24 September 2020

It's a lot more complex than "Racism" (Part 3 of a series on race based on emails to my family)

 In response to my previous posts (which were originally emails to various family members), I received an email which was just a link to an article about (perceived?) racism from a first hand perspective.


It opens with him very explicitly stating that the classic narrative of racist police targeting him was not merely a background component of the cultural environment in which he was raised, but a central focus of his own family tradition specifically.

His first example is an incident about which we are given zero context (unclear if he knows the context) including extremely relevant questions such as the circumstances, who started the conflict, how it escalated, if there was witnesses or physical evidence. It's left as just: white man kills black man, doesn't go to jail; and we are to infer from that the conclusion that this happens constantly and disproportionately and that racism is the one and only explanation. There's no need for context (nor entities beyond anecdote) because this is something that "everyone knows".

His second example, even more so, is one that only works because "everyone knows" that America is racist, and that is what explains every bad thing that happens to black people. It is removed from the context that roughly 6000 pedestrians are killed by drivers every year, and accidents almost never result in arrest or charges (unless the driver was legally drunk - Reed claims they were "probably" drunk but given zero indication of what that is based on). Even if they were, negligent vehicular manslaughter is not considered "murder". Not unless you have a point to make, an agenda, and a vendetta.

His first specific personal example is of a case of mistaken identity. The fact that the story doesn't include an arrest suggests that as soon as the cops realized they had the wrong people, they let them go. The implication is that it is always better to let all criminals get away, (even violent ones), that to risk temporarily inconveniencing an innocent person.

The next story is a little unclear. Did they leave their front door wide open, and the cop walked in without knocking or announcing their presence? What has it mean that he "left without further discussion"? He walked in, said the words "I am investigating a homicide", turned around and walked out? Red is clearly leaving something out. He's just listing incidents, context free, in an attempt to overwhelm any questioning with sheer number of examples. It works only because both reader and writer have already agreed on the underlying narrative.
This article is a most perfect sample of "confirmation bias", and of "begging the question".
There is no actual evidence in it, and without already having the conclusion in mind, it would not imply the conclusion.

In the next paragraph, he finally gets into the part that supports one of the main points I've tried to make. He suggests that when he started reporting negatively on police, that may have been a factor in police watching him more closely. Of course, there's nothing other than his hunch to say that it's even true, but if it is, bias against people who write negative articles about the police is Not "racial" bias. It's very specific and focused.

His next story implies a very complex conspiracy theory, in which the poetry department at the University of Colorado was working with Airport security (which, pre 9/11 were generally not sworn law enforcement officers, but security guards hired by individual airports)
This is what an all consuming belief is the Narrative causes. Everything that happens is framed in the already formed conclusion, no matter how ridiculous a stretch needs to be made.

The next one, the "scariest" goes even further:
The story begins with, by his own admission, him /Deliberately/ insulting and antagonizing random cops he sees. He makes a point to say something derogatory about police officers loud enough for them to "overhear" just because he happens to see some. Again, this can't be used as evidence of /racial/ bias, because he wasn't just standing around being black. He went out of his way to initiate a conflict that would not have existed if his own opinion toward police was neutral.

He goes on to imply that "failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign" is a fake charge that the police use just to stop black people.
While it's true that police consider tragic stops to be a tool used to find people with warrants, as a bicyclist who has had several classes with cars due to drivers not stopping at the line (as well as a trip to the hospital with Aileen when it happened to her) and numerous close calls as a pedestrians (which would have been impacts if I were young, old, disabled, or just not paying attention) and will atheist that not fully stopping at intersections is actually a significant driving violation. Recall from the first paragraph, 6000 pedestrian hit and killed by drivers each year.

Somewhat ironically, the does offer space for the counter argument, quoting "The legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has written that racism in law enforcement, which he admits has “persisted for many decades of American life,” has “led to a tradition of black hostility to officialdom,” and “fostered a mode of conspiratorial thinking that outstrips reality""
But couples it with an ad hominum attack that this argument is made by "privileged white males" which of course automatically invalidates the suggestion.

The preexisting antagonism black males have for the police, the ways it manifests in police interactions, the ways in which it creates interactions that would never have happened and escalates what would otherwise be minor and brief tragic shots or mistakes identity cases is rarely so explicit, and rarely see openly admitted.
It's presence is constant, but it is normally difficult to quantify or explain. But Reed has a great job of showing the consequence of teaching the Narrative at a young age, the way it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

The second article's bias is relatively more subtle.
The findings are sound.

It's the phrasing of the questions themselves - and the questions left unasked, that make these kind of studies and articles part of the Narrative of Oppression which is so pervasive, and which contributes to the sort of self fulfilling prophecy which caused Ismael Reed to have more police interactions, and have those interactions be more negative, than the world have otherwise been.

Of course police officers are subject to the same biases as all human beings, because they are also human.
All Americans now the exact same implicit bias as is found in this study:
That article starts on by pointing out how making associations is entirely normal, and impossible to prevent
"Humans begin forming simple mental links in infancy: We learn to associate highchairs with mealtime, parents with comfort, and cribs with naps. Data streams at us from all directions—news reports, television shows, family chats, friendly gossip—and we absorb it all."
It would in fact be completely impossible to function in a complex world if we didn't take any form of mental shortcuts or make any assumptions.


However the reality is, when police are subjected to "shoot/ don't shoot" simulations and compared to the general public, police actually show less racial bias, as well as dramatically less tendency to shoot in general, most likely due to the amount of training they receive in similar scenarios.  All of us ordinary people, including black people and anti-racists and activists, would be more likely to mistake a Black man for a threat, and would be quicker to shoot, than police officers.
(Incidentally, I have done those trainings both for security jobs past and annually in the coast guard, they are pretty standard.)

" In 2009, Correll et al. conducted a ... study on shooter bias...  Like community members, police were slower to make correct decisions when faced with an unarmed black man or an armed white man. It is important to note, however, that the officers differed dramatically from civilians in terms of the decisions they ultimately made. Community members showed a clear tendency to favor the shoot response for black targets .... Police, however, showed no bias in their criteria. Moreover, they showed greater discriminability and a less trigger-happy orientation in general (i.e., for both black and white targets). When the target was white, all of the samples (police and civilian) ... set a relatively high criterion .... But when the target was black, the community set a significantly lower (more trigger-happy) criterion than officers. "


Instead of bothering to ask the all important question: "WHY do people make the particular connection between race and crime or threat?" every study, article, and commentary on the subject, (like the 2nd emailed article), and pretty much all contemporary writing on the subject, simply adopts the Narrative and assumes that the only possible explanation is racism learned from culture:
"Because many of the world’s sources of stimuli, especially television news reports, present Black people as criminals or threatening characters, our brains naturally begin to make an all-too-common connection"
That "because" has no references, no evidence, no explanation. We are expected to just take it as a given that it's the only possible explanation.  Both reader and writer both know that the conclusions are already known.  The entire point of the article is not to find new information or new ways of looking at anything, it is just to reaffirm what everyone already knows.


The most overtly and unashamedly racist people I've come across are, without exception, recent immigrants to the US.  They have broken English, and not a lot of money.  They end up in poor neighborhoods.  They come from countries without any black people.  They don't have particularly strong opinions or feelings about people with roots in Africa either way.  Until they have lived in a poor neighborhood for a few years.
They haven't had the countering forces of after-school specials and public service announcements and marches and rallies to tell them that they should make a deliberate point to be anti-racist, or that making generalities is bad.  All the context they have is what they see in front of them everyday.  They see more people with certain characteristics doing most of the drinking and smoking marijuana publicly, most of the obnoxiously loud music playing, most of the cat calling of women on the street, most of the drug sales and drug use in public.  They witness it first hand, and each individual person makes their own generalities, because that is something the human mind does.  It looks for patterns, and categorizes things, in order to facilitate navigating an infinitely complex world.  We are bad at formal statistics, but we have an internal set of intuitive statistics.


When we think about criminal justice in gender terms, no one questions why men make up 93% of the prison population.  You want to talk about disproportionate!  Men are only 50% of the population, yet make up 93% of inmates!   73% of those arrested are male.  Using the reasoning of every single article that comes out on race and the criminal justice system, this is proof of even more rampant and horrifying prejudice against men then there is against black people.  But nobody would for a moment actually think such a thing.  We don't hesitate to answer with the obvious answer in this case: men commit significantly more crime, and particularly more violent crime, than women do, so it stands to reason they would be arrested and incarcerated disproportionately.
But not so fast!
In fact, studies find that men receive, on average, 64% longer sentences for the same crime
64% is actually pretty significant, and most likely explains the gap between arrest rates and incarceration rates.  
Especially since the disparity that gets so much attention, between blacks and whites being sentenced for the same crime, is only 10-20% (depending on the study)


Stop reading a moment, and really reflect on this.   Seriously. 
The disparity in sentences for committing the same crime is over 3 to 6 times larger by gender than the same disparity by race.

The reasons nobody finds this an issue worth caring about or even noticing is twofold:

1) Having men be at a disadvantage in any context does not fit the Narrative of Oppression.
2) We all know, both from personal observation as well as statistics, that men are on average more violet, and more prone to commit crime, and because of that generality, it feels reasonable that men should be arrested more and be incarcerated more - so much so that even with the knowledge that statistically there is a disparity above and beyond the actual difference in offending rates, it just doesn't feel like a bias or a problem.

We also know, both from statistics, and (if you live around poor Black people) that Black people also do in fact commit more crime, and more violent crime, than white people.
Even according to The Sentencing Project, an organization whose entire reason for existence is to address the disparity in incarceration rates, 75-85% of the disparity is due to differences in offending rates.  

Police officers shoot and kill men 20 times more often than they shoot and kill women, approximately 40-50 women a year, vs nearly 1000 men.  Some of those 1000 men turn out not to have been armed.  Yet not a single study looks into, nor does any reporters even question, whether police suffer from implicit bias against men, if they are more likely to see a man as a threat, or as having a weapon.

Of course they do!  And the reason for that isn't because they learned to be biased against men from their family or friends or neighbors or the news or movies or social media.  Its because men, on average, really are more prone to violence, and human brains make generalizations.

The ONLY way we could get rid of that 64% bias in sentencing or the implicit bias that makes cops quicker to shoot at men than women in the exact same circumstances is if men stopped being dramatically more violent.

Yet somehow all these articles and studies come out in which it isn't even mentioned in passing as a possible contributing factor that people, both cop and civilian, have bias (both explicit and implicit) against black people because black people actually do, on average, commit disproportionately more crime. 

The one and only explanation is, has always been, and can only ever be, "racism", which apparently develops purely due to other people's racism, who control media and therefore everyone else's minds.

The only time black crime is even acknowledged is in the context of making excuses for it: the history of slavery and oppression, the conditions of poverty and violence, the labeling by teachers, the brutality of cops.

Apparently, white people, and only white people, have free will.  If nobody has free will, than that includes all the white politicians and cops and all the other racists.  Everyone has some conditions they were raised in that contributed to who they become as a person, and every action they take is based on their personal history, so no one can hold a racist cop accountable for his actions.  He is just a product of his environment.  
Either that, or, everyone is responsible for their actions, and having a shitty environment is in no way an excuse for unacceptable behavior.  


Obviously it is true that there are conscious explicit racists out there.  No one is seriously disputing that.  Some of them are in positions of power.  
According to all actual data, somewhere on the order of 75 to 90% of disparities throughout the criminal justice system, from arrests to incarceration as well as police shootings, are a direct result of behavioral choices of black people.  


The majority of the effects of bias are subconscious, the result of actions taken by people with implicit bias, and that implicit bias itself is an indirect result of people observing actual trends and making generalizations based on those trends.  In other words, implicit bias itself is an indirect result of the actions of black people.  

That leaves maybe 5%, give or take, of the disparity in criminal justice being caused by actual "racism" per say, the kind that is believed in and deliberate.


The problem with every single protest and activist and article and book and political proposal is every single one is focusing exclusively on that 5%, while pretending that the other 95% doesn't exist.

As a result, the best the movement can hope for is making things 5% better.  
Of course the push will result in better police policies and a shift in some people's attitudes (but not the consciously racist people).  

But the problem with the modern movement is not just that it fails to address (or even acknowledge) the 95% which makes up the vast majority of the problem, but that it actively exacerbates it.


The basic premise of every protest, every article, every proposal, can all be summarized as such:


1) 100% of bad things in the life of every black person is the direct result of the choices of white people.
2) White people, and only white people, have any control over anything
2a) This extends not only to circumstances, but also behavior.  White people are entirely responsible for the behavior of black people.
3) White people, as a result of unjustified biases, choose to make life bad for black people.  White people believe that black lives don't matter, and are filled with Hate.
4) If white people would just stop being filled with Hate, and realize that black lives do matter, then they would stop Oppressing black people.
5) If white people would just stop Oppressing black people, all problems faced by every black person in America would instantly go away, they would all join the upper 1%, and we would live in a (separate, but equal) utopia. 


Further embedded within that message is an implied subtext directed at black youth:


1) You are first and foremost defined by your skin color.  You are a black person before you are a citizen, or even a human.
2) White people, especially in any form of power, are prejudiced against you, and do not accept you
3) Cops are your mortal enemy, and are looking for any excuse to GET you
4) America both wants and expects you to fail.  It expects you to be poor and/or a criminal
5) There is nothing you can do about any of this - every bad thing that happens in your life is a result of factors outside your control, and are in fact perpetrated against you deliberately by white people.
6) Your own personal actions and choices are a product of the environment They have forced upon you, and are therefore justified and/or excusable.

The narrative of oppression teaches people that there is no point to trying to save money, or get a good education, or adhere to the "social contract", because no matter what you do, the Man, who has absolute power over everything, is going to stomp you down.
The one and only way you can influence your own life is to fight against the Man, whether that means protesting or violating the Man's laws. 

Either you can convince the white man to give you things, or you can take them form him by force, but he will never allow you to earn anything.


These are the messages we tell every young black person every time we discuss racial disparities, and every time we protest or editorialize.  And we do that constantly.  There are entire schools of thought on when and how to best teach that message to young children.

In absolutely any circumstances, no matter if it had any truth to it at all or not, if you raise a person where literally everyone around them is all telling them that same message constantly for their entire childhood, they will believe it, and internalize it.
"I am not a part of society, because society rejects me."
That is what makes it ok to engage in "antisocial" behavior, like the excessive stereo volume on public transit.  If you aren't a part of society, you can't be antisocial.  You don't have to feel bad about doing anything annoying, or even immoral, to white people, because they are the enemy.  There is no reason to do well in school, because for one thing the school is part of society and is biased and besides, even if you do well in school They aren't going to let you be successful.
And the very first time you encounter a cop, its a moment that you have been preparing for your entire life; no matter what the circumstances, no matter how the cop actually acts, your heart is racing because this is finally your first encounter with The Enemy, with those people whose only purpose for existing is to make life worse for you and everyone you care about.  For a male adolescent, raised in a culture where the fists make the man, that is an opportunity to prove yourself, to prove your manhood: "I might leave in a bodybag, but never in cuffs".

And in that way, the movement inspired by police shootings has the effect of indirectly causing more police shootings.


The modern civil rights movement makes small positive changes to small lingering problems, (like police bias and brutality) while at the same time supporting and reinforcing cultural segregation and fostering a deeply internalized collective "learned helplessness" on one generation after another.

Which in turn directly contributes to the individual choices and behaviors that is actually directly responsible for 95% of the inequalities that the movement is objecting to.


In contrast to the mainstream idea that only white people can fix all of black people's problems, I posit the opposite: that only black people can solve black people's problems.  

What is true for individuals is true for groups as well: you can not force people to change, you can not help someone who does not want to be helped.  Real change can only come from within.
Unfortunately, (just like with individuals) the tactic of blaming external factors exclusively for all problems has the effect of making the people who need to make a change feel powerless while directing all energy at some external enemy; which human nature is prone to do anyway, making a convenient excuse to take the easiest short term path - which inevitably leads to maintaining the status quo.

In other words, as long as we keep focusing on the 5% of disparities caused by white people's choices, there is little to no hope of making meaningful progress on the 95% of disparity that is within the control of black people.


If all white people disappeared tomorrow, the problems of black American's would continue exactly the same.  

If poor urban black people collectively adopted the tactics of recent immigrants, staying low profile, being frugal, and pushing education hard for their children, within just a couple generations, the majority f implicit bias in white Americans would fade away naturally, because the stereotypes those biases are caused by would stop being, statistically, true.


It was 250 years of slavery, followed by nearly a century of legal, formalized racism, followed by decades of subtle sneaky racism, that set up the conditions we see today.
But after nearly half a millennium, almost a dozen generations, of being rejected from mainstream society the culture of poor urban black people has internalized that status to the point where it doesn't take any external forces to maintain the status quo.  Too many have been born into a culture, and have accepted as a fundamental given, that mainstream society is the enemy, and are opposed to assimilation on principle.


What I find frustrating, distressing, and most of all just plain sad, is that the tactics used by the very people who most want to lift black people up are actually serving to reinforce and strengthen that mindset, which itself is the single biggest obstacle to progress.

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