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The New Jim Crow
March 28, 2011 7:16 PM   Subscribe

“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”

That's what "Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.

Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had been brought in to discuss her year-old bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness More Black Men Now in Prison System than Were Enslaved." [...]

“What do we expect them to do?” she asked, who researched her ground-breaking book while serving as Director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California. “Well, seventy percent return to prison within two years, that’s what they do.”

Alexander in a Bill Moyers interview with Bryan Stevenson.

Alexander at Washington Journal
posted by TheGoodBlood (143 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not saying that this isn't a REALLY bad thing, but a comparison between a raw population set from 2011 vs. one from 1850 is hard to draw much meaning from.
posted by dry white toast at 7:39 PM on March 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


well, she is right, although she doesn't (at least in this article, though I suspect it may be different in her book) offer much in the way of concrete solutions. The one thing I do wonder, what the difference in percentages is between men who are black and incarcerated and who where under slavery. Just saying more people are now X then they where Y, Z years ago, while valid and important, can also be just a little misleading.
posted by edgeways at 7:40 PM on March 28, 2011


OK, we all know that the key quote points to absolute numbers rather than percentages, but her key point is an accurate and terrible indictment of the way the (overwhelmingly) white justice system deals with nonwhite victims of the War on Drugs.

“If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels, before the War on Drugs began,” she said. “More than a million people working in the system would see their jobs disappear.”


Like the War on Terror, or the previous War on Communism, millions of jobs in the USA have been created not to increase the general welfare of the people, but the welfare of The State.

Making things, educating children, building transportation networks, and creating a healthy country from the beautiful network of cultures we have here, has taken a back seat to the dark, diseased culture of death and repression that our prison system and our position of military domination has created.
posted by kozad at 7:44 PM on March 28, 2011 [78 favorites]


How timely, I just read a paper about the mass incarceration of blacks this week. See From Slavery to Mass Incarceration by Wacquant. Wacquant basically traces the historical path which brought us to this point, and argues that this could indeed be the next Jim Crow.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:44 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a truth that needs to be spoken loud and clear. Slavery didn't end, it grew, and the USA has transformed it into an even more profitable prison industry by contracting out prisons to corporations. On that note, I like to remind deniers that the 13th amendment didn't abolish slavery, it made it only permissable as punishment (emphasis mine):

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
posted by jardinier at 7:45 PM on March 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


I don't think that people should get hung up on the (I agree, quite misleading) pull quote "statistic". It's not really central to the argument, which is far more shocking to my mind than that factoid. These facts are more relevant:
* crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows.
* whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks
* four [out] of five black youth can expect to be caught up in the criminal justice system during their lifetimes
posted by wilful at 7:45 PM on March 28, 2011 [15 favorites]


a comparison between a raw population set from 2011 vs. one from 1850 is hard to draw much meaning from.

Not necessarily. It is a pretty striking observation - this is a fucked up situation; barely 150 years ago, our country went to war (with itself!) over the fact that this many black men were shackled involuntarily.

I think there is a certain point where "well yes but if you adjust for population..." type analysis breaks down. I know it can be a useful tool in lots of economic analysis. But - a person is a person is a person. Is an American life worth less now than it was in 1850? And the point is, what moral consequence do you draw from this? Sure the proportion of imprisoned African Americans is lower now than the proportion of enslaved African Americans in 1850 - but what proportion of the general population is now advocating the abolition of our current system because it is so unjust?
posted by rkent at 7:48 PM on March 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


I wonder what the data is on sentencing lengths in the US vs. rest of the world? the US puts people away for phenomenal lengths of times in comparison to other similar countries if I remember correctly
posted by the mad poster! at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2011


And all to keep people from doing drugs... ostensibly, at least. Drugs are supposedly among the worst things in society, after all, and from a certain point of view I can see that -- back when "patent medicines" containing morphine, coca, and alcohol were legal and commonly used, for instance, society had some problems with them.

But slavery problems? Not so fucking much.

Legalize it. All of it.
posted by vorfeed at 7:52 PM on March 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Though I'm white, I grew up in a largely black community and heard a lot of political talk about prison being "the new slavery" and the like. I used to think this talk was not meant to be concretely true, that it was rhetoric about the unfortunate similarities and (what I thought were) loose historical ties between slavery and imprisonment, until I read the book Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice.

That such a sizable number of black men are and were incarcerated is no coincidence and no simple indirectly-causal relationship. The prison system we have today was actually built on knowingly crafted strategies for managing a black population that was threatening to the power structures of 1920s and 30s. TSince that time, we have not reformed that system in any meaningful way, nor have we really questioned its premises; instead, we've expanded it, exploited it for private profit, and if anything, found more new ways to ensure that such a large number of people in this population are put in jail, and stay there.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on March 28, 2011 [27 favorites]


Drug incarceration is a red herring. Even if you removed all drug offenders from jail tomorrow, you'd still have a strongly disproportionate number of African-American men in prison. Even if you removed all those African-American men who are in prison as a result of injustice or racism, you'd STILL have a number that was outrageously disproportionate to the percentage of African-Americans in the population at large. Clearly, something is going on here that is not outright racism and not outright drug-law foolishness, especially when you consider that the vast number of African-American men arrested for non-drug offenses are arrested on complaints from African Americans. Ending drug laws and ending overt racism won't resolve this issue -- one of the most salient and characteristic facts of American life.
posted by Faze at 7:54 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Faze, do you have some citations for those numerical premises?

Even if they're uncontestable, the issue of bias in the justice system still has a powerful effect.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on March 28, 2011


Even if you removed all drug offenders from jail tomorrow, you'd still have a strongly disproportionate number of African-American men in prison. Even if you removed all those African-American men who are in prison as a result of injustice or racism, you'd STILL have a number that was outrageously disproportionate to the percentage of African-Americans in the population at large.

Please show your work.
posted by docgonzo at 7:57 PM on March 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


Useful points all.

Let's not get it twisted though:
slinging dope is not the same as just existing as a person of African descent and then having neighboring people sell/Euros buy/kidnap you! Chattel slavery was not even the same kind of slavery as the prisoners of war getting taken in, say, indigenous cultures on this continent or the "African" continent. The war on drugs is flawed, but let's make sure everyone knows history,thanks.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 7:57 PM on March 28, 2011


From the Wacquant article:

-- "the ethnic composition of the inmate population of the United States has been virtually inverted in the last half-century, going from about 70% (Anglo) white at the mid-century point to less than 30% today."

-- "whereas the difference between arrest rates for whites and blacks has been stable, with the percentage of blacks oscillating between 29% and 33% of all arrestees for property crimes and between 44 and 47% for violent offences between 1976 and 1992, the white–black incarceration gap has grown rapidly in the past quarter-century, jumping from 1 for 5 in 1985 to about 1 for 8 today."

-- "the lifelong cumulative probability of ‘doing time’ in a state or federal penitentiary based on the imprisonment rates of the early 90s is 4% for whites, 16% for Latinos and a staggering 29% for blacks."

And that article's almost 10 years old.
posted by blucevalo at 7:59 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Re: higher numbers of brothas: look at class, poverty, and crime.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 7:59 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


More to the point, rkent, is that the country went to war with itself because a very large part of it was addicted to an economic system which was totally dependent on and centered around incarcerated people. That's where your parallel is.

However it doesn't provide much in the way of a solution. The Civil War is to this day the bloodiest -- in absolute terms -- war the U.S. has ever involved itself in, and up until Vietnam it consumed more lives than every other war we'd involved ourselves in afterwards combined.

Granted I'm not sure that for-profit prisons, distasteful as they may be, are exactly as central to the modern U.S. economy as slavery was to the south in 1850, but the track record of excising nasty business that we've grown dependent on is not good.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:59 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's bloodiest war in terms of U.S. fatalities, of course.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:00 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Articles about Race and Prison from drugwarfacts.com.
posted by girih knot at 8:01 PM on March 28, 2011


When I look forward into the future, I see a broad outline of our coming penal system taking shape. It'll go something like this:

At some point in the near to mid future, a National Do Not Hire List will be created. It will be, basically, an online database (searchable by name, SSN, birthdate and so forth) and anybody who is on the list will be ineligible for normal employment in the United States.

When it initially gets pitched to the American people, it will be presented as a "common sense reform to keep dangerous criminals away from our children" or whatever. Did you know that the man making your child's Happy Meal is a convicted double murderer? How do you feel about that? Wouldn't you feel safer if you knew that felons like him couldn't interact with your family on a daily basis? That's how it's going to be framed.

There will be stiff penalties for companies that hire people on the list, but there will be exceptions for some occupations (farm laborer, soldier, maybe landscaper and so forth). There will also be no minimum wage for DNH jobs. Employers authorized to employ DNH listees will be allowed to pay as little as they want, to pay only in meals or even to pay nothing at all (They're earning valuable skills! It's just like an internship!). There will be few to no restrictions on hours worked, or on working conditions. There will be no requirements to provide medical care either. (If the Tea Party is successful in their mission, I fully expect basic medical care to be an "extreme luxury" for even middle-class Americans by sometime in the mid 2020's, let alone convicts).

Basically, in the future, if you commit any kind of a felony (and perhaps even certain misdemeanors), you will be essentially denied the right to work in anything other than slave-like conditions. Naturally, this will be framed in the best possible light and a great deal will be made about how all these criminals (who, oddly enough, tend to be dark-skinned) should be thankful that they get $2/hour for picking cotton or get three hot meals a day when we could just let them all rot in jail or worse.

And people will get behind it. Eventually, of course, the National Do Not Hire List will start to get abused. Congress will add some new categories to the list beyond simple criminals. Adding "Domestic Extremists" won't be far behind. Basically, this means anything from Muslims to people who get fed up in line at the airport. Possibly even union organizers, too. (Public sector unions will be outlawed first, probably by the late 2010's. Eventually, even private sector unions will be extremely discouraged through various means or even outlawed altogether sometime in the 2020's.) If you ever find yourself in that position, you'll discover yourself out of a job and the only place you can legally work will probably be a corporate farm in another state.

And nobody will save you. Your family will be helpless -- they'll be afraid of getting their names added to the list if they make too much of a fuss. Your friends will feel sorry for you. You'll be couch surfing a lot. But eventually, you will go. You'll either go to The Farms or you'll join the (booming) underground economy and start selling crystal meth or unlicensed internet access.

And you'll think back to the 90's and the 2000's, and you'll remember how you didn't care when you heard that 1% of our entire nation was in prison, because it just didn't seem to be that big of a deal at the time. Besides, all those black folk in jail must be there for a reason. Right?
posted by Avenger at 8:02 PM on March 28, 2011 [66 favorites]


The United States is second in the world in its rate of incarceration per 100,000 population. Of all 59 nations in Europe, Asia and North America from which data may be compiled, only Russia incarcerates people at a higher rate. In comparison to other similar industrialized nations, the United States incarceration rate is approximately six to ten times higher.

While these numbers are shocking in and of themselves, when the incarceration rates are distilled
on the basis of race, the numbers can only be described as catastrophic. Despite the fact that African
Americans constitute 12% of the United States population, 44% of all prisoners, state and federal, are African American. A close examination of incarcerated populations by state supplies a striking
revelation –- the proportion of African Americans in the prison population exceeds their proportion
among state residents in every single state. (Apartheid Resurrected: How American Incarceration
Policies Wage War On Poor African American Communities
)
Or, to look at it even more starkly: the incarceration rate of black males in the United States is nearly six times that of the incarceration of black males in South Africa during the waning days of apartheid.
posted by scody at 8:03 PM on March 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


At some point in the near to mid future, a National Do Not Hire List will be created. It will be, basically, an online database (searchable by name, SSN, birthdate and so forth) and anybody who is on the list will be ineligible for normal employment in the United States.

E-verify.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:08 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


The one thing I do wonder, what the difference in percentages is between men who are black and incarcerated and who where under slavery.

Under slavery, wouldn't the percentage "incarcerated" be close to 100%? Some slaves were freed by benevolent masters, most were not. And of course, legally freed slaves were being re-enslaved right before and during the war as well.

How I wish we could understand and root out this poisonous, illogical, massively wasteful, and incomprehensible desire to hurt and oppress whole classes of human beings. I know systemic oppression is often the accumulation of small acts and assumptions, but Jesus, it's breathtaking how much money we spend even now to punish people who are here without documentation (and their families, and their children) or to simply crush the poor even harder beneath their burdens.

All those lives stunted by poverty and wasted in prison; how many new businesses, how many inventions, how many leaders, how many simple productive taxpaying hardworking citizens have we lost?
posted by emjaybee at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Even if you removed all drug offenders from jail tomorrow, you'd still have a strongly disproportionate number of African-American men in prison. Even if you removed all those African-American men who are in prison as a result of injustice or racism, you'd STILL have a number that was outrageously disproportionate to the percentage of African-Americans in the population at large.

OK, let's assume that this is true. That leaves, at a minimum, poverty and unemployment as obvious contributors to the problem. I think it's reasonable to assume that ending the Drug War and eliminating outright bias in the justice system would have an effect on both of those variables. Get people out of jail and free of the system, and maybe they'll be able to start working again, making positive contributions to their neighborhoods and families; eventually, the cycle might break.

Attack poverty and unemployment first, however, and you still have widespread institutional bias and unjust laws which act as its strong right arm. Pretty tough to stop being poor and unemployed when you're in jail or on (as Avenger astutely puts it) the unofficial Do Not Hire list.
posted by vorfeed at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2011


Just think if even half the money we spend on prisons was spent on schooling.
posted by maxwelton at 8:10 PM on March 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


Interesting notes from a paper called Explaining Black Imprisonment Rates 1983-99:
Black imprisonment rates tend to be higher where Blacks are a smaller percentage of the population. One corollary of this fact is that Black imprisonment rates tend to be lower in the South than in the North. This seems contrary to regional stereotypes about race relations and contrary to theories of inter-group threat. When this pattern has been reported, it has rarely been discussed in much detail or theorized. However, it is quite consistent with theories that consider the cost of social control and the political power of the objects of this control.

We find that low White poverty, not high Black poverty, is the most important predictor of Black imprisonment.

Incarceration rates in the United States exploded between the mid-1970s and the late
1990s. By the end of the 1990s, the incarceration rate in the US was 3.5 times higher than it was at its peak at the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and 2.7 times higher than it was in 1981. Spiraling incarceration rates were not a simple mechanical response to crime rates. Although crime was relatively high in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the shift began, after 1975, crime generally declined with small oscillations, while imprisonment moved steadily upward.

The rate of admission to prison on a probation or parole revocation was 3.5 times higher in 1999 than 1983 (the first year of the NCRP series), while the rate of new prison sentences was only 2.0 times higher.

We believe the explanation of the longstanding negative relation between "percent Black" and the Black imprisonment rate is probably relatively straightforward: it arises because it is more costly and politically more difficult to execute repressive policies targeting Blacks where Black people are a more significant fraction of the population.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on March 28, 2011 [18 favorites]


Combine the links in this post with the future Avenger envisions and this link, and you've got a recipe for utter despair: Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns in Trouble.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:12 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm - Faze I think you misunderstand the effects the drug war and mass incarceration have on the African American community. The drug war doesn't just lead to people being arrested for possession of drugs, but because there is now an illegal market in drugs and there is resultant crime, poverty and the social decline that comes from having so many family members missing. I guess I don't understand your point. Are you trying to say that African American people should stop calling the police, or that African American people commit more violent crimes because they are more prone to do so? It's hard for me not to see some kind of biodeterministic racism in your comment.

Midsouthern Mouth: Not everyone doing time was slinging dope. Some were smoking marijuana for the fourth time in Louisiana. Many were using cocaine. I had a client who faced mandatory life in prison because an ounce of weed was found in a house he shared with 7 other people. He was eating pickled beets on his front porch when his house was raided. The police chose to put the drugs on him. I get your point - its not the exact same thing, but the prison system in many southern states (I'm most familiar with Louisiana) was specifically designed to circumvent the abolition of slavery.

There are a ton of new projects set up to shift rural economies from prison back to farming, and other non-prison economic structures. For example: Milk Not Jails. A lot of people who are working to end the drug war see the rural corrections lobby and realize that they are going to have to design an alternative economic system in order to deal with the real fact that there are tremendous swaths of the population who are totally dependent on prison jobs.
posted by goneill at 8:18 PM on March 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


E-verify.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:08 PM on March 28 [1 favorite +] [!]


From the E-verify page:

U.S. law requires companies to employ only individuals who may legally work in the United States – either U.S. citizens, or foreign citizens who have the necessary authorization.

Mark my words: eventually, a few years from now, the page will read:

U.S. law requires companies to employ only individuals who may legally work in the United States – either U.S. citizens in good standing, or foreign citizens who have the necessary authorization.


goneill wrote:

There are a ton of new projects set up to shift rural economies from prison back to farming, and other non-prison economic structures. For example: Milk Not Jails.

From the standpoint of many in our country, "Milk Not Jails" is very inefficient. It should be "Milk and Jails". Much more profitable that way.
posted by Avenger at 8:22 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just think if even half the money we spend on prisons was spent on schooling.

Then the education budget would go up by approximately 3 percent.
posted by Etrigan at 8:24 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know a lot of us (I'm guilty) leaped right into the discussion but I hope others are listening to the video interview in the FPP with Michelle Alexander. She refers to the point from the Wisconsin article I was just reading, about how "low White poverty, not high Black poverty, is the most important predictor of Black imprisonment," and explains the mechanism of this a bit further - as populations shift and districts change composition, white politicians seek (and get) support from a white voter population that feels threatened. They increasingly propose and succeed in passing new laws and regulations that end up resulting in greater incarceration rates. Once you reflect on this mechanism it's fairly chilling how intentional it is.

She also says that research shows that "people of color are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites," something that we forget to talk about - whites, apparently, use drugs more in some age groups and regions, and white youth may even sell drugs more often.

She's got some stats and some strong ideas.
posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on March 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


either U.S. citizens in good standing

You don't have 'fit and proper person' tests yet? They're a blast.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:28 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


@ goneill You don't have to tell me, I know people, I grew up Black in working poor Black communities. I just don't want folks to slide into an easy conflation and miss the nuance. I know plenty of people, Black men especially, who are harassed and false arrests are laid at their doors, wrecking aspirations left and right. Like overseers, cops do sweeps of majority Black neighborhoods, and someone could be sitting down on a stoop playing cards, but when they see the cops, they scatter in fear. If a knife or a gun is anywhere near, there you go, welcome to a shackle (home incarceration anklet). Part of the rough prison violence is brought home to the communities, and arguments between macho men trying to outmacho each other which in the old days might have been resolved with mouths and fists instead explode with guns.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 8:28 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some were smoking marijuana for the fourth time in Louisiana.

some just bounced a check one too many times. the systematic effects of financial disenfranchisement and family disintegration are sweeping and pervasive. it's awfully cute to just say well even without the drug war this would happen so it's not the drug war at fault. well yes. but the drug war is part of the multi pronged ferocious buckling pressure in life if you were born in the 'wrong' genetic makeup
posted by the mad poster! at 8:31 PM on March 28, 2011


Then the education budget would go up by approximately 3 percent.:

$37b/2m = $18 500/prisoner. I was under the impression that the cost of imprisoning someone was higher than that.
posted by alexei at 8:32 PM on March 28, 2011


The one thing I do wonder, what the difference in percentages is between men who are black and incarcerated and who where under slavery.

From the census table in this study, it appears that about 1 in 10 blacks were free immediately prior to the civil war, or 90% enslaved.

I'm not sure this proves anything, but its data for those bothered by the time/scale manipulation in the headline.
posted by meinvt at 8:33 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe alot of companies have a 'Do not hire/re-hire' list.
posted by clavdivs at 8:34 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Land Of The Free, my arse.
posted by Decani at 8:36 PM on March 28, 2011


MidSouthern Mouth sorry for missing your nuance!

In Louisiana if a knife or a gun is anywhere near by you've get 10-15 years in prison. Thats if you plead guilty at 17 to your first cocaine possession to get out of jail. (If you can't afford bail you will do this. No matter how innocent). If there's 5 guys and one's got a felony who do you think they will put that gun on?
posted by goneill at 8:39 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


arguments between macho men trying to outmacho each other which in the old days might have been resolved with mouths and fists instead explode with guns.

I remember hearing a really great radio documentary a year or so ago. Or maybe it was a regular radio show. Of course now I can't remember the title or what it was about exactly. However, part of the show involved a lengthy interview with Gerald Early, who made exactly this point about how the availability of guns escalates violence. He talked about how, as a ten-year-old kid, if he walked down the street with his brother and some older kids made fun of them for going home to study or wearing ties or whatever his mother was making them do, they would throw back some retorts but, at the end of it, size up the number, age, and size of those kids and do whatever it took to just save face and avoid getting beaten up. If they couldn't manage it, they got beaten up, but that was pretty much that. Today, he said, imagining himself with his brother in the same situation, only one of them is armed, and maybe one or more of the other kids is armed, changes the whole dynamic. The retorts can get more pointed and uglier, because a false confidence comes from knowing you have the gun. Feeling like you have yourself backed up, you go further than common sense says you should. The other guys do the same. When the anger level gets high enough, it's more than a beating that can happen. And if someone actually does get shot, someone else feels they need to take revenge. And so on and so on. His point was not just that there's violence among young people or that guns or dangerous, but that guns can actually change the way people act, even before anyone sees one.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on March 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think there is a certain point where "well yes but if you adjust for population..." type analysis breaks down.

I think that point would be where you stop thinking about percentages and start thinking about simple numbers of human lives. Not that percentages are irrelevant; they give you some idea of the size of a calamity relative to a country or region (for example, you sometimes hear that the black death killed 1/3 of the people of Europe). But I'd hope the worth of an individual life isn't relative to the number of people alive at the time.
posted by uosuaq at 8:45 PM on March 28, 2011


Incidentally, this is also where the rubber meets the road in terms of the long-term effects of making abortion inaccessible to the poor. Not to mention busting unions so as to deflate wages, and a whole host of other socially regressive policies currently rolling off the assembly lines.
posted by perspicio at 8:46 PM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


At the same time, minorities are also most likely to be victims of crimes, right? We have created a terrible system of racial inequality, with the consequence that high crime areas are also predominantly minority areas, but I'm not sure that the solution is not to prosecute those criminals. This is putting aside any systemic biases affecting how zealously those crimes are prosecuted, the legal representation available to defendants, etc., which are all significant. Does fixing the underlying socioeconomic conditions require that we also stop using the criminal justice system to deter and punish certain types of activities?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:47 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are more people in California than in the entire US during the Civil War. What's your point?

“If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels, before the War on Drugs began,” she said. “More than a million people working in the system would see their jobs disappear.”

To note, there are a hundred million more people in the US now than in 1970.
posted by kafziel at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does fixing the underlying socioeconomic conditions require that we also stop using the criminal justice system to deter and punish certain types of activities?

No. I don't think any reasonable person thinks that. There's just miles of room between making the justice system more rational and fair and not having one at all.
posted by Miko at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't understand if the arguments above are because of statistics...or because someone feels "there's a reason for this".

It is universally agreed upon that a disproportionate amount of the lower socio-economic peoples are in jail, right? And a large portion of those peeps happen to be part of the afro-american pop. Agreed, right?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:51 PM on March 28, 2011


There's just miles of room between making the justice system more rational and fair and not having one at all.

Right – but I don't know what citing the number of black men in jail shows, standing alone, other than it's much higher than we would hope. My hunch, and in fact my anecdotal knowledge, is that there is a ton of racially biased, if not overtly racist, policing and prosecution that goes on. But I don't know what the number would be if law enforcement were totally racially neutral, either.

I suppose my point is, the numbers of black men in jail are staggering and indeed unconscionable, but I don't know what they signify other than some horrible confluence of complicated problems that are poorly served by heavy-handed proclamations that, e.g., "Slavery didn't end, it grew."
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:56 PM on March 28, 2011


I don't understand if the arguments above are because of statistics...or because someone feels "there's a reason for this".

They're due to the poorly employed statistics, combined with a propensity to tree-parse rather than forest-grok.
posted by perspicio at 8:58 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose my point is, the numbers of black men in jail are staggering and indeed unconscionable, but I don't know what they signify other than some horrible confluence of complicated problems that are poorly served by heavy-handed proclamations that, e.g., "Slavery didn't end, it grew."

Whew. For a minute there I thought we were going to have to spend some time talking about a serious racial problem in the US, but thankfully it's way too complicated to even understand and we can just wash our hands of everything.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:01 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whew. For a minute there I thought we were going to have to spend some time talking about a serious racial problem in the US, but thankfully it's way too complicated to even understand and we can just wash our hands of everything.

No, actually, ready for your contribution whenever you are.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:05 PM on March 28, 2011


the numbers of black men in jail are staggering and indeed unconscionable, but I don't know what they signify other than some horrible confluence of complicated problems that are poorly served by heavy-handed proclamations that, e.g., "Slavery didn't end, it grew."

Well, to solve an issue you first need to bring attention to the issue. Many people have yet to make, or have forgotten or wish to ignore, the connections between incarceration and institutionalized racism. Secondly, in understanding the numbers we can make distinctions about which kinds of offenses are producing the incarcerations, how many are repeat offenses, how many of those were impacted by changes in probation or drug law, etc. In other words, we can see that the connection between laws enacted and their results. Third, in seeing that connection and comparing its effects on one population with its effects or non-effects on other populations, we can discern where there might be bias in either the construction or implementation of the law. Fourth, if we stopped at the heavy-handed proclamation we wouldn't get anywhere at all, but if you read the article or the other articles linked here, listen to the video interview, or go to the next level of discussion, you'll be able to understand more of the particulars of the "confluence of complicated problems" which are being discussed. The interview goes into these. When we understand the particulars, we can identify places where we might have a positive impact by making some changes. This is academic research, being packaged for and presented to the public, as part of civic discourse, aimed at raising awareness, increasing attention, and informing policy. You might not know what to do with this information, but if the issue concerns you, you can certainly get involved in efforts to make change, or at least read on and learn more. It doesn't end with a heavy-handed proclamation. That is just the beginning. What comes next requires some thought and work. The curse of democracy.

I don't know what the number would be if law enforcement were totally racially neutral, either.

I think that if all other factors were truly neutral, the racial makeup of a prison population would be exactly proportionate to that of the society from which the prison population draws. That that is not the case is a bright red flag that something is very wrong somewhere. If you care about a fair and just society, that's worth investigating.
posted by Miko at 9:07 PM on March 28, 2011 [17 favorites]


But I don't know what the number would be if law enforcement were totally racially neutral, either.

Well I don't think anybody knows that, not for sure, but that's no reason not to give it a shot.

I'm not saying that you were saying this per se, but I've seen people advance "well, that wouldn't solve the problem..." arguments and they always seem to have a fair dose of enemy-of-the-perfect-is-the-good about them. No, making policing color-blind wouldn't necessarily solve the disproportional imprisonment problem insofar as that problem is multifaceted and driven in large part by economics and underlying structural issues that will probably take generations to grind away at, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a good thing anyway, even if for no other reason than policing ought to be color-blind just on principle.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:10 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well put. And law enforcement is only one piece of the puzzle. Legislation and politics are as well, and economics, and bias in the broader society. Cultural and individual factors are in there too. I think people may all too often rush to isolate the cultural and individual factors ("Young men are just more violent and black pop culture celebrates violence! They chose to do the crime, let them do the time!" etc), while letting themselves and the broader society off the hook for each and every one of the other factors. I think that approach tends to be another expression of bias and that as a society, when we see something that counters our stated ideals of equality and fairness in such a major way, the responsible thing is that to examine all the factors, identify those which can be mitigated, and mitigate them. What seem like cultural or individual factors often end up changing when external conditions change, and unless you make sure the playing field is fair you have no really clear way of evaluating any single player in comparison with another.
posted by Miko at 9:17 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Miko – I appreciate the thoughtful response and agree with essentially all that you're saying. I suppose what I'm reacting to is an idea I've heard expressed a lot among peers, which maybe isn't as present in this thread as I'm feeling, that the number of incarcerated black men is the ultimate end result of a series of acts taken by racist actors in a racist system. I think the numbers are certainly striking in themselves, but even more serious as a symptom than as an ultimate problem. I don't know, for instance, what police officers can really do (putting aside, huge caveat of course, actively racist cops) or what prosecutors can really do (putting aside actively racist prosecutors), or even what legislatures passing criminal laws can do, to enact and enforce laws that are not going to have racially disparate impacts.

I do want to especially note that I completely cosign this statement...

I think that if all other factors were truly neutral, the racial makeup of a prison population would be exactly proportionate to that of the society from which the prison population draws.

I really don't know, though, how to untangle what factors are keeping this from being the reality, and I certainly don't know how to fix them. I don't advocate not thinking about it or pretending everything's okay, but I really also react strongly to statements that it's all a ruse to support the prison industry, for instance, which is frankly giving those people too much credit for engineering this state of affairs and I think distracting from the actual insidiousness of the problem. I do hope that time will cure some of this and that we are truly moving toward a society that will be less racially stratified, but maybe that's hopelessly naive.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:39 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I look forward to the day that it is commonly understood that racism is not the root cause of these problems, but just the method of bringing them about. Essential to that understanding is that these are only problems if you're addressing them as a moral animal.

All of the tools by which the house stacks things to ensure it will always win, including the invention of race and racism, may be broadly classified under the heading, "Exploiting human weaknesses."
posted by perspicio at 9:43 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


arguments between macho men trying to outmacho each other which in the old days might have been resolved with mouths and fists instead explode with guns.

The murder rate (in the US) was, in 1933, double what it was in 2010. The US has always been a dangerous place. Yes, in the 17th century, too.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:03 PM on March 28, 2011


While it feels good to rage against the machine and point fingers at 'the Man,' such behavior is counter productive. It promotes imbecility by demoting personal responsibility. The number one cause of incarceration is bad decisions. While injustice exists and should be fought, the real foe is imbecility.

We live in a Democracy and the means you - the people - make and can change the law. Your vote = my vote. Freedom means responsibility for your actions. Show me injustice and I'll fight to the death for you. But so many reactions to this bit of fact stinks of the same ol blame 'society' or 'the system.' if you think anything more than the luck of life is holding you down; I suggest you listen a to this advice.
posted by astrobiophysican at 10:07 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The number one cause of incarceration is bad decisions.

Spoken like someone who did not explore the articles or videos.
posted by perspicio at 10:11 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


All of the tools by which the house stacks things to ensure it will always win, including the invention of race and racism, may be broadly classified under the heading, "Exploiting human weaknesses."

I don't really understand this statement. Whose weaknesses are being exploited, and what are those weaknesses? You use the metaphor of the "house" in gambling, which exploits the greed, ignorance, and desperation of gamblers. What is it about racism that highlights the weaknesses of the victims? Are black criminals weaker than white criminals? Is that why they get higher sentences for the same crime?

We live in a Democracy and the means you - the people - make and can change the law. Your vote = my vote. Freedom means responsibility for your actions. Show me injustice and I'll fight to the death for you. But so many reactions to this bit of fact stinks of the same ol blame 'society' or 'the system.' if you think anything more than the luck of life is holding you down; I suggest you listen a to this advice.


An unequal system of justice is not justice at all. The "injustice" you would fight to the death to end is systematized, and individuals standing alone cannot bring down a system. What you have in America is NO JUSTICE, not injustice from time to time. People won't be able to "simmer down" and take responsibility because as long as there is no justice, there will be...you can finish the phrase.
posted by Danila at 10:13 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


astro,

Convicted felons can't vote.
posted by effugas at 10:15 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


We live in a Democracy and the means you - the people - make and can change the law. Your vote = my vote. Freedom means responsibility for your actions.

The people voting the imbecilic-law-creating politicians in aren't the ones who're being caught up in the nonsense laws. Man, do you know that just a few weeks ago a couple women who were incarcerated for decades cause of a robbery in which $11-200 was taken and in which they were convicted by the testimony of a kid who was threatened he'd be raped if he doesn't testify against them were released by Haley Barbour?
Howard Patrick, who was 14 at the time of the robbery, said that the pressure from the authorities to implicate the sisters began almost immediately. He testified, “They said if I didn’t participate with them, they would send me to Parchman and make me out a female.”

He was referring to Mississippi State Prison, which was once the notoriously violent Parchman prison farm. The lawyer questioning the boy said, “In other words, they would send you to Parchman and you would get raped, right?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy said.
posted by the mad poster! at 10:21 PM on March 28, 2011


My strongest recommendation is simply to refuse to refer to the War on Drugs as such anymore. Call it what it actually is, the War on Blacks.
posted by Malor at 10:23 PM on March 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


The banking thieves that has literally caused a near worldwide depression; 100's of thousands (if not millions of ruined lives), and ruined economic regions are still walking around, free as spring birds. Yet, some poor bloke who got caught in a hellhole named Texas, with several ounces of weed, serves time.

There is no such thing as justice; there is only revenge. I want to see vengeance rained down on the SOB's who have ruined so many, and make our so-called justice system a laughing stock.

Also, perhaps the stupid idiots who continue to vote against things like early child intervention and adequate education should be *forced* to place their children in the nation's worst urban schools - along with compelling them to live and work in the neighborhoods that those schools serve.

I want justice.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:29 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Danila, I'll try to be more explicit without writing a treatise.

Whose weaknesses are being exploited, and what are those weaknesses?

Humans are moral animals, but they are also clannish. Said another way, they have an instinct for caring fairness within their group, but they also have in-group/out-group sensibilities. The weaknesses I'm referring to are the ways by which we are persuaded to cleave to more parochial groupings and away from more universal ones when it comes to addressing human needs, which includes satisfying the moral impulse.

You use the metaphor of the "house" in gambling, which exploits the greed, ignorance, and desperation of gamblers.

Yes...also the houses of Congress, from whence our "house rules" come.

What is it about racism that highlights the weaknesses of the victims?

Nothing at all. It highlights the weaknesses of the in-group members. The victims are those deemed members of an out-group.
posted by perspicio at 10:42 PM on March 28, 2011


The Bill Moyers interview in the FPP was very good. Here's the transcript. He interviewed Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson, who brought up the McClesky v. Kemp case and how it crystallized systemic racism. I first heard of the case in this FPP about John Paul Stevens and why he is against the death penalty. In that case, when presented with overwhelming evidence of race-based disparities in sentencing, the Supreme Court said that these disparities are "an inevitable part of our criminal justice system" (the Court notes that unwarranted disparities should be avoided, I suppose racism is warranted so long as it is systemic and can't be traced to any individual decision).

On the practical outcome of that case, Alexander says "It has made it virtually impossible to challenge any aspect, criminal justice process, for racial bias in the absence of proof of intentional discrimination, conscious, deliberate bias. Now, that's the very type of evidence that is nearly impossible to come by today."

My strongest recommendation is simply to refuse to refer to the War on Drugs as such anymore. Call it what it actually is, the War on Blacks.

I also found it interesting how she linked the policies of the anti-black drug war and the impact on poor whites. The policies put in place to maintain America's "racial caste system" for modern times have created a "drug war" that harms a great many poor whites. Many of them get caught up in the system too, helping to maintain generations of poverty in white communities. At the same time, many poor whites are strongly in favor of the racist system of justice and there is intense separation between these groups which are economically, historically, genetically, and geographically linked. It's ridiculous.

It highlights the weaknesses of the in-group members.

Thank you for clarifying.
posted by Danila at 10:52 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Malik
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:55 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


According to 1850 Census data, there were 204,325 free black men in the United States and 1,600,811 enslaved black men, out of a total population of 23,054,152. Enslaved black men made up 6.9% of the total population, and about 89% of all black men were slaves.

According to the 1860 Census, there were 229,296 free black men in the United States and 1,981,395 enslaved black men, out of a total population of 31,183,744. Enslaved black men made up 6.3% of the total population, and about 90% of all black men were slaves.

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics cited at Wikipedia, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison), 2,297,400 people were incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails at the end of 2009, and black people accounted for 38.2% of the prison population.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:02 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The discussion veers towards math and statistics because those things are easy to analyze. But the math problem isn't the problem that needs to be solved.
posted by ryanrs at 11:22 PM on March 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


The numbers are irrelevant. If the North and South hadn't gone to war and northern (free) blacks had had a population explosion making it so only 20 (or 10) percent of the blacks in the United States were slaves, would that make it okay?

It's unfortunate this discussion was framed in such a ridiculous way. I really recommend the book by Alexander. One of the author's arguments is that our modern "Jim Crow" is in some ways worse than the post-Civil War Jim Crow because it enlists the black subcommunity in condemning the persecuted. Under the old Jim Crow there was solidarity -- you (a black person) were persecuted but at least most other black people knew you didn't deserve it. Now, we persecute black people and black people persecute each other for being "criminals", even though it is nearly inevitable that a young black men will eventually do time (usually for a crime a white person the same age has a tenth the chance of being convicted of despite similar actual crime rates).
posted by R343L at 11:33 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


At the same time, many poor whites are strongly in favor of the racist system of justice and there is intense separation between these groups which are economically, historically, genetically, and geographically linked.

“These masters secured their ascendancy over both the poor whites and Blacks by putting enmity between them. They divided both to conquer each.” -- Frederick Douglass
posted by scody at 11:39 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


While it feels good to rage against the machine and point fingers at 'the Man,' such behavior is counter productive. It promotes imbecility by demoting personal responsibility. The number one cause of incarceration is bad decisions. While injustice exists and should be fought, the real foe is imbecility. [...] But so many reactions to this bit of fact stinks of the same ol blame 'society' or 'the system.' if you think anything more than the luck of life is holding you down;

I.. can't believe how stupid this comment is. Anyway, that Moyers conversation was excellent. That guy is seriously the best thing that ever happened to journalism.

Here's the moneyshot:

"The enemy has been defined in racial terms. Now, if we were to look for drugs as aggressively in suburban, middle class white communities as we do in ghetto communities, we would have those kinds of stunning figures in middle class white communities, as well. And as Bryan indicated, you know, the rates of drug use are about the same. Among all racial groups. But also, and what many people don't realize is that the rates of drug sales are about the same among people of all different races."
posted by phaedon at 12:08 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Faze, do you have some citations for those numerical premises?

Miko, do you have some reason why you ignored a half dozen citationless posts that preceded Faze's?

For example, the multi-favorited [yaaaay!] list of "facts" from wilful.

* crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows.
* whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks


Reeeeally? Wouldn't you like to see some citations for those FACTS? Also, any reason why your first post has no cites?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:28 AM on March 29, 2011


As the population of the USA has increased from 23 million to 307 million since 1850, that's not a meaningful statistic.
posted by w0mbat at 12:38 AM on March 29, 2011


Miko, do you have some reason why you ignored a half dozen citationless posts that preceded Faze's? For example, the multi-favorited [yaaaay!] list of "facts" from wilful.

If wilful's list of facts weren't lifted word for word from the first link of this post, then maybe, just maybe, you wouldn't sound like a complete fucking tool. I'm sorry but can't people have the decency to read a link before picking a side and making things personal?
posted by phaedon at 12:40 AM on March 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


It highlights the weaknesses of the in-group members.

Thank you for clarifying.
No problem at all. But now I think my meaning may have been misconstrued in the opposite direction, so at the risk of getting too wordy I feel like I need to clarify further: The out-group members' weaknesses are exactly the same ones as the in-group members'. They are simply features of human nature, whereby our deeply-rooted, pre-rational fear of scarcity is misdirected. If it weren't for that fear (and the circumstances of life on earth that make it evolutionarily invaluable), our clannish impulses might be well-nigh indiscernible instead of prominent and ripe for exploitation; but even so, the fear itself isn't the weakness. The weakness is our propensity for being fooled by others into letting the fear override and squelch our moral impulse.

The way this is done is through abstractions of social engineering (laws, customs, mores and other cultural overlays), and it works because those abstractions, the DNA of civil society, compute into a pervasive behavioral spectrum that human brains - provided it doesn't threaten them too directly - largely learn to tune out as static or background noise, making it far easier to notice individual acts that contrast with it and brand them as disruptive.

Societies all over the world follow this model. It is the story of civilization itself. In an egalitarian society, inherited class distinctions couldn't exist. The fact that it is cultural is the only reason we have any chance of recasting it at all. What can be done culturally can be redone, or even undone. But only if people understand their own brains.

The discussion veers towards math and statistics because those things are easy to analyze. But the math problem isn't the problem that needs to be solved.
A perfect analogy.
posted by perspicio at 12:42 AM on March 29, 2011


Gold star. Just what I wanted to hear, phaedon.

So the FACTS contained in FPPs are never to be questioned again? All Faze needs to do is create a FPP parroting his facts and then it's OK with you? Goodnight, Aunty Florrie, thanks for coming?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:46 AM on March 29, 2011


The population of Shanghai now, is about the same as for the USA in 1850.
posted by w0mbat at 12:50 AM on March 29, 2011


So the FACTS contained in FPPs are never to be questioned again? All Faze needs to do is create a FPP parroting his facts and then it's OK with you? Goodnight, Aunty Florrie, thanks for coming?

That's not what I said. Stop being a moron. You didn't dispute the quality of wilful's citations; you pointed out their non-existence, in order to throw wilful's rhetorical request for citations back in his face. I rightly pointed out that no citation was needed because said facts were lifted word-for-word from the top link in this post.

The broad reply to your snotty and thoroughly unresearched question "any reason why your first post has no cites?" seems to be "None were needed. They were implied. You would have noticed this if you read the first link in this post." So now egg's on your face.

Look, I get people have feelings about this issue, most of them apparently dumb and uninformed, but this is a great post with a lot of interesting and nuanced points being made; the least you could do is fucking read it, then chime in.
posted by phaedon at 1:01 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Employers authorized to employ DNH listees will be allowed to pay as little as they want, to pay only in meals or even to pay nothing at all (They're earning valuable skills! It's just like an internship!). There will be few to no restrictions on hours worked, or on working conditions. There will be no requirements to provide medical care either.

Sounds kind of like being an undergrad.
posted by WhitenoisE at 1:14 AM on March 29, 2011


So the FACTS contained in FPPs are never to be questioned again?

If you are questioning facts, please bring your own.
posted by perspicio at 1:24 AM on March 29, 2011


QI on the new American slave trade
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:45 AM on March 29, 2011


Egg schmegg. Also, check out the definition of "example" when you get a moment.

Anyway, you seem to be full of beans, and Miko's obviously still looking for evidence to support this citationless EXAMPLE, so here's some homework for you.

Use Occam's Razor to explain why so many African American men are in jail for committing crimes.

Given the FACT that crime rates are at historical lows... and given the FACT that so many African American men are in jail for committing crimes, use Occam's Razor to join the dots.

hint: this is the part where you ignore those questions and instead point out that I've used CAPSLOCK for some words
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:30 AM on March 29, 2011


hint: this is the part where you ignore those questions and instead point out that I've used CAPSLOCK for some words

Tell 'em why you're mad, uncanny hengeman!

Look, the only thing Occam's Razor does in jail is get someone buck-50'd. This sort of Reddit essentialism is extraordinarily lacking when it comes to understanding the social and political reasons one group of people is disproportionately thrown into a torturous, non-rehabilitative and useless system of incarceration and parole for huge portions of their lifetimes. We're talking about a system that still executes minors in certain states, a system that throws people into solitary confinement easily despite its horrific psychological effects, a system in which agents run through people's doors, shoot the family pet, handcuff the grandma all because they were tipped off about something that may or may not be there. The police and prosecutorial system is a medley of colluding heartless evil and it's turned on the poor to turn the poor against themselves instead of putting all this energy and money towards helping them raise their communities into more vibrant worlds where people don't have to grow up slinging crack. Sitting in Australia crunching the trendline with clinical numbness isn't getting you closer to the truth, cause you don't have the information you need to understand what's really going on.
posted by the mad poster! at 3:09 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


[quote]Given the FACT that crime rates are at historical lows... and given the FACT that so many African American men are in jail for committing crimes, use Occam's Razor to join the dots.[/quote]

Have you watched The Wire?

You sound exactly like the Baltimore police department.
posted by Malor at 3:19 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Argh, sorry for the UBB code there, I'm an idiot.
posted by Malor at 3:19 AM on March 29, 2011


Are you trying to say that African American people should stop calling the police, or that African American people commit more violent crimes because they are more prone to do so? It's hard for me not to see some kind of biodeterministic racism in your comment.

It seems to me (and this is also relevant to the Occam's Razor remark above), that some portion of the bulge in African-American inceration rates might indicate a preference for crime and prison. This is not biodeterministic. Nor does it rule out that as many as half or more of African American incarceration may be attributed to racism and bad drug laws. But what remains (and it could be a halo effect of racism and bad drug laws) could be a disproportionate preference for lifestyles and activities that make one more likely to be arrested.
posted by Faze at 4:35 AM on March 29, 2011


"The problem with democracy is that 51% of the people can enslave the other 49%." -- source unknown.

It doesn't really what White America wants to call it, the way that black individuals are treated in the United States by the criminal justice system is -- well -- criminal in itself. I had a legal... issue... in California and myself and an Asian gent who had 'committed the same crime' got the minimum sentencing -- admin probation -- whilst the African American gentlemen that day received more onerous sentences. Not the maximum, but certainly not the minimum.

When I went to 'treatment' for this 'crime', I chose to go in a black neighbourhood and have a chat with the others there about these things. A unique opportunity to be open and honest across racial lines.

And it's completely f*cked. I had a three month programme for a number of unit violations related to this 'crime' that was greater than several other gents in the room yet they each had six month programmes. All first-offenders, same judge. The only commonality was skin colour and mailing address.

Now I'm not asking for a stiffer sentence in anyway -- I still don't believe the 'crime' was actually a 'crime'. But it's f*cked for the black community. Very important elements of society treats them like criminals waiting to commit crimes and when that happens, they enter a system which treats them like criminals.

What do you think the output of that is? If someone tells you day in and day out that you are a criminal, as some point, the cognitive dissonance of the situation will wear the best of us down. It's a damn shame.

I didn't speak much in the room, I listened... a lot. For three months. And at the end of three months, I felt guilty for leaving. Those men were fathers, employees, employers, managers, sons, husbands and a variety of other things in life but they certainly weren't criminals.

They taught me far more about being a responsible man in society and living up to your duties and honour than the legal system did, that's for sure.
posted by nickrussell at 5:13 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


And by commonality, of course I mean difference.
posted by nickrussell at 5:14 AM on March 29, 2011


The other interesting is that before the civil rights movement, incarceration rates for whites and blacks were actually about the same, IIRC.
posted by delmoi at 5:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sitting in Australia crunching the trendline with clinical numbness isn't getting you closer to the truth, cause you don't have the information you need to understand what's really going on.

Would that this were true. In fact, he wants to validate his assumptions. Dancing the Occam's Razor Jig between two points whilst disregarding all others is just a (gob-smackingly obvious) means of doing so. If he had any interest in understanding what's really going on, he'd be reading, not ranting.
posted by perspicio at 5:41 AM on March 29, 2011


a disproportionate preference for lifestyles and activities that make one more likely to be arrested.

Anecdote: I'm a professor. Yesterday on campus -- a large state university about 60 miles from the nearest big city -- I walked past a group of African-American school kids, about twenty middle school or young high school boys, who were on some kind of a field trip. Yay for them and their teachers, you think. Expose the kids to the possibilities, and maybe they'll decide that the university experience is something they want.

But as I stood waiting to cross the street near this this group, one boy shouted at me "hey white bitch!" and this was taken up by three or four others. This went on for a good half a minute while we waited for the light to change. And NOTHING was said by the chaperones. Nothing. I looked at the two adults with the group, and they stared right back at me as though they couldn't hear what was going on.

What was I going to do? These are guests on campus. I'm just one smallish female person, not confrontational and certainly not up to chiding two imposing African-American men about their lack of control over their adolescent charges. So I went on my way to class without saying anything. But it was an illuminating moment.

Shouting insults isn't crime. But the attitude and "cultural preferences" that you'd associate with people who commit crimes are already in place with this group of boys -- not just the teenager's standard passive disregard for others, but aggressive and hateful defiance of societal norms -- and the adults who care for them apparently see nothing wrong with this.

Can anybody be surprised that kids brought up like this have trouble making their way in the world?
posted by philokalia at 5:45 AM on March 29, 2011


Given the FACT that crime rates are at historical lows... and given the FACT that so many African American men are in jail for committing crimes, use Occam's Razor to join the dots.
Crime rates were also very low in the 1950s and so on when there wasn't a very high racial disparity. Anyway it's an obvious cause/correlation thing that people always criticize. I do wonder what he's so mad about? Maybe his girlfriend dumped him for a black guy once.
Can anybody be surprised that kids brought up like this have trouble making their way in the world?
Well obviously they're all the same! Seeing one random group of kids on campus is just like growin' up in the hood. You know the real scoop now, man!
posted by delmoi at 5:48 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well obviously they're all the same! Seeing one random group of kids on campus is just like growin' up in the hood. You know the real scoop now, man!

It's a big campus and we have school groups visiting the museums and theaters all the time. Ethnically mixed groups and white groups are not a problem. It's with the homogeneous African-American groups -- especially the ones that are all boys -- that we get aggressive bad behavior (breaking things in the museums, pulling over benches at the bus stops). Even drunk undergrads are not so destructive and offensive in public. Sorry to touch a sore spot, but that's the recent history in this particular place, and the people who have to make the repairs and clean up the messes know it all too well. I've just never experienced this kind of nastiness from close-up, with silent chaperones right there on the spot who you'd expect to take some kind of corrective action, and it explains a lot about the sorts of problems we regularly have with groups of young African-American visitors.
posted by philokalia at 6:04 AM on March 29, 2011


Also it isn't like white men don't yell offensive shit at women. It's a pretty common experience of almost all women of all races (See tons of threads on this site, as well). The idea that you could see something like that and decide it's a good thing, or reasonable that 10% of the people of the same race as that kind should be in jail is pretty racist. (you also don't know if he got punished later).

It also sounds like the kind of thing written by someone who doesn't actually know any actual black people in every day life. Like black people are something that you only catch furtive glances at like some David Attenborough studying a bird or something. Also I don't know what kind of "professor" only makes $45k/year. Sounds like like what a lecturer or adjunct would make.
posted by delmoi at 6:06 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can anyone bang out a quick Minard-style chart showing population over time transposed with incarceration and/or slavery? For the visual thinkers among us.
posted by rahnefan at 6:35 AM on March 29, 2011


When I was a sophomore in college (1999), I took a required speech class. In lieu of a final, we had to give a 15 minute persuasive speech. I chose ending the drug war as my topic. My prof, a 40ish white guy named Elvis, told me that he was foursquare against such an idea, he wanted to warn me because he thought I would be making a good grade harder on myself. I did competitive speaking in high school, and I had an A up to that point, so I went for it anyway.

I knew I would be fine about 30 seconds in. I opened with an anecdote:

"I work part time at a small town newspaper. Among other things, we print the county's legal news. Last month, in the same column, two sentencings were announced. Both were first offenses. A white male 38 year old basketball coach from Grass Lake [white area] was convicted of first degree sexual assault against a girl under age 13. A 20 year year old black male with an address on Biddle in Jackson [black area] was convicted of possession and conspiracy to distribute cocaine over 10 grams.

The white guy got nine months for raping a child. The black kid got twenty years."

There was a audible gasp, and the prof's mouth literally fell open. I got an A, and a standing ovation at the end.

Afterward, a bunch of people came up and shook my hand. The one that sticks with me was a black kid about my age. His name was Ken. He was a really good speaker, probably the best one in the class, and the last person to talk to me after class that day. When he shook my hand, he said. "Thank you. Really. You got through to a bunch of these people in a way that I never could have."

I really thought things would be different by now.
posted by Leta at 6:48 AM on March 29, 2011 [18 favorites]


Given the FACT that crime rates are at historical lows... and given the FACT that so many African American men are in jail for committing crimes, use Occam's Razor to join the dots.

If there isn't yet a name for this particular fallacy [ {correlation = causation} ∩ {my knee-jerk explanation of a complicated set of circumstances, based on my own proudly-proclaimed ignorance of both the subject and its larger context, while patently insane and not able to survive the barest hint of closer scrutiny, is succinctly expressible, whereas other explanations require some sort of nuanced understanding, ergo OCCAM'S RAZOR BITCHES } ], can I have naming rights? Because I think we could get some real traction for "Galt's Trenchbroom".
posted by Mayor West at 6:57 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


For reals. "Galt's Trenchbroom" is the new "Santorum".
posted by Leta at 7:05 AM on March 29, 2011


Miko, do you have some reason why you ignored a half dozen citationless posts that preceded Faze's?

Yes, I do have a reason. The assertions Faze made don't jibe at all with the fair amount of journalism and academic writing I've read on this topic over my lifetime, in a field which seems to be continually evolving its understanding as it continually amasses evidence. The other posts not present knowledge I feel needs to be questioned, as it's either generally well established, or draws from sources in the link. When the majority of people who are informed about a topic agree, and one or two don't agree, it's certainly fair to ask for the evidence that seems to contradict the bulk of work done on the topic, since their assertion aims to upend the entire way we think about the topic. That should be a difficult thing to do.

It really IS racist day on MetaFilter, it seems.

philokalia, I'm sorry you were offended, but I work in a museum and we have groups of kids daily, and I assure you that insulting random adults is not a racially determined behavior. Kids mess with people. They make fun of everyone. They suspected insulting you based on your whiteness would sting, and apparently it did; but without the racial dimension it could have as easily been your clothes, hair, weight, eyeglasses, gait, or facial expression. I understand you feel you are an unconfrontational person, so I understand why you didn't do this, but you have a lot of options: go up and talk to the kids directly, talk to their teachers and chaperones instead of just looking at them passively, contact the staff at the Museum and alert them to the problem, find out what school it was and call the principal to discuss it. We've done all these things at my museum when there is unacceptable behavior. It helps reinforce the standards and communicates self-respect. What the kids were doing is wrong, sure, but it's not at all unusual and not something only black kids do. I'm sorry these events seems to be reinforcing perceptions you already carry around. Maybe you should find a way to have a sit-down with the museum staff and perhaps some of the university faculty who deal with difference as part of their scholarship.
posted by Miko at 7:18 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Faze is clearly suggesting that black people actually commit more crimes than other groups even if you take away arrests related directly to drug laws and racism/prejudice in the justice system. I too would like to see some data that speaks to this assertion. What is unclear is what Faze believes causes black people to commit disproportionately more crimes (if they actually do). Goneil probably has it right. The war on drugs, as well as systemic racism in American society, have farther reaching effects than just drug related arrests and racist cops.

I'm reposting my own comment here, because it is relevant:

There is some good research done by psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson that addresses and dispels of the notions of the "irrationality of crime" and "crime as pathology". They write:
There is considerable evidence that persons who engage in risky criminal activities discount the future steeply.
What would make persons discount the future? Perhaps they have good reason to believe that they don’t have much of a future.
In Chicago, there are large variations in life expectancy between neighborhoods, and expected future life span is a good predictor of neighborhood-specific homicide rates, even if expected life span is computed with the mortality effects of homicide itself removed
If the mortality rates in your neighborhood are high, and it is possible that you can die any day from causes outside your control, and you know it, taking risks and engaging in criminal behavior is quite appealing. Daly and Wilson are quick to point out that
...such inability to delay gratification is usually interpreted as a sign of immaturity and pathology...
and are quick to dispel the notion. They write:
steep discounting of the future is just what a properly functioning evolved psyche might be expected to do in the sorts of social and material circumstances that are especially likely to foster violent crime.
What's happening is that in America, black people are perpetually kept in the sorts of social and material circumstances that are especially likely to foster violent crime. And they are kept there by shit like the War on Drugs and systemic racism. So, basically, Faze, you can't really take those things out of your equation.
posted by AceRock at 7:23 AM on March 29, 2011 [13 favorites]


So, basically, Faze, you can't really take those things out of your equation.

And even if we could, that would not excuse us from perpetuating the legitimately unjust systems that we know are a cause of at least some of the extreme levels of incarceration.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on March 29, 2011


I worry there's too much emphasis in these discussions on the way the legal system is used to disenfranchise blacks specifically--it's true. I don't deny that, don't get me wrong, but the real take home message should be this is what happens to the economically disadvantaged in our system, and if the system includes features that provide economic incentive to depriving anyone of liberty for the economic benefit of the state or the elite who manage to capture those benefits, then it's in everyone's interest to fight back. Racial consciousness is so often used to undermine the political solidarity of the natural left that I hope people don't get the wrong impression.

Yes, this is essentially an issue of race for now (though not as simple a one as some might characterize it), but ultimately, it's a problem that concerns human rights in the abstract. As Mark Twain and other abolitionists at the end of the slavery era observed, systems of slavery are ultimately used to exploit both the nominal victim class and the nominal master class; it's the elites pitting members of the lower classes against each other in bum fights for their own amusement and profit.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:23 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Keeping up with this thread is not worth it. Actually, that's not true, it has helped me realize how deeply entrenched racism is in the American psyche. And I'm not even a pretty little butterfly on this issue, as I lean conservative and generally believe that you get what you deserve in this life, end of story.

I rarely (what I really mean is never) throw this word around, but Faze, you're a straight up racist. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. I'd say more on the subject but i already know from past threads that you have difficulty engaging the outside world. You are not to be spoken to, but rather about. Funny how you are provocative to boot. Sad to see you chime in on this particular subject because the post was engaging and thoughtful, but in a different direction.

uncanny hengeman, i'm going to undercut your "haha you're full of beans" bullshit and basically say this. one the one hand, 1968, we have MLK and the memphis sanitation workers pushing for higher wages, some 40 years ago wearing signs that say, "I am a man" which Stevenson astutely points out "was almost more provocative than the fact that they were seeking higher wages. Because if these are men, we have to deal with them as men, that challenges everything." (my emphasis)

I am a man. Imagine having to make this sort of declaration. And then on the other side of the spectrum, we have you. 2011, basically a generation later, encouraging me to use Occam's Razor to figure out why more blacks are in jail. Like some sort of mad scientist. You're not just arguing statistics and citations, you're asking me to change the way I look at humanity. Connect the dots, my friend. You know you want to. This to me is the face of hate, and if you want me to throw a really nasty taste in your mouth, I'll add that it's totally un-Christian. Maybe you have a spiritual foundation that is a little more divisive that you want to explain to me.

I think it's worth pointing out to you that some people have faith in certain things. When King said he got to the top of the mountain and looked over, he saw the promised land. Have you thought about what that could mean? It's not the land you see. While I may not agree with Alexander & Stevenson every step of the way, I admire their integrity. The thoughtfulness they have given to this subject of structural racism. You and Faze can change the subject and have me running around in circles arguing the data, but that doesn't change the fact that you, like many others I feel, have no social vision. You are happy enough not reading posts, sniping at other peoples' arguments, and defending the status quo so long as no problems fall at your feet. You take the notion of holding the individual responsible for his/her actions, and twist it in such a way that, when the conversation turns to incarceration, capital punishment and the question of race, you end up defending a system that has institutionalized discrimination and tolerates a high level of failure. You then conclude a "racial pre-disposition" to defend the system from any sort of criticism and in so doing your argument achieves full circularity, and you revel in it's beauty.
posted by phaedon at 8:39 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Keeping up with this thread is not worth it. Actually, that's not true, it has helped me realize how deeply entrenched racism is in the American psyche.
uncanny hengeman is Australian.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 AM on March 29, 2011


Shouting insults isn't crime. But the attitude and "cultural preferences" that you'd associate with people who commit crimes are already in place with this group of boys -- not just the teenager's standard passive disregard for others, but aggressive and hateful defiance of societal norms -- and the adults who care for them apparently see nothing wrong with this.

Can anybody be surprised that kids brought up like this have trouble making their way in the world?


I said a lot but I eated it. I hate your post and I can't pretend otherwise. I was actually going to debate this, recommend books (if anyone is interested in a great one on this topic, I loved The Ethnic Myth) and articles, share facts and figures and videos and my own anecdotes to go against yours. Then I decided I was gonna try and have a dialogue, you know, try to clarify and collaborate so we can understand each other. I changed my mind and wrote a nice rhetorical piece, meant to rouse the spirit and reveal the injustice of your question.

But why should I pretend not to be angry. I have a question for you.

aggressive and hateful defiance of societal norms

See anything in that FPP that says this "society" is due something better?
posted by Danila at 9:49 AM on March 29, 2011


I don't think anybody's mentioned it yet, but I read this book last summer and found it depressing & enlightening: Slavery by Another Name. (I think I may have even heard about it on MeFi, can't remember.)
Douglas A. Blackmon unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude shortly thereafter.
It's very long and gets a bit overwhelming, but definitely worthwhile.
posted by epersonae at 9:51 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the recommendation epersonae, I'll definitely read that. I just read another book that covered similar ground but only in a chapter or two.

They could call it some other name -- it is fertile in names; it has been called "the peculiar institution," the "impediment," &c., and it will again turn up under some new and hateful guise to curse and destroy this nation. Frederick Douglass
posted by Danila at 10:02 AM on March 29, 2011


the availability of guns escalates violence

I would imagine there are statistics that would corroborate such a proposition, as opposed to an anecdote about 10-year-olds more willing to escalate violence if they have guns in their pockets.


A person mentions that they've had experiences that confirm negative racial stereotypes and gets snark about not making enough money and about how they had it coming. Classy.
posted by cheburashka at 10:04 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


But what remains (and it could be a halo effect of racism and bad drug laws) could be a disproportionate preference for lifestyles and activities that make one more likely to be arrested.

Some how missed this the first time around. My initial reaction is anger, but catching myself, I would like to ask Faze and those who agree with him: has this thread done anything to shift your thinking? Have arguments put forward by Miko and other and by Martin and Daly's argument in my previous comment changed your stance at all? In my mind, if you apply Occam's Razor (ugh) to all the information contained in this thread, it seems very likely that a "disproportionate preference" for a criminal lifestyle or "imbecility" is NOT what is going on here.
posted by AceRock at 10:18 AM on March 29, 2011


In my mind, if you apply Occam's Razor (ugh) to all the information contained in this thread, it seems very likely that a "disproportionate preference" for a criminal lifestyle or "imbecility" is NOT what is going on here.

...Especially when you stop pretending the US is the only reality that exists and compare the situation here to situations in other countries with large, ethnically diverse populations (which contrary to a certain stubborn false belief fostered by American exceptionalists, actually do exist).

In fact, if you apply Occam's Razor without accounting for these measurable differences, you aren't applying Occam's Razor at all, you're just deliberately ignoring crucial parts of the problem in order to reach a preferred conclusion.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:26 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or, to put it more simply in keeping with the spirit of economy and elegance in explanation: you're being a bigot.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2011


One point someone mentioned in passing is how 'expectations' drive behavior. In a lot of black-dominant (and poor) communities, black kids are treated as if they are criminals waiting to happen. Alexander writes about a teacher in DC talking about this saying that in a lot of black areas, some teenagers hanging out -- however innocent -- are a regular target for cops. The cops will pull over, demand to search them, etc. The kids are so used to it that some will just "assume the position" as soon as the police car stops. You would never see that in a white, middle-class neighborhood -- parents would be outraged.

So you're a black teenager. Your whole life you've seen everyone around you treated as a criminal, and you are treated as a criminal and everyone expects you're going to be a criminal someday. For the icing on the cake, the schools suck and there are few job opportunities in your neighborhood and it's hard to get to other neighborhoods. It's been that way for more than a generation. The only thing to do is become a criminal. Hey, it's what everyone expects anyway, right?

I'm not saying that people consciously become criminals like this, but that is really how it is in a lot of the US. You can't say to a new teenage criminal "well he shouldn't have sold drugs" when that is literally the only job opportunity he had, all his friends were doing it and anyway the police have been treating him like he was dealing before he ever did, so why not? Yes, some kids avoid it but the fact that so many don't must say there is something wrong with how we as a society treat certain communities. When a mostly white school has a lot of problem with kids failing standardized tests, we don't shrug and say it's "their nature -- there must be something wrong with them". No, we blame it on poor schooling (either directly or through their parents) and push for improvements. But when a black neighborhood has a problem with lots of kids becoming criminals (or failing school or just "causing trouble"), it's "their nature" and not actually how we have over generations decided "they" are hopeless and criminals and can't be educated.
posted by R343L at 10:36 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


In fact, if you apply Occam's Razor without accounting for these measurable differences, you aren't applying Occam's Razor at all, you're just deliberately ignoring crucial parts of the problem in order to reach a preferred conclusion.
Also, the whole point of Occams' razor is that you're looking at two explanations that have the exact same result, and picking the simpler one. On wikipedia, they mention the formula as stated by Bertrand Russel's formulation: "Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities".

The "the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one" is actually incorrect.
posted by delmoi at 10:53 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would imagine there are statistics that would corroborate such a proposition, as opposed to an anecdote about 10-year-olds more willing to escalate violence if they have guns in their pockets.

I'm sure there are statistics that would shed light on it too - in fact, it's really easy to find statistics showing that the presence of guns dramatically increases the risk of gun violence and homicide. But what they wouldn't be able to do is illuminate the psychology behind it. That's what Early's anecdote did for me - it carefully described how just the act of carrying a gun, not even showing the gun as a visible threat or using it in a crime, can change behavior. It described how having a gun on your person might make you feel more powerful, stronger, more willing to take serious risks, and more aggressive, and how that might cause you to get into situations where you meet an equivalent response, and feel the only choice that allows you to retain that sense of control or power is to put the gun into use.
posted by Miko at 11:14 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The statistic that would be most relevant to the "psychology behind it," as I see it, would be the rates of assault and similar crimes in areas with more/fewer guns or for people who are/aren't carrying guns. Going by bare conjecture, it's just as easy to posit that a person carrying a gun will think it likely other people are carrying guns and be less likely to behave in a way as to cause conflict.
posted by cheburashka at 11:44 AM on March 29, 2011


The discussion veers towards math and statistics because those things are easy to analyze. But the math problem isn't the problem that needs to be solved.

This is sort of why I asked whether any of this discussion was having an effect on Faze, etc. I try not to get mad when Faze poses a hypothesis that it could be a cultural preference for a criminal lifestyle that is accounting for black crime. Because that is a testable hypothesis! It is an empirical question, albeit a difficult one to answer fully. The hope is that if one can show empirically that a "preference for a criminal lifestyle" or "imbecility" or irrationality or pathology DO NOT FIT THE DATA, then the minds of people like Faze will be changed.

What I fear is that you might be right, that I am hoping against hope, that the math problem is not the problem to be solved. That the beliefs or ideas about black people and crime that Faze holds are rooted too deeply and emotionally that an empirical argument will not do a damn thing.

What worries me is the logic implicit in Faze's argument/hypothesis. Removing drug laws and racist cops and judges still leaves us with disproportionately more black criminals. And the only explanation Faze can come with is that black people prefer a criminal lifestyle. Think about it. Who comes up with that as the explanation that first comes to mind? Who comes up with it as the only explanation that they can even think of? My fear is more people than I expect.
posted by AceRock at 12:37 PM on March 29, 2011


The statistic that would be most relevant to the "psychology behind it," as I see it, would be the rates of assault and similar crimes in areas with more/fewer guns or for people who are/aren't carrying guns.

Yes, that information exists. There are state by state comparisons from places with different gun laws available, if you care to dig.

Going by bare conjecture, it's just as easy to posit that a person carrying a gun will think it likely other people are carrying guns and be less likely to behave in a way as to cause conflict.


True, and that's a favorite theory of those who prefer loose gun laws, but we know that's not what happens. We know that the presence of guns in and of themselves makes violence more likely. Bare conjecture can't determine that, but if that is fact, understanding the thought processes behind it can help disentangle some of the individual and cultural factors from the social factors.
posted by Miko at 1:05 PM on March 29, 2011


States with higher gun ownership rates and weak gun laws have the highest rates of overall gun death.
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


phaedon - calling people stupid and racist isn't made noble and acceptable civil behavior by simply quoting Martin Luther King when you are done. I suspect Mr. King would step away from your side in this thread since your words effectively embody the spirit of hatred, contempt and disrespect that was then and is now the baseline enemy of the good.

Racism, sexism, and most other isms are just different flavors of ignorance. If in a discussion on social problems people point out that historically inherited lag distributions in education, economic resources and community cohesiveness are tenable explanations. If people find numbers and facts that support their view that a secret conspiracy may not be the most plausible explanation. If people suggest poverty of body (demographic, environmental, poverty, nutrition, lead paint...), mind (you may want to review what a tautology is and the observation that correlations don't a causation make) and soul (broken families etc..) - maybe better explanations pointing the right way towards a real solution than merely race baiting and blaming some subtle insidious and inflammatory systemic conspiracy by one group of people against another. Again, it may feel good to say the system is f**ked and that everyone that disagrees with that view is stupid and racist but at the end of the day it is the people's system and their individual decisions that make or solve problems.
posted by astrobiophysican at 1:18 PM on March 29, 2011


Serious question, astrobiophysican: how much of this thread did you read? I know you are responding to one person, but you also seem to be trying to summarize the arguments made in the thread, and if so, you are either reading selectively, or you are just not getting it...
posted by AceRock at 1:25 PM on March 29, 2011


I really don't understand what you're trying to say, astrobiophysician. It does seem like you haven't read any links.
posted by Miko at 1:40 PM on March 29, 2011


I may be wrong in this but many formulations of Occam's Razor include the "line all else being equal". I think if that was the case here it would apply to what we are talking about. Then again, if all else was equal we wouldn't be having this discussion, would we?
posted by The Violet Cypher at 2:03 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


astrobiophysican, trust me when I say I am going out of my way to call people stupid and racist. I believe strongly in the rhetorical principle of charity, however I don't always embody civil behavior in this forum, especially when people threadshit, yes I have a problem with that and it motivates me to speak up, and I certainly don't hold judge myself too harshly in the shadow of an influential promoter of civil rights such as Martin Luther King. I'm a little edgier than that.

Your problem however is you don't seem to be able to acknowledge any of the relevant material introduced by this post, because you apparently don't have the time to read it. You are effectively dumbing down the conversation. Too busy posting "Man in The Mirror" links?

Here's a taste, from the above-mentioned transcript:

Stevenson: "At the same time, we've gone from 300 thousand people in jails and prison in 1972, to 2.3 million people in jails and prisons today. With nearly 5 million people on probation and parole. Most of that is explained by this so-called war on drugs. And I think the point can't be overstated that when we talk about challenging drug use, we're not talking about challenging drug use throughout society. Because it, you know, this is actually one crime area where there aren't huge differences between black use and white use for illegal drugs. It's about the same.

"We're, you know, black people are 13 percent of the population of this country. They're about 14 percent of the drug users. But they end up being about 60 percent of the people sent to prison. And so, here you have to focus on these policies and the targeting. And I think that that's what's meant by these policies. Is that we didn't have to incarcerate people for 10, 20, 30, 40 years for simple possession of marijuana, for drug use."


Here's some more:

Alexander: "The enemy in this war is not drugs. The enemy has been defined in racial terms. Now, if we were to look for drugs as aggressively in suburban, middle class white communities as we do in ghetto communities, we would have those kinds of stunning figures in middle class white communities, as well. And as Bryan indicated, you know, the rates of drug use are about the same. Among all racial groups. But also, and what many people don't realize is that the rates of drug sales are about the same among people of all different races."

Please, allow me to continue down this "noble" path:

Stevenson: "The reality is, is that in poor communities, the police do raids all the time. I've worked in communities where the SWAT team comes and they put up a screen fence around the public housing project. They do searches. They stop people coming in and out. There are these presumptions of criminality that follow young men of color.

"And whenever they're someplace they don't belong, they're stopped and they're targeted. And so-- and because you don't have the resources actually to create privacy and security, you're much more vulnerable to prosecution. As Michelle said, you know, we could do the same thing, but middle class communities, elite schools in this country would not tolerate drug raids from federal law enforcement officers and police. Even if there's drug use.

"And so, there is this way in which resources and economic status actually makes you more vulnerable to criminal arrest and prosecution. And it becomes a self-fulfilling story.
"

And here is an almost completely on-the-nose rebuttal to your "But so many reactions to this bit of fact stinks of the same ol blame 'society' or 'the system.' if you think anything more than the luck of life holding you down" comment, in which Alexander & Stevenson discuss the idea of systemic racism existing, even as we have a black president:

Moyers: "But surely he would have been thrilled on election night, as I know you must have been on election night, with the election of the first African American president in our history.

Alexander: "Yeah. Yes. But I think individual black achievement today masks a disturbing, underlying racial reality. You know, to a significant extent, you know, affirmative action, seeing African Americans, you know, go to Harvard and Yale, become CEOs and corporate lawyers, you know, causes us all to marvel what a long way we have come.

"But, you know, as Bryan just indicated, much of the data indicates that African Americans today, as a group, are not much better off than they were back in 1968. When Martin Luther King delivered his, you know, "The Other America" speech. Talking about how there are two Americas in the United States.

"One where people have great opportunities and can dream big dreams, and another America where people are mired in poverty and, you know, stuck in a permanent second class status. Those two Americas still exist today. But the existence of Barack Obama and people of color, you know, scattered in positions of power and high places, you know, creates an illusion of much more progress than has actually been made in recent years."


Let's not ignore your "but it's the people's system" retort:

Stevenson: "We have a criminal justice system that's very wealth sensitive. Our system treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent.

"And so, poor people brought into that criminal justice system, who don't have the means for good legal representation, who don't have the resources to protect themselves, who can't afford to pay the fees for getting into drug court and avoiding jails and prisons are going to fare worse than people who do have those resources.
That's a function of the criminal justice system.

"But now we see these incredibly troubling race effects. The Federal Government has created a sentencing scheme for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine that has been devastating to people of color. We sentence 100 times to one. "


All gravy, right? It keeps going:

Moyers: "And Bill Clinton signed that law, by the way. It's not just Republicans who are-- "

Stevenson: "Absolutely."

Moyers: "--whose hands are in this, right?"

Stevenson:: "Absolutely. That's exactly right. 1996, President Clinton signed a provision in the Welfare Reform Act that bans people with drug convictions from public housing and public benefits and food stamps. And women with children have been devastated by that.

"And that was a policy signed by a Democratic president. What I mean by failure, though, and our failure, our inability to recognize it is that we now know that this has been horrific. In my state, 31 percent of the black male population has permanently lost the right to vote, as a result of felony convictions in these collateral consequences."


What was that you said before, your vote equals my vote?

I feel like the feel-good thing to say is the problem is simply a result of.. bad decision making, as you put it. No fuck that. That is simply the laziest, most ignorant thing you could possibly say. It is the slightly-innocent-sounding way of saying that a part of our society is sub-human.

If you broke down every door in the hall of my college dorm in my sophomore year, then I'll show you some bad decision makers.

At the end of the day, I think that for some people - as long as they come out on top - rampant social inequity, economic injustice and incredibly high incarceration rates represent an acceptable, Darwinian social solution. Free market morality. It is what it is, the powerful do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.
posted by phaedon at 2:36 PM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Don't worry phaedon, as the white middle class implodes and finds itself increasingly up against a predatory financial industry , people who like to sneer at blacks are going to feel the boot on their throat too. They allowed our elites to build the system to keep down African Americans, and now they're about to find out what happens when the system is pointed at them.
posted by wuwei at 3:14 PM on March 29, 2011


But the attitude and "cultural preferences" that you'd associate with people who commit crimes are already in place with this group of boys -- not just the teenager's standard passive disregard for others, but aggressive and hateful defiance of societal norms -- and the adults who care for them apparently see nothing wrong with this.

Can anybody be surprised that kids brought up like this have trouble making their way in the world?


Young urban African American youths may tend to behave this way because they live in a society where they do not have and have not had access to the same type of education, family stability and history of accumulated wealth that you had at the same age. They do not reflect what you consider to be the "standard passive disregard" of a typical teenager? Of course not, because compared to what is likely your definition of a typical teenager as a white professor they are not typical. They are likely the products of families that only ONE generation ago were openly disenfranchised in this country and continue to suffer systemic abuse, with very little history of accumulated wealth or stability likely. They live in a white-dominated society that eyes them with suspicion and treats them as class citizens.

You assume a level playing field between these kids and other groups, and then seem to pin their behavior on "the way they are brought up," again as if their parents can be put on the same field as average white parents. I am by no means condoning or excusing their actions or the actions of their chaperones...but what troubles me about your insight is that you give no thought to the fact that while you were a victim of their ignorant behavior...they too are victims of the system and are caught in a vicious cycle.

Your observation is likely the same type of observation that, en masse, leads to increased African American incarceration rates in areas with higher white to black ratios as mentioned above. This perpetuates the very cycle that creates the behavior that you had the unfortunate opportunity to experience first hand. Without thinking about the causes of that behavior in a more nuanced way, you do nothing to fix the problem.

I'm not saying I have the solution, I'm not sure how to break the cycle. But I found your comment to be very close to condoning the status quo for blacks in America today. It's not just the way they are. It's larger than that and it's incredibly complex.
posted by jnnla at 3:18 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Faze, you're a straight up racist

I do not think this is true at all - although I do think Faze tends to display Asperger's-like insensitivity to the way his speculations can be interpreted. So do I sometimes; maybe it takes one to know one.

When Faze talks about the possibility of a preference among black men for crime and prison, I do not get the impression that he means 'black people enjoy crime,' although I can see why it might come across that way because of the word 'preference.' Rather, it's in line with Acerock's observation about psychological research suggesting that the choice to commit a crime may be less a pathology than a rational choice for someone with reason to heavily discount the future. More than one researcher in the area of Law & Economics has come to similar conclusions about both criminality and sentencing. This is not at odds with the idea that drug policy is racist (indeed, Faze suggests such a preference might be a 'halo effect' of racist drug laws), and nor is it at odds with the idea of structural racism in which the legal and economic systems end up delivering highly discriminatory outcomes just because of the way it is organized rather than as an explicit policy goal.

If you have very low expectations of the future - because there's a high probability that you might get shot or thrown in jail for no reason - then it's completely rational to seize any opportunities that come your way even if some of them are illegal. Selling illegal drugs (for example) can be quite profitable, and if you are already at risk just because of how you look and where you live then the additional danger seems relatively low - much lower than the possible profit relative to welfare or a low-paying job. Indeed, under some circumstances it might be safer to engage in crime than not: if you become aware that one of your neighbors is into illegal activity, and your neighbor knows it, then as a potential witness your neighbor must decide whether to trust you, co-opt you, threaten you, or just get rid of you. 'Snitches get stitches' not because there's community-wide tolerance of or approval for crime, but because criminals are understandably paranoid, and can often make a good guess about who tipped off the police even if it was done anonymously. Even when criminals can't guess who might have sold them out, they will know whose injury or death would cause the greatest amount of upset and fear in the community, which might be 'that nice kid who's not mixed up in anything.' So before there's any consideration of racial disparities in college or the workforce or the housing market, a person has to deal with the elevated risk in their own community.

External problems are not easy to rally against, but they are reasonably easy to identify and build a consensus about. Internal problems are a lot more difficult for a community to deal with; not only are they more difficult to identify and collectively isolate, the persons involved are better positioned to observe and retaliate against anyone who threatens their social standing. The more acute the problem, the greater degree of impunity criminals operate with, and the greater the risk that non-criminals will become involved by choice or by chance. Gangster rap talks about this subject all the time, and the same problems are frequently cited in certain genres country music and 'outcast' genres in other societies with a persistent underclass.

There's a similar economic problem with sentencing. As per-capita crime levels fall, so does a (random) person's chance of being arrested and sent to prison, which superficially seems to make the risk involved in committing a crime somewhat lower. Some people worry that this will make crime more attractive, because criminals will be indifferent to mild penalties, so they try to make the consequences more frightening by handing out much stiffer sentences, on an implicit theory that deterrence = probability (of conviction) x duration/intensity (of punishment). Some economists have suggested (example) that increasing rewards for good behavior and eliminating minimum sentences would help to reduce recidivist crime, by balancing the stick of deterrence with a more persuasive carrot rewarding compliance.

Of course, post-conviction reforms don't address systemic flaws in criminal trials, law enforcement, or social policy which could reduce the incidence or false attribution of crime in the first place, and I think we need more systematic approaches to those questions too. There's a few difficulties when we talk of racism and injustice and how to go about fixing them. The obvious one is that different people have different views on what constitutes 'justice' and there is no simple way to determine that objectively. Also, the factors influencing crime might vary, but that doesn't make the crime any less unpleasant for victims, as individuals or as communities. Non-criminals are more concerned with results than theory, and they too would like justice in the sense of having their problems as innocent victims taken seriously and prosecuted appropriately.

Nowadays many of the problems are structural rather than the result of explicit discrimination in policy, so it's quite hard to identify exactly where the problem arises. For example, higher mandatory minimum sentences were handed down for crimes involving crack rather than powder cocaine for many years, as most people are aware. Now mandatory minimum sentencing has been declared unconstitutional - for which we can thank Justice Scalia, believe it or not - but the whole reason it was set up in the first place - and heavily influenced by Justice Stevens - was in an attempt to address the lack of consistency in criminal sentencing and the resulting injustices. Once Congress had created the sentencing commission, it couldn't resist continually mandating new minimums; and when crack took off in a big way in the 1980s, there was a combination of racial discrimination, ignorance, and social panic, which is always a bad recipe for legislation. That doesn't mean all such legislation in inherently racist; LSD is stereotypically more popular among white people, but because of how the law specifies the quantity of drug involved the recommended sentences in any LSD case tended to be absurdly high, just like those for crack.

Although I don't have ready-to-use solutions to these complex problems, I do think the best approach is to use tools like statistics. It's precisely because they're abstract and impersonal that it becomes easier to show there is a real problem, and also to set short-term goals as intermediate steps towards long-term ones. I'm not a big fan of the narrative approach popular with critical theorists because any narrative can have holes poked in it, plus there is an endless supply of alternate narratives that are plausible enough to seem convincing to legislators or voters who are looking for confirmation of their existing views or just reluctant to experiment with change.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:21 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Historically, the inflection point for the incarceration rate will probably be found to be somewhere between 1966 and 1968. These were the first two elections after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. It didn't play strongly in 1966, but by 1968 the phrase "law and order" became widely accepted code for the racial backlash. The 1964 election was not fought publicly over racial issues, but the Goldwater campaign was organized around the expectation of a major departure of Southern whites from the Democratic Party. Barry Goldwater simultaneously recognized this as a major source of his grassroots support and absolutely refused to play into it. Nixon (in 64 viewed pretty much as a washed-up has-been) watched this dynamic closely and played strongly to it in 1968. See Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.

By 1968, the George Wallace campaign was the first national campaign organized around overt white supremacy. Nixon's "Southern Strategy" depended strongly on the use of coded "Law and Order" rhetoric to play on white fears in both the North and South. Once the right made "fighting crime" their code for white supremacy, it has stayed in the national political dialog every election and helped pass the laws, both state and federal that created the incarceration state that is the domestic equivalent of the international security state. See Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

The positive feedback effects of unemployment, crime and drug use on the generative effects of the criminal justice system in creating financial incentives for criminal conduct. See William Chambliss work on the function of the financial and political interface between business and crime, "On The Take: From Petty Crooks to Presidents."

In one particularly odious example, Jack Metcalf, the most overtly white supremacist member to be elected to Congress in the last decade of the 20th Century, ran in the 2nd Congressional District in Washington state, he linked his campaign with the "three strikes and you're out" state initiative for life incarceration, a measure that caused Washington state's prison population to explode. Metcalf provided major funding for the initiative by including their literature and petition forms in his federal campaign mailings in the 1994 elections.

The change in incarceration patterns is due to changes in state and federal laws, which in turn were the product of the racially motivated political realignment into the current situation in the US. A critical elements of the realignment has been the disenfranchisement of blacks as an overt strategy of the right wing. The Tea Party's so-called "voter fraud" initiatives are systematic attempts to institutionalize disenfranchisement as a strategic means to increase the political strength of racist and reactionary voters.

So it's not just drug laws, but drug laws are one of several strategies for creating and maintaining social, political and economic control.
posted by warbaby at 10:52 PM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here's graphs for overall incarceration rates. The inflection point is about 1972. Nixon's the one.
posted by warbaby at 11:00 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since way back in the Dark Ages when I started using places like Metafilter as good ways to waste time, I've noticed that the subject of race always - always - brings out the kinds of borderline-racist posts I've noticed peppered throughout this thread. It's a law of the universe. The thing is, most of these posters think they're being "fearless" and "logical", as if only their vision isn't clouded by sentiment. They'll pull out bullshit statistics, forgetting for a moment their earlier and later scalpel-like dissection of similarly bullshit studies on other subjects that don't have quite the emotional hold on them that race in America does.

I don't think Avenger's scenario will play out completely, if only because by the 2020s and 2030s the Teabaggers will be spending most of their time in wheelchairs drooling in their mashed potatoes while relying on those dark-skinned people they so hated to get them on and off the toilet seat. The Teabaggers are only a symptom of something much bigger, though - once they're packed off to Shady Pines, I suspect that the corporatist agenda will be able to keep on keeping on with a new set of masks we can't forsee yet. Race may be a component, but I think class will be bigger. All America's transition to a "majority-minority" nation will mean is that the faces of the underclass might change a little - but I fear it won't make much of a difference in the structure of the underclass.

History rarely goes forward and backward in a straight line, and there's a lot of other models out there for extreme hierarchical power and grinding the peasants' faces into the dust than the American South under slavery. The one I can't get out of my mind appeared in a short story by Paolo Bacigalupi called "The Fluted Girl" - a new feudalism where the subjects can't even imagine how democracy works, being grateful that their lord isn't as bad as the lord in the next valley over. But again, there's lots of ways for this kind of system to work, and there's lots of people who are working against it, from Wikileaks to those scruffy protestors at international meetings.

The thing to keep in mind is that those "fearless" thinkers who think black people "deserve" what they get are the intellectual vanguard of what's coming. It's that same pattern of thinking that supports the kind of extreme wealth and power concentrations we see today. The people on top worked hard. The people on the bottom are born criminals. They have to be controlled. If you're good enough, you can make it. There is no such thing as luck. There is no such thing as institutional discrimination. It's all your responsibility. It's a remarkably flexible ideology - change colors and genders and whatever, it'll still work.
posted by jhandey at 4:15 AM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


It really IS racist day on MetaFilter, it seems.

Racist, Miko? I didn't say anything racist. Take a look with fresh eyes.

I was highlighting the hypocrisy of the Metafilter hivemind that appears in all such discussions. Every time someone dares express an opinion outside the Metafilter echo chamber a combination of three things happens.
*Name calling [racist!]
*Hypocritical demands for evidence
*And surprisingly the 3rd one hasn't happened yet so I won't mention it for the now
You make a non-cited assertion that incarceration was a "knowingly crafted strategy" devised in the 1920s and 1930s to keep The Black Man down. Phew.

And TWO MINUTES later, in your very next post, you're asking Faze for cites. How can I have a proper debate with a brass-necked name-calling racist who hasn't got a problem with that?

I'm sure some people think I revel in these observations, that I'm goose stepping up and down the street as you read this.

You know those covers of religious magazines that happy-clappers hand out door to door – where the lions and zebras and antelopes are chillin' out together? Where the Africans in traditional African garb are maxin' and relaxin' with a circa 1960 white bread American family and a couple of leopards?

THAT'S how I wish the world was. Don't call me names for observing otherwise. As for Occam's Razor, "ugh," indeed. I'm on record as saying it's lazy, so the point is moot [forget patriotism, there's your "last refuge of a scoundrel" right there].

But the annoying number of times I've seen it used on Metafilter as a seemingly infallible argument winner, and the number of times I've observed the hivemind let such silliness go completely unchallenged... so a moment ago, for no other reason than to smoke out the racist hypocrites, I suggested the exercise of using Occam's Razor to explain the agreed-upon FACTS of this post.

Well well well. Every second MeFite suddenly has big problems with Occam's Razor and it becomes a nasty fascist thing.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:28 AM on March 30, 2011


uncanny hengeman, you badly misused Occam's Razor -- the correct usage is that the simplest explanation that covers all the available data is the one most likely to be correct. So people point out that your usage most emphatically does not cover all the facts, and now somehow they're magically hypocrites?

Sometimes it's used appropriately, sometimes it isn't. Your usage was very poor.
posted by Malor at 5:50 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You make a non-cited assertion that incarceration was a "knowingly crafted strategy" devised in the 1920s and 1930s to keep The Black Man down.

Dude, this is Miko's comment that you're talking about and this is the book that she cited in the same comment as the source of the assertion you're claiming is citation-less.
posted by AceRock at 6:34 AM on March 30, 2011


An Amazon link to a book? That's a cite now, is it? Superb work.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2011


I know, right? Imagine the gall of that woman, daring to cite a real book as a source.
posted by Malor at 6:52 AM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


You might have to actually read the book to discover what it says. Now, that's just ridiculous!
posted by Miko at 7:56 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Galt's Trenchbroom

Just stopping by to let you know how much I love that. I also misread it as "trenchboom".

Also: Faze likes to come into a thread, figure out the most common viewpoint on the issue, and post its polar opposite. I'm pretty sure he's never serious—I think it might be a hobby or some sort of performance art. Through that lens, it's much funnier.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:12 AM on March 30, 2011


You know those covers of religious magazines that happy-clappers hand out door to door – where the lions and zebras and antelopes are chillin' out together? Where the Africans in traditional African garb are maxin' and relaxin' with a circa 1960 white bread American family and a couple of leopards?

THAT'S how I wish the world was.


uncanny hengeman, I'm with you there. I wish the world was like that too. Where ethnic differences and benign cultural distinctions are significant only inasmuch as how interesting they are and how wonderful to share, but not to divide and hate each other. So people eat different foods, wear different clothes, have slight differences in skin tones, so what. It doesn't make sense that these things should inspire hatred. The reason the world isn't like that now is we feel we have to dominate each other in order to protect what belongs to us, rather than seeing the whole world as in our stewardship, we divide it and each other to hoard resources from one another. Racism, religion, tribalism, nationalism - these are all just ideologies, tools to justify what we do. We devise systems to maintain the current order and way of things, to spread these ideologies. The system becomes self-sustaining, and here we are, faced with huge disparities in treatment and a mockery of a judicial system.
posted by Danila at 6:24 PM on March 31, 2011


uncanny hengeman, you badly misused Occam's Razor

Thanks for the heads-up, Malor. Not only misused, but BADLY misused. Wow, consider me suitably chastened. Funny that I've never seen such a correction when Occam's Razor was used to make the echo chamber more echo-y. Kinda backs up my theory, wot?

And it's rather nitpicky. ALL the available evidence? Every single last scrap of it? I dunno dude, I reckon I could be a pain in the ass and pipe up with that nitpick for every utterance of Occam's Razor in a social / political discussion that ever was and ever will be.

Thirdly – and most importantly – I didn't USE Occam's Razor, I asked fellow MeFites to use Occam's Razor. Instead I got name calling and nitpicking. Oh dear.

I know, right? Imagine the gall of that woman, daring to cite a real book as a source.

Suddenly Mr Nitpick wants to get all bendy with the rules. Hmmm.

Here's a general guideline that you can borrow off me: The more famous a book, the less specific you have to be with your cite. For instance, "Atlas Shrugged is a steaming pile of poop and Ayn Rand is a big poopy head! [favorited 6,123 times YAAAAY!]" Yeah, I can let that slide.

So I check just then to see if Miko's book is famous and I somehow missed it. Got to 30 links on Google and no one was discussing it. It was all booksellers and book reviews. I did find these interesting titbits in another book review:
The work does a better job than David Oshinsky's "Worse than Slavery" [the book Miko *coff* cites] in detailing the policies of Parchman's leaders.

and...

Taylor's [the author they are comparing] primary negative argument--that too many people have uncritically exaggerated the cruelties at Parchman Prison--seems accurate.
I had to laugh at the number of sheeple in the echo chamber that uncritically favorited Miko's preposterous summary. Jesus, talk about 9/11 truthers.

Sorry, "this is my summary of what I think the obscure book is saying, here's the book, YOU READ IT" isn't good enough. That's not a cite.

ON PREVIEW: That IS good enough. Good enough for me in an informal [yet highbrow] place like Metafilter. It's not good enough if you are being hypocritical about it. I'm getting sucked in to arguing specifics here, which wasn't my intention.

But from now on I'm going to summarise obscure books in my comments and you are going to spring to my defence, white knight style, like you did here. Right? Riiiight.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:02 PM on April 2, 2011


Also it isn't like white men don't yell offensive shit at women. It's a pretty common experience of almost all women of all races

I don't yell at women in the street. That would be sexist.

I yell at Sri Lankans.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:28 PM on April 2, 2011


Sit down man. You're too hurt about something or other to have this argument properly
posted by the mad poster! at 12:06 AM on April 3, 2011


. Got to 30 links on Google and no one was discussing it. It was all booksellers and book reviews

You are so funny. This is not discussion? Or this? You can read sections yourself on Google Books, you Google lover you, but not the whole thing because the book still has value because people still buy it frequently so it's for sale, not a free read. Anyway, you may think the world of ideas begins and ends on the internet, but it doesn't. The book comes from an academic context but is far from obscure - I mean, the author is well known and widely respected, it's out in trade paperback and available at your local bookstore and I wouldn't be surprised if others here had read it or want to read it. If you're a person who only reads the internet, then perhaps I could see how you might doubt that this is a signifant and painstakingly researched book. I'm not sure which is funnier - the idea that people can read about a book and form an opinion of what it seems to contain, or the idea you can randomly Google for a not-even-actually-hostile book review and use that to try to prove...something.

Sorry, "this is my summary of what I think the obscure book is saying, here's the book, YOU READ IT" isn't good enough. That's not a cite.

Actually, that kind of is a cite*, or more properly, a citation, which is "a quote or reference to a book, paper, or author" or "a reference to a published or unpublished source (not always the original source)....for the purpose of acknowledging the relevance of the works of others to the topic of discussion at the spot where the citation appear.

*Cite is really a verb, though I notice on MeFi people who are first encountering it tend to think it's a noun. In other words, "cite, please" is construed as a command, shortened from "Will you cite a source, please," but I notice people think it's a request for a thing (noun) called a "cite." It might be that some people are using it slangily, but some people don't actually understand. In this case, uncanny hengemen, it seems you not only don't know what form the word should take, you don't even know what it actually is. A citation is a reference to a work which allows you, should you challenge the assertion in the reference, to do your own footwork to discover what the original reference actually says. In citing a book, I've given you a citation; if you're too lazy to read it, that's not my problem, but it will leave you unable to refute my argument.
posted by Miko at 5:59 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, my second definition of "citation" should have liked here.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on April 3, 2011


One final note. My focus in bringing up "Worse than Slavery" wasn't to "detail the policies of Parchman's leaders" or to make any point about the degree of cruelty at Parchman. I brought the book up because it presents a preponderance of evidence illustrating how, in the decades following the Civil War, the Southern states were faced with a set of problems - including a war-destroyed infrastructure, reduced productivity, high unemployment, high poverty, and a racist dismay at seeing blacks, supported by Reconstruction officials, taking on roles in government, education, and business. In a conscious strategy, they came up with the prison farm and work-gang system to create control over all these systems at once. The very inception of this kind of prison system was the overtly stated need to structure and control black labor in order to rebuild the Southern economy. Sweetheart deals between state governments and prisons resulted in contracts for building roads, bridges, and dams, food production, and more, while a legal system allowing the imprisonment of blacks for small infractions or with light evidence provided the needed influx of labor. All that's described in the book, and it was my introduction to this aspect of history, but it's also well chronicled in many other books and history resources, which I encourage any interested person to explore.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


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