discrimination, human rights images, photography and journalism, racism

Segregation in the U.S., A Collection of Images

I’ll never be able to understand how this scene could have been horrifying to anyone:

The first day of desegregation, on Sept. 8, 1954, at Fort Myer Elementary School in Fort Myer, Va. I'll never be able to understand how this scene could be horrifying to anyone.

The first day of desegregation, on Sept. 8, 1954, at Fort Myer Elementary School in Fort Myer, Va.

And this image shows the absurdness of segregation:

segregation_photo_Page_1

Is this de facto segregation? I couldn’t find anything about the context of the photo:

Students sit during a study session at a Mississippi junior high school Jan. 8, 1970.

Students sit during a study session at a Mississippi junior high school Jan. 8, 1970.

And this is just one of the sexiest images ever:

A young black woman, soaked by a fireman’s hose as an anti-segregation march is broken up by police, in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 8, 1963. In the background is a police riot wagon.

A young black woman, soaked by a fireman’s hose as an anti-segregation march is broken up by police, in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 8, 1963. In the background is a police riot wagon.

photo05

If you look carefully at the top left of this image, you’ll see a fellow who doesn’t know his place:

Segregated seating at the Orange Bowl, Miami, 1955

Segregated seating at the Orange Bowl, Miami, 1955

More images on segregation are here. More on segregation in general is here.

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equality, racism

Racism (30): What Should We Call Non-White People, and How Do Names Affect Us?

A young demonstrator carries a placard that reads "No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger" at the Harlem Peace March to End Racial Oppression on April 27, 1967. The statement was taken from boxer Muhammad Ali's original statement about his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War, "Ain't no Vietcong ever called me nigger." Photo by Builder Levy

A young demonstrator carries a placard that reads “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger” at the Harlem Peace March to End Racial Oppression on April 27, 1967. The statement was taken from boxer Muhammad Ali’s original statement about his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War, “Ain’t no Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Photo by Builder Levy

Obviously, “nigger” is out. Initially a neutral term – from the Latin “niger” which means black – it was often used without racist connotation during much of the 19th century, but it became increasingly pejorative and derogatory. Even though it’s still used today by some, shall we say “African Americans”, to describe each other, often even endearingly, it’s done with.

“Negro” also means “black”, notably in Spanish and Portuguese. This term took over from “nigger” and then also from “colored” as the more polite appellation (“colored” was common usage during a few decades at the beginning of the 19th century).

“Negro” was long considered to be the proper English-language term for people of sub-Saharan African origin. This lasted until the late 1960s. Martin Luther King could still call himself a Negro. However, the term was already criticized in the 1950s en 1960s, notably by Malcolm X who successfully tried to redeem the word “black” which was seen as offensive during much of the first half of the 20th century. And indeed, “black was beautiful” during the “black power” era in the 1970s.

“African American” then took over from “black” which went from repudiated to acceptable to repudiated again. (Initially, the term was “Afro-American” derived from “Anglo-American”). “African American” has been the standard term since the 1980s, and it still is today.  “Negro” is now considered to be acceptable only in a historical context, and you should avoid talking about “black people”. African American – a term which for the first time doesn’t reference skin color – was initially hyphenated: “African-American”, like “Irish-American” or “Cuban-American”. This has become problematic very recently in reaction to the belittling phrase “hyphenated Americans“. Hence the recent omission of the hyphen.

Many will see this movement of the language of race as political correctness “gone wild”, but language does evolve and words carry meaning and historical references. Meanings and historical references can influence ideas and behavior. People who insist on using the word “nigger” are likely to have certain very specific ideas about those whom they call “nigger”. And these ideas can circulate when the word circulates. Even those who are tempted to see PC at work here will surely agree that “nigger” is an unacceptable and damaging use of language. But if “nigger” is, then why not also certain other words?

The evolution of words is confirmed by Google Ngrams and the NYT database:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 6.26.56 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 6.36.48 PM

“Negro” was quite often used during the Civil War era and during the Civil Rights struggle, understandably, and was the standard expression in the period between. “Blacks” took over in the 70s, and “African American” in the 90s. “Nigger” has always been taboo in published works.

There is more on the harmful use of language in general here and here. Something more specific about the terminology of race is here and here. And let’s also not forget that human races actually don’t even exist.

More posts in this series are here.

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equality, racism

Racism (29): A Natural or An Acquired Vice?

fMRI scan of the Amygdala

fMRI scan of the Amygdala

(source)

We now have strong evidence that human evolution has produced natural tendencies to favor members of the same group and to distrust and disadvantage outsiders. Insider-outsiders distinctions seem to be innate. This is the consequence of the substantial benefits of group solidarity in early human evolution, and we still live with it today.

Psychologist Catherine Cottrell at the University of Florida and her colleague Steven Neuberg at Arizona State University, argue that human prejudice evolved as a function of group living. Joining together in groups allowed humans to gain access to resources necessary for survival including food, water, and shelter. Groups also offered numerous advantages, such as making it easier to find a mate, care for children, and receive protection from others. However, group living also made us more wary of outsiders who could potentially harm the group by spreading disease, killing or hurting individuals, or stealing precious resources. To protect ourselves, we developed ways of identifying who belongs to our group and who doesn’t. Over time, this process of quickly evaluating others might have become so streamlined that it became unconscious. (source)

So, to some extent, our brains are wired for bias. Even the most liberal among us show some level of implicit bias when tested for it. All we can do is try to be aware of our prejudices as much as possible, and then correct for them.

Some want to extrapolate from these relatively uncontroversial findings and argue that racism as well is innate, even though racism is a relatively recent phenomenon unknown to early humans who almost never met members of other races.

Those who argue that racism is a natural tendency can appeal to certain findings to back up their claims. Studies have found that when whites see black faces there is increased activity in the amygdala, a brain structure associated with emotion and, specifically, with the detection of threats (source).

The problem with this sort of argument is that a biological fact doesn’t have to be innate. In fact, in this case, it has been shown that the detected brain reaction – a biological fact – does not occur in young people:

In a paper that will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Eva Telzer of UCLA and three other researchers report that they’ve performed these amygdala studies–which had previously been done on adults–on children. And they found something interesting: the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14. What’s more: once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse your peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.” (source)

In a sense, this is good news, because it means that people can be taught not to be racist, even if we can’t be taught to be completely unprejudiced.

More on race as a social construction is here. More posts in this series are here.

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equality, racism

Racism (28): Shooter Bias

armed black suspect

(source unknown)

When called to the scene of an on-going crime, police officers often have to make split-second decisions whether to shoot or not. There’s chaos, darkness, running, shouting, shooting perhaps, and no time to determine who’s who and who’s likely to do what. Training can help, but in most cases officers just rely on instincts. In other words, these are the ideal situations for the revelation of personal biases.

Because of the nature of those situations, officers sometimes make mistakes and shoot innocent persons or unarmed suspects. Now, somewhat unsurprisingly there’s research telling us that it’s more likely for white people to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects. This bias is called the shooter bias, and it’s not the monopoly of police officers (as lab tests with ordinary citizens have confirmed). (More here).

It seems that a lot of people have internalized the stereotype about dangerous black men, even those who would not think of themselves as having done so.

More posts in this series are here.

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education, equality, racism

Racism (27): Black Students Face Harsher Discipline

school scene from The Wire

school scene from The Wire

(source unknown)

At least they do in U.S. schools:

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions … Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. …

Black and Hispanic students — particularly those with disabilities — are also disproportionately subject to seclusion or restraints. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student body, but 70 percent of those subject to physical restraints. Black students with disabilities constituted 21 percent of the total, but 44 percent of those with disabilities subject to mechanical restraints, like being strapped down. And while Hispanics made up 21 percent of the students without disabilities, they accounted for 42 percent of those without disabilities who were placed in seclusion. (source, source)

What are the reasons for these differences in discipline rates? I guess it can only be one of two things: either black students are particularly unruly, or many teachers are prejudiced. Racists will obviously adopt the former explanation: in their minds, racial discrepancies in discipline are not evidence of racism but rather evidence of the inferiority of the black race. Let’s assume for a moment that teachers do not treat black pupils unjustly and that those pupils deserve their treatment on account of their behavior: we should probably not assume this, but even if we do this would not necessarily be evidence of racial inferiority. There may still be background discrimination. Why do black kids behave the way they do – if they do indeed behave in ways that deserve harsher discipline? Could it not be because of racism elsewhere in society?

More posts in this series are here.

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racism

Racism (26): Racism in Criminal Justice

Twelve Angry Men

Scene from the movie “Twelve Angry Men”, about an all-white, all-male jury exonerating (albeit after some trouble) a defendant who’s probably not white

(source)

African Americans get, on average, a raw deal from the criminal justice system in the US. They get arrested more often, in part because of racial profiling; when they end up in court, they face racially biased juries; and when it’s time to sentence them, they receive harsher penalties and join an already overrepresented group in the prison system (African Americans are more likely to spend time in jail and when they do they spend more time in jail). Some more evidence:

Biased juries

Here’s a study showing that the racial composition of juries affects trial outcomes and conviction rates:

This article examines the impact of jury racial composition on trial outcomes using a data set of felony trials in Florida between 2000 and 2010. We use a research design that exploits day-to-day variation in the composition of the jury pool to isolate quasi-random variation in the composition of the seated jury, finding evidence that (i) juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly (16 percentage points) more often than white defendants, and (ii) this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member. The impact of jury race is much greater than what a simple correlation of the race of the seated jury and conviction rates would suggest. These findings imply that the application of justice is highly uneven and raise obvious concerns about the fairness of trials in jurisdictions with a small proportion of blacks in the jury pool. (source)

Whether or not someone is convicted has a lot to do with the luck of the draw or with the success of prosecutors or defendants wishing to remove people from juries. This raises obvious concerns about the fairness of criminal justice.

Here are the study’s results in the form of a drawing:

racial bias in jury trials

(source)

Biased prosecutors

African Americans receive longer sentences because prosecutors are, on average, more likely to charge them with crimes that require minimum sentences:

This study provides robust evidence that black arrestees in the federal system—particularly black men—experience moderately but significantly worse case outcomes than do white defendants arrested for the same crimes and with the same criminal history. Most of that disparity appears to be introduced at the initial charging stage …  [C]ompared to white men, black men face charges that are on average about seven to ten percent more severe on various severity scales, and are more than twice as likely to face charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences.  These disparities persist after charge bargaining and, ultimately, are a major contributor to the large black-white disparities in prison sentence length. (source)

Biased police

An example of racial profiling: a study of New York City’s stop-and-frisk program has revealed that

out of all ethnicities stopped, white people had the highest chance of having committed a crime, despite being proportionally the least searched. (source)

racial profiling in NY

(source)
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racism

Racism (25): What Do We Know About Race?

racial types

At least the following 5 things:

  1. There are no human races in the sense of biological or genetic divisions within the human species. About 94% of genetic variation between individuals lies within so-called “racial groups” – or rather “groups which are conventionally labeled as races” on spurious grounds (for example on the basis of vague and ambiguous differences in appearances). This means that two Africans may be as genetically different from one another as an African and a European. Continued interbreeding throughout history and the resulting exchange of genetic material has maintained humanity as a single species. There are no clearly divided species of humanity that are biological distinct. Humans aren’t monkeys. The concept of race has no genetic basis and genetics doesn’t provide support for those dividing humanity into different races.
  2. Even divisions based solely on appearances rather than genetic characteristics are flawed since those appearances show a continuum across individuals rather than a clear division between discrete groups of individuals. There are indeed superficial visual differences between people living in different parts of the world, but those differences are individual gradations on a continuum rather than divisions between groups. If you move towards the equator, skin color darkens because darker skin helps to avoid the cancerogenous effect of the sun entering the atmosphere at a right angle. These superficial differences are not only continuous and gradual rather than discrete; they also have no connection to other, supposed differences such as IQ or morality. Even if IQ and morality are determined by genes – and that’s a big “if” – then there is no reason to believe that the genes that determine these qualities “cooperate” with the genes that determine skin color. Hence no reason to assume a causal link between skin color and intellectual or moral faculties.
  3. So, even if you manage to divide humanity roughly into groups according to broad ranges of skin color – and provide a category called “mixed” for descendants of two individuals belonging to different groups (“Creoles” for example) or for people belonging to borderline groups (Arabs for example) – nothing useful can be concluded from such a division. There is nothing – no gene, no trait, no color, no moral or intellectual characteristic – that distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.
  4. As a result of this, observed inequalities between groups that are wrongfully labeled as racial groups must be the result not of biological inheritance but of differences in education, rights and treatment. Biological or genetic arguments for intellectual or moral differences between races are groundless because the denominator – race – is a fiction.
  5. The word “race” only has meaning in the sense that it is something some people believe in, talk about and act upon. “Race” is something that exists only in the minds of people. In other words, it’s a social construct. However, a social construct can have real life effects given the fact that people treat other people on the basis of their mistaken ideas about “race”. Likewise, race can be meaningful as a form of self-identification, subjective allegiance and group belonging. But also in this sense, the word race refers to nothing in biology or genetics.
amazonian indians

Amazonian Indians

More on race here. More posts in this series here.

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equality, housing, poverty, racism

Racism (24): What’s Wrong With Residential Segregation?

lets-clean-up-the-ghetto-cover

(source)

Residential segregation can be the outcome of racial animus or racial prejudice, for example when whites decide that they don’t want to live near blacks for no other reason than race. In that case, segregation is a symptom of racism and is evidently wrong. What to do about it is less clear: forcing people to live somewhere is also wrong.

But residential segregation can also result from less prejudiced motives, sometimes even from rational ones: whites may be relatively wealthy and therefore decide that they prefer to live in a nice suburb. Automatically, they end up together with other whites. (Perhaps the wealth disparity has something to do with racism, but not the segregation itself). Yet, even in that case, segregation has harmful consequences and we will have to do something about it.

Residential segregation is harmful in several ways. When relatively wealthy whites move en masse to the suburbs, the relatively poor blacks who stay in the inner cities find themselves in an increasingly impoverished area. Shops will disappear; house prices will fall and will put pressure on people’s assets, etc. The reduced tax base will make it harder for the local government to fund high quality public goods. As a result, the quality of education and other public services will drop, which will start a vicious circle of poverty.

Physical segregation of races will reduce self-esteem and self-confidence among the members of the group that is worse off after segregation. It may also foster racial animus against those who are better off. And, finally, so-called membership poverty will kick in. People will see a reduction in the number of role models, and the remaining role models will by definition be relatively poor and hence not always the ones providing the most beneficial inspiration. Criminal role models also become more prominent, as the simple arithmetical result of the disappearance of the middle class. Furthermore, when people witness high rates of failure among group members, this will also negatively affect their aspirations and effort, which in turn will make a negative economic logic take root: for example, when few group members start businesses, few other members will have the opportunity to work for them or trade with them.

However, residential segregation is not entirely negative for the poor minorities remaining in the inner cities. As house prices in the cities fall, relatively poor blacks are more likely to become homeowners. However, that’s a small silver lining to an enormous black cloud.

By the way, some numbers are here, here and here. More on segregation here.

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data, law, racism

Racism (22): Implicit Racism in Criminal Justice, Ctd.

humanity

(source)

Being less than white in the US is not an asset when you’re in court, in more than one sense. It’s well known that black defendants face prejudice in the criminal justice system. There’s in fact a double injustice going on: dark skinned people get a raw deal from juries, and there are more of them facing juries because of racial profiling. But something similar is happening on the other side of the court room:

In this paper, I find that cases decided by black federal lower-court judges are consistently overturned more often than cases authored by similar white judges. I estimate this effect by leveraging the fact that incoming cases to the U.S. courts are randomly assigned to judges, which ensures that black and white judges hear similar sorts of cases. The effect is robust and persists after matching exactly on measures for judicial quality (including quality ratings assigned by the American Bar Association (ABA)), previous professional and judicial experience, and partisanship. Moreover, by looking more closely at the ABA ratings scores awarded to judicial nominees, I demonstrate that this effect is unlikely to be attributable exclusively to differences between black and white judges in terms of quality. This study is the first to explore how higher-court judges evaluate opinions written by judges of color. (source)

If we assume that it’s likely that black judges are more sensitive to the possibility of racial injustices suffered by defendants – and that assumption doesn’t require a huge leap of faith – then we’ll have a vicious feedback loop: if the decisions of black judges are more often overturned, then that will also harm black defendants. Add this to the harm done by prejudiced juries and police officers, and you’ll have a good explanation for this.

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data, economics, housing, poverty, racism

Racism (21): The Recession Isn’t Colorblind

change in net worth of households, by race

(source)

The recession obliterated more than half of the wealth (assets minus debts) of the average black and hispanic household in the U.S. White households lost “only” 16%. (Assets are houses, cars, savings and checking accounts, stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc. Debts are mortgages, auto loans, credit card debt, etc.). The main culprit was the bursting of the housing market bubble.

As a result, the average black household had just $5,677 in wealth in 2009; the typical Hispanic household $6,325; and the typical white household $113,149. In relative terms, this means that in 2009, the median wealth of white households in the U.S. was 20 times that of black households, and 18 times that of Hispanic households; this difference is twice the size it used to be before the recession. Also, a third of black and Hispanic households now have zero or negative net worth.

Moreover, since the official end of the recession in mid-2009, the housing market in the U.S. has remained in a slump while the stock market has recaptured much of the value it lost from 2007 to 2009. Given that a much higher share of whites than blacks or Hispanics own stocks — as well as mutual funds and 401(k) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) — the stock market rebound since 2009 is likely to have benefited white households more than minority households. (source)

Add to that the racial differences in unemployment rate, poverty rate and income, and you have what one could call a “racist recession”.

More on wealth inequality here.

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data, law, racism

Racism (20): Racial Discrimination in Marijuana Arrests

Marijuana use by black residents of Washington DC is only slightly higher than among white residents. Given that blacks are slightly more numerous in DC than whites, we should – if criminal justice were fair – also see only slightly more blacks arrested for marijuana use. Surprise, surprise: that’s not the case. In 2007, 91 percent of those arrested for marijuana were black. Adjusting for population, African-Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested.

racial discrimination in marijuana arrests

(source, source, the drawing makes it look like blacks are more than 11 times more likely to get arrested – 8*11=91 – but that doesn’t take into account the fact that blacks are slightly more numerous in DC – hence the correct number is 8 times)

A similar pattern for Chicago (where whites are more numerous than blacks):

marijuana arrest rates by race, chicago

marijuana arrest rates by race, Chicago

(source, click image to enlarge)

And this is the case for many if not all types of crimes. The racial distribution of inmates in U.S. prisons is highly negative for black Americans. Whereas they only make up 12% of the total U.S. population, they represent more than 40% of all inmates. It’s obvious from the case of cannabis that this difference isn’t due to a higher level of involvement in crime. I wonder, could racial profiling perhaps explain something? Actually, I don’t wonder…

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data, racism

Racism (19): Racial Inequality in U.S. Incarceration Rates

Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption

Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption

The boom in incarceration rates in the U.S., following the War on Drugs and other sentencing reforms inspired by the “tough on crime” ideology, has had devastating effects on the rights of the incarcerated – many of whom are in prison for deeds that resulted in little or no harm to anyone – but also on the rights of their family members, none of whom did anything wrong. These rights violations have fallen disproportionally on an already disadvantaged group of American society, namely African-Americans. And it’s their children who suffer along:

Graph demonstrating increases in United States...

Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails (click image to enlarge)

  • 1 in 40 white children born in 1978 and 1 in 25 white children born in 1990 had a parent imprisoned;
  • 1 in 7 black children born in 1978 and 1 in 4 black children born in 1990 had a parent imprisoned;
  • inequality in the risk of parental imprisonment between white children of college-educated parents and all other children is growing; and
  • by age 14, 50.5% of black children born in 1990 to high school dropouts had a father imprisoned. (source, source)
parental incarceration by parents' education and race

parental incarceration by parents' education and race

(source)

Children especially are placed at considerable risk by policies of incarceration. Incarcerated men are less likely to contribute financially or otherwise to their families and their children’s education. The same is true even in the case of formerly incarcerated men, because of their inferior earnings. Hence, the effects of incarceration place children at a significant economic disadvantage, which is punishment without a crime, worthy only of a dictatorship.

More data on incarceration are here. More human rights facts are here.

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discrimination and hate, education, equality, law, philosophy, racism, work

Racism (18): Human Rights and Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is a set of policies aimed at improving the representation of women and minorities in education, business, employment and other sectors of society where these groups have traditionally been underrepresented or even completely excluded. Representation is improved by way of preferential selection.

For example, if students are normally selected on the basis of test scores, affirmative action will add other selection criteria such as race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion etc. Maybe in certain cases the initial selection criteria (e.g. test scores) are dumped altogether because it’s assumed that they reflect racial bias or because past discrimination makes it difficult for discriminated groups to achieve good test scores.

As you can see from this description, affirmative action policies are usually internal policies implemented by organizations or institutions (schools, businesses, representative bodies etc.) wishing to become more diverse and more representative of society at large, although they can also be imposed by the government. It’s common – but not necessary – for affirmative action policies to work with quotas, i.e. fixed percentages of selectees from historically disadvantaged groups.

affirmative action

(source)

Now, how should we evaluate affirmative action from the perspective of human rights? Some see affirmative action as a means to compensate for past human rights violations and past exclusion. A minority which has been discriminated in the past may still find it difficult today to achieve equality of opportunity today. Affirmative action is then intended to break a self-continuing pattern of exclusion. Combined with other policies such as reparations, welfare, anti-discrimination laws etc., affirmative action will hopefully achieve more equality. According to this view, affirmative action is necessary from a human rights perspective.

However, it’s equally possible to argue that affirmative action doesn’t help or even undermines human rights. An example of the way in which it may not help is given by its application in education. Those African-Americans who are most likely to profit from affirmative action in access to higher education institutions aren’t the most disadvantaged of their group. On the contrary, they are probably among those who already have sufficiently good educational credentials (a requirement to be eligible to higher education in the first place), and they are by definition not the least advantaged. Affirmative action doesn’t seem to serve equality.

The same setting provides another example of the way in which affirmative action fails to help or even harms the cause of human rights. White people who enter education are by definition relatively young and hence least likely to have contributed to past discrimination. Their exclusion from a university resulting from the preferential selection of African-Americans harms their right to equal treatment for no good reason. It looks like discrimination as a means to fight discrimination, racism as a means to fight racism. Affirmative action is then supposed to harm the rights of whites. It’s even possible that a poor white boy, who would profit a lot from acceptance by a highly ranked university, is excluded in order to benefit a rich black boy who will have a decent life even without any education. That seems perverse to many opponents of affirmative action who argue that all racial classifications should be abandoned and all selection policies should be color-blind.

There are a few possible counter-arguments against this position. It’s true that those who are excluded or not selected because of affirmative action programs probably aren’t individually responsible for the historical disadvantages imposed on the beneficiaries of those programs, and therefore shouldn’t “pay” for correcting those disadvantages. However, it may still be true that they benefit from continuing inequality. For example, if women are systematically excluded from some professions, men in general benefit from this exclusion, even if they haven’t excluded women themselves. (That’s an argument made by Mary Anne Warren among others). Also, if African-Americans have traditionally been excluded from higher quality educational institutions, it’s likely that the better test scores presented by whites and required to enter university do not simply represent higher ability. Discrimination has benefited and continues to benefit whites in terms of test scores, even those whites who are not in the least responsible for the substandard basic education received by blacks. Demanding that only test scores be used as a criterion for selection in universities is not the way to avoid discrimination (of whites) but the way to cement discrimination (of blacks).

Moreover, even if it’s true that some whites are unjustly discriminated against by affirmative action programs, one might argue that this is a small price to pay for correcting a much higher number of cases of anti-black discrimination. Although personally I’m weary of sacrificing the rights of some for the benefit of others.

Also, to the extent that it’s true that affirmative action means fighting discrimination with discrimination, we should realize that the two kinds of “discrimination” are not at all the same. The type of discrimination that affirmative action is supposed to correct is a discrimination motivated by racial animus and intended to stigmatize some people as “inferior”. If affirmative action is a kind of discrimination, it’s one that has other motives. Whites who are excluded from a university because of affirmative action programs aren’t excluded because we believe that whites are inferior or because we don’t like them. However, it’s probably cold comfort for whites to know that their discrimination is not motivated by hatred.

And finally, affirmative action can be defended on a number of other consequentialist grounds that have nothing to do with the possible compensation or correction of injustices. For instance, allowing more blacks in law school can bring about a justice system that is seen as more legitimate by black citizens. More blacks in the police force may result in police departments that are more legitimate, more acceptable and more authoritative to black people. More female CEOs or professors may inspire more young women to follow their lead or to be more successful generally. More blacks in medical school may result in better healthcare for communities that are currently not well served. Diversity in school may have some educational advantages: proximity to people from other races may reduce racism and may better prepare students for their future lives in a diverse society. In general, a society that is representative in all fields is much more legitimate in the eyes of all citizens. And, last but not least, diversity improves the functioning of the marketplace of ideas. So, if all of this or some of this is true, affirmative action can yield more overall respect for human rights.

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culture, discrimination and hate, equality, philosophy, racism

Racism (17): Racism is Ghostbusting

ghostbusters

There’s a huge assumption underlying talk by racist and anti-racists alike, namely that there are different races. That may be an uncontroversial assumption at first sight, but once you start to think about it things get muddled. Are there races? Not in the biological sense. Most genetic variation occurs within so-called racial groups, not between them.

Races are social constructs rather than a biological reality. Centuries of interbreeding have made it impossible to distinguish different human gene pools. Differences between groups of homo sapiens sapiens are purely cultural and constructed. The apparent skin, hair or other physical differences are indeed natural and biological but they are

  • only skin deep, which means genetically irrelevant and certainly irrelevant for comparative merit or superiority,
  • and they are gradual variations rather than discrete groupings (some “black” people are more similar to “white” people than to others from their “race”).

Groups are self-identifying and other-identifying entities, and this identification is based on beliefs concerning shared culture, ancestry and history and on the removal of the gradual nature of differences in appearances. They are constructs, the product of beliefs and traditions, a particular way that some people talk about themselves and others.

Racism is a specific way people talk about themselves and others. It isn’t a descriptive exercise about factual differences between the “biologies” of different groups; it’s a normative exercise in which groups form beliefs about the merits of other groups, and these other groups are constructed through talk about them. They are not “natural” entities, and their members aren’t scientifically identifiable. Superficial characteristics that form a continuum are given extraordinary importance (skin color determines merit) and the gradual continuum is believed to be ruptured. Individual differences are grouped into discrete race differences, and individuals are reduced to a constructed entity.

color spectrumAn example. Some say that racial disparities in the US are caused by a specific culture or mentality that is rampant in “black America”, namely a culture of crime, family breakdown and lack of educational aspiration and achievement. Black America, it’s claimed, “should do something about this”! But once you try to imagine this “black America”, you’ll find that it’s impossible. There is no black America, let alone a black culture. There are certain individuals who are situated at a certain point in a skin color spectrum who may or may not belong to “black America” and who may or may not exhibit certain mentalities. But that is all one can say. There’s no way one can plausibly claim that all or most members of “black America” exhibit certain mentalities, first because it’s impossible to unequivocally determine a threshold value of skin color which puts a person inside or outside “black America”, and second because with each randomly determined threshold value you’ll end up with a very diverse group of people exhibiting many different mentalities.

races

(source)

Does that mean that all talk about race is superfluous? If so, then the same is true about all talk about racism. But that’s not the case. The absence of a factual reality about race doesn’t remove the salience of race in the minds of racists. Hence, racism can have consequences even in the absence of races.

Members of socially constructed racialized identities suffer real harms, and laws might have to distinguish individuals according to their racialized identities in order to compensate for such harms. (source)

People continue to label each other and themselves according to racial categories, and to act accordingly. If we want to address the negative consequences of those labels and actions, we have no choice but to use the same labels. If people impose disadvantages on another group, based on the random delineation and construction of that group, countermeasures can’t help but work with the same group. Also, this group may find the concept of its race useful in its efforts to mobilize against racist measures. It just has to careful that it doesn’t start to believe the essentialist claptrap of its racist foes and that it remains conscious of the ghostlike nature of the concept of race.

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data, discrimination and hate, economics, education, equality, poverty, racism

Racism (16): Race and Crime

Banksy mural depicting a scene from the movie Pulp Fiction, starring Samuel L Jackson and Jonh Travolta

Banksy mural depicting a scene from the movie Pulp Fiction, starring Samuel L Jackson and Jonh Travolta

It’s well-known that African-Americans make up a disproportionate part of the U.S. prison population. Racists of course have an easy explanation for this, but what is the real explanation? Part of it is probably racial profiling and bias among jury members. Another part of the explanation can be poverty, unemployment and lower education, burdens from which African-Americans also suffer disproportionately. And although crime has many possible causes, there’s some evidence that at least some types of property crime go up during recessions. This indicates that there’s a link between crime and poverty, something which in turn can explain different arrest ratios across races given the different poverty rates across races.

Vincent and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson...

Screenshot from the film Pulp Fiction (1994), showing Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in their well-known pose

There’s an interesting paper here studying the effects of both labor market conditions and asset poverty on the property crimes involvement of American males. It turns out that poverty and labor market outcomes account for as much as 90% of the arrest rates ratio. More on racism and crime. More Banksy.

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Racism (15): Does the Stigma of “Acting White” Explain the Racial Achievement Gap in Education in the U.S.?

acting white

In many areas of life, different racial groups in the U.S. achieve unequal results. African-Americans earn less, are more likely to be in prison, are more often ill etc. So it’s no surprise that there’s an achievement gap in education as well.

At nine months old, there are no detectable cognitive differences between black and white babies. Differences emerge as early as age two, and by the time black children enter kindergarten they are lagging whites by 0.64 standard deviations in math and 0.40 in reading. On every subject at every grade level, there are large and important achievement differences between blacks and whites that continue to grow as children progress through school. Even accounting for a host of background factors, the achievement gap remains large and statistically significant. (source)

Take a look at these two graphs:

reading scores by race

(source)

education achievement gap

While the education gap seems to be closing, it remains wide. It’s likely that other multicultural societies face the same kind of problem. Racists have an obvious explanation: racial inferiority! Anti-racists have an equally obvious but more convincing explanation: racists! But apart from the effects of lingering racist discrimination there’s also a more interesting cause of the education gap: the stigma of “acting white“, causing minority students to suffer from the negative prejudices of their ethnic peers. Roland G. Fryer has looked at this, and found that it can explain a lot.

“Acting white” is a kind of negative peer pressure. Black peer communities impose costs on those members who are perceived to be “acting white” (or are trying to “act white”). The criticism of “acting white” and the costs imposed on those who are believed to “act white” lead to the avoidance of behavior that is seen as the traditional prerogative of whites. The avoided behavior can be quite harmless, for instance wearing clothes of a particular brand that is believed to be typical of whites, or giving your children certain “white” names. But the avoided behavior can also undermine people’s education, for example when people are discouraged to use standard English, to read books or to achieve high grades. (And even the seemingly harmless habit of giving your kids “black” names can result in harm. It’s known, for instance, the employers regularly discriminate people with “black” names while processing job applications).

The individuals exposed to all these kinds of negative peer pressure have a disincentive to invest in their education. They deliberately underachieve in order to avoid social sanctions. Naturally, the degree of the disincentive depends on the nature and the level of the costs imposed: those costs can be the threat of rejection, ridicule etc. Different people will suffer different costs and will perceive the gravity of the costs differently, but as long as there is a perceived trade-off between acceptance and authenticity on the one hand and achievement on the other, there will also be an achievement gap.

Fryer measures the impact of the stigma using social popularity, number of friends and friendship patterns plotted against school grades. His results clearly show an inverse relationship between grades and popularity for non-whites:

acting white

(source)

Not surprisingly, the effect of “acting white” is more severe in integrated schools than in predominantly black schools. The reason is the higher level of competition between communities and the perceived threats between groups:

In an achievement-based society where two groups, for historical reasons, achieve at noticeably different levels, the group with lower achievement levels is at risk of losing its most successful members, especially in situations where successful individuals have opportunities to establish contacts with outsiders. Over the long run, the group faces the danger that its most successful members will no longer identify with its interests, and group identity will itself erode. To forestall such erosion, groups may try to reinforce their identity by penalizing members for differentiating themselves from the group. The penalties are likely to increase whenever the threats to group cohesion intensify. (source)

This explanation of the causes of the “acting white” stigma, based on the desire of groups to preserve their identity in the face of external threats to their internal coherence, is more convincing that the two major alternative explanations:

  • Blacks have developed a culture of investing themselves in alternative pursuits rather than in education because historically academic achievement was the prerogative of whites. This explanation reeks of historical determinism.
  • Blacks have developed a culture of “victimology” and deliberately engage in cultural sabotage. This explanation can be perceived as racist.

“Acting white” explains a lot but surely not everything. It’s likely that the racial poverty and income gaps also contribute to the education gap, as do patterns in family structure, incarceration rates of black fathers, school quality etc. Stereotype threat can also play a part. As well as some good ol’ racism, of course.

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Racism (14): Race and Consumer Behavior

The iPod family with, from the left to the rig...

The iPod family

Some time ago, I’ve cited a study showing evidence of racist sorting by people looking for a job (white job seekers often avoid working for black managers, and white workers quit their jobs more rapidly when a white manager is replaced with a black manager). A similar phenomenon is race discrimination by buyers.

Do buyers discriminate based on race? This column describes an experiment in the US that advertised iPods online from black and white sellers. Black sellers received fewer offers at lower prices, doing better in markets with competition amongst buyers and worse in high-crime markets. The authors find evidence of both statistical and taste-based discrimination. … [I]t appears that discrimination may not “survive” in the presence of significant competition among buyers. Furthermore, black sellers do worst in the most racially isolated markets and markets with high property crime rates, suggesting a role for statistical discrimination in explaining the disparity. (source)

The important question is indeed to what extent this “sorting” on the part of buyers is motivated by statistical discrimination or by taste-based discrimination:

  • Statistical discrimination means that race is used as a proxy for unobservable negative characteristics, maybe in this case a judgment about the probability that black sellers will be happy with a marginally lower sales price, given their statistically higher rates of poverty. Or perhaps there’s distrust based on unclear statistical judgments about the risk of buying fake or stolen goods, meeting sellers in an inconvenient or dangerous neighborhoods, or dealing with unreliable sellers who might not complete the transaction.
  • Taste-based discrimination occurs when people just don’t like dealing with black people for no particular reason apart from the difference in race.

The study cited above uses a number of clever ways to disentangle these two effects. For instance, the inclusion of white tattooed sellers, who also received fewer and lower purchase offers, suggesting that part of the differences are due to statistical discrimination. Another part, however, is just plain racism. Black sellers are at a significant disadvantage on average, and that’s due to both statistical and taste-based discrimination.

More on statistical discrimination here.

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Racism (13b): Race and Employment

In the U.S., and probably elsewhere as well, there’s a large discrepancy between the unemployment rates for people of different races. The easy answer is “racism!”, but that may be a bit too easy. Some of the discrepancy can be explained by education levels. However, perhaps it’s those discrepancies in education levels that are caused by racism and discrimination, at least in part. I personally believe that the discrepancies in unemployment rates have many causes, and that racism is definitely one of them. I’m just not sure about the particular weight we should accord it.

I’ve posted several times before about evidence of racism in the behavior of employers and recruiters. For instance, there’s substantial empirical proof that someone’s race can make it less likely to be called back for a job interview. In fact, black men without a criminal record are less likely to be called back for a job interview than white men with a criminal record. This has to have an impact on employment rates by race, which in turn has an impact on different poverty rates by race.

Some more evidence of discrimination in employment decisions is here:

White, Asian and Hispanic managers tend to hire more whites and fewer blacks than black managers do, according to a new study out of the University of Miami School of Business Administration. Using more than two years of personnel data from a large U.S. retail chain, the study found that when a black manager in a typical store is replaced by a white, Asian or Hispanic manager, the share of newly hired blacks falls from 21 to 17 percent, and the share of whites hired rises from 60 to 64 percent. The effect is even stronger for stores located in the South, where the replacement of a black manager causes the share of newly hired blacks to fall from 29 to 21 percent. … The finding is clear evidence that the race or ethnicity of those who make hiring decisions can have a strong impact in the racial makeup of a company’s workforce. (source)

Given the setup of the study, the racial discrepancies can’t be explained by demographics. You could assume that managers may not be motivated by racism but just anticipate the racism of their customers: they want to hire people of the same race as the majority of their customers because they believe that customers have racial preferences – or are racist – and prefer to be served by people of their own race. However, the customer population of a store doesn’t normally change when there’s a new manager. Hence, the change in recruitment policy by the new managers can’t be explained by customer demographics.

Another possible explanation is that managers, rather than being racist themselves, recruit in a racially biased way because they anticipate the racism of their existing employees: black managers hire fewer whites because they believe whites may be less willing to work for black managers. Or vice versa. And indeed:

The study found that when a white manager is replaced with a black manager, the rate at which white workers quit their jobs increases by 15 percent. “We interpret this increase in the white quit rate as evidence of discriminatory sorting by white job seekers,” the authors write. “It implies that whites who dislike working for black managers often avoid working for black managers in the first place.” (source)

More on racism is here.

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Racism (13): Race and Employment, Ctd.

Someone’s race can make it less likely to be called back for a job interview, to escape unemployment, or to have an average or above average income (see here).

Decades of racial progress have led some researchers and policymakers to doubt that discrimination remains an important cause of economic inequality. To study contemporary discrimination we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City. The experiment recruited white, black, and Latino job applicants, called testers, who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. The testers were given equivalent resumes and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely to receive a callback or job offer relative to equally qualified whites. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than a white applicant just released from prison. Additional qualitative evidence from our testers’ experiences further illustrates the multiple points at which employment trajectories can be deflected by various forms of racial bias. Together these results point to the subtle but systematic forms of discrimination that continue to shape employment opportunities for low-wage workers. (source)

More on discrimination and racism.

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Racism (12): Blacks and Apes

negro and monkeys

Historical representations explicitly depicting Blacks as apelike have largely disappeared in the United States, yet a mental association between Blacks and apes remains. Here, the authors demonstrate that U.S. citizens implicitly associate Blacks and apes. In a series of laboratory studies, the authors reveal how this association influences study participants’ basic cognitive processes and significantly alters their judgments in criminal justice contexts. Specifically, this Black-ape association alters visual perception and attention, and it increases endorsement of violence against Black suspects. In an archival study of actual criminal cases, the authors show that news articles written about Blacks who are convicted of capital crimes are more likely to contain ape-relevant language than news articles written about White convicts. Moreover, those who are implicitly portrayed as more apelike in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not. The authors argue that examining the subtle persistence of specific historical representations such as these may not only enhance contemporary research on dehumanization, stereotyping, and implicit processes but also highlight common forms of discrimination that previously have gone unrecognized. (source)

If you’re looking for examples there are some here, here, here and here (including the infamous Michelle Obama as a monkey image). More on dehumanization, stereotyping and animalization. More on racism (including some statistics).

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Racism (11): Race and Employment, Ctd.

Some more information related to racism in employment in the U.S. (see this previous post on racism in employment decisions, employment rates, education levels and poverty levels). This study shows that black men without a criminal record are less likely to be called back for a job interview than white men with a criminal record:

racial impact of a criminal record on interview callbacks

These data were collected during an experiment in which different testers applied for the same jobs advertised in newspapers. The testers had fake credentials that made them equivalent in terms of education, job experience, and so on. The testers were either black and white. Some testers from each group were instructed to indicate that they had a past non-criminal drug possession offense. The data would undoubtedly have shown an even more dismal picture had the testers faked a record for a property or violent crime.

Whites with a criminal record are more than 3 times more likely to get a callback than blacks with a criminal record. If you combine this blatant discrimination in employment decisions with the racially disproportionate rates of incarceration in the U.S., you have a recipe for economic exclusion of blacks. More on the stupidity of U.S. prison policy here, here and here. More on racism here.

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Racism (10): Race and Health

In a previous post, I highlighted the fact that African Americans in the U.S. are more likely to die of cancer. It seems that a similar disparity exists for strokes and lead poisoning.

Many ethnic groups have a higher death rate from stroke than non-Hispanic whites. Although the death rate from stroke nationwide dropped 70% between 1950 and 1996, minorities the decline was greatest in non-Hispanic whites. The greatest number of stroke deaths compared to whites occurred in African-Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders. Excess deaths among racial/ethnic groups could be a result of a greater frequency of stroke risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, diabetes, smoking and socioeconomic factors such as lack of health insurance. (source)

lead poisoning by race

lead poisoning by race

(source)

Lead poisoning causes, i.a., cognitive delay, hyperactivity, and antisocial behavior.

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Racism (9): Race and Employment

Racism and racial discrimination are obviously human rights issues, but so are work and unemployment. If you have doubts about the latter, maybe this will sway you. Moreover, protection against unemployment is also a human right.

Racism expresses itself in different ways, one of which is discrimination in employment:

In 2004, Jean-François Amadieu, a sociologist at the Sorbonne, sent out 500 CVs replying to ads for sales jobs in the Paris region. The CVs were identical except in one regard: some applicants had north African names, and others traditional French ones. The white male French names received five times as many job offers as the north African ones. When Amadieu repeated the exercise in 2006, the ratio was 20:1. (source)

Such examples of racism in employment policy have an impact on unemployment rates across races. Here are some data for the U.S.:

racial differences in joblessness

racial differences in joblessness

(source)
unemployment by race

unemployment by race

(source)

And these numbers exclude those who are in prison. Given that there are 5 times as many blacks behind bars as whites in the U.S., including them in unemployment statistics would make the gap even wider. (And why shouldn’t we include them? They obviously don’t earn a living and can’t provide for their families).

Of course, this difference between the unemployment rates for blacks and whites isn’t entirely caused by direct discrimination in employment decisions. Other elements play a part:

  • Jobs are often concentrated in white suburbs, difficult to reach for blacks without cars.
  • Blacks can’t rely on networks of family businesses as much as whites or Latinos.
  • Blacks “have been relegated to precarious, low-wage work … at disproportionate rates” (source), making them more vulnerable to recessions, outsourcing and competition from immigrants.
  • Indirect discrimination: if blacks receive substandard education, are less healthy and more poor, then this will affect their employment prospects:

race and education levels statistics

(source)

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Racism (8): Homelessness and Race in the U.S.

The correct answer is here.

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Racism (7): Racial Profiling and “Driving While Black” in Illinois; A Case Study

racial profiling Driving While Black

(source)

Via The Atlantic, some information from the 2008 Annual Report of Illinois Traffic Stops:

Based on the data that emerges, it’s clear that African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian drivers are in fact being stopped more than one would expect based on their overall representation in the driving population. But the 2008 study also concludes that inferring from this that there is police bias is “problematic because [it] assume[s] that an officer knows the race of the driver before they make the stop. Very often, particularly at night, and when the vehicles are driving quickly, this is not the case”.

Regarding “consent searches” – instances where the police ask permission to search a car and therefore clearly know the race of the driver before they ask permission – and the number of such searches resulting in the discovery of contraband:

An African-American driver is about three times as likely to be the subject of a search as a Caucasian driver, with a Hispanic driver 2.4 times as likely to be the subject of a search. But when vehicles are searched, whites are more often found to be hiding contraband. Police found contraband 24.37 percent of the time when a white agreed to a search, but just 15.14 percent of the time with a minority driver. This finding is consistent with other studies nationwide. … One explanation for the disparity in consent searches may simply be that “whites are more tuned in to their constitutional rights, so they decline more often”.

So perhaps the fact that black drivers have their cars searched more often isn’t necessarily a sign of racism – whites may indeed be more likely to refuse to be searched. But the fact that whites are more likely to hide contraband should incite the police to search – or try to search – the cars of whites more often, and that doesn’t seem to happen. Why not? Well… If it’s not racism, then perhaps it’s a lack of interest in contraband.

More on racial profiling.

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Racism (6): The Effect of Racism on Cancer

racial gap in cancer deaths

(source)

A new study by Ahmedin Jemal finds that blacks in the U.S. are more likely than any other group to have cancer and die from it. And when they develop cancer, they die sooner. (Death rates for cancer patients have fallen across the board, but the gap between groups is still the same).

Since there is no genetic reason for this, it’s hard not to see it as yet another symptom of anti-black racism (together with higher poverty, higher incarceration rates, etc.). The study shows that whites are diagnosed earlier and hence are more likely to get better, indicating that they receive better healthcare (and this is linked to different poverty rates).

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Racism (5): Interracial Marriage

The degree of interracial marriage (or miscegenation) in a society is a good indicator of the degree of racial bias and racism in this society. A strong increase in the number of such marriages, combined with the repeal of laws banning them, a decrease in the number of honor killings of women having a relationship with a man from another race, and a gradual disappearance of talk about “the purity of the race” and such, are all signs of the demise of racism. In the U.S., the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 struck down the legal bans on interracial marriages that persisted in some states in the South.

Here are 2 graphs showing the increase in the number of people approving interracial marriage and dating in the U.S.:

approval of interracial marriage

(source)

approval of blacks and whites dating

And this graph shows the evolution of the number of interracial marriages:

growing number of interracial marriages

(source)

According to some, the current dispute over gay marriage is of the same type as the now settled dispute on interracial marriage (settled in the West at least), and will know the same fate. Let’s hope so.

More on racial bias here, here and here.

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Racism (4): Competition v Racial Bias

I’ve written a lot about discrimination, inequality and poverty, but I have to admit that much of it was descriptive, moralizing and philosophical. Especially regarding racial bias, I haven’t come up with many solutions, apart from better education and affirmative action.

gary becker

Gary Becker

(source)

I’ve now discovered the work of Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winning economist who wrote about this some decades ago (I know, I’m late). He looked at the well-documented fact that African-Americans in the U.S. earn less than whites, partly because on average they are less well educated. But even if corrected for this, there remains an unexplainable difference in wages. Unexplainable apart from racial bias. There have been many studies that have proven the existence of bias. For example, firms are 1.5 times as likely to interview someone for a job if they think the person is white, even if all other characteristics such as education and experience are equal.

wage differences by race

(source)

The interesting thing about Becker is that he goes beyond education, positive discrimination or labor legislation in his search for solutions. He mentions increased competition between firms. A racially biased firm will only hire a white who is more expensive and perhaps even less qualified than a black, if this firm is not under pressure from competitors. If its market is opened to competition, then other firms can and will produce the same goods at cheaper prices by hiring the black guy/gal. The biased firm would then be forced to do the same. It may remain biased – opinions on such matters are notoriously hard to change – but it no longer has the luxury of acting on its bias.

So this sounds promising, and market freedom is beneficial for other reasons as well, so it’s worth to pursue it. But don’t expect too much of the free market. There’s no invisible hand, leading those motivated by selfish motives to destroy racism without really wanting to. Much more needs to be done.

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Racism (3): Test Your Racism

racism

(source)

Try this test and see how racist you are, consciously or even – and more interesting – unconsciously. A few words from the designers of the test:

It is well known that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’. … No personally identifying information is collected. IP addresses are routinely recorded, but are completely confidential.

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Racism (2): Racial Profiling

Definition of racial profiling

Racial profiling occurs when someone’s race is used by law enforcement officials (police, airport security, counter-terrorist agencies etc.) as a basis for criminal suspicion. The reason for suspicion is race rather than suspicious behavior, criminal clues, witness reports, evidence etc.

Profiling doesn’t cover “be-on-the-lookout” (BOLO) tactics. If someone has committed a crime, and a description of this person is forwarded to the police, the description can and even should include the suspect’s race like all other characteristics which can help his or her apprehension. This isn’t profiling. A crime has been committed, and there is evidence regarding the characteristics of the likely criminal.

Some of the problems caused by racial profiling

  • It undermines national unity.
  • It makes us less safebecause:
    • it wastes law enforcement resources,
    • criminals who do not “fit the profile” get overlooked, and
    • it lowers respect for law enforcement.
  • It lowers people’s self-esteem and self-respect.
  • It can very rapidly turn into a vicious circle: profiling may lead to a disproportionate number of minorities convicted (see here), and this number of convictions enhances suspicions against minorities, which again increases the number of convictions.
  • This kind of self-fulfilling prophecy can have wider ramifications. Racial profiling, as in the case of counter-terrorist activity (see below), can spill over in the wider society, contribute to xenophobia and cause hate crime.

Racial profiling is illegal

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (source)

The “probable cause” means that a search (frisking, stopping a car etc.) can only take place for a good reason. Being of a certain race can never be a good reason, since there are no races that are criminal a such. Most people of all races are law-abiding citizens. Being of a certain race doesn’t in itself make you more likely to commit a crime.

racial profiling

(source)

Racial profiling versus criminal profiling

Racial profiling should be distinguished from criminal profiling. Criminal profiles are a set of personal and behavioral characteristics associated with particular crimes. Police use such profiles, often with great success, to predict who may commit crimes in the future, or identify what type of person may have committed a particular crime for which no credible suspect has been identified or eye-witness description provided.

As such, this isn’t wrong. It may even help to solve crime, but only if it goes beyond (literally) superficial attributes such as race and includes types of observed behavior, known associates, internet use etc. (This is often called “data-mining“). When race does enter the equation, and especially when it’s the only element, then profiling can easily turn into racism. A criminal profile can state that a particular crime is associated with African-Americans, in the sense that African–Americans have in the past been more often convicted for such a crime than other groups (even if this is true, it may be the consequence of profiling, see above). As a consequence, people may start to think that someone’s race can predict a crime. Someone’s race turns this person into a potential criminal which is obviously ludicrous at best and insulting and demeaning at worst.

Terrorism

These last years, following 9-11, racial profiling has become a hot topic in counter-terrorism circles. People with Muslim sounding names or Muslim/Middle Eastern appearance have been disproportionally stopped at airport security points, have been added to no-fly-lists, and have been the target of surveillance.

However, experts say that this isn’t the most successful strategy. Focussing on behavior rather than ethnicity is much better .The latter even alienates the very people authorities need to help them catch terrorists. It’s well-known that not all terrorists fit the Muslim clichés, and that those who do often change their appearance before an attack.

Data

This is from a study on policing in L.A.:

We found persistent and statistically significant racial disparities in policing that raise grave concerns that African-Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles are, as we put it in the report, “over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched, and over-arrested.” … We did look at the officers involved, and we found that the racial disparities in the likelihood of arrest were substantially lower when at least one of the stopping officers was the same race as the suspect. [Some] argued that the results are not valid because officers often don’t know the race of the suspect when they decide to pull over a car. That may or may not be true. But our study looked not just at motor vehicle stops, but at pedestrian stops as well, which also showed racial disparities. We also found that, once people were stopped, officers were more likely to frisk, search, or arrest African-Americans and Latinos than whites.  Ian Ayres and Jonathan Borowsky (source)

racial profiling

It is implausible that higher frisk and search rates are justified by higher minority criminality, when these frisks and searches are substantially less likely to uncover weapons, drugs, or other types of contraband.

racial profiling

More on racial profiling here and here.

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Racism (1): Jim Crow

jim crow

(source)

The Jim Crow laws, often referred to as merely Jim Crow, were state and local laws in force mainly in the Southern states of the United States between 1876 and 1965 (mostly voted by Democratic Party politicians). They enforced the segregation of blacks and whites in all public facilities (public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants etc.) and led to inferior treatment and accommodations for African-Americans, although in theory they were designed to make things “separate but equal” (separation being supposedly in the interests of African-Americans because integration would expose them to white racism and would create low self-esteem).

The laws were overruled by Brown v. Board of Education deicision of the SUpreme Court, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (pushed by Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democratic president), but the practices were brought to complete end only in the 1970s. De facto segregation, particularly in schools, continues until today, as do many other forms of discrimination.

In 1896, the US Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional. Thanks to the Court, African-Americans suffered half a century from legalized discrimination. Something to keep in mind when contemplating some of the current decision of the Court.

(The origins of the name are not clear. It may be based on a racist song).

Although not the direct result of the Laws, but perhaps of the culture created by the laws, lynching became “a social ritual” by the beginning of the 20th century.

More on segregation and on discrimination.

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