent to a DUI)

Its the same instinct that makes us angry if a person bumps us or gets in our way, but merely annoyed if the wind or a fallen tree does the same, or makes us want revenge or punishment on a person who does harm, but if an animal does it, its just one of those things.

Of course the Narrative of Oppression is not limited to the modern American left, not by a long shot.  Its pretty much ubiquitous among human populations.

Just about every culture, ever society, has its share of stories of how it is, or once was, oppressed, by someone.  Americans oppressed by the King of England, Irish oppressed by the English, Republicans oppressed by taxes, religious oppressed by atheists and vice versa, the Germans were oppressed by the rest of Europe and the Jews by everyone all through-out history.  
This isn't to say there isn't often an enormous element of truth to the Narrative - certainly many events in history unquestionably qualify.  But the idea of it alone goes deeper then any actual event or circumstance, so that, for example, the Jewish Narrative of Oppression is strong enough to blind Israelis to the fact that they are not actually being oppressed anymore, and in fact have become oppressors themselves.
In every conflict, whether the winner or the loser, the aggressor or the defender, both sides frame the conflict as a response to oppression by the other side.  Even in the nation with the most military power in the world, citizens manage to feel they are the victimized side, being oppressed by terrorists.  The Left is oppressed by The Man, and the Right is oppressed by Big Government (which I'm pretty sure are both the same thing...), as well as, of course, each other.  The labor class is oppressed by those who own the means of production, while owners feel no less unfairly oppressed by the greedy corrupt unions.  

Everybody feels oppressed by someone, but I think few groups have taken the Narrative of Oppression to be so all-encompassing, to explain every aspect of every part of history, as the modern left.  It is seen as the one and only explanation for every perceived injustice, every inequality of outcome, the motivation behind every political and social and philosophical decision or viewpoint that doesn't line up with how they want the world to be.

So, for example: all throughout history, for tens of thousands of years, humans have had conflicts with neighboring groups of humans over resources and the land on which they were found.  Archaeologists have found that early hominids left Africa, populated Europe, and over hundreds of thousands of years evolved into Neanderthals, and at some point a 2nd wave of (now homo-sapien) hominids left Africa, encountered the first wave of immigrants to Europe, and killed them all.
The history of Europe is basically non-stop churning of land-ownership by various groups, with any given point of geography being claimed by dozens of different cultures originating from every corner at one point or another.  The concept of a "nation", with its precisely established, stable, and respected by surrounding nations, borders is incredibly recent.  Just a hundred or two years ago (out of hundreds of thousands) one civilization being taken over by another - possibly assimilating, and possibly just being wiped out - was pretty much just an expected part of life.

Meanwhile, back in the Americas - the situation was basically exactly the same.  The stereotype of peaceful Aboriginal Americans who lived in harmony with nature is just the modern version of the "Noble Savage", and is no more accurate now than it was then.  In reality they caused the extinction of pretty much just as many species as they did back in Europe, including many large mammals by deliberate hunting.  Meanwhile, conflict and warfare was a constant in North America, with the best areas of land (and sometimes the not-as-good areas) turning over hands, frequently with the extermination of the first group of settlers (as, for example, the Caribs did to the Arawaks in islands in the Caribbean - except where the Arawaks prevailed, and killed all the Caribs...)

But wars and land take-overs all within a single race, where conflict has gone on so long it is impossible to work out who was there first, are difficult to fit into a Narrative, and so all of these conflicts are written off and ignored, and only when the two groups meet is it considered a relevant historical event, one which can be neatly summarized as "colonization".

Coming back (finally!) to the original issue:
The actual, numerical, disparity of the oft noted difference in sentencing for equivalent crimes by race?
4% - 10% (depending on the study)
The difference in likely hood that any given person is in prison, by race?
510% ("blacks are incarcerated at a rate that is 5.1 times that of whites.")

What this means is if we could somehow eliminate that 10% which presumably stems from bias among prosecutors, judges, and juries, it would still leave the disparity at 500%.

Even according to The Sentencing Project, an organization whose entire reason for existence is to address this disparity, 75-85% of the disparity is due to differences in offending rates.
After stating this number matter-of-fact-ly, the article then goes on to to focus exclusively on the problem of bias and ways to address it.

Instead of focusing on that whopping big 500% number, and trying to find ways to address that.
Because that number reflects a part of reality that simply does not fit into the Narrative of Oppression, while the 4-20% of disparity due to bias most easily does.

No one seems to notice or care that solving the much larger issue would in itself eliminate most or all of the bias...

This may seem false, but consider: Racial bias is based on, what else? race.
If, as the Narrative goes, bias were the most significant factor in inequality, then anyone of the same race should fare about equally, on average, in our society.
This is not remotely true though.
Black immigrants from Africa are more likely to be educated than the general (native born) population (including whites), and in fact even more than Asian immigrants.
Black immigrants from Latin America make, on average, significantly more income than the US (native born, including white people) average.
Black immigrants (from anywhere) are the most likely immigrants to gain citizenship.
The children of black immigrants, born in the US, are still more likely to get a degree, and make more income than average - unless, that is, they assimilate too much into (native) black American culture

Culture, then, not race, would appear to be the driving factor in disparities.
The two are frequently treated as interchangeable, but they are not

What better a way to foster cultural assimilation than full integration?  This was once a goal.  The creation of the inner city ghetto was blamed in large part (and accurately, I believe), on "white flight" to the suburbs, as "red lining" failed to prevent integration.

Flash forward a few decades, though, and the successors of those who decried white flight, are now instead decrying the opposite (but calling it "gentrification", even in cities with rent control and just-cause for eviction laws)
Because once you have bought into the Narrative of Oppression, everything which the group designated as "oppressor" does has to be villianized, has to be the root of all problems.  
Meanwhile, a culture of anti-socialness has no role to play in the Narrative, so it gets completely ignored - and anyone who dares mention it at all is, at best, discredited, more likely labeled as racist and demonized, and permanently written off on all topics forever after.  We have an entire sub-genre of music specifically defined by its focus on violent criminal behavior ("gansta-rap"), and activists and Social Justice Warriors can only focus on society's bias as a (or rather, the) cause of disparate prison rates.

And as long as that's true, as long as no one is willing to call it out, as long as we loudly protest a cop shooting a person who only seconds before was punching said cop in the face unprovoked, yet a black man can shoot his ex-girlfriend in the face in front of her children without a single social media post being circulated, as long as people protest racial and economic integration, as long as anyone argues for officially  giving poor black people a separate independent language from the rest of America rather than raising educational standards, as long as well meaning people can read a book about poor urban black youth culture and see a book about police, the justice system, and the CIA, I just don't see how we are going to make any significant progress.

At best, I see all of the efforts of well-meaning Social Justice Warriors and activists and bloggers and pundits and protesters as a distraction.

But really, the messages being sent (along with, "if you are black, go ahead and kill black people, that doesn't count"), to young black men is "the cops are out to get you, the cops are out to get you, the cops are out to get you".
Teach anyone that anyone is out to get them, their entire life, and they are going to fear and resent that person, no matter who it is.
Teach that to someone all their life, and then have them grow into a testosterone filled teenage boy, and when, someday, the inevitable interaction occurs, and the likely hood of him behaving in a way that escalates the situation increases dramatically.
In other words, I believe it is very possible, even likely, that the protests over cops shooting unarmed black men INCREASES the likely hood that young black men will either flee from or attack cops, which in turn increases the chances that they end up getting shot.  Each new round of public attention reinforces that cops are the enemy, and makes the actions of the young men in the news and on the signs more likely. Would Brown have gone up to a cop and punched him in the face through the open window of his cop car in response to being told to walk on the sidewalk if this request had not been in the aftermath of 3 widely publicized cases of black men being shot by white cops in the past 5 years?  Who knows?  Maybe - he had apparently just robbed a store minutes before, but that would lead most people to actively avoid more attention from cops.  Maybe it was "suicide by cop".  Or maybe he was just being the martyr that the Narrative had taught him he should be.

This is the effect I see the standard Narrative of Oppression having today.
It makes young black males more likely to fight cops, and therefor get shot, (which in turn fuels more protests, which creates more anger, and so on).
It prevents people from seeing the opportunities that are actually available, and reclaiming any sense of autonomy or agency.
It prevents any assignment of responsibility for the consequences of one's actions - and psychology is pretty consistent in showing that people tend to live up (or down) to the expectations people have for them.
It prevents real dialogue, and prevents anyone who sees any of this from saying anything, for fear of being labeled racist.
It discourages law enforcement from doing their jobs - risking their own life to protect innocent members of the community - because they find the risk of a public trial to be worse than the risk of being shot at (a sentiment I've overheard from a number of unrelated police officers that are also in the Coast Guard Reserve).
It encourages criminals to pass off responsibility for their own actions to "the system", and justify their own mistakes to themselves - to even see themselves as somehow rebels against the system (despite the fact that the majority of their victims were their own color).
It actively discourages integration.

And of course it just takes up a lot of time and attention, leaving little to none left over for things that might actually make a positive difference.

Things like universal preschool and kindergarten, public education on the (already existing) Pell Grant which is essentially free college education for everyone, regardless of highschool grades,  free on-demand birth control and abortions (the rate of unwanted pregnancies among black women is more than double that of white women, and the children of unwanted pregnancies, upon growing up, are the most likely individuals to commit crime - it is not by coincidence that the end of the giant crime wave coincided with the 20th anniversary of Roe v Wade!)  , redistribution of wealth upon death, and publicly calling out black-on-black crime as well as generally anti-social behavior.

But this is all just so very very far from today's reality, I don't see this change in Narrative or focus as even feasible.  
That is what is depressing to me.
There is nothing I can do about it, and I seem to be just about the only person with this particular perspective, so I find it best to just avoid talking to people about it. 


  1. Take heart. You're certainly not the only one. I enjoyed reading your articles on purchasing a used bike and riding on the street a while ago, came back to find your bike articles and stumbled across this post. I consider myself more of a right-winger and my views on race-relations are pretty similar to yours. I just keep my mouth shut most of the time to avoid offending any sensitive snowflakes (who will be offended by something you say no matter what!) In the Bay Area there's a lot of enforced conformity and the thought police are seemingly everywhere. You're not the only one who sees the emperor has no clothes. Silent majority. Most people are actually pretty reasonable, they've just been conditioned to respond in certain ways that make having a conversation difficult. Maybe some day you'll even run for office as a Republican. :) We need good people.

    1. Thanks, Andy.
      There is no lack of enforced conformity on the right though, either. All things considered, I definitely think it is, objectively, much more prevalent on the right. Values like tradition and authority dictate it. Its also implied in the very words "liberal" and "conservative".

      While my conclusions may sound "republican" in this particular essay, I'm fairly certain you would change your mind about supporting my run for office if you read any of my posts on economics or capitalism :-)

    2. That's a very good point. Tradition and authority are only as good as the traditions and authorities they rely on.

      I'll check out your articles on economics and capitalism before I vote for you when you run then. :)

      But in all seriousness though, I think people get too caught up in the various ideologies and "-isms" and forget about just making good sound decisions. I just got back from China, and whatever one thinks about the political system there, they are doing a very nice job of running the subways and public transportation in China compared to BART and my own hometown NYC subway system. Forgetting about ideology for a moment, there's good management and bad management. When I go to a restaurant or get on a plane, they can do a great job or a lousy job, and I have no idea what the Chef's politics are or if the pilot and flight crew are socialists or capitalists or whatever they are. To the points in your essay, people can get too caught up in the whole politics of race and prison and crime and punishment and lose sight of the fact that when somebody is waving a gun in your face or running over with you with his car, you don't have to invoke history and race and religion and politics and bias. These are very basic issues of safety, law and order, etc that need to be dealt with. Of course there are bigoted people and jerks running around in any society, but as you point out in your essay, many of the people getting in trouble are actually doing something to cause trouble.

      Another point I really liked from your essay is the too-frequent assumption that people with different politics are all "bad people" or up to no good, when really it's just more about where their sympathies lie. Liberals worrying about people being falsely accused vs conservatives worried about victims of crime, for example.

      Anyway, you write much better than I do, and I'm sure I'm rambling. Thanks for writing your blog posts, and I'll check out the rest of them. I read your article on nudity and was almost tempted to go out without clothes today, but then tradition and authority held me back.

    3. I don't think I could agree more with just about everything you wrote here.
      Also, thank you!

      I've been told I write too much and take too long to make a point - i.e. ramble - regarding this very post, so its good to hear an alternative viewpoint on that detail as well! :)


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