Friday, February 17, 2017

On "colorblindness" consider these posts...

The “age of colorblindness” is now. Years of calls for "law and order" created the New Jim Crow law system of mass incarceration.  The only “colorblind” part is that we can’t see the racial caste system.  In our world today, racial discrimination is considered rude and intolerable; however, criminal discrimination is considered just. Leaders throughout the years have created a system where masses of people -- especially young black men -- are swept into jail usually for minor infractions, only to be punished with longer and harsher crimes. When the “criminals” are released from jail, they are stripped from their status as human beings with labels of “criminal” and “felon” following them for the rest of their lives. This prohibits them from ever advancing to a level of high superiority. After time, society becomes influenced by racial bias (which can be implicit or explicit), whereby blacks are regarded as inferior.

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The “age of colorblindness” is our own era, when many argue “I don’t see race” or “I am colorblind to other races.” This has spiraled into a national debate over racial profiling, mass incarceration, and the masking of old racial castes. . . . In our nation today, many politicians and public figures make an effort to mask many castes: between gender, race, and social status. While many of these efforts become very successful and make an impact, most movements are faced with difficulties and challenges. For example, if you search “Women’s March” many articles are provided; yet written in most of the titles is a counter argument as to why the movement may not have been as successful as shown. There may never be unified opinions related to these social, political, and racial issues in our nation, but what does this say about past efforts to mask racial caste and how we should alter these efforts to enact real change?

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Justice is not colorblind; justice is determined by race. Although this seems an extreme statement from byMichelle Alexander, it is backed up with plenty of facts. Starting from the War on Drugs, race played a big issue. Alexander explains how white people are equally and sometimes more responsible for selling drugs, yet only black people get caught for it. “Where do whites get their illegal drugs?" she asks. "Do they all drive to the ghetto...No...Whites tend to sell to whites; blacks to blacks” (Alexander, 2). This is just one example of how one race is targeted and policed.

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Growing up we are taught that talking about race is a 'no no' because parents and people of an older generations believe that was the way to deal with race, by ignoring it. By teaching that race is not a topic of conversation, we suppress the issue, and mask the system that we have created of white supremacy and racialized social control. The age of colorblindness attempts to mask racial caste by ignoring the issue of race, and it enforces white privilege. Colorblindness dilutes the racial caste system that trivializes African Americans, and it dismantles the argument against racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. To be able to say you are 'colorblind' enforces white privilege because it is a privilege. White Americans have the privilege to be colorblind, but black Americans are constantly reminded of their race and how it makes them inferior. "Black lives matter" is so important because it calls to attention the inferiority and it demands action to change. "All lives matter," however, is a form of colorblindness because it takes away from "black lives matter." It diminishes the fight for racial equality by denying the importance of black lives with the statement that all lives matter. Colorblindness is a front to respond to racial discrimination, and "all lives matter" undermines the attempt to uncover -- and counter -- racial discrimination in our society. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Racial Discrimination in Policing and Sentencing

I enjoyed this thoughtful post on racial discrimination in policing and sentencing, including the citation of the decisive McCleskey case, which gave legal justification for the supposed "age of colorblindness."

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Numbers never lie. All the statistics and factual data point in the opposite direction of African Americans being such horrible criminals. Even though the facts are there, African Americans are still the ones who get in the most trouble. This is the exact reason why white privilege is enforced. The image projected on to African Americans is of being such criminals that they need to be behind bars, where whites can watch them. It's proven that the majority of illegal drug users and dealers are white, but three-fourths of the people actually imprisoned are black. Black men have been admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate that is more than thirteen times higher than white men. Black men are searched just because they "look suspicious," not because of an actual reason from police officers. You can't just assume someone is doing something wrong, but in some situations and cases, that's how the legal system works with regard to certain races. Race is used as a factor when making decisions regarding whom to stop and search.

       In the era of colorblindness, when race isn't discussed, everyone knows that the enemy in the War on Drugs can be identified by race. It's just not said. The McCleskey decision was not actually about the death penalty but about the Court's choice to shy away from claims of racial bias. Multiple studies show that youth of color are more likely to be arrested, detained, formally charged, transferred to adult court, and confined to secure residential facilities than their white counterparts. It seems in some cases, if you have one African American man and one white man who commit the same crime, the black man will severe more punishment than he deserves -- not because of the actual crime, but because of his race.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Just one of the thoughtful responses to the following question, posed about a section of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

How did the conservative “law and order” rhetoric provide a new racial bribe to low- and lower-middle-class whites? How did this wedge impact the Democratic Party?

The "law and order" rhetoric of conservative white republicans began in the late 1950s and eventually became a new racial bribe to lower and lower-middle class white Americans. The claim that law and order in America was breaking down was strongly associated with black people and the civil rights movement due to the fact that southern officials attempted to characterize the civil disobedience of black activists to be criminal.  There were also several other unfortunate and coincidental factors that supported the growth of the law and order movement, including the rise of the “baby boom” generation, riots in in Harlem and Rochester following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the movement of blue-collar factory jobs to the suburbs.  Thus, when President Ronald Reagan announced his administration’s War on Drugs, it was not surprising that a few years later, drug use and dealing soared in inner cities. Furthermore, funding for criminal justice and punishment for crimes increased while drug treatment and prevention education decreased.  While it was unacceptable for republicans to speak on openly racial terms, republicans spoke in implicit racial appeals to poor whites.

A disproportionate amount of the cost of integration was borne by lower and lower-middle class whites. These same poor whites were also now in direct competition with blacks for jobs, housing and schools leading to a wedge in the multiracial coalition that had formed in the New Deal.  Thus, Republicans were able to win the vote of poor, working class white people and institute acts like minimum mandatory sentencing and death penalty for possession of drugs.  The impacts of the law and order movement can be seen in the likes of Bill Clinton who was forced to move towards the right on law and order to win the vote claiming that, “no one could be tougher on crime than he” could.  Clinton escalated the drug war and put millions in prison.  He also changed the welfare program so people were unable to qualify for welfare for life and convicts could be completely excluded from food stamps. In the end, the law and order movement led to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bending Toward Justice?


Today we started watching 13th, the incredible documentary (based largely on The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander) about race, mass incarceration, the carceral state, and for-profit prison industry. We will spend all of February reading excerpts from The New Jim Crow using a curriculum developed by Teaching Tolerance. Our unit on The New Jim Crow fits well with our study of Reconstruction, using materials from Facing History and Ourselves. After finishing 13th on Thursday, we'll take another look at Black Codes from 1865 -- likely in a new light.

As Faulkner famously remarked, "The past is never dead, it's not even past."

One of the things I loved most about 13th (I had already read and taught The New Jim Crow in an American Studies course at Princeton, so the information was not at all new to me) was connecting with the work of Jelani Cobb, whom I now follow on Twitter.

I approach US History very much as a problem to be resolved: How do the Declaration of Independence and Constitution come to mean (or at least come closer to meaning) what they say: That all . . . are created equal. That "We the People" includes all of The People? Thus the Civil War is followed by a second American Revolution fought on those very terms: Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is a rewriting of the Constitution, and the Reconstruction Amendments (13, 14, and 15) are a Second American Revolution. But a Second Reconstruction proves necessary as well, during the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in particular.

And now today? Revanchism. Will we now bend toward justice? Or slouch toward Bethlehem? I'm not yet sure, but I believe that diversity and inclusion rests on truth and reconciliation (I stole that from a recent NYT opinion piece, which I must find and link). Reconciling ourselves to the truth is surely the work of history.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Our first blog post will address confirmation bias and implicit associations. Read the following, then take one (or more!) of the implicit association tests (IAT). 

* * * * * * from Project Implicit

What are implicit and explicit stereotypes?
Stereotypes are the belief that most members of a group have some characteristic. Some examples of stereotypes are the belief that women are nurturing or the belief that police officers like donuts. An explicit stereotype is the kind that you deliberately think about and report. An implicit stereotype is one that occurs outside of conscious awareness and control. Even if you say that men and women are equally good at math, it is possible that you associate math with men without knowing it. In this case we would say that you have an implicit math-men stereotype.

If my IAT shows that I have an implicit preference for one group over another, does that mean I am prejudiced?
Social psychologists use the word prejudice to describe people who report and approve negative attitudes toward outgroups. Most people who show an implicit preference for one group (e.g., White people) over another (e.g., Black people) are not prejudiced by this definition. The IAT shows biases that are not endorsed and that may even be contradictory to what one consciously believes. So, no, we would not say that such people are prejudiced. It is important to know, however, that implicit biases can predict behavior. When we relax our active efforts to be egalitarian, our implicit biases can lead to discriminatory behavior, so it is critical to be mindful of this possibility if we want to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

Where do implicit attitudes come from? Is it me or my culture?

Implicit preferences for majority groups (e.g., White people) are common because of strong negative associations with Black people in American society. Black people are often portrayed negatively in culture and mass media, and there is a long history of racial discrimination in the United States. However, even if our attitudes come from our culture, they are still in our own minds and can influence our behavior if we are not vigilant to not let them.

What can I do about an implicit preference that I don’t want?
It is well-established that implicit preferences can affect behavior. But, there is not yet enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Therefore, we encourage people not to focus on strategies for reducing bias, but to focus instead on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate. One such strategy is ensuring that implicit biases don’t leak out in the first place. To do that, you can “blind” yourself from learning a person’s gender, race, etc. when you’re making a decision about them (e.g., having their name removed from the top of a resume). If you only evaluate a person on the things that matter for a decision, then you can’t be swayed by demographic factors. Another strategy is to try to compensate for your implicit preferences. For example, if you have an implicit preference for young people you can try to be friendlier toward elderly people. Although it has not been well-studied, based on what we know about how biases form we also recommend that people consider what gets into their minds in the first place. This might mean avoiding television programs and movies that portray women and minority group members in negative or stereotypical ways.
Welcome to US History. Make yourself comfortable!