“Black lives matter,” “All lives matter,” and telling people what they mean.

You should be able to describe your opposition’s stance in a way they would agree with. If you can’t do that, do you really understand what they’re saying?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen this argument ad nauseum.

“Black lives matter.”
“All lives matter.”
“Why do you refuse to acknowledge discrimination againt black people?”
“Why don’t you care when others are hurt? Why don’t you care about police officers’ lives?”


As best I can tell, this infinite argument stems from two factors:

  1. Allowing the extremists to represent our opposition.
  2. Telling other people what they think and what they mean.

These are both mistakes. We make them often in all kinds of debates, probably more often the more heated the debate is. But guys, I wish we’d stop.

I don’t doubt that there are people who are indifferent to or even celebrate an LEO’s death or a black person’s death. But I don’t think either of those stances represents the majority of either side. And it would be helpful if, when someone says something you think has an ambiguous meaning, instead of assuming they’re using the most extreme, awful meaning, you maybe just asked them to clarify.

So when someone says “Black lives matter,” instead of assuming they mean “Only Black lives matter,” either give them the benefit of the doubt (they mean “Hey, black lives matter too”), or at least ask them what they mean.

let's be clear BLM

And when someone says “All lives matter,” instead of assuming they’re just trying really hard to ignore the problems people of color face, either give them the benefit of the doubt (they mean “I care about all the lives involved in this issue” and/or “I’ve misunderstood what you mean by ‘black lives matter’”), or at least ask them what they mean.

his her their lives matter

Please stop telling people what they mean when they use a phrase you don’t like. Stop telling them what they think and why they think it. On this topic and most others, assigning meaning usually means you’re getting it wrong and almost always means you’re probably not going to have a useful conversation.

Remember that the people we’re talking to—especially if we’re talking online with strangers or very casual FB friends—likely run in different social circles than us and are exposed to different ideas, news, blogs, talking points, etc. In particular they’re probably exposed more to the extreme voices from our side and less to the rational voices. I think that’s a pretty common phenomenon.

Sometimes it is really hard for me to stop and realize that the premises I find blindingly obvious are ideas the person I’m talking to may not have even heard before. It’s very easy to assume she’s starting from the same baseline assumptions I am and is just being difficult or mean. And hey, sometimes that is what’s happening.

But often–probably most of the time–it’s not. And man I’d love it if we could have more useful conversations about some very serious problems and less yelling at each other about what the other side thinks, feels, and wants. That would be a good start.

The SJW who cried “police brutality.” The LEO who cried “self-defense.”

Asking for evidence of police brutality doesn’t make you blindly pro-cop. Being skeptical of the officer’s POV doesn’t make you blindly anti-cop.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf by paperlait
The Boy Who Cried Wolf by paperlait

I’ve seen people defend Officer Sean Groubert shooting Levar Jones even after Groubert was fired and charged with a felony count of assault and battery (he has since plead guilty). I’ve had arguments with people who claim the video of Officer Michael Slager repeatedly shooting Walter Scott in the back was deceptively edited, even though Slager has since been fired and charged with murder and obstruction of justice. There are people for whom no amount of evidence is enough.

So when someone says “We weren’t there. We don’t know what happened. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels weary and angry. I get frustrated because so many times those statements are insincere; so many times, when it comes down to it, the person patiently calling for objectivity and evidence doesn’t actually care about evidence at all. He says “Give the investigation time,” but he means “no matter what surfaces, I’ll assume the officer was in the right. No matter the injustice, I’ll believe the dead deserved it.”

But I need to be careful about my assumptions. On the surface there’s no way to tell the difference between the person who is really just going to side with the LEO no matter what and the person who genuinely cares about clear thinking and due process. It’s unfair to assume anyone calling for more information falls into the former category.

It’s also unhelpful. I want more people to consider the possibility that serious systemic problems are at play here; accusing people of bigotry just for asking for evidence isn’t likely to start a thoughtful conversation.

The principles of (1) innocent until proven guilty and (2) proof beyond a reasonable doubt inevitably mean truly guilty people will go free. Our justice system is (supposed to be) designed to err on the side of freeing the guilty rather than imprisoning the innocent. In fact, jurors are given explicit instructions to this end: if they’re presented with multiple theories about how a crime happened, they are supposed to pick whichever is most reasonable. But if there is more than one reasonable theory, they are supposed to pick the reasonable theory that finds the defendant innocent.

In the case of an officer-involved shooting, that means if there’s a reasonable chance the officer acted in self-defense and there’s a reasonable chance he did not, the jury is supposed to assume it was self-defense. Given how often LEOs do have to fear for their lives–and given that the dead can’t talk–this means an officer can claim self-defense and, absent extremely explicit evidence to the contrary, the jury will assume that’s the truth.

I would think that’s what we’d all want for ourselves if we were accused of a crime. We’d want the evidence to have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that we did the deed before we could be found guilty. Of course we would.

I would also expect we’d all want the right to defend ourselves in dangerous situations. That’s why I think it really undermines the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies when people fail to distinguish between LEO self-defense vs LEO abuse of power. For example, I’ve seen a few posts along these lines:

mic article

This article references a database put together by The Washington Post to track officer-involved shooting deaths. But the stat is for everyone shot and killed by police, whether those citizens were a danger to the officers’ lives or not. While I think it’s important to track that kind of information, I also think it’s misleading to use it in the context of police brutality.

Police brutality is unwarranted LEO aggression and violence, but not all LEO aggression is unwarranted. Good cops acting in self-defense shouldn’t be lumped in with corrupt cops abusing their power or even with incompetent cops dangerously overreacting. And victims of police brutality shouldn’t be lumped in with people killed attempting to commit violence against others. Equivocations like these are part of the reason so many hesitate to condemn a given shooting, instead asking for more information. It’s “the Social Justice Warrior who cried ‘police brutality,'” and many people aren’t interested in more accusations until all the facts are in.

The problem with that, though, is that there are a lot of cases in which the facts are never all in.

The Walter Scott case is a great example of what so many people now fear and expect: Officer Slager is being charged not just with murder but also with obstruction of justice because, after repeatedly shooting Scott in the back, Slager told investigators that Scott had been advancing toward Slager with a taser. It was only when a citizen turned over a cell phone video that it became clear Scott had actually been running away from Slager. If the citizen hadn’t come forward with the video, what are the odds Slager would’ve been charged with anything?

Similarly, when multiple deputies beat Derrick Price, two of them later submitted falsified reports claiming Price had resisted arrest. According to court documents, security footage later revealed that “Price was compliant and immobilized during the entire time of the beating.” The two deputies subsequently plead guilty to deprivation of rights, but if there had been no security footage it’s unlikely their false reports would’ve been discovered.

These are examples of officers being willfully deceptive, but I expect there are plenty of situations where an officer recounts events sincerely and still gets them wrong. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable; I see no reason this would apply less to officers than anyone else.

For example, Officer Groubert suggested he shot Levar Jones because he perceived Jones to be a threat, claiming Jones “dove” into his van. Groubert may very well have believed that, but his own dash cam footage shows Jones simply reach into the van directly after Groubert asked for Jones’ license and registration. That footage contributed to Groubert being fired and charged, but if there had been no dash cam footage, would citizen safety still depend on Officer Groubert’s judgement?

Officer Timothy Runnels tased teen Bryce Masters until Masters went into cardiac arrest. Police later claimed Masters had been uncooperative during the stop, but dash cam footage shows Masters only asking whether he was under arrest before Runnels tased him and dropped him face down on the pavement. Runnels has since been fired and plead guilty to civil rights violations, but if there had been no dash cam footage?

Some people say these cases show our system does work because–given sufficient evidence–officers are charged with crimes. But I hope you can see how problematic this is. These cases are rare in that there was clear-cut video footage. How often do officers overreact, like Goubert did, or willfully try to deceive, like Slager did, with no video evidence to catch them? Perhaps it almost never occurs, and the exceedlingly rare times when it does occur happen to be disproportionately caught on video.

But I doubt it. A lot of people doubt it. Each time an LEO is caught not only unlawfully hurting citizens but also trying to cover it up, it greatly erodes public trust. And each time seemingly damning evidence proves insufficient to even indict an officer, it greatly erodes public trust. Each time there’s no major repercussion for anyone from the LEO himself to his superiors for, at best, grave errors in judgement, it greatly erodes public trust.

And once the public no longer trusts the system, cautioning people to reserve judgement until all the facts are in starts to sound a little too much like telling people to never judge an officer-involved death at all. In most cases all we can do is wait for one side of the story, and we already know what that side will say. It’s “the LEO who cried ‘self-defense.'”

So, while I understand people calling for calm and for evidence–a good approach not just here but in general–I also understand a lot of people feeling completely disillusioned and distrusting of the evidence-gathering process. I understand why having a jury decide an officer shouldn’t be indicted or isn’t guilty doesn’t necessarily convince the public the officer actually isn’t guilty.

People seem to believe this level of suspicion can only stem from a general anti-cop sentiment, but I don’t agree. Given the known cases of officers abusing power and then lying about it, it’s reasonable for people who respect the profession in general to still have major concerns about this issue specifically. I don’t agree with Jon Stewart on everything but I thought he was spot on here:

jon stewart quote

I don’t pretend to have a simple solution to all of this. I want to live in a society where people of color and LEOs are safe. I want us to respect the principles of “innocent until proven guilty” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” I want law enforcement agencies to responsibly police their own ranks. It doesn’t seem like any of that is happening right now.

I’m not sure what to do, but I am sure that assigning the worst motivations to the other side doesn’t help anything. We may not be able to fix everything quickly, but we can at least try to understand where people are coming from.


The Dog Whistle Dilemma

dog whistle 800x400

Political polarization is bad enough, but sometimes partisan arguments are worse than merely polarizing. One example of this is the response to the controversial topic of political correctness and so-called “social justice warriors.”

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the term “social justice warriors” because—as a term that was initially a pejorative and is still primarily used that way—it carries a lot of baggage. But I do think that concerns about political correctness are legitimate, and I documented a lot of thinkers (primarily from the American left) who have agreed in recent months in Difficult Run’s most widely read article of 2015: When Social Justice Isn’t About Justice. This view—that political correctness, social justice activism, microagressions, tolerance, etc—have gone a little too far seems to be an emerging consensus. But there are still holdouts.

Not surprisingly, the holdouts come from within the social justice movement itself. One prominent, sympathetic voice is John Scalzi. He’s a best-selling, award-winning science fiction author who famously signed a multi-million-dollar publishing deal with Tor last year. He’s a prominent, influential voice on social justice issues, and according to him—and thousands who agree—there is no conceivable, legitimate concern to be had on this topic. For example, back in 2014, he wrote that:

“Political Correctness” is a catchphrase which today means one of two things. The first is, “I have done no substantial thinking on this topic in at least twenty years and therefore anything I say past this point cannot be treated with any seriousness.” The second is “It is more important for me to continue my ingrained bigotry than it is for you not to be denigrated or offended by my bigotry, because I am lazy and do not wish to be bothered.” If in fact you do not intend to convey either of these two things, you should not use, nor sign on to a document which uses, the phrase “political correctness.”

In November 2015, at precisely the time that opinion across much of the spectrum of American politics was starting to really take political correctness seriously as a threat, he wrote:

I’m always embarrassed for the people who use these phrases [“political correctness” and “social justice warriors”] thinking they’re cutting, when in fact what they signal to the rest of the world is that the utterer is dog-whistling to a low-wattage, bigoted rabble in lieu of making an actual argument.

You can immediately see the polarization and absolutism of Scalzi’s statements. If we take Scalzi’s argument at face value then we must write off folks like Andrew Sullivan, John McWhorter, Jeannie Suk, Jonathan Chait, Laura Kipnis, Asam Ahmad, Damon Linker, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt as ignorant bigots. That’s a pretty diverse list of gay and straight, male and female, white and black thinkers (almost none of whom are conservative or Republican), but in one fell swoop Scalzi says you can ignore anything they say. Which is the whole point: you can make the world a much simpler place by inventing reasons to completely ignore your opponents. This is what political polarization is all about. We’ve seen this before.

But when we look at the specifics of Scalzi’s argument, we see another problem. The key concept in Scalzi’s argument is the concept of dog whistling. A dog whistle is “a type of whistle that emits sound in the ultrasonic range, which people cannot hear but some other animals can, including dogs and domestic cats, and is used in their training.” So, in politics, the idea of dog whistling is that someone disguises racism behind a veneer of apparently neutrality. For example, they will talk about “thugs” (when discussing issues of race and crime, perhaps) as a stand in for just using the n-word. This accusation is true. It is a real thing that really happens.

The problem is that Scalzi isn’t leveling the accusation against a particular thing said by a particular person in a particular context. He is saying that anyone who says anything in any context about political correctness or social justice warriors is engaging in dog whistling.

Intended or not, the inevitable consequence of this move is that it subjectifies arguments. Making an argument about a person’s motivations or private beliefs is always tricky, but in most cases we can build a case by using publicly available, objective facts like their words, their behavior, the consequences of their actions, and so forth. But that’s not possible when we make categorical statements about the motivations and private beliefs of a wide range of people without any recourse to external facts. The only way to enact the total dog whistle accusation as Scalzi does is to abandon objectivity.

The case for abolition relied on objective claims like all people deserve human rights and human rights are incompatible with slavery as an institution. The 20 century civil rights movement also relied on objective claims such as segregation is incompatible with genuine racial equality. But the all-encompassing dog whistle accusation eschews recourse to any publicly available, objectively valid facts and so eschews objectivity itself.

Why does this matter? It matters because once an argument becomes subjective, it no longer makes sense to talk about who is more correct. Instead, arguments inevitably devolve into contests to see who is more powerful. When objective truth is no longer a recourse, all that remains is appeal to power.

This makes the dog whistle accusation an ultimately self-defeating tool from the standpoint of genuine concern for social justice, because once the argument becomes a question of power, it is a foregone conclusion that it can no longer constitute a genuine challenge powers in high places. You cannot speak subjective truth to power because subjective truth is power.

The practical reality is that the ultimate consumers of social justice activism are nice, college-educated, open-minded, prosperous, white Americans who are desperate to find the magic words to say to absolve themselves of any perceived guilt from profiting off of historical exploitation or collaborating in ongoing, systemic oppression. Social justice activism, unmoored from sternly objectivist claims, cannot resist the universal solvent of American consumerism and is already far on its way to becoming just another luxury good. Social justice arguments rooted in subjectivism are no harder for elites to absorb and appropriate than any other cultural artifact, and when that happens the tactics, rhetoric, and infrastructure of social justice are deployed to serve the interests of those elites rather than to challenge them. This is true even when social justice ends up being deployed against minorities. Weapons, even rhetorical ones, don’t care who they are aimed at.

Consider Conor Friedersdorf’s recent Atlantic piece: Left Outside the Social-Justice Movement’s Small Tent. The story describes Mahad Olad’s journey into and then estrangement from social justice activism. Why? He had the temerity to question trigger warnings and attempts to shut down conservative speakers. The result? “I was accused of being outrageously insensitive and apparently made three activist cohorts have traumatic breakdowns,” (for questioning trigger warnings) and “I was accused of being a ‘respectable negro,’ ‘uncle tom,’ ‘local coon’ and defending university officials to continue to ‘systemically oppress minorities,” (for questioning silencing of conservative speakers).

This is just one example of social justice turning against minorities, but there are plenty more. There are articles like That awkward moment when I realized my white “liberal” friends were racists and The Unchecked Racism Of The Left And The Platinum Rule and The Disturbing Story Of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At A Major Progressive PR Firm and What Happens When a Prominent Male Feminist Is Accused of Rape?.

As long as the dog whistle accusation is used as a blanket condemnation of all who have the temerity to question social justice activism and political correctness, social justice will be subjectified and therefore vulnerable to subversion by the privileged. On the other hand, if the dog whistle accusation is only employed when there’s some kind of objective evidence for it, some bigots will get away with dog whistling because there won’t be enough convincing, objective evidence. This is the dog whistle dilemma, and it is intractable.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that our society is fully of intractable problems. The entire criminal justice system is a giant apparatus set up to confront exactly this kind of intractable problem. We balance the principle of presumed innocence and Miranda rights (to protect the innocent) against warrants and imprisonment (to punish the guilty) knowing full well we’re balancing incompatible interests. With fewer legal protections for the accused, we punish more of the guilt, but also more of the innocent. With more legal protections, we protect the innocent but also let the guilt get away. That’s not to say that we’re complacent about the tradeoff, and it’s certainly not to argue that we have the balance correct today. It’s simply to illustrate that the idea of an irreconcilable tradeoff between competing and incompatible values is not new.

The fatal flaw in the contemporary social justice movement is myopia. A criminal justice system that only cared about punishing the guilty would, in short order, discard all civil liberties in the pursuit of that objective, resulting in a nightmare.

No one wants to live in a society where sometimes murderers get away on a technicality. No one wants to live in that kind of society, that is, until we stop to really consider the alternative. A world where courts and prosecutors do not have to abide by the rule of law is even worse.

The same applies here. A world where some people can get away with racism as long as they cloak it in a thin veneer of plausible deniability is not anybody’s idea of a utopia. But a solution like Scalzi’s is even worse, because it’s not only a world riven by polarization and discord, but also a world where social justice itself becomes subjectified and then perverted to serve the interests of entrenched elites.

The Gap Between Politicized Perception of Discrimination and the Real Deal

773 - Mainline Protestants

It is not news to anyone that mainline Protestant Christian denominations are simultaneously the most liberal and the most white. Despite that, the findings of a new study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion may raise a few eyebrows:

This article reports the results of a nationwide audit study testing how Christian churches welcome potential newcomers to their churches as a function of newcomers’ race and ethnicity. We sent email inquiries to 3,120 churches across the United States. The emails were ostensibly from someone moving to the area and looking for a new church to attend. That person’s name was randomly varied to convey different racial and ethnic associations. In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black- or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.

So, it’s those crazy evangelicals and Catholics–long associated with the American right and therefore with bigotry of every description–who were actually the most welcoming to minorities.

(Hat tip to Secular Right on this one.)

About That Star Wars Racism Fiasco That Isn’t

You may have heard about a controversial new hashtag: #BoycottStarWarsVII. In case you haven’t, the Daily Show has a pretty hilarious report on it:

The problem is that the alleged movement to boycott Star Wars VII doesn’t actually exist. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, National Review has a pretty funny article explaining the alleged movements non-existence: The Twitterverse Strikes Back against the Phantom Menace of Anti–Star Wars Racists!

You might be wondering, of course, if this thing doesn’t really exist, then why are people sharing it? Why are we hearing so much about a controversy that doesn’t exist?

Short version: it’s a sign of the End Times. We’ve got two polar opposite tribes coexisting in the United States, and they have so little actual interaction that they believe the darnedest (and silliest) things about each other. For example, a perfect mirror opposite to the whole #BoycottStarWarsVII is the equally non-existent #PissForEquality movement. Judging by disreputable right-wing sites like InfoWars, a bunch of Internet trolls suckered mushy-brained liberals into wetting themselves (literally) in the name of gender equality. There were all kinds of apparent photographic evidence to bolster the claims, and for a while you couldn’t swing a kitten meme on Facebook without running into a conservative guffawing at those dumb liberals who will do anything in the name of social justice. Except, as abundant follow-up reporting soon showed, all those pics of women wetting themselves in the name of equality were traced back to mysteriously brand new Twitter accounts with no followers. In other words: they were fakes. Thus you had articles like this one from Vice stating quite plainly: “none of it was real.”

Well, none of the #BoycottStarWarsVII thing is real either.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can find one or two real racists buried in there somewhere, but not enough to count for anything. Here’s how Larry Correia–best-selling author and the originator of the notorious Sad Puppies movement–described it on Facebook:

So at the end of the day, 99.999999% of the “boycott” hashtag is dumb asses posting about how they once saw the Loch Ness Monster too, a few dudes from 4 Chan who are having a laugh, and four actual racists, all of whom are named Jimbo.

So you might be wondering: if there is literally nothing to this, then where did it come from? I will explain, but you’ll have to be patient enough to endure some nerd-talk here.

Here’s the thing: the Imperial stormtroopers of the original films are shown in the prequels to have originated from an army of clones. That’s why the second movie was called Attack of the Clones. Because it had a lot of clones in it. These soldiers, who wore white combat armor very similar to the later stormtroopers, were called (imaginatively) clone troopers, and they were all carbon copies of one man: Jango Fett.

784 - Jango Fett

That’s actor Temuera Morrison, by the way. He’s a New Zealander with Māori, Scottish, and Irish ancestry. That movie showed what all the clone troopers looked like: lots and lots of copies of Jango Fett. Lots of people assumed that, since the clone army was clearly the origin of the Imperial stormtroopers, that this meant the Imperial stormtroopers were still populated entirely by Jango Fett clones.

783 - Lots of Jango Fetts

So, when the first teaser for Star Wars VII came out and showed John Boyega in stormtrooper armor, people were confused. because they thought that all stormtroopers looked like Jango Fett under the helmets. (Since they were his clones, after all.)

785 - John Boyega Stormtrooper

It turns out the confusion stemmed from ignorance, however. Existing Star Wars lore says that–while the white-armored soldiers from the prequels were all clones–by the time we get to the stormtroopers of the original movies (you know, the real Star Wars) things had changed.

By the time the Galactic Civil War began in earnest, Jango Fett’s clones were heavily supplanted by clones based on a variety of templates . . . followed shortly after by enlisted Humans. Thus, the Fett clones were ironically reduced to a minority status after years of virtually filling the stormtrooper ranks in its entirety. According to a stormtrooper’s entry log in the 501st Journal, none of the Fett clones were ever truly able to come to terms with serving alongside recruits and different clones, all of whom were disdainfully dubbed as the “new guys.” (Wookiepedia)

Even if you throw out all that lore, the confusion is still not very well-grounded. Episode VII takes place a few decades after Return of the Jedi which in turn took place a few decades after Attack of the Clones, so there isn’t any solid reason to expect all the stormtroopers to still be look like Jango Fett. At this point, any given stormtrooper could look like absolutely anybody, and so why not look like John Boyega? There’s no reason not to.

It’s worth pointing one more thing out about that first trailer, by the way. The thing that really upset most Star Wars fans was the unorthodox triple-bladed lightsaber. I was one of them: Force Awakens Trailer and Lightsaber Crossguards: I am Dissappoint.

2014-11-28 Useless Lightsaber Crossguard - ZOOMED

And keep in mind, it’s not like John Boyega was the first prominent Black character in Star Wars. We had Billy Dee Williams playing Lando Calrissian starting in The Empire Strike’s Back (1980) and Samuel L. Jackson playing Mace Windu in the prequels (1999). Calrissian was one of the heroes of the first trilogy (he led the fighter attack on the second Death Star) and Mace Windu was the most powerful Jedi in the prequels (the only Jedi more powerful was Yoda: neither white nor human).  It doesn’t seem at all reasonable to believe that large numbers of Star Wars fans who loved Williams as Calrissian and Jackson as Windu suddenly flipped out when they learned Boyega was going to be a lead in the new trilogy.

So now you know where this story originated. And here’s my last observation. It’s really sad to live in a country where not only are we divided by politics as deeply as we are, but that each side is so willing–so eager–to believe the worst about the other. That’s why we get nonsense like the #PissForEquality hoax and the #BoycottStarWarsVII hoax. Because we just want to think the worst of each other, and we want to be validated in our superiority.

And that’s sad.


The Charleston Attack Was Terrorism

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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Original photo by Cal Sr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/13147394@N05/2761893535. Used under Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Less than 48 hours ago, a mass shooting took place at the historic  Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Since then I have read many articles, Tweets, and statuses about this tragic attack. And, while there is still a lot we do not know, we do know this much: this was a terrorist attack motivated by racism and white supremacist ideology. From the Wikipedia entry:

Dylann Storm Roof (born April 3, 1994) was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the suspected killer… One image on his Facebook page shows him in a jacket decorated with the flags of two former nations noted for their white supremacist policies, apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia… According to his roommate, Roof expressed his support of racial segregation in the United States and had intended to start a civil war…He also often claimed that “blacks were taking over the world”. Roof reportedly told neighbors of his plans to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston, but his claims were not taken seriously.

Before opening fire, Roof spent nearly an hour with the Bible study group. According to Gawker, “Roof told police he ‘almost didn’t’ kill nine people at Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night ‘because everyone was so nice’ to him,” but eventually he said “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” With that, he opened fire “while shouting racial epithets” on the 12 unarmed worshipers. He killed nine of them and intentionally left one survivor. Two others, one a five-year old child, survived by pretending to be dead. During the carnage, he reloaded five times.

Roof was caught yesterday morning after being tipped off by Debbie Dills, who is white. Dills spotted him on her way to work in North Carolina, called her boss (who called police), and then tailed Roof for another 35 miles until police arrived and arrested him. Roof waived his extradition rights and was brought back to South Carolina where conservative Republican governor Nikki Haley has called for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty. I mention the race of Dills and the politics of Haley for a simple reason: I am deeply saddened that many people, perhaps because they are accustomed to the terminology of Critical Race Theory, seem to believe that the kind of white supremacy behind Roof’s actions is endemic within American society, or at least among white conservatives. It is not. I do not say this to defend political allies, but in the interests of bridging wounds.

I believe we are all in this together. I will not pretend for a moment that we all suffer from racism or sexism or other forms of intolerance and bigotry equally. Clearly we do not, and the long history of violent racial terrorism in the South–which is my home–should not be whitewashed or ignored. I do not believe that we should assume Roof was a lone wolf without first conducting an aggressive investigation to determine what group–if any–lent him material support or advocated his heinous course of action. Calls to take down the Confederate flag are legitimate. So are calls for white people–even those horrified by this action–to engage in some soul-searching about how we view white killers vs. black killers in the mainstream media.

I want to make it clear that in my view there is nothing ambiguous about who Roof is or what he has done. He is a monster who committed an atrocity. I am concerned that there are those who–in understandable shock and outrage, perhaps–believe that Roof has far more allies or sympathizers than he actually does . I am worried that an act like this–which, although the black community obviously bears the tragic cost directly–somehow will be seen as political when it is not. In addition to the personal tragedy faced by the victims and their families, this is a blow struck against the dream of equality and tolerance and understanding, and that is a dream that I believe can be shared (or sometimes neglected) by all Americans.

I pray for Roof to face justice, for his victims to be able to find some measure of peace, and also for us as a nation to find a way to draw closer together rather than farther apart.

Transgender, Transable, Transracial

Does transgenderism conflict with feminism?

What Makes a Woman? (New York Times)

Do women and men have different brains?

Back when Lawrence H. Summers was president of Harvard and suggested that they did, the reaction was swift and merciless. Pundits branded him sexist. Faculty members deemed him a troglodyte. Alumni withheld donations.

But when Bruce Jenner said much the same thing in an April interview with Diane Sawyer, he was lionized for his bravery, even for his progressivism.

After Being TKO’d by Fallon Fox, Tamikka Brents Says Transgender Fighters in MMA ‘Just Isn’t Fair’ (Cage Potato)

Transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox earned her second straight win on Saturday, when she TKO’d Tamikka Brents in the first round at a Capital City Cage Wars event in Springfield, Illinois. Brents reportedly suffered a concussion and a broken orbital bone during the two-minute beatdown, and required seven staples in her head.

Brens said:

I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.

Does transableism conflict with disability rights?

Becoming disabled by choice, not chance: ‘Transabled’ people feel like impostors in their fully working bodies (National Post)

When he cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool,” a man who now calls himself One Hand Jason let everyone believe it was an accident.

But he had for months tried different means of cutting and crushing the limb that never quite felt like his own, training himself on first aid so he wouldn’t bleed to death, even practicing on animal parts sourced from a butcher.

“My goal was to get the job done with no hope of reconstruction or re-attachment, and I wanted some method that I could actually bring myself to do,” he told the body modification website ModBlog.

His goal was to become disabled.

Is transracialism bad for racial progress?

Why Comparing Rachel Dolezal To Caitlyn Jenner Is Detrimental To Both Trans And Racial Progress (Huffington Post)

Transracial identity is a concept that allows white people to indulge in blackness as a commodity, without having to actually engage with every facet of what being black entails — discrimination, marginalization, oppression, and so on. It plays into racial stereotypes…


1.5 Million Missing Black Men

A recent piece from The New York Times describes what can only be called a staggering, haunting, and horrific picture:

In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South — from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo. — hundreds of thousands more are missing.

They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to an Upshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.

African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.

Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.

…The disappearance of these men has far-reaching implications. Their absence disrupts family formation, leading both to lower marriage rates and higher rates of childbirth outside marriage, as research by Kerwin Charles, an economist at the University of Chicago, with Ming-Ching Luoh, has shown.

The black women left behind find that potential partners of the same race are scarce, while men, who face an abundant supply of potential mates, don’t need to compete as hard to find one. As a result, Mr. Charles said, “men seem less likely to commit to romantic relationships, or to work hard to maintain them.”

Arguments over racial disparities are sensitive and more often than not heated (just take a quick look at your Facebook feed regarding Baltimore). Blame is placed in various places, from systemic and institutional racism to individual choice and accountability. I have my own opinions (largely a mixture of the two), but that isn’t what I’m interested in with this post. Put aside the finger-pointing, the outrage, and the judgment for a moment. Just look at those numbers and think of the human faces behind them. And then weep.

Racism, Partyism, and the Outgroup

996 - Slate Star Codex

This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on the topic of social psychology, in-group / out-group bias, and political polarization: I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup. It is long, but well worth the read. The central thesis is that the out-group doesn’t often look like what we think it does, starting with the central example of racist Nazis who were more willing to collaborate with extremely foreign cultures like Chinese and Japanese than with much more similar cultures like German Jews. As the author writes:

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

That’s pretty interesting, but what really blew my mind were the following observations / revelations:

1. Tribalism > Racism

You’ve probably heard of the Implicit Association Test, which is a way to experimentally detect racist attitudes. The IAT is famous for demonstrating racism even in people who think they have no racist attitudes. What I had never heard before, however, was that a tweaked version of the IAT was used to compare racist attitudes to “partyist” attitudes:

Anyway, three months ago, someone finally had the bright idea of doing an Implicit Association Test with political parties, and they found that people’s unconscious partisan biases were half again as strong as their unconscious racial biases (h/t Bloomberg. For example, if you are a white Democrat, your unconscious bias against blacks (as measured by something called a d-score) is 0.16, but your unconscious bias against Republicans will be 0.23. The Cohen’s d for racial bias was 0.61, by the book a “moderate” effect size; for party it was 0.95, a “large” effect size.

Subsequent research confirmed that “partyism” is stronger than racism and that it exists “in the wild” and not just in laboratory experiments. I had no idea. I changed the name from “partyism” to “tribalism” for reasons that will be explained in the next section…

2. “White” and “American” are code for “Red Tribe”

Building on that observation, the author argues that the real divide in this country is not along racial or cultural lines. It’s between a Red Tribe (conservative) and a Blue Tribe (liberal):

Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this… My hunch [is that] both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism. That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

He then points to the litany of anti-white articles that came out during the Ferguson controversy and observes that these anti-white articles were almost universally authored by… white males:

White People Are Ruining America? White. White People Are Still A Disgrace? White. White Guys: We Suck And We’re Sorry? White. Bye Bye, Whiny White Dudes? White. Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes, I’m Evicting You From My Life? White. White Dudes Need To Stop Whitesplaining? White. Reasons Why Americans Suck #1: White People? White.

He argues that actually criticizing your own in-group is very, very difficult to do. Whenever someone appears to be castigating their own in-group with glee and relish, chances are very good that they aren’t actually attacking their own in-group after all. Given the fact that we already know that partyism (Red Tribe vs. Blue Tribe) is stronger than racism (black vs. white) and the reasonable evidence that “America” often means “Red Tribe,” it’s not much of a stretch at all to assume that these uses of the term “white” also mean “Red Tribe.”

Taken together, these two observations amount to a subtle but profound shift in how we look at political polarization and racial and cultural division in the United States. And, although I’ve hit the highlights, I really do think you should read the whole thing.


Abortion, Race, and Cluelessness

2014-10-10 Abortion and Race

In September, The Atlantic ran a post called Abortion’s Racial Gap that was breathtaking in its cluelessness.

The rate of abortion among American women is currently at its lowest point since Roe v. Wade, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute. About 1.1 million abortions were performed in 2011, at a rate of 16.9 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, down from a peak of 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981. Since the report’s release in February, the reason why has been the subject of much debate. Its authors and abortion-rights supporters point to the increase in contraceptive use and sexual education, while anti-abortion activists counter that the decrease is a result of abstinence-only teachings and state restrictions.

Largely missing from the debate, though, is discussion of abortion’s racial disparity: Although rates among Hispanic and African-American women have decreased along with the rest of the country, they remain significantly higher than the national average.

To the extent that abortion’s racial disparity is “largely missing from the debate,” it is absolutely not because pro-lifers are either ignorant of it or silent on the topic. The problem, by contrast, is that the overwhelmingly pro-choice media squelches any discussion of, for example, the insidious beliefs that prompted pro-choice hero Margaret Sanger to advocate for legalized abortion. I’ll go ahead and give away the secret: she was an ardent eugenecist who hoped that abortion and birth control could be used to exterminated blacks from the country. Ask any pro-lifer about this, and they’ll happily tell you about it and find one of her more infamous quotes and point out that, tragically, her legacy seems to be alive and well. Meanwhile Planned Parenthood, the organization she founded, still gives an annual award in her name. Oh there’s a racial disparity alright, but it’s only on one side of this issue.

To their credit, I think that pro-choicers (who are usually liberal) aren’t intentionally trying to conceal the concern that pro-lifer’s have on this issue. I think they just genuinely can’t imagine that conservatives (who are supposed to be racist) might actually sincerely care about the racial impact of abortion policy in the United States.

By chance, I happened upon another article that demonstrates exactly how this plays out in real time. Over at Townhall, Ryan Bomberger described the reaction to some comments from Jessa Duggar after visiting the Holocaust Museum. She wrote:

I walked through the Holocaust Museum again today… very sobering. Millions of innocents denied the most basic and fundamental of all rights–their right to life. One human destroying the life of another deemed “less than human.” Racism, stemming from the evolutionary idea that man came from something less than human; that some people groups are “more evolved” and others “less evolved.” A denying that our Creator–GOD–made us human from the beginning, all of ONE BLOOD and ONE RACE, descendants of Adam. The belief that some human beings are “not fit to live.” So they’re murdered. Slaughtered. Kids with Down syndrome or other disabilities. The sickly. The elderly. The sanctity of human life varies not in sickness or health, poverty or wealth, elderly or pre-born, little or lots of melanin [making you darker or lighter skinned], or any other factor… May we never sit idly by and allow such an atrocity to happen again. Not this generation. We must be a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Because EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS. #ProLife

No matter what you think about this message, one thing is clears: she understands the connection between discrimination and being ProLife. The backlash was as vicious as it was predictable:

Cosmo went into full anti-woman mode. Filipovic attacked Jessa Duggar for daring to put history into perspective: “Jessa had just walked out of the Holocaust museum, and instead of absorbing the scale of that atrocity, decided to make a point about abortion rights. That’s not just tone-deaf; it’s deranged.”

So, just to be clear, pro-lifers are acutely aware of the connection between race and abortion. Folks–especially those in the media–just tend to have an allergic reaction every time we bring it up. Then, when they discover the connection themselves, they act as though it’s the most starting, unexpected thing in the world.

Maybe they should have been listening.