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What Is Racism?
As a girl, if I'm walking down a dark or lonely street, and I see a young guy or bunch of young guys coming toward me, I'll walk in the street, cross the street, or take some precaution. If it's a guy wearing a hoodie and dressed all "street," especially. Black face, white face, other-face. It's about dress and manner, and the fact that men generally have more muscle mass and upper-body strength than women, among other things, not about color, but that's probably not how it seems to a guy who feels "profiled" for SWB -- strolling while black.

On the other hand, if you're a guy wearing a nice suit, and carrying a briefcase, or a really geeky looking guy, I'll probably just keep walking where I'm walking. (Hmmm...perhaps muggers and the like would do well to "dress for success"?) On a side note, I always wonder if geeky guys feel kind of bad when I feel somebody behind me, whirl around, and then don't cross the street; i.e., the message is "Well, you're completely harmless!"

But, back to racism, I read on Overlawyered of a case where a kid was disciplined to bring up the white kid ratio in the number of overall kids being disciplined. Bald-faced racism -- just like shoving Asians to the back of the college admissions line. Here's the bit:

"To avoid charges of 'racism,' we disciplined black and white students differently." (Edmund Janko, City Journal/OpinionJournal.com, Oct. 25). According to the byline, "Mr. Janko taught in the English department of Bayside High School in New York City from 1957 to 1990.".

And here's a quote from Janko's piece:

What this meant in practice was an unarticulated modification of our disciplinary standards. For example, obscenities directed at a teacher would mean, in cases involving minority students, a rebuke from the dean and a notation on the record or a letter home rather than a suspension. For cases in which white students had committed infractions, it meant zero tolerance. Unofficially, we began to enforce dual systems of justice. Inevitably, where the numbers ruled, some kids would wind up punished more severely than others for the same offense.

And a couple of interesting comments on the case over at Overlawyered:

This sounds like the City Councilwoman in Pittsburgh who complained that the Police were racist because 80% of the arrests made in her district were Blacks. One of the assistant Police Chiefs replied that it was because 80% of the crimes in her district were committed by Blacks. (Her district is 80% Black)

Posted by: Jim Collins | October 25, 2006 02:57 PM

--
One thing that needs to be noted is that discrepancies in disciplinary actions often occur not because of racism or racist notions of blacks being more likely to commit crime, but to cultural/environmental factors.

A couple of years ago I sat in on a RAND presentation examining the probability that blacks are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though rates of use are virtually identical.

What the RAND researchers found is that blacks tended to buy/sell/use marijuana in public places and to buy and sell among strangers. Whites, on the other hand, tend to buy and sell only among close friends, and buy/sell/use in private homes, away from public view.

So, it wasn't a matter of racism that was responsible for a disparity in black/white arrests for marijuana posession so much as it was the way in which the two groups tended to participate in the drug trade.

Posted by: Seth | October 25, 2006 03:24 PM

There's a parallel here with feminism, not as a mode of advancing equal treatment for women, but for getting special treatment for women, which is sexism against men. Likewise, speaking out against the appearance of racism, versus actual racism, can lead to racist behavior against whites or others; still racism, just in vanilla or strawberry instead of chocolate. In short, either you're against all racism, or you really have to admit you're for racism, just as long as it isn't against your peeps.

Posted by aalkon at January 1, 2007 11:01 AM

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Comments

I agree for the most part, except for the final line.
Someone can make efforts to solve racism, or perceptions of receptions, in such ridiculous ways as to cause even more harm, but it doesn't mean they're racist themselves... just arrogant.

Posted by: David Markland at January 1, 2007 11:49 AM

"the City Councilwoman [..] who complained that the Police were racist because 80% of the arrests made in her district were Blacks. One of the assistant Police Chiefs replied that it was because 80% of the crimes in her district were committed by Blacks."

How can the assistant police chief determine the percentage of crimes committed by blacks, other than by his department's data on arrests? How could he possibly get a representative profile of criminals (their race, gender, age, etc) except by looking at arrest records? Am I missing something (besides a working penis, that is)?

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Gender Reassignment Fuck-Up at January 1, 2007 12:18 PM

Just speculation here, Lean, but I think that was not a to-the-percentage point recap of the crimes committed, but a police chief's weary, "We just arrest the criminals we come across, we don't pick their race."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 1, 2007 12:29 PM

... which gives his weary whine the illusion of precision.

Posted by: Lena at January 1, 2007 1:48 PM

Wonder what the minority cops think.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 1, 2007 1:56 PM

Since you brought it up (ahem) Lena, did you get a sex change? What was it like?

Posted by: eric at January 1, 2007 2:10 PM

I felt so amazingly unmotivated to reply to this, that it surprised me. I expected to feel the usual, "Well, that's discrimination! Blacks and whites committing the same offenses should be treated the same!"

But I'm underwhelmed. You know what? They're the ones who have to be in there, manning the barricades, so to speak. So, I will let them decide what works in discipline. If they don't like the way that discipline is handled, the solution is simple: don't screw up.

Lena had a much more interesting comment:

How can the assistant police chief determine the percentage of crimes committed by blacks, other than by his department's data on arrests? How could he possibly get a representative profile of criminals (their race, gender, age, etc) except by looking at arrest records? Am I missing something (besides a working penis, that is)?

I don't know that eighty percent of crimes are committed by blacks. But they might have a disproportionate majority of crimes the type that would be dealt with by the average beat cop. I doubt a policeman would be thwarting a hit and run embezzlement, for example.

Just a minor correction, but statistics aren't given based on arrests, but on crimes reported. Just because someone commits a crime, doesn't follow there's going to be an arrest.

But I understand Lena's point, which is that he cannot know for certain what percentage of crimes are actually committed by blacks based on his arrest reports. There is a margin for error based upon unreported crimes, for example.

But I don't we need to scream racism over the fact that 80% of incarcerated happen to be African Americans. Were they caught in reasonable suspicion of committing crimes or not?

And Lena, we all love you, whether you have a working penis or not.

Posted by: Patrick at January 1, 2007 2:44 PM

"Just because someone commits a crime, doesn't follow there's going to be an arrest."

Similarly, just because someone commits a crime doesn't mean there's going to be a report either, right? Can we entirely reject the possibility of a differential reporting of crime by the perpetrator's race?

As you can tell, I just don't think we're on very sturdy epistemological grounds when it comes to statements about crime -- or any other kind of socially undesirable behavior -- at the population level. But this much I do know with 100% certainty: My butt got a very hefty spanking yesterday morning. Consider this a report!

Posted by: Lena at January 1, 2007 3:02 PM

I think we should assume that people who compile social statistics know something about what they are doing. Police records are one source. Insurance claims, population surveys, hospital records, etc are independent sources. Surely social scientists are aware of this? If you suspect we are left with a gap that cannot be measured in any way whatsoever, then what evidence is there that it exists?

Posted by: Norman at January 2, 2007 1:09 AM

Lena writes:

My butt got a very hefty spanking yesterday morning.

Well, did you enjoy it? If not, would you enjoy it performed in another manner? Will the perpetrator be back to repeat this action? What was his motivation for committing this dastardly act upon your person, nay, your buttocks? How often is this done to you? How often would you like it done to you? Come on, it's not a report until we have the details.

Posted by: Patrick at January 2, 2007 1:59 AM

His head was covered with a black hood, and I watched the video of Saddam Hussein's execution while he tanned my hide. It was hot.

Posted by: Lena at January 2, 2007 6:54 AM

Hi Norman -- Social scientists at the National Bureau of Justice do collect national data on crimes, but their sampling approaches generally do not permit reliable estimates at the city level. I don't think the cop in Pittsburgh was referring to an NBJ report. Lena

Posted by: Lena at January 2, 2007 8:00 AM

Okay, this article made me remember something. I was walking into a concert with a couple of pals when the security guards seperated us into lines for men and women. (My friend, whose dad is a cop, explained that police officers can't "pat down" women to search for weapons unless they have reasonable cause-- and it has to be by a woman officer. Did anybody else know this? I sure didn't!) Regardless, my male friend was slightly dissapointed to be completely overlooked by the officers. Supposedly he simply looked too harmless to search! Hmmm...

Posted by: Bridget at January 6, 2007 2:43 AM

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