“The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity”

Stephen Carter at Bloomberg suggests the secular Left doesn’t realize who it’s mocking. Key points:

  • Women are more likely than men to be Christian.
  • PoC are more likely than white people to be Christian, and particularly more likely to be Christian traditionalists.
  • White Christians are aging while Christians of color are youthening.
  • Among Latinos and Asians, Christians are overwhelmingly first generation immigrants.

Read the full article here.

The “Everyone is Racist” Quagmire

This is swamp in southern Louisiana. Technically a swamp is not a mire, but it turns out that pictures of actual mires are pretty, and that’s not what I’m going for. CC BY-SA 3.0

UPDATE: Although this post was published on August 24, 2017, it was written weeks ago. Notably, before Charlottesville. I’ll be writing a followup in light of recent events for the near future.

Despite the fact that overt, explicit racism is widely rejected and condemned within the United States, racially disparate outcomes remain endemic. One particular blatant example of this is the racially unequal justice system we have in this country. In super-short terms, blacks and whites use illegal drugs at about the same rates, but black people are more likely to be arrested, charged with more serious crimes, and serve longer sentences than whites.

Contemporary definitions of racism–of which there are basically two–attempt to explain why America continues to be a place with racially unfair outcomes even though overt racism has long since been marginalized. The first contemporary definition of racism is about systematic racism. According to this definition, prejudice is a feeling of animus against a person/people based on their race, discrimination is unequal treatment stemming from prejudice, and racism is an attribute of social systems and institutions where prejudice and discrimination have become ingrained. Accordingly, America can be a white supremacy without any white supremacists, because the overt prejudices of the past have been absorbed into our institutions (like the criminal justice system) and have taken on a life of their own. If the system is racially biased, then even racially unbiased people are not enough to get racial justice. It would be like playing a game with loaded dice. Even if the other players are 100% honest, their dice are still loaded, and so the outcome is still not fair. If you accuse them of cheating, they will be defensive because–in a sense–they are playing the game honestly. But as long as their dice are loaded (and yours are not), the game is still rigged.

Second, we have the idea of implicit racism. This is the idea that even people who really and sincerely believe that they are not racist may harbor unconscious racial prejudice. This is based on implicit-association tests and the theory that tribalism is basically hard-coded in human beings. These two findings–the empirical results of implicit-association tests and theories about the innateness of human tribalism–are not necessarily connected, but they come together in a phrase you’ve almost certainly heard by now: “everyone is racist.”

Thus, racial injustice can remain without overt racism because (in the case of systemic racism) racism is now located inside of institutions instead of inside of people and/or because (in the case of implicit racism) racism is now located inside people’s unconscious minds instead of their conscious minds.

So far, so good. Both of the new definitions (which are not mutually exclusive) provide promising avenues to understand ongoing racial disparity in the United States and seek to redress it. But this is where we run into a serious problem. As promising as these avenues might be, they certainly take us onto more ambiguous and complex territory than civil rights struggles of the past. The more overt racial injustice is, the simpler it is. Slavery and Jim Crow are not nuanced issues. But now we’re talking about how to fight racism in a world where nobody is racist anymore (at least not consciously). And just when things start to get tricky, the problem of perverse incentives rears its ugly head.

Perverse incentives are “incentives that [have] an unintended and undesirable result which is contrary to the interests of the incentive makers.” In the fight against racial injustice there are basically two kinds of perverse incentive: institution and personal.

Institutional perverse incentives arise whenever you have an institution with a mission statement to eliminate something. The problem is that if the institution ever truly succeeds then it is essentially committing suicide and everyone who works for that institution has to go find not only a new job, but a new calling and sense of identity.

If conspiracy theories are your thing, then it’s not hard to spin lots of them based on this insight. Instead of fighting poverty, maybe government agencies perpetuate poverty in order to enlarge their budgets, expand their workforces, and enhance their prestige. But you don’t have to go that far. In practice, it’s far more likely that an institution dedicated to ending something will have two simple characteristics. First, it will exaggerate the threat. Second, it will be studiously uninterested in finding truly effective policies to combat the threat.

An agency that does this will successfully satisfy the economic and psychological self-interest of the people who who work for it. Economically, the bigger the threat the bigger the institution to oppose it. This is true regardless of whether we’re talking about a government agency arguing for a bigger slide of taxpayer revenue or a non-profit appealing for donations. Psychologically, the bigger the threat the easier it is for the people who work in the institution to feel good about themselves and not think too hard about whether or not they are really picking the most effective tools to eliminate whatever they’re supposed to be eliminating. In short: institutions that oppose a thing will gradually come to be hysterical and ineffectual because that’s in the best interest of the people who run those institutions.

This may sound all very hypothetical, so let me give you a specific example: the Southern Poverty Law Center. Politico Magazine recently came out with a very long article titled Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way? which makes a lot of sense when you keep the perils of perverse institutional incentives in mind as you’re reading it.  The article points out that the SPLC has “built itself into a civil rights behemoth with a glossy headquarters and a nine-figure endowment, inviting charges that it oversells the threats posed by Klansmen and neo-Nazis to keep donations flowing in from wealthy liberals.” It also notes that the election of Trump–while ostensibly bad for anti-racism efforts in the US–is unquestionably great for the SPLC, “giving the group the kind of potent foil it hasn’t had since the Klan.” So no, this isn’t just hypothetical theorizing. It’s what is happening already, to one of America’s most legendary anti-racism institutions.

The second set of perverse incentives are personal and basically class-based. Both the systematic and implicit definitions of racism evolved on elite college campuses, and the anti-racist theories that are based on these definitions are correspondingly unlikely to successfully reflect the interests and concerns of the genuinely underprivileged. They may be about the underprivileged, but they are adapted to–and serve the interests of–elites.

Consider first the case of a hypothetical young black man with a solidly middle- or upper-class background. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. observed that “the most ironic outcome of the Civil Rights movement has been the creation of a new black middle class which is increasingly separate from the black underclass,” and a 2007 PEW found that nearly 40 percent of blacks felt that “a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks” which meant that “blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.” Thus, this young man faces a sense of double alienation: alienation from lower-class blacks and alienation from upper-class whites. Placing emphasis exclusively on the racial component of social analysis obscures the gulf between lower- and upper-class blacks and offers a sense of racial solidarity and wholeness. At the same time, it denies the actual privilege enjoyed by this person (after all, his neighborhood is not crime ridden and his schools are high-functioning) and therefore eases any sense of conflict or guilt at his comparative fortune.

The case is simpler for a hypothetical young white man with a privileged background, but (since this person enjoys even more advantages) the need for some kind of absolution is even more acute. Propounding the new definitions of racism allows low-cost access to that absolution. For an example of how this works, consider how the hilarious blog-turned-book Stuff White People Like discussed white people’s love of “Awareness.” Stuff White People Like notes that “an interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness.” Meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, and then magically someone else like the government will fix it.” The entry goes on: “This belief allows them to feel that sweet self-satisfaction without actually having to solve anything or face any difficult challenges.” Finally:

What makes this even more appealing for white people is that you can raise “awareness” through expensive dinners, parties, marathons, selling t-shirts, fashion shows, concerts, eating at restaurants and bracelets.  In other words, white people just have to keep doing stuff they like, EXCEPT now they can feel better about making a difference.

The apotheosis of this awareness-raising fad is the ritual of “privilege-checking” in which whites, men, heterosexuals, and the cisgendered publicly acknowledge their privilege for the sake of feeling good about publicly acknowledging their privilege. In biting commentary for the Daily Beast, John McWhorter noted that:

The White Privilege 101 course seems almost designed to turn black people’s minds from what political activism actually entails. For example, it’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in there being adequate public transportation from their neighborhood to where they need to work than that white people attend encounter group sessions where they learn how lucky they are to have cars. It’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in whether their kids learn anything at their school than whether white people are reminded that their kids probably go to a better school.

So we’re at a time when the complexity of racial injustice in the United States calls for new and nuanced definitions and theories of racism at precisely the time when–due to the past successes–the temptation to exaggerate racism and ignore effective anti-racism policies is also rising. The result? You might have a Facebook friend who will pontificate about how “everyone is racist” one day, and then post an image like this one the next:

So, you know, “we’re all racist” and also “if you’re racist, you deserve to die.” No mixed messages there, or anything.

Speaking of implicit bias, by the way, the actual results of Project Implicit’s testing are that nearly a third of white people have no racial preference or even a bias in favor of blacks. Once again, this doesn’t prove that racial justice has arrived and we can all go home. That’s absolutely not my point. It’s just another illustration that simplistic narratives about white supremacy don’t work as well in a post-slavery, post-Jim Crow world. The serious problems that remain are not as brutally self-evident as white people explicitly stating that the white race is superior.

Just to toss another complicating factor out there, researchers compared implicit bias to actual outcomes in undergraduate college admissions and found that despite the presence of anti-black implicit bias, the actual results of the admission process were skewed in favor of blacks rather than against them:

When making multiple admissions decisions for an academic honor society, participants from undergraduate and online samples had a more relaxed acceptance criterion for Black than White candidates, even though participants possessed implicit and explicit preferences for Whites over Blacks. This pro-Black criterion bias persisted among subsamples that wanted to be unbiased and believed they were unbiased. It also persisted even when participants were given warning of the bias or incentives to perform accurately.

If implicit bias can coexist with outcomes that are biased in the opposite direction, then what exactly are we measuring when we measure implicit bias, anyway?

I believe that both of the new definitions of racism have merit. The idea that institutional inertia can perpetuate racist outcomes long after the original racial animus has disappeared is reasonable theoretically and certainly seems to explain (in part, at least) the racially unequal outcomes in our criminal justice system. The idea that people divide into tribes and treat the outgroup more poorly–and that racial categories make for particularly potent tribal groups–is equally compelling. But the temptation to over-simplify, exagerate, and then coopt racial analysis for institutional and personal benefit is a genuine threat. As long as it’s possible to cash-in on anti-racism–financially and politically–then our progress towards racial justice will be impeded.

I am, generally speaking, a conservative. I don’t, by and large, share the worldview or policy proscriptions of those on the American left. But I do care about racial justice in the United States. I believe that the current discussion–or lack therefore–is significantly hampered by the temptation to profit from it. And I figure hey: maybe by speaking up I can contribute in a small way to shifting the conversation on race away from the left-right political axis and all the toxicity and perverse incentives that come with it.

White women and Trump.

Photo from “9 Women on Why They’re (Still) Voting for Trump,” New York Magazine

53% of white women voted for Trump.

In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.

My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.

But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.

So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?


Maybe it was bigotry.

Predictably, some of my leftist friends think the missing puzzle pieces are racism and (internalized) sexism. I’ve seen repostings of LV Anderson’s piece at Slate (“White Women Sold Out the Sisterhood and the World by Voting for Trump”), which is filled with explanations like this:

What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.

While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.

But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.


Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.

How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.

It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!

But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.

Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.

But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.


CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:

Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.

On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.

Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.

If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.


Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.

There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.

2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.

So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.

Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver
Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver

2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.

Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.

Yeah, okay.
Yeah, okay.

Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.


Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made up stories of hate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).

I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actual bigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:

[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

Kirsten Powers explained the same idea in terms of misogyny:

After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.

I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.

Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.

2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.

Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.

Keep lecturing people about what they don’t care about while showing no understanding of what they do care about. That’s been so effective so far.

Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.

Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?

If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.


Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.

I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.

Article after article about the parts of the nation that went wholeheartedly for Trump (including many counties that had previously voted for Obama twice) describe recurring themes of economic and cultural despair, resentment at being derided by the rest of us, and the way economic and racial anxiety intertwine. (Here’s one or two more.)

Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.


Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.

A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.

So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.

The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.

3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.

Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S.  Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.

It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)

While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.

Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.

A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.

3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.

But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.

And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.

If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.

3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.

But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”

Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?

And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:

Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!

And repeat.

In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.


“You’re Racist!”: How (Not) to Change Someone’s Mind

Both before and after the election results, Trump’s supporters were lambasted as racist, misogynist bigots. But do these insults work? Will shaming change anyone’s mind? If not, how do you convince people to drop their prejudices? As Vox reports: “a frank, brief conversation.”

[A 2016] study, authored by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley, looked at how simple conversations can help combat anti-transgender attitudes. In the research, people canvassed the homes of more than 500 voters in South Florida. The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.

It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.

…In talking with researchers and looking at the studies on this, I found that it is possible to reduce people’s racial anxiety and prejudices. And the canvassing idea was regarded as very promising. But, researchers cautioned, the process of reducing people’s racism will take time and, crucially, empathy.

This is the direct opposite of the kind of culture the internet has fostered — typically focused on calling out racists and shaming them in public. This doesn’t work. And as much as it might seem like a lost cause to understand the perspectives of people who may qualify as racist, understanding where they come from is a needed step to being able to speak to them in a way that will help reduce the racial biases they hold.

Image result for you're racist gifIt turns out that favorite buzzwords and phrases like “racist,” “white privilege,” and “implicit bias” are often seen by these voters “as coded slurs. These terms don’t signal to them that they’re doing something wrong, but that their supposedly racist attitudes (which they would deny having at all) are a justification for lawmakers and other elites to ignore their problems…What’s more, accusations of racism can cause white Americans to become incredibly defensive — to the point that they might reinforce white supremacy. Robin DiAngelo, who studies race at Westfield State University, described this phenomenon as “white fragility” in a groundbreaking 2011 paper[…]The innate resistance and defensiveness to conversations about bigotry don’t mean that you should never talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, or other kinds of hate. But those conversations may have to be held more tactfully — positioning people into a more receptive position to hear what these problems are all about.”

The entire piece is worth reading.

Victimhood Culture Metastasizes


One of the most important papers for understanding the political climate we live in is “Microaggression and Moral Cultures” by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning.

In the article, Campbell and Manning explore three stages in the evolution of moral culture:

  • Honor culture
  • Dignity culture
  • Victimhood culture

The essence of honor culture is reputation. That is because–in a society without a strong, centralized authority–the best defense against predation is a reputation for drastic overreaction. If people believe you will overreact to any provocation, they are less likely to provoke you. Unfortunately, when everybody is trying to build a reputation for toughness and overreaction at the same time, “people are verbally aggressive and quick to insult other.” This causes damage to reputation, and so we have “a high frequency of violent conflict as participants in the culture aggressively compete for respect.”

When strong, formal authorities begin to emerge, the logic of the honor culture dissipates. If someone insults you and you react by physically assaulting them, then–in the presence of a strong authority–you’re going to end up getting punished more harshly than they are. When there is a legitimate criminal justice system to handle major offenses, the best response to a minor offense is to simply ignore it. As a result, reputation is not as important in dignity cultures. In an honor culture, appealing to an outside authority is a sign of weakness. In a dignity culture, failing to appeal to an outside authority is taking the law into your own hands.

The transition from an honor culture to a dignity culture is vitally important, because a dignity culture has a much greater capacity for pluralism. Free speech is more than a legal framework or a constitutional right, it’s also a tradition. In a dignity culture, where having a thick skin is encouraged, that tradition can flourish because minor conflicts and disagreements don’t carry the risk of exploding into open hostility and violence.

Victimhood culture is an outgrowth of dignity culture that combines the worst of honor and dignity cultures. It is “characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties.” The “sensitivity to slight” comes straight from honor culture, and the “heavy reliance on third parties” comes straight from dignity culture. The basic idea of victimhood culture is to manipulate third parties to intervene in a dispute on your side by appearing to be the victim.

The bigger the apparent injustice, the greater the chance of persuading a third party to take your side and the more drastic the action you can convince them to take on your behalf. Victimhood culture, then, is fundamentally about manufacturing and maintaining the highest degree of apparent victimhood. As Campbell and Manning point out, one simple way to achieve this is through the use of outright hoaxes and “hate crime hoaxes are common on college campuses.”

The gold standard in victim culture, however, is the microagrresion. Microaggressions are essentially a form of bundling. First, you bundle individual instances of minor offenses into larger patterns. Second, you bundle individual people (victims and perpetrators alike) into larger cohorts. By using this approach, an isolated and incidental comment from one individual to another becomes a symptom of systematic oppression of one entire category of people by another category. These forms of bundling are important, as we will see at the end, because they forge a link between victimhood culture and identity politics.

According to Campbell and Manning, one of the results of the rise of victimhood culture is a “clash between competing moral systems” as dignity culture and victimhood culture come into conflict. This is certainly true. Progressive social justice theories like Critical Race Theory “[reject] the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy,” which are the heritage of dignity culture. There is no doubt that victimhood culture–championed by progressive social justice ideology–is incompatible with dignity culture.

This is why so much of the push-back against second-wave political correctness has been bipartisan. There are plenty on the left of American politics who still cling to old-fashioned notions of liberalism like freedom of expression, the marketplace of ideas, and the dignity of individuals. Aligned with conservatives who share these concerns, they form a bipartisan coalition that is engaged in the conflict Campbell and Manning predicted: dignity culture attempting to hold off the insurgent victimhood culture.

But there is another conflict going on as well. The most vociferous push-back against progressive social justice ideology (and ostensibly the victimhood culture it embraces) comes from the alt-right. What is notable about this push-back, however, is that instead of genuinely objecting to victimhood culture, the alt-right has embraced a re-branded version of it. The best example of this is the most obvious: Donald Trump’s promise to “make America great again” and his obvious appeal to white grievance.

Just as with the progressive social justice movement, Trump’s appeal works because it has enough truth in it to give it the feel of veracity. One of the best explanation of this comes (believe it or not) from a Cracked article: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind. The article (which includes lots of non-censored swearing) does a fantastic job of outlining the legitimate grievance of white, rural America.

Which leads me to an essential side-note: it is possible for the world to simultaneously get worse for both the minorities that liberals care about (black, Hispanic, women, and LBTQ Americans) and the group that Trump and the alt-right appeal to (rural, white Americans). I recently had simultaneous stories in my Facebook feed about white highschoolers putting a noose around a black student’s neck and another about how Berkeley students barricade bridge, force whites to cross creek. These two stories neither cancel out nor justify each other.

One of the things that contemporary theories of racism as systematized prejudice and discrimination fail to appreciate is that in the United States there is more than one system. The legacies of systemic oppression of racial minorities are absolutely still in place. My review of The New Jim Crow should leave no doubt about where I stand on that. But the existence of systematized anti-black discrimination in the criminal justice system does not obviate, cancel out, or justify the creation of anti-white (usually: anti-poor-rural-conservative-white) discrimination in other systems, like academia in general or social psychology in particular.

So this is where we stand: in the battle of victimhood culture against dignity culture, Trump and the alt-right are not fighting against the so-called social justice warriors. They are–with their grievance-based, identity-centric campaigns–quite literally part of the problem. They are fighting fire-with-fire while the whole world burns down.

Along these lines, David Marcus’s recent Federalist piece (How Anti-White Rhetoric is Fueling White Nationalism) is a must-read. In it, Marcus attacks another prong of the progressive social justice approach to race, writing that a shift to emphasizing privilege amounts to “ask[ing] white people to be more tribal” and is even “abetting white supremacy.” Marcus points out that the number of active Ku Klux Klan chapters more than doubled (from 72 to 190) just between 2014 and 2015, and argues that “one of the key components of this racism is the almost-daily parade of silly micro-aggressions and triggers.” He adds:

Young white men, reacting to social and educational constructs that paint them as the embodiment of historical evil, are fertile ground for white supremacists. They are very aware of the dichotomy between non-white culture, which must be valued at all times (even in the midst of terror attacks), and white culture, which must be criticized and devalued. They don’t like it.

It may seem like a stretch to draw parallels between ill-advised anti-racism efforts and the alt-right (let alone the KKK), but here’s a headline that might give you pause: Cal State LA offers segregated housing for black students. According to the article, the decision came after the Black Student Union cited “microaggressions” as part of their call for “housing space delegated for Black students.”

Journalism student Aeman Ansari recently made a similar case in the Huffington Post, justifying the expulsion of student journalists from an event because those journalists were white and arguing that safe spaces are different because “segregation was imposed on people of colour by people of privilege, not the other way around.” That’s a legitimate difference, but it doesn’t erase this fact that the two groups of people in America who think whites and blacks should not mix are the KKK and progressive social justice activists. The different terminology–safe space vs. segregated space–and the differing power dynamics can’t efface the fact that both of them have the goal of racial separation.

It is a genuine tragedy that–after such great (albeit incomplete) progress towards racial equality in this country–we are now seeing a resurgence of the kind of hardcore, strident racism that has not been prevalent for decades. But this is where we are today.

Victimhood culture, as Campbell and Manning note, originated with the political left because “the narrative of oppression and victimization is especially congenial to a leftist worldview.” However, there is nothing about the tactics of victimhood culture that dictate it must remain exclusively an artifact of the left, and it has not. “Naturally,” Campbell and Manning observe, “whenever victimhood…. confers status, all sorts of people will want to claim it.” White identity politics is a natural and inevitable response to minority identity politics, and it follows basically the same playbook.

So, while victimhood culture was initially created by left-wing activists in college campuses, it has metastasized and spread throughout American society. Because it is such an effective political weapon, it is has proved irresistable to many of the folks who originally set out to destroy it. Based on grievances both real and imaginary, the alt-right has embraced the logic and tactics of victimhood culture. Because victimhood culture is fueled by identity politics and tribalism, the rise in the co-option of victimhood culture by the alt-right necessarily entails a reawakening of old-school racism the likes of which we have not seen openly promulgated for decades, if not more.

I agree with the solution that Marcus proposes, and it’s a solution that applies not only to the resurgence of racism in the US but to the broader problems plaguing our society. He writes that “our anti-racism efforts must be refocused away from guilt and confession and towards equality and eradicating irrational judgments based on race…we must return to the goal of treating people as individuals, not as representatives of their race.”

I would only add that this vision could be expanded even farther: we must treat people as individuals, not as representative of their race, gender, political party, or any other kind of identity-tribe.


Discrimination and Firm Performance

Image result for politically incorrect guide to capitalismIf an employer has an opening that pays $50,000 in salary, and the Christian applicant will bring in $51,000 in extra revenue to the firm while the Muslim applicant will bring in $55,000, then to discriminate against the creed of the latter will cost the employer $4,000 in potential profits…No government inspector or watchdog agency is required: by definition, discrimination is automatically “fined” in the free market. In addition, not only does the market catch discrimination whenever it occurs, but the amount of the “fine” is also exactly proportional to the severity of the discrimination…In short, employers are free to discriminate in the free market, but this discrimination certainly isn’t free.

– Robert Murphy, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, pg. 31.

It turns out there is good evidence for this theory. As economist Alex Tabarrok reports at Marginal Revolution,

A nice test of the theory can be found in a paper just published in Sociological Science, Are Business Firms that Discriminate More Likely to Go Out of Business? The author, Devah Pager, is a pioneer in using field experiments to study discrimination. In 2004, she and co-authors, Bruce Western and Bart Bonikowski, ran an audit study on discrimination in New York using job applicants with similar resumes but different races and they found significant discrimination in callbacks. Now Pager has gone back to that data and asks what happened to those firms by 2010? She finds that 36% of the firms that discriminated failed but only 17% of the non-discriminatory firms failed.

The sample is small but the results are statistically significant and they continue to hold controlling for size, sales, and industry.


So don’t discriminate. Not only is it unethical, it’s bad for business. But if you do, I hope you go out of business.

Racial Bias & Policing: A Rundown of the Data

With protests in Charlotte and the shooter of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa being charged with manslaughter, the question of systemic racism and #BlackLivesMatter has risen again. The following is meant to be a helpful list of relevant data regarding the current state of police force and racial bias:

  • The Rarity of Force: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, it is “[k]nown with substantial confidence…that police use force infrequently. The data indicate that a small percentage of police-public encounters involve force. For example, about 1 percent of people who had face-to-face contacts with police said that officers used or threatened force, according to preliminary estimates based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 1996 pretest of its Police-Public Contact Survey…In 7,512 adult custody arrests, another study…notes that fewer than one out of five arrests involved police use of physical force (defined as use of any weapon, use of any weaponless tactic, or use of severe restraints). That can be considered a low rate in view of the study’s broad definition of force” (pg. vii). By highlighting this first, “the intention is neither to minimize the problem nor to suggest that the issue can be dismissed as unworthy of serious attention. Society’s ends are best achieved peaceably, and we should strive to minimize the use of force by police as much as possible. However, it is important to put police use of force in context in order to understand the potential magnitude of use-of-force problems. Although estimates may not completely reassure everyone that police are doing everything they can to minimize the use of force, the data do not support the notion that we have a national epidemic of police violence” (pg. 3). In summary, the vast majority of civilian/police interactions involve no violence whatsoever.
  • Increase in Police Shootings: However, the above study was done in 1999. Both private and federal data since then suggest that the use of lethal force by police is increasing (see the graph below). Nonetheless, even with upticks in killings by police, the use of lethal force would still be exceedingly rare.

  • Lack of Prosecution: Very few officers have been prosecuted for fatal shootings since 2005 according to a 2015 analysis by The Washington Post. This could very well be for good reasons, but the point is that it is rare for an officer to face prosecution.
  • Police Officers Are Safer: Murders, assaults, and shootings of police officers have thankfully declined over the last few decades (for example, see the graph on assaults and injuries below). We should want to keep it that way.

  • Unreliable Data: Unfortunately, the data on use of force by police aren’t very helpful. Reporting on a 2013 survey conducted by the Justice Department, The New York Times stated, “But when the data was issued…the figures turned out to be almost useless. Nearly all departments said they kept track of their shootings, but in accounting for all uses of force, the figures varied widely. Some cities included episodes in which officers punched suspects or threw them to the ground. Others did not. Some counted the use of less lethal weapons, such as beanbag guns. Others did not. And many departments, including large ones such as those in New York, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit, either said they did not know how many times their officers had used force or simply refused to say. That made any meaningful analysis of the data impossible.” USA Today found similar problems. For example, University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker said that the uptick in police shootings could simply be due to more departments reporting. The Washington Post‘s Radley Balko summarizes, “The point is, it’s nearly impossible to know all the details behind all of these shootings. We have to rely on reports filed by the officers themselves. We know more details about these particular cases because an attorney or a journalist took the time to investigate, file open records requests, and look beyond the police reports and press accounts (which, less face it, too often are too reliant on the police reports).”
  • Individual Racism: Rhetoric from critics of police sometimes gives the impression that police shootings of blacks stem from individual racism. According to a 2015 survey, 12.2% of all U.S. local police officers are black. Interestingly enough, one study found that black officers are 3.3 times more likely to discharge their weapon than white officers on the scene of the same incident. A 2015 study of the Philadelphia Police Department by the U.S. Justice Department found that black officers had a threat perception failure (TPF) rate of 11.4% with black suspects, while white officers’ TPF rate was only 6.8% with black suspects (see pg. 32). A Washington State University study found that “[p]articipants were…more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than black or Hispanic ones and more likely to fail to fire at armed black suspects. “In other words,” wrote [Lois] James and her co-authors, “there was significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were concerned.” When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 240-millisecond difference may seem small, but it’s enough to be fatal in a shooting.” The reason may be “rooted in people’s concerns about the social and legal consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed racial or ethnic group.” The case for individual racism in a general sense is hard to make.
  • Systemic Racism: However, criticism from groups like Black Lives Matter and others are not so much focused on individual racism as they are on systemic racism. The claim is not that cops are individually racist (“some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses“), but that the system in which they operate is biased against vulnerable black communities. For example, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander details how the War on Drugs disparately impacts black and poor communities more than white and prosperous ones. Blacks are far more likely to be charged with and convicted of drug crimes, yet blacks use drugs at roughly the same rates as whites while being less likely to sell. While this doesn’t address violent crimes–of which blacks commit a disproportionate amount–it’s worth noting that drug crimes “have been the predominant reason for new admissions into state and federal prisons in recent decades.” Nathaniel has an excellent review here, which covers the book’s claims regarding racially-disparate stops, arrests, convictions, and consequences that come with the scarlet-F of a felony conviction.
  • Black-on-Black Crime: This is a largely irrelevant talking point. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93% of black murder victims were killed by other blacks between 1980 and 2008. Similarly, 84% of white murder victims were killed by other whites (pg. 13; see graph below). In other words, most violent crime is intraracial. Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that–between 2008 and 2012–those “in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000).” It turns out that “[p]oor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000).” Between 2007 and 2011, the black poverty rate was 25.8 percent, while the white poverty rate was 11.6 percent. In short, poor whites and blacks commit violent crimes at about the same rate. There are just more poor blacks than poor whites. And considering that there is strong empirical support for poverty as a predictor of crime, lifting communities out of poverty may be one of the best crime prevention programs.

Image result for Homicides, by race of offender and victim, 1980–2008

  • Stops, Searches, Arrests: Numerous studies find that blacks are stopped and searched at far higher rates than whites. A July 2016 report on police practices in San Francisco found that statistics “suggest there are racial disparities regarding SFPD stops, searches, and arrests, particularly for Black people.” Black adults were 7 times more likely to be arrested than whites along with having higher rates of searches without consent after stops and lower hit rates (i.e., rate at which searches turn up contraband). The Justice Department’s 2015 investigation into Ferguson police behavior found that “African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search” (pg. 4). A 2016 study of Chicago PD found that “black and Hispanic drivers were searched approximately four times as often as white drivers, yet CPD’s own data show that contraband was found on white drivers twice as often as black and Hispanic drivers” (pg. 9). A 2014 ACLU analysis of Illinois Department of Transportation data found that “African American and Latino drivers are nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be asked during a routine traffic stop for ‘consent’ to have their car searched. Yet white motorists are 49% more likely than African American motorists to have contraband discovered during a consent search by law enforcement, and 56% more likely when compared to Latinos.” A New York Times analysis found that officers in Greensboro, N.C. were “were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance.” A 2016 Justice Department investigation of Baltimore PD found that “BPD engages in a pattern or practice of making stops, searches, and arrests in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Section 14141. BPD frequently makes investigative stops without reasonable suspicion of people who are lawfully present on Baltimore streets. During stops, officers commonly conduct weapons frisks—or more invasive searches— despite lacking reasonable suspicion that the subject of the search is armed. These practices escalate street encounters and contribute to officers making arrests without probable cause, 36 often for discretionary misdemeanor offenses like disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, loitering, trespassing, and failure to obey” (pg. 24). It also found that “BPD disproportionately stops African Americans standing, walking, or driving on Baltimore streets. The Department’s data on all pedestrian stops from January 2010 to June 2015 shows that African Americans account for 84 percent of stops55 despite comprising only 63 percent of the City’s population. Expressed differently, BPD officers made 520 stops for every 1,000 black residents in Baltimore, but only 180 stops for every 1,000 Caucasian residents. The high rate of stopping African Americans persists across the City, even in districts where African Americans make up a small share of the population. Indeed, the proportion of African-American stops exceeds the share of African-American population in each of BPD’s nine police districts, despite significant variation in the districts’ racial, socioeconomic, and geographic composition” (pg. 48-49). This was true for traffic stops as well: “BPD likewise stops African-American drivers at disproportionate rates. From 2010–2015, African Americans made up 82 percent of people stopped by BPD officers for traffic violations, compared to only 60 percent of the City’s driving age population. As with pedestrian stops, BPD stopped a higher rate of African American drivers in each of the City’s districts, despite large differences in those districts’ demographic profiles and traffic patterns. For example, African Americans accounted for 80 percent of vehicle stops in the Northern District despite making up only 41 percent of the district’s population, and made up 56 percent of stops in the Southeast District compared to only 23 percent of the population living there” (pg. 52). And yet, BPD hit rate data “suggests that officers’ search decisions are biased against African Americans. Indeed, BPD’s data on all stops from 2010–2015 shows that searches of African Americans have significantly lower hit rates than other searches. During vehicle stops, BPD officers reported finding some type of contraband less than half as often when searching African Americans—in only 3.9 percent of searches of African Americans, compared to 8.5 percent of other searches” (pg. 53). A 2011 Justice Department report found, in 2008, that whites, blacks, and Hispanics were stopped at about the same rate, yet blacks were searched about 3 times more than whites (pg. 10). A 2016 study of North Carolina’s database found “that black drivers (men and women) are 75% more likely to be searched than whites, 5% less likely to be ticketed, and 43% more likely to be arrested…In 2002, black men were 70% more likely to be searched than whites and this disparity has grown steadily over the period of study. Beginning in 2007, black men were twice as likely to be searched and by 2013 this difference had grown to over 140%. Black men are also more likely to be arrested; however, this disparity has remained stable at about a 60% increased likelihood. We also see that black men are marginally less likely to receive citations and there is almost no variance; NC police are highly consistent over time in their relative treatment of whites and black men when it comes to ticketing…Compared to white men, black men are more likely to be searched and arrested for every type of stop, with the exception of driving while impaired” (pg. 10). According to the database, “[i]n 2002, officers were almost 125% more likely to search black men than white men using a probable cause search. By 2013, officers were almost 250% more likely to use probable cause as a justification for searching blacks – essentially doubling the disparity in the use of probable cause searches. Tracking the contraband hit rate associated with this type of search reveals that officers’ suspicions of wrongdoing have always been less accurate when engaging with black motorists; officers consistently find contraband on black males at modestly lower rates than white males. So the increased reliance on probable cause to search blacks is not associated with more accurate assessments of the likelihood of blacks engaging in criminal behavior. And the increased racial disparities in probable cause searches over time appear to be unjustified in terms of any increased likelihood of finding contraband” (pg. 13).
  • Driving Patterns and Traffic Violations: Are there alternative reasons for these stops besides racial bias and is there any evidence for them? The National Institute of Justice finds three potential reasons that blacks are pulled over at higher rates based on various studies: (1) “The representation of minority drivers among those stopped could differ greatly from their representation in the residential census. Naturally those driving on the road, particularly major thoroughfares, could differ from those who live in the neighborhood”; (2) “If minority drivers tend to drive in communities where there are more police patrols then the police will be more likely to notice any infractions the black drivers commit”; (3) Seatbelt usage is chronically lower among black drivers. If a law enforcement agency aggressively enforces seatbelt violations, police will stop more black drivers.” As a Washington Post article concludes, “Ethics aside, this is where the research leaves us: Black drivers certainly get more face-time with traffic cops. But to what extent that reflects discrimination, and whether that discrimination is based in racial prejudice, is more of an open question.”
  • Unarmed Shootings: A 2015 study found “the median probability across counties of being {black, unarmed, and shot by police} is 3.49 (PCI95: 1.77, 6.04) times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police}.” However, some are hesitant to declare racial bias due to the amount of violent crimes in black communities. Blacks are more likely to be stopped and therefore more likely to end up in a violent conflict with police due to heavier policing of these crime-ridden areas. Yet, the evidence seems to be against this line of reasoning. The study found “no evidence of an association between black-specific crime rates (neither in assault-related arrests nor in weapons-related arrests) and racial bias in police shootings, irrespective of whether or not other controls were included in the model. As such, the results of this study provide no empirical support for the idea that racial bias in police shootings (in the time period, 2011–2014, described in this study) is driven by race-specific crime rates (at least as measured by the proxies of assault- and weapons-related arrest rates in 2012).” Similarly, another 2015 analysis found that the levels of violent crime in US cities had no correlation with that area’s police killing rates. However, just because one is unarmed does not make one a non-threat or the intended target. Some unarmed shooting victims attempt to wrestle the officer’s gun away from them, while others are unfortunate and unintended collateral damage (e.g., caught in crossfire). How threatening blacks are–armed or unarmed–is one variable controlled for in a new study analyzing The Washington Post‘s 2015 database. The study “used multivariate regression models to determine whether the findings were attributable to race or another factor and found that, among the 990 civilians fatally shot by the police last year, black civilians were more than twice as likely as white civilians to have been unarmed. This was true after controlling for threat level, the age and gender of the civilian, signs of mental illness, region of the United States, crime rate according to 2012 UCR data, size of the agency involved, and whether or not the agency operates its own basic training academy. In fact, the only other variable that was significant was, not surprisingly, threat level (meaning civilians in the “attack” category were far less likely to have been unarmed). In regards to the relationship between race and threat level, the data indicate that black civilians were not significantly more or less likely to have been attacking the police officer(s) or others than white civilians. However, Hispanic or Latino civilians and civilians from other minority groups were much less likely to have been attacking the police officers or others than white civilians. Again, these results held up after controlling for the influence of each of the other variables” (italics mine). However, it is paramount to note that the study found that the “majority of civilians shot and killed by the police in 2015 were male (96 percent), armed with a deadly weapon (82 percent), and attacking police officers or others (74 percent). Half of the civilians were white (50 percent). About one out of every four civilians fatally shot by police displayed signs of mental illness.” While bias in shootings is an extremely important issue and should be investigated, it is absolutely essential to remember that the majority of police shootings are due to legitimate threats. These are the kinds of incidents that provoke the #BlueLivesMatter counter. It is also worth acknowledging Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s recent study, which found no racial bias in police shootings across 10 major police departments in Texas, California, and Florida (check out The New York Times write-up and follow-up). However, there have been significant criticisms of Fryer’s study.
  • Non-Lethal Force: Yet, Fryer’s study also found that officers were far more likely to use non-lethal force on blacks than whites, including hands on civilians (e.g., slapping or grabbing), pushing into a wall, use of handcuffs, drawing weapons, pushing to the ground, pointing weapon, pepper spraying, and striking with a baton (see graph below). A July 2016 study found that the mean rate of use-of-force incidents “for Black residents was 273 per 100,000, which is 2.5 times as high as the overall rate and 3.6 times as high as the rate for White residents (76 per 100,000)” (pg. 15). It also concluded “that crime rates are an insufficient explanation for disparities in the application of police force” (pg. 18).

This material doesn’t even get into post-arrest injustices like harsher sentences for blacks or historical issues like redlining, but I think this list is a good starter. As you wade into the controversies and debates, try to be as accurate as possible. Know the numbers. Be rigorous. Be willing to admit it when the evidence doesn’t favor “your side.” Most of all, be charitable towards one another. These are people’s lives, both black and blue. We want a system that is just and serves all members of society fairly. And we want officers coming home safely to their families at the end of the day.

Image result for free hugs police

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Let me start out by saying upfront: this book rocked my world a little bit. As any readers of Difficult Run will probably know by now, I’m extremely critical of contemporary social justice activism. I try not to use the pejorative term “social justice warrior” these days, but you’ll recognize the notion by buzzwords like “trigger warning” or “microaggression.” And so when I picked up Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, it was with a side of skepticism.

On the other hand, being a Christian means taking issues of social justice seriously. Of course, what I have in mind when I say “social justice” might not line up very well with the social justice movement as it exists today, but there’s no escaping the simple reality that both Old Testament prophets and the New Testament teachings of Christ are often most pointed on precisely the topic of justice in society.

“The Lord standeth up to plead,” wrote Isaiah, “and standeth to judge the people.” And what was God’s condemnation? “What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor?” And in one of Jesus’s most powerful parables, he taught that visiting prisoners was a service to God, saying, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” And then, lest there be any confusion, he also stated that, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

So, a book about oppressing vulnerable people by imprisonment? My skepticism was on hand, but my mind was also open. This is important stuff, and I wanted to hear what Alexander had to say.

I’ll get right down to it: on her primary argument, she has me convinced. And this is her primary argument: although the War on Drugs is ostensibly race-neutral, it systematically impacts black and poor Americans to the detriment of their communities while scrupulously avoiding the same kinds of impacts on white and prosperous Americans.

The first component of that argument, that the War on Drugs has a racially disparate impact, is based on a central fact: whites and blacks commit drug crimes at roughly comparable rates, but blacks are far more likely to be charged and convicted of crimes. Here is how that plays out in practice. First, Alexander notes that:

It is impossible for law enforcement to identify and arrest every drug criminal. Strategic choices must be made about whom to target and what tactics to employ. Police and prosecutors did not declare the War on Drugs, and some initially opposed it, but once the financial incentives for waging the war became too attractive to ignore, law enforcement agencies had to ask themselves, if we’re going to wage this war, where should it be fought and who should be taken prisoner?

The answer is simple: vulnerable communities will be targeted (because they can’t fight back politically) and specifically racial minorities will be targeted (because of stereotypes about drug offenders). In regards to the first, she writes:

Confined to ghetto areas and lacking political power, the black poor are convenient targets.

And in regards to the second, she writes:

In 2002 a team of researchers at the University of Washington decided to take the defense of the drug war seriously by subjecting the arguments to empirical testing in a major study of drug law enforcement in a racially mixed city, Seattle. The study found that, contrary to the prevailing common sense, the high arrest rates of African American in drug law enforcement could not be explained by rates of offending. Nor could they be explained by other standard excuses, such as the ease and efficiency of policing open-air drug markets, citizen complaints, crime rates, or drug-related violence. The study also debunked the assumption that white drug dealers deal indoors, making their criminal activity more difficult to detect. The authors found that it was untrue stereotypes about crack markets, crack dealers, and crack babies–not facts–that were driving discretionary decision-making by the Seattle police department.

Alexander’s case is particularly strong when she notes the difference between mandatory sentences for stereotypically white and black versions of the same drug (e.g. cocaine vs. crack) and provides the legal history of attempts to challenge the racially disparate outcomes of the criminal justice system. There’s McCleskey v. Kemp, for example, in which a death penalty conviction was challenged on the basis of research by David C. Baldus showing that “even after taking account of 39 nonracial variables, defendants charged with killing white victims were 4.3 times as likely to receive a death sentence than defendants charged with killing blacks.” The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, however. Alexander writes:

The majority observed that significant racial disparities have been found in other criminal settings beyond the death penalty, and the McCleskey’s case implicitly calls into question the integrity of the entire system. In the Court’s words, “taken to its logical conclusion, Warren McCleskey’s claim throws into serious question the principles that underly our criminal justice system. If we accepted McCleskey’s claim that racial bias has impermissibly tainted the capital sentencing decision, we could soon be faced with similar claims as to other types of penalty.” The Court openly worried that other actors in the criminal justice system might also face scrutiny for allegedly biased decision-making if similar claims about bias in the system were allowed to proceed. Driven by these concerns, the Court rejected McCleskey’s claim that Georgia’ death penalty system violates the 8th Amendments ban on arbitrary punishment, framing the critical question as whether the Baldus Study demonstrated a Constitutionally unacceptable risk of discrimination. It’s answer was no. The Court deemed the risk of racial bias in Georgia’s capital sentencing scheme Constitutionally acceptable. Justice Brennan pointedly noted in his dissent that the Court’s opinion “seems to suggest a fear of too much justice.”

According to an LA Times survey of legal scholars, it’s one of the worst post-World War II SCOTUS decisions. Prior to reading this book, I’d never heard of it. Nor had I heard of United States v. Armstrong, which found that defendants who suspected that they were victims of discrimination had to prove that they were victims of that discrimination first, before they could get access to prosecutorial records that would be necessary to prove the question of discrimination. Alexander writes:

Unless evidence of conscious, intentional bias on the part of the prosecutor could be produced, the court would not allow any inquiry into the reasons for or causes of apparent racial disparities in prosecutorial decision making.

Her case is also very strong when she makes two key points. First, violent crime can’t explain mass incarceration. This is something that came up in the Facebook comments after I posted Mass Incarceration is Not a Myth. Walker Wright recently wrote a solid follow-up piece with even more data: The Stock and Flow of Drug Offenders. So one of the common rebuttals to Alexander’s criticism–that incarceration is about violent crime rather than drugs–doesn’t hold up. However, it is worth noting that black men do commit violent crimes at higher rates than white men (in contrast to drug offenses) and so higher differential rates of incarceration in that case are not evidence of racial discrimination, a point that Alexander concedes.

Second, and even more strongly, she points out that incarceration itself is not the real problem. The problem is that a felony conviction is basically the modern equivalent of a scarlet-F: it makes you basically unemployable, excludes you from many government programs (like student loans), and therefore makes it all but impossible for people who have paid their debt to society (as the saying goes) to actually re-enter that society. This is why Alexander refers to “a system of control” that extends well beyond literal prisons. She’s right.

But there are some parts where I think Alexander gets important things very wrong. First, she tends to be a little blind to issues of class, which is also a leading problem with most contemporary social justice activists. Interestingly enough, Cornell West–in the introduction–draws this point out much more clearly than Alexander does in her own book, writing:

There is no doubt that if young white people were incarcerated at the same rates as young black people, the issue would be a national emergency. But it is also true that if young black middle and upper class people were incarcerated at the same rates as young black poor people, black leaders would focus much more on the prison-industrial complex. Again, Michelle Alexander has exposed the class bias of much of black leadership as well as the racial bias of American leadership for whom the poor and vulnerable of all colors are a low priority.

After reading the entire book, it sounds to me like West went much farther than Alexander was willing to do, although she has a lot of the pieces right there in the book. Alexander is very critical of affirmative action, first arguing that it does more harm than good and then arguing that middle- and upper-class blacks have in effect accepted affirmative action as a kind of “racial bribe” for their complicity in mass incarceration:

It may not be easy for the civil rights community to have a candid conversation about [affirmative action]. Civil rights organizations are populated with beneficiaries of affirmative action (like myself) and their friends and allies. Ending affirmative action arouses fears of annihilation. The reality that so many of us would disappear overnight from colleges and universities nationwide if affirmative action were banned, and that our children and grandchildren might not follow in our footsteps, creates a kind of panic that is difficult to describe.

As a result of both affirmative action and the takeover of civil rights organizations by lawyers, she concludes that the entire movement is mired in hypocrisy and inaction:

Try telling a sixteen-year-old black youth in Louisiana who is facing a decade in adult prison and a lifetime of social, political, and economic exclusion that your civil rights organization is not doing much to end the War on Drugs–but would he like to hear about all the great things that are being done to save affirmative action? There is a fundamental disconnect today between the world of civil rights advocacy and the reality facing those trapped in the new racial undercaste.

In examples like these, Alexander is clearly demonstrating that race alone cannot explain what is happening, but she is still unwilling to follow that logic to its conclusion. We’ll return to that in a moment, because it’s my biggest problem with her analysis. Before we get there, however, I want to point out that she also tackles a lot of the conservative criticisms head on. In addition to the violence/drug question, there is the issue of “gangsta culture.” Isn’t it a fact, conservatives might ask, that inner city black culture glorifies illegal and anti-social conduct, and that therefore there’s something rotten at the heart of black culture?

This is an important question, because it is a serious one but also one that conservatives generally can’t ask without simply being shouted down as racist. The inability to have a serious conversation about black culture as it relates to crime is probably the single biggest cause of our dysfunctional national conversation about race (or the lack thereof). As long as social conservatives aren’t even allowed to voice their most important questions, there’s really nothing to talk about. But Alexander doesn’t dismiss the question; she takes it seriously and addresses it. She does so in two ways. First:

Remarkably, it is not uncommon today to hear media pundits, politicians, social critics, and celebrities–most notably Bill Cosby–complain that the biggest problem black men have today is that they “have no shame.” Many worry that prison time has become a badge of honor in some communities–“a rite of passage” is the term most commonly used in the press. Other claims that inner-city residents no longer share the same value system as mainstream society, and therefore are not stigmatized by criminality. Yet as Donald Braman, author of Doing Time on the Outside states: “One can only assume that most participants in these discussions have had little direct contact with the families and communities they are discussing.”

Over a four-year period, Braman conducted a major ethnographic study of families affect by mass incarceration in Washington, D.C., a city where three out of every four young black men can expect to spend some time behind bars. He found that, contrary to popular belief, the young men labeled criminals and their families are profoundly hurt and stigmatized by their status: “They are not shameless; they feel the stigma that accompanies not only incarceration but all the other stereotypes that accompany it–fatherlessness, poverty, and often, despite very intent to make it otherwise, diminished love.” The results of Braman’s study have been largely corroborated by similar studies elsewhere in the United States.

If this is correct–and I have no reason to doubt it–then it means that the idea of a monolithic culture of disrespect for law and glorification of crime (not to mention outright misogyny) is a myth. Even in the inner-city there is respect for rule of law, manifested in deep shame accompanying incarceration.

But if that’s true, why is black culture most frequently represented by gangsta rap that does, in fact, engage in that kind of anti-sociality? That’s Alexander’s second point:

The worst of gangsta rap and other forms of blaxploitation (such as VH1’s Flavor of Love) is best understood as a modern-day minstrel show, only this time televisd around the clock for a worldwide audience. It is a for-profit display of the worst racial stereotypes and images associated wit the era of mass incarceration–an era in which black people are criminalized and portrayed as out-of-control, shameless, violent, over-sexed, and generally undeserving.

Like the minstrel shows of the slavery and Jim Crow eras, today’s displays are generally designed for white audiences. The majority of the consumers of gangsta rap are white, suburban teenagers. VH1 had its best ratings ever for the first season of Flavor of Love–ratings drive by large white audiences. MTV has expanded its offerings of black-themed reality shows in the hopes of attracing the same crowd. The profits to be made from racial stigma are considerable, and the fact that blacks–as well as whites–treat racial oppression as a commodity for consumption is not surprising. It is a familiar form of black complicity with racialized systems of control.

The most important part of this response, again, is simply the willingness to engage the issue seriously. This is critical, because once this issue is on the table it’s possible for dialogue. Additionally, however, I find her two-pronged approach compelling.

OK, so let’s get back to my biggest complaint with Alexander’s work: what’s behind the racially disparate impact of the War on Drugs? Throughout the book, she contends that (1) it is exclusively racist and (2) it is deliberately racist. Neither of these claims are supported by her own arguments, and they hurt her case. This starts fairly early on, and then runs consistently throughout the book. Here’s an early example:

The language of the Constitution itself was deliberately colorblind. The words “slave” or “negro” were never used, but the document was built upon a compromise regarding the prevailing racial caste system. Federalism, the division of power between the states and the federal government was the device employed to protect the institution of slavery and the political power of slave-holding states.

In other words, Alexander is arguing that federalism is nothing but a ruse to covertly encode racism within the Constitution. It’s true that federalism enabled slavery to continue by making it a state-level issue, but to say that that is why federalism existed is to deny that the Founders had any independent, reasonable reasons to support federalism, and that’s not plausible. Federalism was, first and foremost, an attempt to avoid the centralized tyranny of the British monarchy that was the ideological raison d’etre of the American Revolution. To dismiss that as incidental is to fundamentally misunderstand the history and philosophy of the Constitution.

At another point, she clearly states that “all racial caste systems, not just mass incarceration, have been supported by racial indifference,” but she also argues that–at the dawn of the era of mass incarceration–“Conservative whites began once again to search for a new racial order that would conform to the needs and constraints of the time.” In other words, Federalism was part of an intentionally racist program (slavery), separate-but-equal was part of an intentionally racist program (Jim Crow), and color-blindness is part of an intentionally racist program (mass incarceration). But I’m not convinced.

Oh, there’s strong evidence–smoking gun evidence, as far as I’m concerned–that Nixon and Reagan appealed to racism as part of their “law and order” approach to the War on Drugs. But that was nearly a half-century ago. And no, I don’t think that the US has emerged into a post-racial utopia since then. Obviously not! But I do think Walter Williams had it right:

Back in the late 1960s, during graduate study at UCLA, I had a casual conversation with Professor Armen Alchian, one of my tenacious mentors. . . . I was trying to impress Professor Alchian with my knowledge of type I and type II statistical errors.

I told him that my wife assumes that everybody is her friend until they prove differently. While such an assumption maximizes the number of friends that she will have, it also maximizes her chances of being betrayed. Unlike my wife, my assumption is everyone is my enemy until they prove they’re a friend. That assumption minimizes my number of friends but minimizes the chances of betrayal.

Professor Alchian, donning a mischievous smile, asked, “Williams, have you considered a third alternative, namely, that people don’t give a damn about you one way or another?” . . . During the earlier years of my professional career, I gave Professor Alchian’s question considerable thought and concluded that he was right. The most reliable assumption, in terms of the conduct of one’s life, is to assume that generally people don’t care about you one way or another. It’s a mistake to assume everyone is a friend or everyone is an enemy, or people are out to help you, or people are out to hurt you.

Williams (who is a black economist) was actually talking specifically about race relations in his piece. He said:

Are white people obsessed with and engaged in a conspiracy against black people? I’m guessing no, and here’s an experiment. Walk up to the average white person and ask: How many minutes today have you been thinking about a black person? If the person wasn’t a Klansman or a gushing do-gooder, his answer would probably be zero minutes. If you asked him whether he’s a part of a conspiracy to undermine the welfare of black people, he’d probably look at you as if you were crazy. By the same token, if you asked me: “Williams, how many minutes today have you been thinking about white people?” I’d probably say, “You’d have to break the time interval down into smaller units, like nanoseconds, for me to give an accurate answer.” Because people don’t care about you one way or another doesn’t mean they wish you good will, ill will or no will.

Alexander had it right when she talked about “racial indifference.” Even overt racism is virtually never racism for racism’s sake. Alexander herself said, “By and large, plantation owners were indifferent to the suffering caused by slavery; they were motivated by greed.”

So, based on the evidence she presents, what’s the real story of racism in America? Powerful people want to maintain their power at the expense of less powerful people. Race, which Alexanders correctly observes “is a relatively recent development,” is only the most potent and insidious means of perpetuating inequalities that are, at their roots, totally agnostic with respect to race or creed or language or ethnicity or religion. All of these are just social markers that can ennable power inequality, but which are mostly irrelevant in and of themselves. So even when race is appealed to directly, it’s always a means to another end, never an end in itself.

So much for the idea of deliberate racism. What about the exclusivity of the racial aspects of mass incarceration? Here, Alexander uses a military analogy:

Of course, the fact that white people are harmed by the drug war does not mean they are the real targets, the designated enemy. The harm white people suffer in the drug war is much like the harm Iraqi civilians suffer in U.S. military actions targeting presumed terrorists or insurgents. In any way, a tremendous amount of collateral damage is inevitable. Black and brown people are the principal targets in this war; white people are collateral damage.

No analogy is perfect, of course, but in this case her chosen analogy undercuts rather than strengthens her position. The point of “collateral damage” is not merely that it is incidental, but that it is scrupulously avoided whenever possible. I’m not saying that the US is perfect at that, but avoiding collateral damage–at least in theory–is what we strive for.

But if white people were really “collateral damage” in the War on Drugs, then of course we would not only see fewer of them in jail, we’d see none at all. Unlike dropping bombs from miles up, it’s easy to ascertain the race of a suspect before they go to jail. If race were the exclusive characteristic–if mass incarceration were designed specifically to target exclusively African Americans–then why are white drug dealers ever sent to jail? Or Asian, or Hispanic, Native American, etc? Alexander might argue, “to provide enough cover for people to believe it’s truly race-neutral,” but that explanation is thin and overly complex. It falls for the same fundamental mistake as all conspiracy theories: a drastic overestimation in the human ability to plan the future. The War on Drugs was not a consciously designed system of racial oppression that ensnares a set number of white people just to provide a thin veneer of racial neutrality. To see that this is true, just ask yourself: “Who determines the requisite number of white people required to give the system cover, and how do they coordinate all the local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to make sure the quota is hit?” The whole setup doesn’t makes sense.

No, the War on Drugs isn’t a cleverly designed mechanism. It is an opportunistically cobbled-together mish-mash of policies, laws, practices, and agencies that exploits the vulnerable and powerless because of the blind logic of power, not because it was designed to target minorities. The War on Drugs also feeds off of and reinforces racist stereotypes. It is, without doubt in my mind, systematically racist. But it’s not exclusively racist; it’s also classist. And it does not exist today because of deliberate racism; but because of inertia, racial indifference, and power politics.

There are not just technicalities. They have profound implications for how we talk about race, how we analyze racist institutions, and what solutions we deploy against them. And this is where I found Alexander’s logic to be at its weakest. She is steadfastly set against colorblind policies. And, given the ability of the criminal justice system to be ostensibly colorblind and still produce racist outcomes, I understand. But her logic breaks down when she dismisses colorblindness entirely. This is most obvious when she writes that:

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that racial differences will always exist among us. Even if the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration were completely overcome, we would remain a nation of immigrants (and indigenous people) in a larger world divided by race and ethnicity. It is a world in which there is extraordinary racial and ethnic inequality, and our nation has porous boundaries. For the foreseeable future, racial and ethnic inequality will be a feature of American life.

Contrast that with her prior statement that “The concept of race is a relatively recent development. Only in the past few centuries, owing largely to European imperialism, have the world’s people been classified along racial lines.” If race is a “recent development,” can we really be so confident that “racial differences will always exist among us?”

No, we can’t. Race is a fluid concept. Not only was it largely invented in the 17th century, but it continued to change dramatically after that. In the 19th and 20th century, Catholic Irish, Jews, and many other groups were considered non-white. Today, the Irish have a distinct cultural identity within the United States, but nobody would seriously argue that they are non-white. How do the Irish fare vs. narrower racial definitions of whiteness on metrics like housing, household wealth, income, or educational attainment? My guess? Nobody knows because nobody even measures it.

I will agree with Alexander this far: race-blindness didn’t stop the racist bent of mass incarceration and it never can. We may need to be proactive about measuring racial outcomes, at a minimum, in our efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system. However, I’m not convinced that the dream of a colorblind society should be so easily dismissed.

Of course, the historical model of an ever-expanding category of whiteness won’t work in the future. First, because any racial definition has to have at least two groups. So if “white” exists as a category, there will have to be non-white. As long as we see the world in racial terms, universal racial inclusiveness is impossible. Second, I would hardly expect African Americans to be enthusiastic about a solution of universal whiteness even if it were possible (which it’s not).
“It’s OK, you can be considered white, too, one day,” is not an acceptable solution to our history of racial prejudice.

There are alternative possibilities, however. The way out of racial binaries is to drop race as a valid characteristic. A Marxist can do this by seeing only the bourgeois and the proletariat, just as one proof-of-concept. But, if we don’t want to all become Marxist, then we’ll have to figure something else out. Nationalism is another approach, although not without its own complications. And who knows: there may be other concepts we haven’t even thought of yet. The point is, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to hope for a day when the difference between an African American and an Irish American becomes much more like the difference between an American whose family came from Scandinavia and one whose family came from Italy.

We can’t get there from here if we do not redress the real and obvious racial disparities within our nation, and the racist War on Drugs seems like a great place to start. But I’m also not sure if we can get there from here as long as we view colorblindness as an intrinsically undesirable destination. If we insist on defining people in racial terms, then Alexander is probably right: “racial and ethnic inequality will be a feature of American life.” So maybe we shouldn’t plan on doing that forever.

At the end of the day, I found this book to have its flaws, but on the central points it has me convinced. I was already skeptical of the War on Drugs, but now I’m downright convinced that it is a needlessly oppressive and exploitative racist and classist juggernaut that somehow we need to stop.

Why Diversity Programs Fail

Diversity training doesn’t work. At least that’s one takeaway from the write-up in The Washington Post on new research published in Harvard Business Review:

In the cover story of the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, sociologists from Harvard University and Tel Aviv University explore the counterintuitive idea that some of the most common tools for improving diversity — one of which is mandatory training — are not just ineffective. They could be detrimental to improving the number of women and minorities in the managerial ranks.

Making people attend diversity training may seem to make sense, said one of the study’s co-authors, Alexandra Kalev, in an interview: “But it doesn’t work. For decades, diversity management programs flourished with no evidence whatsoever about their effects and their success.” 

The article is based on a series of research papers by Kalev and Harvard’s Frank Dobbin that studied nearly 830 U.S. companies. It describes how, five years after implementing compulsory diversity training for managers, companies actually saw declines in the numbers of some demographic groups — African American women and Asian American men and women — and no improvement among white women and other minorities.

Some of the findings have implications even outside of the workplace:

The authors point to a range of past social science studies that have shown that efforts to reduce prejudice can backfire — actually increasing bias or leading to more hostility rather than less. In another past study, white subjects who felt forced to agree with a document about bias toward blacks felt more prejudice; those who felt they could choose felt less. The pair also say that when diversity training is just focused on a certain group — like managers or one where there’s been a bias problem — it can also have worse results…The researchers also found that other tactics often aimed at helping with diversity, such as skill tests to help prevent bias in the hiring process or grievance systems where employees can log complaints, also led to declines in the number of women and minorities in the companies’ workforces over time. Managers don’t like being told who they want to hire, so they often distribute tests selectively, Kalev said, while grievance systems can make managers feel threatened and retaliate.

Is there any hope? Yes:

Kalev said their research has shown that training programs that focus on multiculturalism and the business case for diversity — rather than the legalistic reasons behind why it’s being offered — have a less negative impact. Still, she says, “even the most fascinating diversity training will be way more efficient if the crowd is sitting there voluntarily.” 

Indeed, that’s one of the tactics their research found actually lead to more diversity among managers. Voluntary programs that let people choose whether to attend might seem futile — most people don’t think they’re biased, so might not attend — but engagement, rather than coercion, led to growth among several minority groups in Kalev’s research. Diversity managers told she and Dobbin that 80 percent of people typically do attend, even when programs are voluntary. And strong representation from leaders can be one way to help encourage people to show up.



There’s a lot more to Trump support than racism.

hillbilly elegy

I’m a conservative. Over the last 9 months or so the Trump campaign has sent me from incredulous to enraged to dejectedly resigned, and I admit I’m still trying to figure out what just happened.

To hear some of my leftist friends talk, the Trump phenomenon is the inevitable climax of an increasingly out-of-touch, racist, backwards party, a predictable extension of the “extremism” of Bush.

Those theories makes no sense to me. The conservatives I know who supported Bush hate Trump. In fact, Pew Research recently published a study showing the most religious and “very conservative” Republicans have been most resistant to Trump. This study echoes a Gallup poll last year that found the highly religious ranked Trump 12th out of 17 GOP candidates. But if the most religious and conservative Republicans dislike him, who has been supporting Trump from the outset?

In his article “Trump: Tribune of Poor White People,” Rod Dreher interviews J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, on the interplay between our current political parties and hillbilly culture.

The interview is a fascinating read. Vance discusses a variety of sometimes opposing ideas in an empathetic but honest way. For example, he talks about how the anti-elitist streak in hillbilly culture helps those who achieve financial success stay grounded, but it also pressures people not to become successful in the first place. Vance talks about  the problems with how, when it comes to the poor, there are opposing narratives suggesting either (a) the poor are helpless, with no power to affect their own lives or (b) the poor must simply bootstrap their way out of poverty. Both of these views fail to address important factors.

Vance uses his understanding of hillbilly culture to explain Trump’s popularity:

The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades.  From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below).  Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.  

From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth.  Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis.  More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.  

This part especially resonated with me:

The other big problem I have with Trump is that he has dragged down our entire political conversation.  It’s not just that he inflames the tribalism of the Right; it’s that he encourages the worst impulses of the Left.  In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from so many of my elite friends some version of, “Trump is the racist leader all of these racist white people deserve.” These comments almost always come from white progressives who know literally zero culturally working class Americans.  And I’m always left thinking: if this is the quality of thought of a Harvard Law graduate, then our society is truly doomed.

Read the full interview here.