Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ten Ways

A writer for named Kali Holloway lists "Ten Ways White People Are More Racist Than They Realize." It's an interesting article, but it may be a case of there being less here than meets the eye. Holloway's first misstep is to fail to define what she means by the term "racism." The word means different things to different people and her failure to tell us what she means by it confuses her whole column.

For example, she shows that there are racial disparities in our society, but it hardly follows that disparities are due to racism. She attributes some data that she adduces to white racism, but the data show no such thing. She says in her intro that whites "believe racism is over" but again this is a meaningless claim in lieu of a plausible definition of racism. A lot of whites think, rightly in my opinion, that because blacks are no longer the target of discriminatory laws and are in fact protected by the law from overt discrimination, and because they benefit from affirmative action in all its various guises, and because educators bend over backwards to help black kids succeed in school, that genuine racism, while still holding out in some backwaters, is pretty much in retreat. But if by racism being over Holloway has in mind a state in which all whites love and admire all blacks and think the black sub-culture is a wonderful thing, well, then, racism isn't over, nor, on that definition of racism, is its persistence necessarily a bad thing.

At the risk of causing readers' eyes to glaze over here's why I think her ten reasons don't show what she seems to think they show. One caveat: I haven't followed up on the links she offers so I reserve the right to change my mind if the links were to prove any more convincing than are Holloway's arguments. Here are her reasons for thinking whites are racist to a greater extent than even they realize with a brief response from me:

1. College professors, across race/ethnicity and gender, are more likely to respond to queries from students they believe are white males. Okay, but whatever the reason for this, how can it be an exemplification of white racism if the more positive response to white males is, as Holloway acknowledges, exhibited by black professors as well as white?

2. White people, including white children, are less moved by the pain of people of color, including children of color, than by the pain of fellow whites. Probably true, but why is that? Is it because white children instinctively disdain black children, or is it because, as a matter of human nature, people universally have more difficulty relating to those who are unlike themselves? To show that this is a feature of white racism in particular rather than a general feature of human nature the studies would have to show that children of other races in the U.S. feel as much empathy for children of all other races as they do for other children of their own race. I bet a study wouldn't show that.

3. White people are more likely to have done illegal drugs than blacks or Latinos, but are far less likely to go to to jail for it. Maybe so, but what are the unstated relevant factors? Were there prior arrests, was there resistance to arrest, were the whites able to secure better legal representation? Unless these questions are answered Holloway's citation of the disparity in sentencing tells us little about why the disparity exists.

4. Black men are sentenced to far lengthier prison sentences than white men for the same crimes. See #3

5. White people, including police, see black children as older and less innocent than white children. It's hard to see why this is even on the list. Whites tend to see Asians as younger than they really are. So what? Moreover, blacks often recount how they had to grow up fast on the streets and that they experienced more of life by the time they were thirteen than do most middle class people. If so, why is it racist on the part of whites to assume that blacks are telling them the truth about that?

6. Black children are more likely to be tried as adults and are given harsher sentences than white children. There's some interesting stuff in the details of Holloway's elaboration on this one. She writes: "That might explain why, of the roughly 2,500 juveniles in the U.S. who have been sentenced to life without parole, nearly all (97 percent) were male and (60 percent) black." Once again, no discussion of the relevant incidentals accompanies this stat, an omission which should at least give us pause. In order to tell whether there's an injustice lurking in this statistic we'd have to know what percentage of serious violent crimes were committed by blacks. If blacks commit 60% or more of such crimes then a 60% rate of life sentences seems completely unremarkable.

Holloway goes on to say that, "for black kids, killing a white person was a good way to end up behind bars for their entire adult life. For white kids, killing a black person actually helped their chances of ensuring their prison stay would be temporary. From the report: “[T]he proportion of African American [juveniles sentenced to life without parole] for the killing of a white person (43.4 percent) is nearly twice the rate at which African American juveniles overall have taken a white person’s life (23.2 percent). What’s more, we find that the odds of a [juvenile life without probation] sentence for a white offender who killed a black victim are only about half as likely (3.6 percent) as the proportion of white juveniles arrested for killing blacks (6.4 percent).”

If Holloway is looking for evidence of racism in these statistics then one of them is pretty damning, but not in the way she thinks. According to what she writes black juveniles kill whites at a rate almost four times greater than white juveniles kill blacks. I should think that that stat would count for far more in the "who's a racist sweepstakes" than, say, #2 above.

7. White people are more likely to support the criminal justice system, including the death penalty, when they think it’s disproportionately punitive toward black people. I'm going to go out on a limb here. Without having read the reports to which she links I'm going to predict that they are nonsense. I know, you're going to ask me how I can say that. The reason is that all of us have a built in Baloney Detector and mine red-lined when I read #7.

8. The more “stereotypically black” a defendant looks in a murder case, the higher the likelihood he will be sentenced to death. Ms Holloway must herself be black herself because if a white person wrote about stereotypically black criminals they'd be pilloried for it at Salon. But let's grant the concept of "stereotypically black" criminal since she introduced it. Is the determinative factor, as she puts it, broad nose, thick lips, and dark skin, or is it the fact that the convicted killer comes across as inarticulate, stupid, brutal and thuggish that sways the jurors against him? If it's the latter then why is this racist?

9. Conversely, white people falsely recall black men they perceive as being “smart” as being lighter-skinned. See #10

10. A number of studies find white people view lighter-skinned African Americans (and Latinos) as more intelligent, competent, trustworthy and reliable than their darker-skinned peers. Aside from the redundancy in what she says about "trustworthy and reliable" I have no doubt what she claims is true if the lighter-skinned African Americans are also more articulate, better educated, and don't wear their hats sideways and their pants around the middle of their butts. More significantly, I suspect that light skin is valued in the black community as well since that's who's buying all those skin lighteners she talks about in her explanation. Does that mean blacks are racists? If blacks wanting lighter skin is in some convoluted way indicative of white racism, is the desire for darker skin among whites who visit tanning salons indicative of black racism?

Leftist/Progressives think that the locus of racism in this country is on the right in groups like the Tea Party, but using them as a test case, how does someone like Holloway explain the popularity among Tea Partiers of people like Herman Cain in 2012, Ben Carson in 2016, Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, and Walter Williams? All of these men have dark skin. So does Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisianna. So does Mia Love (elected to congress in Utah, of all places), Condaleeza Rice, Star Parker, Jason Riley and many, many others. Maybe it's not the color of one's skin that matters to people but rather the content of their ideas.

Sometime ago I wrote on VP about a study that showed that blacks themselves think racism afflicts a higher percentage of blacks than it does whites. If that's so it's another reason Ms. Holloway's case is weak. It sounds too much like special pleading.