Race and Confirmation Bias {another Ferguson opinion}

Everyone at some point has had an interaction that worthy of righteous indignation. Upon initiating the conversation there is some clairvoyant internal voice that says, “shit is about to go down.” Images of puppies and kittens being kicked flash through your head, and then you experience the kind of mental implosion that Charles Dodgson must have had when creating the Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.

My meltdown has come during the Ferguson debauchery, not because of a verdict that I think is necessarily wrong, but because of an increase in the accepted validity of confirmation bias in politics. Two things that I can definitively say after Ferguson are that rioting is bad, and racism is still real.

I am going to start with the claim that police violence in the black community is not a problem, and that police violence exists because of black intraracial violence. Yes, the FBI has studies that say 91% of non-white murder victims have non-white perpetrators…however, this does not indicate that white on black murder is not a problem. This is a false equivalence, where a statistic is assigned cause without actually investigating the social history behind it. Factors such as segregation and socio economic status play a tremendous role in determining who criminals will target, and these statistics possibly say more about de facto segregation than they do about crime. Furthermore, white perpetrators account for a 84% of white murders – which further illustrates the point that maybe what we are talking about is the nature of segregation rather than the nature of crime.

We live in a non-post-racial society where de facto segregation is still a large part of our culture. For hundreds of years, the United States functioned on a moral bedrock that permitted slavery. Thus, millions of people were robbed of generational wealth, knowledge and status. How much more difficult is it to be successful, when you have no predecessors that have walked the same path? Ending slavery, as we all know, was not the end of discrimination in the United States. Until the Voting Rights Act in 1965, minorities still weren’t fully enfranchised. The people that faced that kind of discrimination are still alive today, as are the people who caused it. How can we claim to be a post-racial society when we have that kind of legacy, and the victims and perpetrators still play a large role in our society?

Without enfranchisement, equality under the law can never exist. Predatory housing policies effectively barred middle-income black families from living in the same neighborhoods that middle-income white families lived in. Homeowner’s Associations did not allow people of color to live within their jurisdiction, while lenders were not required to lend on an equal basis. This bred at atmosphere that encouraged predatory lenders to take advantage of a group that had no access to housing.

The pinnacle of the American Dream is to own a house. Well into the 1960s, FHA loans were only approved for neighborhoods that were seen as “stable” investments. The neighborhoods that low-income families could afford were redlined as unstable, and therefore loans were not FHA backed. This meant federal policy did little to help the social class created by years of slavery and Jim Crow Laws but instead exacerbated existing injustice.

Because they shared this same dream, and the logical utility of actually having a house, alternative methods with which to acquire them developed. People who were eligible for federal subsidies (White, non-Jewish people) bought homes in certain neighborhoods and ran predatory lease-to-own programs for Jewish and minority buyers. This resulted in house prices being effectively double that of what a white person would pay. When these families couldn’t afford a payment, they were kicked out of a house and it was sold again. “From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market.”

Once trapped in this sort of situation, it became impossible to leave it behind. How can you leave a home when you have already paid off 70% of the “value”? That just means that you wasted money. So neighborhoods developed that were primarily black, that lacked social mobility because things cost more than they did to their white counterparts.

These policies are what created segregated neighborhoods cities like Chicago. This gap in living conditions is further enhanced by the poor educational systems that developed in these neighborhoods. The first generation of black citizens of the post-civil war era did not have parents that were classically educated, and did not have the means to become educated themselves. Within the community, there was a sore need for quality educators. This gap had to be filled with primarily white employees, and white employees didn’t want to work in black neighborhoods, and once employed may not have been sympathetic to the problems that oppressed minorities faced.

In 1960 a black man would make $.69 for every $1.00 a white man made. As of 2010, that number stands at $.75. Higher education yields higher wages, and this statistic shows that our educational system has failed black youth. It isn’t a systemic problem inherent to black culture; it is a systemic problem inherent to American culture.

So how do we solve this problem? Not by addressing a failed education system and providing projects that bring jobs to these areas, but rather by policing them even more. This is not to discount the value of Public Law enforcement, it is vital and necessary. It is especially vital and necessary in areas that experience high rates of crime.

However, we have a police force that does not understand the needs of the people it protects. Reductions in violence and violent protest don’t happen when male black youth are 21x more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than their white counterparts. While crime rates may be higher in these redlined neighborhoods, it is essential to remember that these perfect creations of uncertainty were concocted by a white majority. 50 years is not enough time to escape the cloud of racism, it is just enough time to forget how it happened.

You see, we still haven’t even mentioned Michael Brown by name. But now, the fun is over. While Darren Wilson may have been well within his right to defend himself (we don’t know yet because the case hasn’t been held), the idea that this would discredit the notion that white on black police violence is a problem is absurd. HERE IS THE CONFIRMATION BIAS, IT IS RIGHT HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE! Did you miss that? We have used this case as a springboard to confirm two notions. The first notion is that white on black police violence is a problem. Empirically, there is data to back this up. Remember that a black high school age boy is 21x more likely to be shot and killed by police than a white boy the same age. Minorities also represent 54% of the people that have been killed by officers between 1980 and 2012 even though the ethnicity of the United States is 72.4% white. Since white police officers account for over 90% of fatal police shootings, it is safe to say that there is a problem with white on minority police violence. The second notion is that black culture is more violent than white culture, which ignores the effects of generational racism, discrimination, and segregation. You may have also noticed that this entire piece deals with minorities who are poor. Even this assumption becomes endemic to our discussions, and it fosters an attitude that because someone isn’t white they likely behave in ways that we attribute to minority culture (without actually understanding what that culture is). This is also something we need to discuss in this country.

There is a strong disconnect between white and black citizens on this issue. 70% of black citizens say that law enforcement does not treat racial and ethnic groups equally, while only 25% of white citizens share this same opinion. But…but….the numbers? Yet again, the empirical data shows that there is a large, systemic problem with regards to equal treatment of minorities. How can we ignore such disturbing statistics? By confirming our own bias that black culture is more violent and less civil than white culture.

Lyndon B. Johnson once said that black poverty was not the same as white poverty, and that can clearly be seen by the circumstances that have created a large class of black citizens who are stuck in the lower echelon of American society. This is because the problem self-perpetuates as it becomes institutionalized within a system. Lack of education, jobs, and resources are much more prevalent among minority communities because of past approaches toward minorities. Now it is time to address actual issues. We know that white on black police violence is an issue, we should address it. We know that minority education is an issue, we should address that. But the same attitude that prevents us from addressing these issues is the same one that leads to the fallacy of “reverse racism”.

Reverse Racism, is that a thing?

Now we come to a climax of “race relations”, the idea of reverse racism. The concept itself seems to be a parody, discrimination against any race is racism, so reverse racism must be…reverse discrimination? I digress. We will accept Wikipedia’s definition:

Reverse racism is a condition in which discrimination, sometimes officially sanctioned, against a dominant (or formerly dominant) racial or other group representative of the majority in a particular society takes place, for a variety of reasons, often as an attempt at redressing past wrongs.

Within the university system, the claim of reverse racism or reverse discrimination comes from affirmative action policies.

This causes me to recall a conversation I overheard when doing rounds within a university housing complex. Two girls sitting in chairs were discussing how hard it is to finance school. One looks at the other and says:

“It’s not even worth applying for scholarships because unless you are a black or Mexican woman you aren’t going to get them. How am I supposed to pay for school when white people can’t get scholarships or financial aid?”

The claim that minorities typically get more financial aid is an accurate statement. This is because minorities make far less money than their white counterparts. Pell grants and other government aid do not specifically target based on race, but rather income brackets. Because racial minorities make up a higher proportion of the lower class than they do middle and upper class, they make up about 64% of Pell grant recipients.

Private scholarships operate under different criteria, and race can be a determining factor. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that a majority of scholarships are race based. Caucasian students receive 76% of merit-based scholarships even though the make up only 62% of the student population.

This cluster of race issues leads to one undeniably true conclusion, our ontology of race leads to significant misunderstandings.

Search engines and ad targeting are an interesting metaphor for this phenomenon. When you make specific searches, a search engine will identify key attributes about you. For example, I perform searches about LGBT issues and I am openly gay on various cyber-gathering areas. This has led to an interesting trend in the type of ads that get marketed to me on the internet. Based on my search trends, algorithms assign me to specific groups that have similar internet behavior (they have performed similar searches). Ad generators take these algorithms and display ads that are successful within these groups of users. The groups make up a bell curve, and whether you like it or not, ads are targeted to encompass as much of that curve as possible. For me, that means I get a lot of underwear advertisement, because obviously if I’m not having a queer media bender, I am buying underwear that relocates my bits and pieces to my throat.

The thing is, I have no interest in internet shopping for underwear, but the internet has created a profile that matches my key searches. This profile acts as a stereotype based on my internet behaviors rather than matching how I self-identify. Race issues work in a similar way. Attributes are arranged to form a profile. For example: (1) likes Steve Martin (2) is Mormon (3) is boring – therefore must be white. Obviously, a black person could also like Steve Martin, be Mormon and boring, but that doesn’t match the profile that our ontology has created for people of various races. Instead of expecting a spectrum of human behavior, narrow traits are combined to make narrow racial profiles. Under this paradigm black people become otherized; they are (1) more violent, (2) less educated and (3) most likely baptist. These attributes in no way reflect the actuality of black identity, but still very much influence the way people think.

The solution then is to break down this false equivalency that implicit white assumptions = black reality. In other words, we are cycling back to the statistic that 91% of black murder victims were murdered by other black people and 84% of white murder victims were murdered by white people. The assumptions that we make based on these statistics, either that black people are more violent – or that racism still exists – depend on our experience of race, discrimination, and poverty. We must recognize that because of the environment that has been engendered by generational racism, there can’t be a reality in which black youth as a whole have the same opportunities at the beginning of their lives as white youth as a whole.

– A

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