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The Good, Racist People
March 7, 2013 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses the good, racist people.

Coates is responding to a recent incident in which actor Forest Whitaker was frisked by a deli employee on the Upper West Side.
posted by chrchr (160 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great writing by TNC.

As a former Morningside Heights resident, I'll take Hamilton Deli over Milano Market any day.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:01 PM on March 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well said by Coates. This isn't a subtle expression of racial profiling in the least, but I'm finding myself increasingly sensitive to the much more casual, insidious, institution-leveraging forms. Some of them, regrettably, come from within me.

When fighting the racist within, a great amount of effort is required to consciously to be open and treat people justly. It gets better.
posted by sibboleth at 9:02 PM on March 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


It was Milano Market? That place is over priced anyway. WSM4LYFE Suckas.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:04 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mentioned this to my wife. My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked.

And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.
Sometimes, TNC just nails it.
posted by Catchfire at 9:31 PM on March 7, 2013 [33 favorites]


This comes out the same day that Philadelphia Magazine published a reprehensible article called Being White in Philly.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:46 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Read this earlier today, and thought it was telling that one of the top commenters on the article (at the time when I read it) was a white guy complaining that he was tired of these sorts of recriminating articles and that people need to be more forgiving. Forgiveness is a privilege, too, and one that not everyone can afford in equal measure.

TNC was also talking on Twitter earlier today about how people were comparing Whitaker's experience to Winona Ryder's brush with the authorities, without mentioning that Ryder was actually shoplifting, while Whitaker did nothing other than to exist. Twice as good, etc.

Anyway, TNC is a national treasure.
posted by Phire at 10:10 PM on March 7, 2013 [35 favorites]


Michael Richards, eh?

That poor dumb bastard's never going to stop paying for losing his shit on-stage for 30 seconds, is he? Then again, oceans of ongoing Seinfeld syndication money must salve the sting somewhat, so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:10 PM on March 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


See also: MC Hammer
posted by ch3ch2oh at 10:19 PM on March 7, 2013


I thought the employees were never suppposed to / allowed to frisk suspected thieves. I was always told that you were supposed to call the cops and have them do it for three reasons:

1. Retail workers don't have the right to frisk people, but cops do (if they suspect a crime has been comitted)

2. It's stupid dangerous for an untrained person to frisk someone. If the friskee really is a criminal, s/he may attack the employee. If the friskee is not a criminal, s/he may get pissed about being accused and attack the employee.

3. No employer wants to take the legal/financial responsibility for an employee who gets hurt doing this sort of thing or for one who frisks the wrong guy. The whole situation is just drowning in lawsuit potential.
posted by Clay201 at 10:20 PM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Michael Richards, eh?

Everything about him screams Tourette's.

Neither TNC or much of anybody else is aware of that, apparently, and I suppose that does immunize them from a counter-accusation of prejudice on their part, but it does give an odd twist to my own feelings about the whole affair.
posted by jamjam at 10:22 PM on March 7, 2013


This isn't a subtle expression of racial profiling in the least

Just to note, it's more than racial profiling - as Clay201 points out, a retail employee can't just detain someone and search them. There are even restrictions on when law enforcement officers can do it legally, though you often wouldn't know it, or when school officials can do it to students.

The person who frisked Whitaker was treating him with less respect than a school is supposed to have for a little kid, not simply being discriminatory in deciding whether to suspect him of shoplifting.
posted by XMLicious at 10:37 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe give TNC a full-time column New York Times, and dump fuckwits like Brooks and/or Douthat?
posted by bardic at 10:59 PM on March 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


If Whitaker didn't consent to the frisk, isn't it actually assault?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:14 PM on March 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


He's got you covered there, too, bardic: Writing A Column For The New York Times Is Harder Than It Looks.
posted by Phire at 11:29 PM on March 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Bardic, they tried. He turned them down (see second-to-last paragraph).

And anyway, I don't know if I'm on board with the idea of him doing a regular NYT opinion column. The format just doesn't play to what I see as his strengths. Nor to most people's--even Douthat was once a quasi-interesting blogger, and even Krugman's columns get pretty tiresome.

I enjoy TNC's writing most when he digs into topics for weeks at a time, which is a style that comes naturally to a blogger. Whereas if you're paid to have exactly two opinions a week worthy of broadcasting to a worldwide audience of opinion leaders, you risk lapsing into Tom Friedman-ism.
posted by hal incandenza at 11:40 PM on March 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


I've been thinking that we need to take back Politically Correct as a concept. It was basically invented (or at least, appropriated and popularized) by the right as a term to induce liberals to feel guilty about things like racial sensitivity, and even now it's amazing how often I see people on the left apologizing for their own political correctness. We should try the opposite for a change. Militant political correctness won't save the world or even significantly reduce systemic racism on its own, but nevertheless, perhaps it's time we start confidently saying, "Listen, you really should be second guessing your own motivations, even if they seem lily-white. Liberal guilt should be everyone's guilt. And if you can't manage that, be ready to be chewed out by unapologetically PC busybodies."
posted by chortly at 11:41 PM on March 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


That poor dumb bastard's never going to stop paying for losing his shit on-stage for 30 seconds, is he?
It's not the losing his shit for 30 seconds which is the problem, it's the "racist moi?" fuckwittery which followed.
Yes Michael racist, and apparently spectacularly fucking dumb to boot.

Also, for Brits. Jimmy Saville god bless his evil soul, has provided a perfect example with which to champion PC. Just point out that for 30 years anyone who questioned him while he sexually assaulted children was subjected to a large dose of "it's political correctness gawn maaad".
posted by fullerine at 11:53 PM on March 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


If Whitaker didn't consent to the frisk, isn't it actually assault?

I don't know about the question of assault but here's a passage from a security guard training manual for New York State, first discussing what the police can do:
A search incident to arrest is not permitted except after a full-blown arrest. Unless necessary for protection (see below), no search of a person temporarily detained appears to be legally authorized. (However, a limited “consent to search” may be obtained as a condition of entry onto premises.). Public police are permitted to “frisk” people who have been temporarily detained, if and only if they have legitimate reason to fear for their safety (or the safety of others in the area) from a weapon on the person of the detainee. The need for protection of persons under such limited circumstances should apply also to private agents. A “frisk” is a “pat down” of the outer clothing (only) for weapons (only). Circumstances justifying a “frisk” are rare.
...and then here's a bit about what a private security agent can do:
Searches of non-employees who are not under arrest (or their possessions) are probably prohibited, absent consent. A reasonable, limited search privilege may be obtained as a condition of allowing someone access to premises, as, for example, attendees at a concert being required to submit to a limited search for weapons or drugs at the door. Such conditions should be reasonable and limited, and must be effectively communicated beforehand. No penalty or adverse inference should be drawn if an individual declines to be searched and walks away.
An interesting thing noted elsewhere in the manual is that in NY there's a special statutory exception to the principle that a citizen's arrest can only be made for an offense that has been directly witnessed by the arrestor: a private security guard who is explicitly employed to prevent shoplifting can citizen's arrest someone for shoplifting from the guard's employer even without personally witnessing it under some conditions.
posted by XMLicious at 12:29 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The actor's rep told TMZ that the incident was upsetting for Whitaker, who is in New York shooting filming "Black Nativity," but the rep said the most upsetting part was the store's apparent disregard for customer rights.

"Forest did not call the authorities at the request of the worker who was in fear of losing his employment," the rep added. "Forest asked that, in the future, the store change their behavior and treat the public in a fair and just manner.”

Anthony Galofaro, owner of Milano Market, later told TMZ that the employee in question had in fact lost his job, and added the pat down was in no means related to race..


So Whitaker - who was actually there - isn't blaming this on racism. "Customer rights" and "the public" would seem to be carefully selected phrases that specifically do not refer to race. Coates takes it upon himself to lodge this charge and that's just creating "OMG racism" controversy where there is none.
posted by three blind mice at 1:14 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Listen, you really should be second guessing your own motivations, even if they seem lily-white. Liberal guilt should be everyone's guilt. And if you can't manage that, be ready to be chewed out by unapologetically PC busybodies."

Yeah, that's not really going to work except on like-minded people, and it won't create a positive dialog even in those cases.

I don't see the need for political correctness, and it's just a terrible phrase that implies all the wrong things. There's a reason that it is currently used derisively. It's far better to invoke older, even ancient, concepts like dignity, respect, kindness, fairness and decency. These cover all the ground that needs to be covered. That way, you can make a case in language that makes sense to everyone.

I think that the article makes an excellent point. TNC is right that you don't have to be evil to harbor racist sentiments. I'd go so far as to say that almost everyone is racist in multiple ways - the same person can be negatively prejudiced against both white and black people, in different contexts. In fact, that phenomenon may be quite common. Racism is subtle and pervasive.

In that light, I think that it's unrealistic to expect to "eliminate" racism. Like many other negative ways of thinking, it is something that we should attempt to identify and minimize. I don't think it's even constructive to assign it a special status. It's become such a bugbear of modern Western thought that it is often impossible to think clearly about racism. Most white people are so afraid of being considered racist that they're either very angry and defensive at the suggestion that they could be racist, or wracked with guilt over the suggestion that their actions are not in accordance with perfect racial sensitivity. Neither reaction lends itself to a constructive dialog about race.

Again, that's not to say that racism is innocuous. I just think that we should put it in the category of many other negative human experiences, like envy or greed, and that will give us the best chance of minimizing it in the long run. In light of this, I really think that TNC's article hit very close to the sweet spot.
posted by Edgewise at 1:22 AM on March 8, 2013 [20 favorites]


I've been thinking that we need to take back Politically Correct as a concept. It was basically invented (or at least, appropriated and popularized) by the right as a term to induce liberals to feel guilty about things like racial sensitivity, and even now it's amazing how often I see people on the left apologizing for their own political correctness.

It was invented by people who were actually on the left to mock the ideas of liberals who thought that if we just make sure everyone uses sensitive language, we won't need actual class struggle.
posted by atrazine at 1:32 AM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


It was basically invented (or at least, appropriated and popularized) by the right as a term to induce liberals to feel guilty about things like racial sensitivity…

That's not correct, but the true history is interesting and relevant to what you're suggesting. Originally it was invented by socialist groups and used in a sincere way roughly along the lines of your idea. It was appropriated in the 60s by the New Left as a kind of warning against what they viewed as dogmatism of the old communist Left. Or, if you think like me, they invented a concept to identify when their ideas were becoming coherent and effective so they could sabotage themselves. Some decades later, the right discovered it, and learned how to exploit the left's desperate fear of appearing to stand for anything.

Another thing that's messed up about the left is when someone says "Racism isn't about evil individuals, it's about society," liberals nod in agreement and then start talking about addressing the problem at an individual level, by doing twice as much private introspection in their own lives.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:33 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


And if you can't manage that, be ready to be chewed out by unapologetically PC busybodies.

oh please don't

we've already got a backlash going on during a depression in a heavily militarized country, please don't put gasoline on this fire
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:38 AM on March 8, 2013


So Whitaker - who was actually there - isn't blaming this on racism. "Customer rights" and "the public" would seem to be carefully selected phrases that specifically do not refer to race. Coates takes it upon himself to lodge this charge and that's just creating "OMG racism" controversy where there is none.

FFS. Whitaker is being gracious.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:41 AM on March 8, 2013 [96 favorites]


So Whitaker - who was actually there - isn't blaming this on racism.

So what?
posted by MartinWisse at 1:42 AM on March 8, 2013


Exactly. Why do you think this happened?
posted by Wolof at 2:09 AM on March 8, 2013


So Whitaker - who was actually there - isn't blaming this on racism.

That's not what the article you are quoting says:

the rep said the most upsetting part was the store's apparent disregard for customer rights.

So not "it was not racist, but it was a breach of my rights" (your reading) but "it was racist, but the most upsetting part is that it was a breach of my rights" (my reading). Your reading doesn't make sense because of the "most upsetting" - that is, there were other aspects that were upsetting, one of which I am inferring is racism.

It looks to me like he's wisely playing up the universal aspects of the event to gain empathy from non-Black people, and trying to avoid "you're racist!" arguments (which never go anywhere), and trying to effect real change without scapegoating.

What a good man, anyway. Sounds like he handled a difficult and distressing situation with grace and manners:

Another witness, identified by Gothamist only as Nicole B., said that the pat down was "very aggressive."

"He was quiet at first, I think in shock," she said. "When they didn't find anything, they told him to leave at which point he said, 'No, I want to speak with someone. You can't just touch me like this.' Everyone in the store was quiet and in shock."

posted by alasdair at 2:34 AM on March 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


That's not correct, but the true history is interesting and relevant to what you're suggesting. Originally it was invented by socialist groups and used in a sincere way roughly along the lines of your idea. It was appropriated in the 60s by the New Left as a kind of warning against what they viewed as dogmatism of the old communist Left.

I'd always heard (from folk who were active on the left in the UK at the time) that 'politically correct' first started being used as an insult against those who remained completely loyal to the Soviet-approved Party line, even after the tanks rolled into Budapest in 1956.
posted by jack_mo at 3:12 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Politically correct goes all the way back to Stalin, and probably Lenin. After the October revolution one of Lenin's key acts was to ban 'factionalism' within the Party. This meant that you couldn't have blocs within the party and that if you expressed dissent publicly -- as Trotsky did in 1924 -- you could be brought up before a plenum of the Central Committee and, if found guilty, expelled from the Party -- which meant the end of your career, since all meaningful jobs were reserved for Party members. Lenin in particular -- an intellectual snob according to Bertrand Russell -- was extraordinarily dogmatic on matters of political analysis and used 'correct' and 'incorrect' in an entirely unironic way.
posted by unSane at 3:24 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's my old neighborhood. I can't imagine this happening back in the 70's when I lived there. But that was pre-gentrification, when friends would refuse to visit because Harlem. I loved it back then.
posted by Goofyy at 3:24 AM on March 8, 2013


Most white people are so afraid of being considered racist that they're either very angry and defensive at the suggestion that they could be racist, or wracked with guilt over the suggestion that their actions are not in accordance with perfect racial sensitivity.

This is true and I talked about my experience with it here, and something I found fascinating was mentioning this to a black woman I work with. She and I get along really well and I was saying how white people (including me) are afraid to be called racist and she was like "Really? Why are they afraid of that?" and it was MINDBLOWING to me! Here's this woman I like a lot and we get along super well and have had tons of great chats about all sorts of stuff and yet it genuinely never occurred to her that being called racist might feel like an attack and make people defensive. There's apparently such a huge gap in experience and communication on this issue that even two people well-meaning people who like each other and are only tangentially talking about race can have such hugely different experiences and expectations; the conversation is often so stilted (partially because of people who are afraid to be called racists by actually, you know, addressing the topic of race) that people of different races might not even be aware of the most basic baggage and issues being brought to the table.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:28 AM on March 8, 2013 [18 favorites]


(I should add to my comment above that in the early 20s, if you were deemed an enemy of the revolution, you wouldn't just be expelled from the Party but could be shot without trial by the Cheka)
posted by unSane at 3:34 AM on March 8, 2013


That's my old neighborhood. I can't imagine this happening back in the 70's when I lived there. But that was pre-gentrification, when friends would refuse to visit because Harlem. I loved it back then.

You mean back when every single person I knew who lived there - every single one - had been mugged at least once?

NYC seventies nostalgia never ceases to baffle me.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:39 AM on March 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


So Whitaker - who was actually there - isn't blaming this on racism. "Customer rights" and "the public" would seem to be carefully selected phrases that specifically do not refer to race. Coates takes it upon himself to lodge this charge and that's just creating "OMG racism" controversy where there is none.

I wasn't there and I can tell you this was racism, but I'm actually more bothered that you seem to have entirely skipped over TNC's point: That racism isn't controversial, something only perpetrated by monsters and ogres and guys in white hoods. It's normal and everyday and insidious and pretty much no one ever thinks they could be racist, because racism is the purview of villains.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:19 AM on March 8, 2013 [33 favorites]


The idea that racism wasn't a factor here is puerile. TNC makes the point as straightforwardly as imaginable -- could you imagine this happening to Nic Cage?
posted by unSane at 4:21 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was racism a factor?

We don't know.

It certainly isn't puerile to doubt that it was. Similar things happen to white people. I've been falsely accused of retail theft, and I'm lily white.

Contrary to what the left would have us believe, we're not all racists, and racism does not permeate everything.

OTOH, there's an awful damn lot of it, and even otherwise good people can be afflicted by it sometimes.

If I've got to bet money on what happened in the Whitaker case, I'm pretty likely to bet, as little more than a guess, that there was some racism in the mix--though, as others have pointed out, the available quotes from the actor neither support this nor rule it out.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:48 AM on March 8, 2013


Similar things happen to white people.

You realize that doesn't prove what you think it proves, right?
posted by unSane at 4:54 AM on March 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


That Philadelphia Magazine article Rory Marinich linked to upthread is pretty interesting and worth reading and relevant to this discussion, BTW.
posted by eugenen at 4:55 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I believe its owners to be good people. I felt ashamed at withholding business for something far beyond the merchant’s reach. I mentioned this to my wife. My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked.

And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.


I don't quite understand the summary, and I'm hoping someone can help me by explaining what conclusion TNC is making here.

Is he saying that while he knows the owner and probably the employee are "good people", that this incident is still troubling enough that he will continue withholding business, even for something that is "far beyond the merchant's reach"?

Or is he saying that he's just frustrated that racism is so pervasive that people who are generally good can still be guilty of lapses in judgement, even if their life overall is not full of racist actions?

Or is the conclusion something else?
posted by dubold at 4:57 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So Whitaker - who was actually there - isn't blaming this on racism. "Customer rights" and "the public" would seem to be carefully selected phrases that specifically do not refer to race. Coates takes it upon himself to lodge this charge and that's just creating "OMG racism" controversy where there is none.

Your joking right? You seriously believe that Whitaker being chosen for a pat down had no connection to the fact that he was black?
posted by Jernau at 4:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not quite sure whether this is a rallying cry or a concession of defeat.

And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.


..and therefore...?
posted by Segundus at 5:00 AM on March 8, 2013


I think the evidence is actually pretty strong that we are all racists, Fists O'Fury. Google "implicit association test" and browse for a bit. That's kind of the point of this entire article. Yes, white people get frisked. But white people in America generally do not live in a world that is slightly suspicious of them all the time. It's not crazy-ranting-uncle racism, easy to externalize and condemn. It's the weight of being raised in a culture that disproportionately portrays black people as irresponsible, uneducated, and criminal. It's not the kind of thing that makes people join the Klan, but it is exactly the kind of thing that tips the scales in situations where you would probably otherwise give someone the benefit of the doubt. And it is hard to admit, and hard to see, and hard to confront.
posted by Nothing at 5:26 AM on March 8, 2013 [26 favorites]


dubold, I think he's saying that if he decided to accept racism from good people (whose racist actions are rooted in the fact they've been raised in a racist society, like all of us), he'd spend all his time accepting racism and the situation would not improve.
posted by hoyland at 5:34 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.

I don't quite understand the summary, and I'm hoping someone can help me by explaining what conclusion TNC is making here.


Simple.

If you're behaving in a racist matter, or making racist remarks, the state of your soul does not matter. It also means that you, as a victim of such racism by good people, cannot let it slide. so in his case it means no longer patronising the store at which this happened, because while it might have been just that one employee just that one time, the reality is that if it can happen to Forest Whitaker, it can happen to any Black person.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:38 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


...a culture that disproportionately portrays black people as irresponsible, uneducated, and criminal.

Lazy, too

I have to say I generally try to stay out of racial discussions because I feel I gain a lot more by listening than I do from putting in my two cents worth. That attitude in large part comes from reading Mr. Coates. I find that whenever someone posts an article of his, I end up hunting down some of his other writing and the next thing I know an hour or two has passed. I see from one of the links above that he is writing a book of essays on the Civil War; based on his past writing on that subject I can't wait to read it.
posted by TedW at 5:42 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Milano Market pffffft. Mama Joys, please.
posted by spitbull at 5:59 AM on March 8, 2013


unSane: The idea that racism wasn't a factor here is puerile. TNC makes the point as straightforwardly as imaginable -- could you imagine this happening to Nic Cage?

Fists O'Fury: Similar things happen to white people.

unSane: You realize that doesn't prove what you think it proves, right?

my head just asploded a lot. i'm as sensitive to difference as the next body, but racial discrimination is not the only reason people exercise poor judgment. race absolutely may have played a role in Whitaker's Frisking (also the name of my new band), but it may not have. i'm not sure how comfortable i am assuming the worst as if it's axiomatic in all cases, absent evidence of motive. that seems—i don't know, uncharitable? irrational?—and makes me feel sticky in a bad way.
posted by echocollate at 6:07 AM on March 8, 2013


Now, to be sure, I'm not sure I'd would recognise Forest Whitaker as being, well, Forest Whitaker, but what makes you think that somebody who dresses in a dapper, clearly upper middle class, expensive fashion, who pops into a store to get something, notices the queues and pops out again, would've been stopped on supsicion of shoplifting, let alone frisked, had he been white?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:16 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm waiting to hear the alternate theories from my fellow white mefites as to why Forrest Whitaker was detained and frisked by an hourly employee in a goddamn deli OTHER than him being black.

What, was it his weird eye? His portrayal of Idi Amin so convincing that he's never shed that air of villainy? Was he 'casing' the provolone in a suspicious fashion? Do tell, I'm rather curious.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:17 AM on March 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


Everything about him screams Tourette's.

Also, I don't think Kramer has Tourrette's. Tourette's isn't like the movies where people just start cursing in polite company, verbal tics affect only 10 percent of Tourette's sufferers, and in most cases it manifests as unmanageable facial tics and body spasms. Even if he had the verbal manifestation of it, he wouldn't be forming complete sentences about 'forks up your ass' and the like. (IANADoctor)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:21 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just wish they'd picked on Samuel L Jackson. I suspect he'd own the deli now. Whitaker should sue. Racism or not he was unlawfully detained and assaulted by an employee. Case closed.

And I would be juiced to order deli trays from Sam Jackson's motherfucking deli (whereas I haven't darkened the door, so to speak, of Milano Overpriced Market in 10 years, since it changed from Mama Joys, which was rat infested filth hole, to be sure, but cheap for that hood.)
posted by spitbull at 6:24 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whether or not Forest Whitaker was actually frisked for his race, the point is that black people are enormously more likely to be detained and have their rights infringed upon than white people. Here's a two-year-old story on how black people are routinely frisked by the NYPD; more on Stop and Frisks from this past year.

Arguing about whether or not this particular incident is an example of racism is beside the point and a distraction from the actual point, which is that black people tend to be the brunt of this sort of thing significantly more often than white people, which then leads to the even larger point of the discussion, which is that, for black people, racism is a casual, everyday experience, whereas for white people it is extraordinary, and therefore it is almost impossible to discuss with white people when they are engaging in racist behavior, because only bad people are racist and white people see themselves as being good, and so they cannot conceive that they have been racist and respond very badly to the discussion.

This is an entirely quotidian discussion made entirely impossible by the fact that people refuse to have it. And focusing on the details of the Whitaker case is a great way not to have that discussion.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:28 AM on March 8, 2013 [29 favorites]


i'm not sure how comfortable i am assuming the worst as if it's axiomatic in all cases, absent evidence of motive.

Again, this thinking white people have that behaving in a racist manner is the worst is part of the problem Coates is talking about.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:29 AM on March 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


I do like how Whitaker handled the situation. He went along with the frisking and then refused to the leave the store when the employee told him to and then he went to management. I'm not sure much was served by management firing the guy though. Would be interesting to hear his side of the story.

Coates unwillingness to patronize the deli anymore is understandable. There are only so many little cuts that a person can take before they've decided they've had enough. This single incident may not be a big deal, but as another rock in the ongoing stream of racism, it's perfectly fine to say "enough" to any one incident.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


They fired the guy to avoid being bankrupted by a lawsuit and loss of local patronage due to reputation.

Seems entirely justified to me. A guy nearly ruins your business doing something illegal, dumb, and racist, he loses his job.
posted by spitbull at 6:36 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Further, I guarantee if you ask all the cops who frisk black people, they would argue that in every case there was a compelling reason to, there was no racism involved. And yet they frisk black people almost to the exception of anyone else. Somehow, with nobody being racist, and every single case legitimate, they are managing to exclusively target black people as criminals, which is, I think we can all agree, racist.

So how is it possible to address racism when it is all done by good people trying to do right and engaging in behavior that they can easily justify? How is it that racism is being perpetrated by all these good, not racist people? And if we can't discuss it in terms of racism, how can we address it for what it is?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:36 AM on March 8, 2013 [35 favorites]


i'm not sure how comfortable i am assuming the worst as if it's axiomatic in all cases, absent evidence of motive.

Oh, ffs, you don't have to be acting out of malice or even consciously reacting to a person's colour for your behaviour to have a racist element. That kind of white hat / black hat (sorry) thinking is EXACTLY what TNC is correctly railing against. The employee may well have been acting out of the best of motives (if unwisely) but to assume that FW's colour played no part whatsoever in the decision-making process, even at an unconscious or emotional level, is... I don't have words.

That's not ascribing malice or motive... it's how the world is.
posted by unSane at 6:37 AM on March 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


It certainly isn't puerile to doubt that it was. Similar things happen to white people. I've been falsely accused of retail theft, and I'm lily white.

Contrary to what the left would have us believe, we're not all racists, and racism does not permeate everything.


I would posit that the privileged people often find it difficult to see all the ways in which they benefit from privilege, because for them after all, it's just how life works.

Please see the essay Black Men in Public Space.
posted by young sister beacon at 6:39 AM on March 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


Whether or not the frisk was racist in motive, it was racist in effect.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:42 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


From the NYT comments:

I am an African-American man, a professional, and a scientist. When I hear of a story like this, I certainly identify with the rage, humiliation, and frustration of being surveilled or singled out for negative attention for probably no other reason than my race. But I also understand crime statistics. After considering one concern against the other, I often honestly don't know how to feel.

Isn't this the elephant in the room? It hasn't been brought up once yet. There is, unfortunately, a terror that even bringing up the fact of racial differences in crime statistics is itself racist. It's a kind of McCarthyite fear of being branded racist. And yet it is integral to understanding why racism still exists -- and any honest discussion that aims to change that racism must note and address these facts.
posted by shivohum at 6:43 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't see why.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:55 AM on March 8, 2013


In general, because these sorts of incidents only become news when it happens to somebody famous (or somebody famous makes it happen, as in the Michael Richards case), or very rarely, when it's so incredibly offensive or bad that even though it happened to a "nobody" (Trayvon Martin) it's easy to see them as isolated incidents, where you can explain them in terms unique to the incident, rather than as the product of a systemic racism inherent in US (and European) society.

But as should now be abundantly clear to anybody who has been following these sort of discussions on MeFi, the lived reality of many Black people is that this sort of incident is a regular occurence in their day to day lives, largely invisible to those who do not experience it.

After all, any such incident looked at from the outside, not experienced by you, is just an incident and only if you live through them, or accept the testimonies of those who do, can you see the pattern.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:58 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm waiting to hear the alternate theories from my fellow white mefites as to why Forrest Whitaker was detained and frisked by an hourly employee in a goddamn deli OTHER than him being black.

Yeah, I spent some time this morning in the shower thinking of white people who are comparably scary-looking to Forest Whitaker (who is over 6 feet tall, broad-shouldered, and has that ptosis that makes him look... weird, at best). The best I could come up with was a few professional wrestlers (e.g., Mick Foley or the Undertaker). And I cannot imagine any of them getting stopped and frisked in a deli, if only because if you're white and scary-looking, you're likely to beat the shit out of someone who touches you and get away with it, but if you're black and scary-looking, you've learned over the course of your lifetime that if you raise a fuss over being stopped and frisked, the odds are pretty good that you're fucked.

Forest Whitaker is a fundamentally decent human being who is willing to not raise the fuss that Ta-Nehisi Coates is willing to raise. That doesn't make what happened acceptable.
posted by Etrigan at 6:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


So does Coates feel the deli owner is also a racist? If he did fire the employee in question, what more can he do? (I mean, Coates knows more than I do, he's been to the deli, but in general I wonder if a manager or owner always knows what lurks in the heart of an employee.
Of course, if the whole incident leaves a bad taste in his mouth, he has the right to boycott it and he doesn't need a reason. )

But if his boycott is an attempt to fix something....does it?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:00 AM on March 8, 2013


But if his boycott is an attempt to fix something....does it?

I doubt Coates was trying to fix anything other than his own feeling of comfort and right and wrong.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:03 AM on March 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Follow-up from TNC at The Atlantic here:
The "I'm not racist even though I'm doing something actually racist right now" rationale is linked to the notion of racism as something worthy of societal condemnation. That is a good thing. As Sugrue identifies in his book, you see a post-World-War-II consensus forming in the 1950s that racial discrimination actually is wrong.

Along with that (perhaps in the 60s) comes the idea that racism is something that "low-class" white people do. It's not a system of laws and policies, so much as the ideology of Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. But Arnold Hirsch and Beryl Satter's work shows the University of Chicago quietly and privately pursuing a racist strategy of "urban renewal" while publicly claiming otherwise.

None of this is new. It's akin to proto-Confederates loudly and lustily defending slavery, daring the North to war before 1865, and then afterward claiming that the war really wasn't about slavery. The point is to save face.

Last night I had the luxury of sitting and talking with the brilliant historian Barbara Fields. One point she makes that very few Americans understand is that racism is a creation. You read Edmund Morgan's work and actually see racism being inscribed in the law and the country changing as a result.

If we accept that racism is a creation, then we must then accept that it can be destroyed. And if we accept that it can be destroyed, we must then accept that it can be destroyed by us and that it likely must be destroyed by methods kin to creation. Racism was created by policy. It will likely only be ultimately destroyed by policy.

That is hard to take. If Forrest Whitaker sticks out in that deli for reasons of individual mortal sin, we can castigate the guy who frisked him and move on. But if he -- and others like him -- stick out for reasons of policy, for decisions that we, as a state, have made, then we have a problem. Then we have to do something beyond being nice to each other.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:03 AM on March 8, 2013 [32 favorites]


I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank

"...Have not recent events made it obvious to the slightest reflection that the least deviation from this spirit of forbearance is injurious to every interest, that of humanity included? Amidst the violence of excited passions this generous and fraternal feeling has been sometimes disregarded; and standing as I now do before my countrymen, in this high place of honor and of trust, I can not refrain from anxiously invoking my fellow-citizens never to be deaf to its dictates."

-Martin Van Buren, 1837

"The rioters hurled stones at the White House, shot guns into the air and hung an effigy of the president that they then set on fire. The protest is considered one of, if not the most violent demonstration held near the White House. As a result of the unrest, the District of Columbia decided to create its own police force."

1841
posted by clavdivs at 7:03 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm waiting to hear the alternate theories from my fellow white mefites as to why Forrest Whitaker was detained and frisked by an hourly employee in a goddamn deli OTHER than him being black.

I am a white mefite and my own assumption is that the employee is actually V'Ger and has trouble distinguishing one carbon unit from another, so it confused Whitaker with Winona Ryder.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:06 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


They fired the guy to avoid being bankrupted by a lawsuit and loss of local patronage due to reputation.

Seems entirely justified to me. A guy nearly ruins your business doing something illegal, dumb, and racist, he loses his job.


Having seen how people run their stores.. I think it's likely that the employee did what was expected of him and only got fired because he's expendable.
posted by yonega at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is, unfortunately, a terror that even bringing up the fact of racial differences in crime statistics is itself racist. It's a kind of McCarthyite fear of being branded racist.

What crime statistics have to do with a person being illegally detained and searched by a deli clerk kinda escapes me. If you want to talk about profiling, using terms like 'McCarthyite' isn't kicking it off on the best foot.
posted by unSane at 7:14 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


but in general I wonder if a manager or owner always knows what lurks in the heart of an employee.

So there's basically two concepts of "racism" that are in play here, and I think it's causing a lot of the crosstalk and confusion.

One group of people think that "racism" is about internal motivations, decisions, and what's inside. That if it were possible to peer into a person's inner thoughts, we could determine them as "racist" or "not-racist."

One group of people thinks that "racism" as a specific set of social relations that harms or advantages one "race" at the expense of others, and that "racism" is participation in that system without regards to motivation or inner thought.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


There is, unfortunately, a terror that even bringing up the fact of racial differences in crime statistics is itself racist.

I think this is a a derail, but I'll bite. The issue with using crime statistics to justify racial profiling is that black people--especially black men--are a lot more likely to be hounded by the police (to the exclusion of standing or reasonable cause), a lot less likely to be let off easy if there is an innocuous charge against them (hello, War on Drugs), suffer from systemic discrimination against them that presumes guilt with an inordinate amount of burden of proof for innocence, and are also disproportionately affected infrastructural neglect and mistreatment that perpetuates the kind of environment where crime is a fact of life. (TAL's recent segments on Harper High School are a good and chilling demonstration of this last point.) You may think racial differences in crime statistics is a taboo subject (I disagree), but lord if it isn't already used as a sledgehammer to persecute the "wrong type of people" in both criminal proceedings and the public's mind.

I'll use an example from the current Idle No More movement in Canada. How often do you hear dismissive snark about alcoholism and irresponsibility on reservations and how that invalidates any claim that aboriginal people have to better treatment from the government? How much do people sneer that this civil rights movement is just about greed and holding a grudge? How many of those people stop to wonder if generations of forced seclusion and social and institutional ostracism, not to mention a history of abuse and violence, might have lead to the very conditions that now make life unbearable? How many people realize that what to them is "ancient history" still has reverberating effects on less privileged populations?

When we talk about disproportionate incarceration rates, it's simply not accurate to say "well, X population commits more crime, therefore they must be inherently more criminal*, thus we are a priori justified in treating people of X population with suspicion". We have to ask why those incarceration rates occur, what institutional factors lead to greater rates of criminal activity as well as greater rates of prosecution, and look at how to begin to amend those factors. It's a sociological quandary, but not an excuse for treating individuals unjustly, and especially not in a racist system. That's practically a tautology.

*unless that is indeed what you're saying, in which case, yeah, that's pretty racist regardless.
posted by Phire at 7:20 AM on March 8, 2013 [34 favorites]


So there's basically two concepts of "racism" that are in play here, and I think it's causing a lot of the crosstalk and confusion.

One group of people think that "racism" is about internal motivations, decisions, and what's inside. That if it were possible to peer into a person's inner thoughts, we could determine them as "racist" or "not-racist."

One group of people thinks that "racism" as a specific set of social relations that harms or advantages one "race" at the expense of others, and that "racism" is participation in that system without regards to motivation or inner thought.


You may have something there. White people get upset when they feel their motives are misjudged, precisely because so many of us (white folk) don't see or understand the problems in the system.

So, how can we get past that?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I also understand crime statistics

But the issue is that one begets the other. The War on Drugs, private prisons, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, the constant and unabiding criticism of Affirmative Action, and so on, all of that stems from a predominantly white middle class that is growing increasingly more aware of how limited their wealth is while also not realizing how socioeconomics leads to segregation.

On the individual level there's empathy; we're to treat everyone like equals, no matter their physical appearance. But then the institutional factors intrude. Crime rates are indeed high and, given the moment when you are walking down lonely streets then you're already softening the grip on your animal brain so when the census data and the anecdotes are summoned up in the heat of the moment, you may end up acting in a way that's decidedly not your normal, where the rules of a modernized Western culture suffused in rationality, humanism, empathy, and etiquette do not apply.

The problem is that you end up chancing the exile a person based on his or her race (though, let's face it, it's usually a him in these scenarios) from this modernized Western culture. And the firsthand accounts of many of the black people that you know, who are within your middle class circles, who are educated and share your culture, these are the ones who are offended, who tell you that they're offended, and who have every right to accost your prejudice, of how much of yourself you lose by fleeing.

But all that is distant in comparison because there's less suffering in guilt than there is in being approached and assaulted or worse. We don't live in a utopia where everybody you meet is going to know you and recognize the same social cues that you do, and not every act you take in a public space is contextually defined and thus rational. The problem of race hint at institutional issues but then that's the whole ballgame. To say that if we are kind and act rationally at all times ignores actual problems. In a demographic targeted by mass marketers with themes of violence, misogyny, and consumerism, one that has an unhealthy representation in the prison population and in poverty statistics, and one that is ultimately comprised of people, many of whom are much unlike one another, there are issues. When you boil a demographic down, sure, there are some whom we can relate to because they share our sensibilities about music and art and literature but then there's a large proportion of people whom we don't ever associate with on a day-to-day basis because they, like us, could not bridge the cultural gap by any easy means. Its this difference that's key to understanding why it seems so offensive for a shopkeeper to frisk Forest Whitaker, a renowned actor who is socially and culturally coded as being middle to upper class.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is a problem without any easy solution. You can advocate for knocking race down a peg or two on the hierarchy of characteristics but then that hints at a utopianism that ignores socioeconomics. You can advocate for constant caution but then you are advocating for an immoral prejudice. And the problem is that until you're capable of fixing to near completion the socioeconomics, which costs an ethnic population its culture and brings them into the fold of modernized, Western values, you can't go without the prejudice at your individual level, at least not if you live in a city where crime and race are statistics that still have yet to be unknotted from one another.
posted by dubusadus at 7:26 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's productive to put "racism" in the same category as "capitalism". Certainly, there are lots of people who consciously subscribe to capitalist ideology and make decisions based on it--and there are exponentially more people who don't, or would prefer not to, but go along with it anyway because they want to get paid.

This deli clerk probably believed, at the time, that he was protecting his employer from a shoplifter; and when he looked at Forrest Whitaker, he saw a shifty looking fellow. These were bad judgments, but they were rational: given the clerk's beliefs and perceptions, frisking the presumptive shoplifter was a logical thing to do.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:35 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everything about him screams Tourette's.

As someone with Tourette Syndrome who generally does my best to avoid discussing/disclosing it to strangers, I can promise you that if I had a tic that included racial slurs and everyone in the world thought I was a giant racist, I would come out and make a public statement about my Tourette Syndrome.

Actually, I would have turned a violent, boiled-looking red up there on stage, apologized a thousand times, and sobbed with mortification and shame backstage, because people with TS are thinking feeling humans who can hear what comes out of their mouths, not weird robots who stalk off and never explain their behavior even when explaining it would really, really help their reputation.

The fact that Richards did not do this, and the fact that I have never heard his name associated with Tourette Syndrome despite doing lots of research into it over the years, makes me think this explanation is highly unlikely.

Dan Aykroyd, though? Totally has mild TS and Asperger. Fun facts!
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:40 AM on March 8, 2013 [35 favorites]


But I also understand crime statistics

Back in college, I spent a large amount of time with a group of young men and women who were excessive pot smokers. They were blatant about their illegal habits and did next to nothing to conceal anything. I saw these folks smoke in public, openly talk about smoking, purchase drugs from pretty much anyone who would sell and generally behave in a manner that implied that pot was legal and they had no fear of any ramifications. Until one day, one of the group got busted. He had a roach in his pocket and he and a buddy stopped at a gas station to buy some rolling papers. A cop in the store thought my friend looked "suspicious and high" and stopped to ask him some questions. After increasingly aggressive questioning, my friend consented to a search of his person and the cop found the roach. Off to jail he went. The buddy tried to intervene but the cop told him to go home and leave it. Since the buddy realized he actually had a bag of weed in his pocket, he did what the cop told him.

So why did the cop choose to stop one obvious pothead and frisk him while another stood right there? The only difference between the two guys was the one buying rolling papers was black.

One of the big issues that a lot of people don't realize about institutional racism and crime statistics is that what clean cut white kids get away with will send a black kid to jail. Where I would get a slap on the wrist, my black peer might get lucky to get off with time served. You can't simply say that because black men are more often arrested and convicted of crime that you are justified in assuming that more black men are criminal. Hell, most of us break the law in tiny ways every day, it's just that when you look like part of the majority, the "safe" people, you get away with these tiny infractions.
posted by teleri025 at 7:52 AM on March 8, 2013 [45 favorites]


One group of people think that "racism" is about internal motivations, decisions, and what's inside. That if it were possible to peer into a person's inner thoughts, we could determine them as "racist" or "not-racist."

One group of people thinks that "racism" as a specific set of social relations that harms or advantages one "race" at the expense of others, and that "racism" is participation in that system without regards to motivation or inner thought.


That's what it seemed to me what was being presented, but when does this slippery slope end? Coates clearly associates the clerk as one of the participants in this system, but then stretches it to include the store owner, who disavowed the actions of and then fired the clerk. But why stop there? Clearly, every single white person is a participant, so aren't they racists by that definition? What about the tacit black folks who don't fight against such societal rules? Hell, even those active fighters (including Coates himself) are complicit in some way in maintaining the status quo, no man is an island outside the racist society. At a certain point, don't you have to look at the motivations of individuals if you hope to address the actions that result from those motivations?
posted by roquetuen at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2013


Right, it’s all circular, isn’t it? Crime statistics are what they are sometimes BECAUSE police target black men and women.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:57 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I also understand crime statistics
Are you fucking kidding me? The whole point is that crime statistics are higher because black people get profiled, arrested, and blamed by the racist police force (and yes, every police force is racist) more than white people.

there's basically two concepts of "racism" that are in play here, and I think it's causing a lot of the crosstalk and confusion.
No. Internal motivations of malice or perception of superiority is called "bigotry". "Racism" is the effect of upholding the cultural systems and attitudes that maintain inequality. This is a, like, 5th grade–level distinction. Regardless of whether racism is motivated by bigotry, it's still racist.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Clearly, every single white person is a participant, so aren't they racists by that definition?

I think it's just generally unhelpful to label people as racists instead of actions or circumstances or policies or pieces of systems, because then you get into the whole but-my-best-friend-is-black thing. Not to speak for Coates, but the store owner sayiing that the clerk is a 'good person' places the owner in the category of people, along with Michael Richards, who frame racism as the characteristic of a villain instead of a problem we all need to deal with because we are all participants in it.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:02 AM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


> No. Internal motivations of malice or perception of superiority is called "bigotry". "Racism" is the effect of upholding the
> cultural systems and attitudes that maintain inequality. This is a, like, 5th grade–level distinction.

Well anyway that's the way one particular interest group hopes to redefine "racism".
posted by jfuller at 8:04 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


So does Coates feel the deli owner is also a racist? If he did fire the employee in question, what more can he do? (I mean, Coates knows more than I do, he's been to the deli, but in general I wonder if a manager or owner always knows what lurks in the heart of an employee.
Of course, if the whole incident leaves a bad taste in his mouth, he has the right to boycott it and he doesn't need a reason. )

But if his boycott is an attempt to fix something....does it?


The way I took it was that, for him, having to try to seek out what lurks in these people's hearts is a burden imposed by the racism that pervades American life. The whole thing is an emotional load "The other day I walked past this particular deli. I believe its owners to be good people. I felt ashamed at withholding business for something far beyond the merchant’s reach." As a white dude, what people really think isn't something I have to be too concerned about. I don't have to absolve and then run the risk of my young child being confronted by the racism of someone I had judged innocuous.

I think Coates is deciding that he doesn't want to play that game. He doesn't have to judge or forgive people, he can look at what they (or the employees of their establishment) have done and make his shopping decisions accordingly.
posted by ghharr at 8:04 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, ffs, you don't have to be acting out of malice or even consciously reacting to a person's colour for your behaviour to have a racist element. That kind of white hat / black hat (sorry) thinking is EXACTLY what TNC is correctly railing against. The employee may well have been acting out of the best of motives (if unwisely) but to assume that FW's colour played no part whatsoever in the decision-making process, even at an unconscious or emotional level, is... I don't have words.

I didn't assume that at all. I explicitly said race may have been a motivating factor. I'd even go as far as saying it was a likely motivating factor. But that's purely speculation. If you believe the frisker may have been acting out of the best of motives (if unwisely), then we're on the same page. But that's not what you said originally.

I'm sensitive to the fact of racism in this country—historic and contemporary, personal and systemic, overt and unconscious—but I'm not willing to blindly attribute racism as motive to every single incident between a white person and a black person. The possibility is always there. But to assume it by default seems, as I said, uncharitable.

In review, I haven't said anything that Coates didn't say in his article.
posted by echocollate at 8:05 AM on March 8, 2013


So does Coates feel the deli owner is also a racist?

I think Coates is saying that in most cases he doesn't divide the world into "a racist" and "not a racist." It's more like, oh, everyone farts, right? You're not either "a Farter" or "a Non-Farter." When Michael Richards does something hella racist and says "I'm not a racist," that makes sense to him because he's saying "well, sure, I farted, but that doesn't mean I'm a Farter. I'm emphatically a Non-Farter who just happened to fart one time." Coates doesn't buy into those categories as being useful most of the time.

So Coates says "[the manager says of the employee that] it was a 'sincere mistake' made by a 'decent man' who was 'just doing his job.' I believe him. And yet for weeks now I have walked up Broadway, glancing through its windows with a mood somewhere between Marvin Gaye’s 'Distant Lover' and Al Green’s 'For the Good Times.'" Coates explicitly believes not just the manager but the employee is a decent man. But what he's struggling with is that despite believing that, the subtle lingering stench of racism that pervades America has become particularly strong for him in that deli, and he's no longer comfortable there.

So what he's trying to get at is, how do we dispel the effects of this thing that people do all the time unintentionally, that we can barely talk about without triggering the response of "Wait, are you calling me a Farter? How can you know I'm a Farter? You can't see into my soul!" And does he have a moral responsibility to hold his nose and pretend it doesn't get to him, because he knows it's mostly done by decent people? Or can he say, screw it, I give in, I'm sticking to places I feel safe even if that's unfair to the manager of that deli?

Let me throw out another example -- a true story with some unimportant details changed. A young, successful black man is in a crowded, upscale mall with mostly white shoppers. He picks something up, sets it down, leaves the store. An employee, who is also black, is busy but is trying to keep an eye on him. She sees him pick the item up but doesn't see him put it back down. So she calls a security guard -- who is also black -- and says the young man stole something. The security guard approaches the young man aggressively and voices are raised. Though no stolen item is found, the young man is ultimately charged with shoplifting and disorderly conduct. The charges are later dropped. The young man tries to avoid upscale malls from then on.

So, who's the Farter in this story? If we can't identify one person who did something explicitly racist, is the young man wrong or irrational to avoid that kind of situation in the future? If he's right to avoid that kind of situation, what does that say about the world we live in? If this is someone who's worked hard to get a respected degree and a good job, to establish dignity in the world -- what's being taken away from him when the security guard bears down on him and he ends up in a jail cell? If it's our job to fix this, what do we do next?

I don't have remotely useful answers to these questions. But if America is a family, then those questions are our equivalent of "how do we go on now we know mom has cancer?" I wish we could talk about them that way more often.
posted by jhc at 8:06 AM on March 8, 2013 [46 favorites]


I have two black friends who live in NYC, both of whom ride bikes on business and personal errands in Manhattan fairly frequently, both of whom keep to the bike lanes when possible, and both of whom are routinely stopped by police.

NYPD is setting a terrible tone in the city, that it's OK to presume guilt among dark-skinned people. I'm not saying this is directly responsible for the Whitaker incident and countless other undocumented incidents, but the treatment of my friends and the treatment of Whitaker come from the same source.
posted by Mister_A at 8:08 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's more like, oh, everyone farts, right? You're not either "a Farter" or "a Non-Farter." When Michael Richards does something hella racist and says "I'm not a racist," that makes sense to him because he's saying "well, sure, I farted, but that doesn't mean I'm a Farter. I'm emphatically a Non-Farter who just happened to fart one time."

This is the best summation of this argument I have ever seen in my life and I am going to steal it forever.
posted by Etrigan at 8:09 AM on March 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


Well anyway that's the way one particular interest group hopes to redefine "racism".
If by "one particular interest group" you mean "the entire discipline of the social sciences for the last 50 years", then sure, whatever.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:09 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


but lord if it isn't already used as a sledgehammer to persecute the "wrong type of people" in both criminal proceedings and the public's mind

You're correct that there are social reasons why minorities commit more crimes, are incarcerated more, and so on. But why then is TNC talking of racism as if it were some irrational feeling that existed in a void that should be eliminated on an individual basis when the real solution is to fix the social problems that contribute to racist perceptions? TNC didn't acknowledge the real factual basis, painful as it may be to acknowledge, that drives unwise actions like those in the deli.
--
Hell, most of us break the law in tiny ways every day, it's just that when you look like part of the majority, the "safe" people, you get away with these tiny infractions.

No doubt. But there are also racial disparities in the commission of much more serious offenses, including violent crimes, rape, burglary, and others.

In NYC in 2011, for example 64% of those arrested for grand larceny were black. 72.5% of those arrested for shootings were. For robbery the number is 70%. For whites the numbers are 10%, 2.5%, and 4%. White people would also certainly be arrested for these crimes, so the difference is not just that the police look the other way. There are real differences here in the rates of crime itself. In what way, if any, are people allowed to take these numbers into account in their daily lives?
posted by shivohum at 8:15 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are real differences here in the rates of crime itself.

No doubt. However, statistically, the people committing those crimes are less educated, live in worse neighborhoods, are more likely to be unemployed, etc. How much of those circumstances stem from being born Black?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If by "one particular interest group" you mean "the entire discipline of the social sciences for the last 50 years", then sure, whatever.

The problem is that language isn't determined by the entirety of social science academia, but by usage. Social science took -- and I agree, it was decades ago -- a common word and imposed a special use on it. People outside of social science still use the word in the earlier sense.

I understand your usage, to be sure. But I personally wish they'd coined a new word, but I wish that about the word "theory" in experimental science too, another case where a popular vs specialized meaning has caused us no end of grief.
posted by tyllwin at 8:22 AM on March 8, 2013


In what way, if any, are people allowed to take these numbers into account in their daily lives?

What ways do you propose?
posted by unSane at 8:23 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


In what way, if any, are people allowed to take these numbers into account in their daily lives?

In the same way people are allowed to take into account the numbers of African-Americans born into poverty, educated in dilapidated schools, forced to pay higher interest rates, red-lined to crumbling neighborhoods, raising their kids in the same cycle of poverty and violence they were brought up in...

So if you hitch up your purse a little tighter when two black kids walk down the same block, you better not be complaining about your tax dollars going to "welfare."
posted by Etrigan at 8:23 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's more like, oh, everyone farts, right? You're not either "a Farter" or "a Non-Farter."

The best analogy I've heard is calling out racism is like hygiene. If somebody says "you've got some dirt on your face", they just mean you've got to wipe the dirt of your face. They're not implying you're an irredeemably dirty person, just that our city is dirty and sometimes we don't notice when we get dirt on our face and need to shower. And that we have to clean ourselves regularly, not just the one time.

Right now the U.S. is filled with well-meaning white folks who took a shower one time in the 90s and think that makes them unassailably clean.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:24 AM on March 8, 2013 [31 favorites]


a retail employee can't just detain someone and search them.

Actually they can. They can even do so forcibly (generally speaking, laws vary by state.) However, they have to have reasonable suspicion, which it sounds like they didn't in this case.
posted by Jahaza at 8:28 AM on March 8, 2013


Jahaza, under what law and state? Are you talking a citizen's arrest? If someone did that to me, I"d sue the store, regardless of whether the employee had been fired. That would slow some of this down.

That deli worker must have some weird sense of proportion--what did he think Whitaker had done that he was willing to put his hands on him? If he didn't recognize such a star, then he certainly didn't know who he might be messing with.
posted by etaoin at 8:31 AM on March 8, 2013


In what way, if any, are people allowed to take these numbers into account in their daily lives?

By treating other humans as decent and with respectable until that individual proves otherwise?

Not always easy to do in practice even when you mean to (which is about half the point of the article), but certainly a goal worth aspiring to.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 8:35 AM on March 8, 2013


So if you hitch up your purse a little tighter when two black kids walk down the same block, you better not be complaining about your tax dollars going to "welfare."

I'm not, and I fully support progressive institutional reform for policies like mandatory minimums and education spending. But that does not mean that when I end up in an area that cries socioeconomic stratification to me that I'm not more careful. I guess I don't see the reasoning behind this response. What you argue against are the people who don't see stratification as a problem but race; but in opposing them, you perpetuate this utopian idea that you're safe wherever you go, if only you could somehow reason with the people who are abused, day by day, by this system that you happened to get the better of, that they will somehow leave you well enough alone if you are just able to summon up your feelings. It's like you're seeing the problem for what it is but refuse to accept the consequences in the same way that the other side only sees the consequences but refuses to see a problem. Both are detached from the reality of the presented data and work well only in theory but not in application.
posted by dubusadus at 8:35 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


But that does not mean that when I end up in an area that cries socioeconomic stratification to me that I'm not more careful.

There is a huge difference between "I am careful in certain neighborhoods" and "70 percent of arrests for robbery in New York City are of black people -- I am allowed to consider that in a discussion of whether people are angry that a black man got frisked in a deli."
posted by Etrigan at 8:38 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


what makes you think that somebody who dresses in a dapper, clearly upper middle class, expensive fashion, who pops into a store to get something, notices the queues and pops out again, would've been stopped on supsicion of shoplifting, let alone frisked, had he been white?

I do this all the time and have never been frisked. And I am not dapper or upper middle class. Just white.
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a bit surprising from Milano, it is pretty upscale, not the kind of place I would imagine frisks customers. This type of stuff happens all the time, but the person frisked isn't famous so it doesn't make the news. I can't tell you the number of shouting matches and threats I've seen between bodega owners and and patrons. There is often a thinly veiled hatred between some bodega owners and their African American customers. I once saw a clerk try to attack a guy with a broom after they got into an argument because the clerk wouldn't take a hundred dollar bill.

I linked this once before but it is a pretty insane example of how employees of one 7-11 in Brooklyn treat people who they think shoplift.

Is it racism? Dunno, but I've never seen a deli owner accuse a white customer of anything.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:42 AM on March 8, 2013


There is a huge difference between "I am careful in certain neighborhoods" and "70 percent of arrests for robbery in New York City are of black people -- I am allowed to consider that in a discussion of whether people are angry that a black man got frisked in a deli."


Etrigan, that seems too simple. We're not arguing the case of Forest Whitaker, that has been resolved. We're discussing the social implications of the frisking and the realities of crime that comes from socioeconomic repression, and the ugly consequences thereof. You can remove yourself from race and say it's class but there's truth in the fact that a lot of our social policies in the US skew towards race despite being otherwise driven.

Also, when you talk of someone hitching up a purse, you're inevitably constructing society's favorite straw man, the soccer moms who are inevitably all rolled up into the anti-vaxxer, Phyllis Schafly subset who hate Harry Potter. Despite voting data proving that the women's vote is still mostly Democratic, this is a weird anachronism that should be pretty easily traced back to 50's ideations of the domestic wife without opinions. So if the problem here is unfair reductions ignorant of the data and of the laws, wouldn't you be perpetuating the same?
posted by dubusadus at 8:50 AM on March 8, 2013


Right, it’s all circular, isn’t it? Crime statistics are what they are sometimes BECAUSE police target black men and women.

Yes, there's a feedback loop between treating people like criminals and them filling that role, but to that's too simple to explain the problem away. If the police were to suddenly be replaced by benevolent robots, incapable of profiling, the echo of these same old crime statistics would persist for a hundred years.

Racism is a red herring for what is, fundamentally, a problem of epidemiology. The black community has suffered abuse for hundreds of years from basically everyone--whites, blacks, law enforcement, criminals--and that abuse gains a momentum of its own and sloshes around along the edges of the social graph. What we call "African American culture" is a strongly connected component within the greater social graph, essentially meaning that if you're black, probably most of your social circle is also black. When abuse is introduced into this strongly connected component, it spreads along the edges of the graph, remaining concentrated within the black community because there are relatively fewer connections to the white/majority community. The black high school kids in the TAL story are being victimized by other black high school kids and young adults: not because they're black, but because they're adjacent in the social graph (which strongly correlates with geography and wealth).

You can model this like the outbreak of an epidemic. You can use the same algorithm Google uses to rank pages in order to predict where violence, crime, and poverty are moving. It should be possible to use epidemiology to combat these problems: (1) stop introducing new pathogens from external sources (i.e., stop police profiling and institutional racism), (2) build more connections to other parts of the social graph so that the "disease" diffuses, (3) strategic introduction of antigens at supernodes (for example, programs to improve failing schools).

But even after these things are done, you have to sit back and wait for a few generations for them to take effect. I don't think our political machine has that kind of patience and understanding.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:50 AM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


In the same way people are allowed to take into account the numbers of African-Americans born into poverty, educated in dilapidated schools..

Yeah, people keep bringing up this logic, though it is wrong. The reason someone became a criminal, for instance, may be worthy of compassion. Probably it always is. But that has nothing to do with how you ensure your safety. You don't allow your store to be robbed because you feel bad for the robbers.

The better argument is that while the vast majority of robbers in NYC may be black, that, since robbers are fairly rare, that this still constitutes only a small minority of black people generally, and that this therefore is quite a weak basis on which to judge your customers.
posted by shivohum at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2013


The better argument is that while the vast majority of robbers in NYC may be black...

The vast majority of people arrested for robbery in NYC are African-American. As others have pointed out over and over in this very thread, making the assumption that "arrests = criminals" is part of the problem.
posted by Etrigan at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


> If by "one particular interest group" you mean "the entire discipline of the social sciences
> for the last 50 years", then sure, whatever

The claim was that your definitional distinction between racism and bigotry is "a, like, 5th grade–level distinction."

Usages that may be current among critical race theory wonks (or postcolonial theory wonks, or feminist jurisprudence wonks) are still not likely to be current in any fifth grade on the planet. Or the population at large.
posted by jfuller at 9:00 AM on March 8, 2013


a retail employee can't just detain someone and search them.

Actually they can. They can even do so forcibly (generally speaking, laws vary by state.) However, they have to have reasonable suspicion, which it sounds like they didn't in this case.


The law on Citizen's Arrest (or 'any person arrest) varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but there are few where 'reasonable suspicion' is grounds in and of itself. I don't know of any, but that could just be ignorance.. 'Reasonable belief' applies in some parts of Australia, but that's a different thing. In Canada 'reasonable suspicion' is grounds only if the suspect is fleeing from law enforcement RIGHT NOW. In a lot of jurisdictions you have to KNOW that the person has committed an offence, by witnessing it for example, or because you know the person is wanted for an indictable offence.
posted by unSane at 9:09 AM on March 8, 2013


In other words, you have to be really, really sure of your grounds when you start this shit, and if you're wrong you're likely to get your ass sued off.
posted by unSane at 9:10 AM on March 8, 2013


Jahaza, under what law and state? Are you talking a citizen's arrest? If someone did that to me, I"d sue the store, regardless of whether the employee had been fired. That would slow some of this down.

Under the common law "shopkeeper's privilige" and it's statutory and case law progeny. You could sue, but you may very well lose, as Edith Mitchell did before the Georgia Court of Appeals upon being forcibly detained and searched after leaving a Wal-Mart and having the alarm go off because an employee had failed to deactivate an anti-theft device. Or as Calvin Brown did before the federal courts, after being stopped leaving a New York Wal-Mart on suspicion of shoplifting after paying for a ring and hiding it in his pocket so that his wife (who was also in the store) wouldn't see it and be surprised by the gift.
posted by Jahaza at 9:11 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The law on Citizen's Arrest (or 'any person arrest) varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but there are few where 'reasonable suspicion' is grounds in and of itself.

Except that this is not citizen's arrest, but something different.
posted by Jahaza at 9:11 AM on March 8, 2013


You don't allow your store to be robbed because you feel bad for the robbers.

Yes, but the only way to break the cycle is by giving African Americans the same opportunities and assumptions that whites have always enjoyed so that the cycle can be broken. That is not happening at all. You maybe won't not prosecute someone who robs your store, but you could resist the urge to stop and search a black person in the store when it is highly, highly unlikely that you'd do the same to a white person. Or try to not discriminate as an employer because someone has a "black" name. Or stop refusing bank loans to people based on their skin color and claiming some other reason. Or stop putting up the other multiple financial, legal, educational etc. barriers that black people still face all the time. And that doesn't even to begin to touch the persistant negative stereotypes that exist in people's minds and can never be seen or quantified, but are definitely negatively affecting the lives of black people everywhere in very real ways.
posted by young sister beacon at 9:12 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


The vast majority of people arrested for robbery in NYC are African-American. As others have pointed out over and over in this very thread, making the assumption that "arrests = criminals" is part of the problem.

I mean, again, you're ignoring that socioeconomic factors do drive people (of all races) to become criminals. Racial profiling is real but it's also likely to be a retributive act against areas where money is scarce and crime is high. We can tackle that issue in a large number of other ways but it doesn't mean that one consequence precludes all others.
posted by dubusadus at 9:14 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nthing a recommendation for the Being White in Philly article Rory Marinich linked to upthread.

I also think a lot of folks in this thread would benefit from reading some of Mefi's Trayvon Martin threads and looking at the links and posts that discuss "The Talk" black Americans have given or know that they must one day give to their children -- especially their male children -- about how America views them no matter how they are dressed or conducting themselves.

I'll relate here a story that I'm pretty sure I've shared here on MeFi before, about one of the most extraordinary moments in my life. It occurred during a trip to Sydney, Australia way back in 1999. My co-workers and I went to an upscale mall hoping to buy some opals before we returned to the US. We went into one of those super high end jewelry stores where they have to buzz you in and out.

As we walked in, I noticed a security guard, and I figured I was going to get the same treatment from both him and the clerks that I had gotten (and continue to get) so many times in upscale stores the USA -- again, no matter how I'm dressed or acting: somebody would always be right at my elbow making sure I'm not stealing anything or casing the joint.

But this security guard completely ignored me. And I know he was ignoring me because I sure as hell wasn't ignoring him. And the clerks either busied themselves with other customers or waited for me to signal that I wanted their attention. I was treated like I was just another person.

Even now, thinking about my experience in that store fills me with joy. To be just another person -- you don't know how grand a thing this unless you've been Othered since birth.

That said, I commend FW's poise and handling of this situation. I try to be similarly gracious when such things happen to me, even here in good ol' won't shut up about how liberal and progressive it is Austin, but I also worry that 30+ years of this bullshit means that the next incident might be the one that finally makes me lose my shit and get my black ass jailed for causing a disturbance.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:17 AM on March 8, 2013 [30 favorites]


I read the PhillyMag piece and thought it was pretty good; the comments, however, are proof positive that race relations are ugly.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:22 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This (pdf) is the stop-and-frisk report from the last quarter of 2012. It's broken down by race and gender and precinct. I randomly picked the the First Precinct, in which 248 people were stopped for stop-and-frisks.

148 were black; 43 were white; 33 were white Hispanic; 13 were black Hispanic.

This is where I looked up the census tract data for the tract the First Precinct is in. It is 66% white, 6.5% Hispanic, and 2.2% African American.
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think Coates is saying that in most cases he doesn't divide the world into "a racist" and "not a racist." It's more like, oh, everyone farts, right? You're not either "a Farter" or "a Non-Farter." When Michael Richards does something hella racist and says "I'm not a racist," that makes sense to him because he's saying "well, sure, I farted, but that doesn't mean I'm a Farter. I'm emphatically a Non-Farter who just happened to fart one time." Coates doesn't buy into those categories as being useful most of the time.

I think a better analogy for Richards POV would be being called a liar. People like to think of themselves as honest, despite the fact that people lie all the time about everything. So, e.g., if someone calls in sick to work to go to the beach, they are a liar. But most people would get offended if they were called such in that circumstance. If people lie for X reasons, then it's ok to call them a liar. But if they lie for Y reasons, then calling them a liar is offensive.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:45 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a better analogy for Richards POV would be being called a liar.

That picks up on the same negative associations as the dichotomy between being a racist and doing/saying racist things -- calling someone a liar is almost universally negative. Pointing out to someone that they are, logically speaking, a farter, however, is instructive, because who the hell ever calls anyone a farter? No one. And you can say to someone, "You just farted. Not cool," without it being an accusation that that person is an incorrigible releaser of toxic gases and should by all rights be exiled away from polite society. Similarly, you should be able to say to someone, "You just did a racist thing. Not cool," without it being an accusation that that person is an incorrigible hater of mud people and should by all rights be exiled away from polite society.

There are, of course, those people who will insist that anyone who ever does a racist thing is a racist, Q.E.D. Those people need to learn nuance as well.

(Also, Jon_Evil's hygiene metaphor is really good too.)
posted by Etrigan at 10:07 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


If the poor employee is taking the fall for store policy being racist, are there any prior incidents to corroborate that claim? If not, firing the guy still seems legitimate and just to me.
posted by spitbull at 10:19 AM on March 8, 2013


I agree, spitbull. As a businessperson, one views the potential loss of custom and bad PR attending this kind of action as a substantially bigger loss than the potential theft of a packet of crisps. If I were the shopkeeper, I would also review my policies to see what the hell made this guy think it was ever OK to lay hands on someone in the store?
posted by Mister_A at 10:23 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Social scientists do talk about race a lot, and we note that racial disparities are produced by various factors. The first, overt racism, is a matter of conscious bias. As noted by others, many white Americans think of this as the only "real racism," of those who profess overt racial bigotry as the bad guys, and of themselves as innocent and "colorblind."

The second level at which racism operates is via nonconscious bias. We are all socialized to react positively to whiteness and negatively to people of color, in ways we ourselves almost never notice (but can be measured via implicit bias tests--you can try them yourself here). This is true of all of us, not just white people, as can be heartbreakingly observed in the "race doll test," in which young African American children who are offered a white doll and a dark-skinned doll choose the white doll for themselves, identify the white doll as the pretty doll, and identify the dark-skinned doll as the bad doll.

The third way racism operates is at the institutional level. Institutional racism can be enforced by people with explicitly antiracist intent, because their intent means nothing. For example, many standardized tests in the U.S. contain sociocultural biases that result in higher scores for white youths. The fact that those tests may be administered to students by people who have spent their careers trying to empower students of color does nothing to change the outcome.

Finally, we need to consider that racial inequality is perpetuated by systems of privilege, not just systems of marginalization. All white people, such as myself, enjoy white privilege. We may not notice it and our intentions may be all shiny and light, but that is irrelevant. A good little primer on privilege is here.

So, we are, indeed, all implicated in racism. Not just conscious bigots--all of us. There's nothing we can do to escape this--but we can take action to try to notice it in ourselves, and to fight it systemically. But burying our heads in the sand and saying "I'm innocent" just perpetuates racism (and makes a person, to me, sound not only defensive but really ignorant).
posted by DrMew at 10:28 AM on March 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


This conversation reminds me of another TNC article from a couple of years back, I Feel Like A Black Republican. It was written after the mini-furor over Common playing the white house, and Ta-Nehisi was working through his reactions to the extreme vitriol directed at extremely mainstream, mild, nonthreatening black public figures:

But Common is the dude in the Gap ad. His mother is a teacher. Shirley Sherrod is a victim of white supremacist terrorism, who lectures black people on seeing their own prejudice. Eric Holder went to Stuyvesant. Michelle Obama's mother was a homemaker. Her parents forfeited a full athletic scholarship to send Michelle Obama's brother to Princeton. They used to watch the Brady Bunch together.

If Common is disturbing, Shirley Sherrod wants to discriminate against white people, MIchelle Obama is obsessed with Whitey, and Barack Obama has a hatred of white people, then the rest of us are in real trouble. When you talk about "nonthreatening" this really is the best we've got.


This is the problem with equality through exceptionalism ... if Harvard educated law professor Barack Obama is an intellectual lightweight, Common is some kind of dangerous radical, and Forest Whitaker is a shoplifter, it shifts the 'average' black person to 'subhuman thug.'

And if that's the case, then yes, of course you're going to stop and frisk them.
posted by Myca at 10:31 AM on March 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


This stuff is hard to study in the wild, but here's a study that tried. Their idea was to take security footage of an actual store and ask test subjects to look for suspicious shoppers and try to detect shoplifting. The result is, even with anti-bias training, both white and non-white participants focused on non-white men out of proportion to their rate of shoplifting, and therefore detected a disproportionate amount of crime by that group:
Much debate centers on the use of offender profiling as a technique to differentiate criminals from law-abiding citizens. Profiling advocates argue that it is appropriate to reference past experiences and information about known offenders to identify behavioral and demographic correlates that can then be applied to a given population of offenses or offenders. The viability of this argument rests on the assumption that past experiences and information about known offenders are free of bias. Data from an observational study of shoplifting are analyzed to assess this assumption systematically. Results indicate that trained observers, when allowed to deviate from a clearly specified random selection protocol, oversampled shoppers on the basis of race, gender, and perceived age, thus misrepresenting these factors as predictors of shoplifting behavior.
It's a small sample of people looking at a large quantity of video, so who knows how robust it is -- the statistics are above my head, and could be totally bogus for all I know. But I think the meat is in Table 5, which says that if observers were made to monitor shoppers perfectly randomly, they discovered 5% of total shoplifting by (perceived) white people and 6% of shoplifting by non-white people -- about equal. But if they were allowed to use discretion to look for suspicious behavior (even with clear instructions about avoiding bias), they discovered 3% of total shoplifting by white people and 11% of shoplifting by non-white people. That means if both groups shoplift at equal rates, then trained observers will conclude non-white people shoplift almost four times as much!

Talk about a vicious cycle. Our perceptions of who commits crimes are not going to be a little bit off -- they're going to be completely, wildly inaccurate.

As a separate, intriguing but gross exercise, it's interesting to think what the economically optimal strategy would be if you didn't care whether it was racist. (I tried putting this thought experiment in less gross terms but it also felt less illuminating, so here we go.) For example, suppose it turns out there is some consistent racial difference in shoplifting rates at a particular store, and your job is to reduce shoplifting. So you carefully review security tapes and determine that the total customers are split 50/50 between people who look black to you and people who look white to you, but there are 105 black shoplifters for every 100 white shoplifters. OK, you've found an edge you can use for profiling. If your security guards can only watch 10% of shoplifters, how do you assign them?

Black customers are 5% more likely to be shoplifters than white customers in this scenario, so do you spend 5% more time watching black people than white people? Nope -- that would offer virtually no benefit over random selection. Instead -- as long as your policy remained secret -- your best option would be to spend 100% of your time watching black people. You could catch 105 shoplifters that way for every 102.5 shoplifters you would catch by being completely neutral -- a 2.5% improvement! Of course, all 105 of the shoplifters you caught would be black, and 100 white shoplifters would have walked out the door.

So where does that callous hypothetical get me? First of all it seems remarkably close to how store employees seem to actually behave, and I wonder what if anything that tells us. Second, it hopefully shows how disproportionate the costs and benefits of profiling are. While racial profiling can be economically rational if there's any real statistical difference in behavior between perceived races, you have to use extremely racist techniques -- techniques that dramatically amplify the apparent difference in behavior and the practical difference in privilege -- to reap any benefit. Otherwise, you might as well not use a racist policy at all.
posted by jhc at 10:36 AM on March 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


What we call "African American culture" is a strongly connected component within the greater social graph, essentially meaning that if you're black, probably most of your social circle is also black.

Sorry... this is pretty much a pedant derail, but this doesn't make sense from a graph theoretic perspective. What are we supposed to understand the edges to mean?
posted by hoyland at 10:37 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for the idea that what is seen as racism is just people reacting reasonably to racial difference in committing crime. . . bleh. The fact is that crime is committed by people of all races equally. Others have noted that when considering the same street crime, white people who break the law are often given warnings while people of color, especially African Americans, are arrested and jailed. But the big difference comes from the fact that people commit crimes where they have the opportunity to do so. Poor people mostly commit street crimes. But more well-to-do people mostly commit white collar crime. White collar crime involves vastly more money. Yet we devote the vast bulk of our policing to street crimes, and when someone is actually is caught and prosecuted for white collar crime, the common end result is restitution and probation. And a lot of this has to do with the fact that wealth is associated with whiteness. . .
posted by DrMew at 10:39 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


DrMew, I understand your point, but street crimes are often associated with violence. White collar crimes are not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:42 AM on March 8, 2013


Roomthreeseventeen, we have a huge entertainment industry that spends its time generating and capitalizing on the fear of violent criminals, largely portrayed as African American men. So yes, people do focus on and fear violent street criminals. But, as usual, despite lots of fear of carjackings and random house invasions, most violent crime is committed between people who know eachother. For women, it's mostly intimate partners; for men, it's mostly personal acquaintances. Logically, we should fear the people we know--but we don't. And we don't because of what we're raised and socialized to fear--strangers, Others--and that socialization by families and schools and the media is deeply shaped by racial biases.
posted by DrMew at 10:49 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


You maybe won't not prosecute someone who robs your store,

Hold on. I just read through an entire thread whereby the dominant theme is that if African-Americans constitute a majority of arrests for [insert crime here], the only thing is proves is the systematic bias/racism of the system itself and the socioeconomic factors that might have led to the criminal act - and/or, white people do it too but just don't get stopped/caught/arrested as often.

Given this - how can anyone who makes this argument plausibly say that the store owner should prosecute someone who robs the store, if the thief is black?
posted by kgasmart at 11:16 AM on March 8, 2013


Are you serious?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:20 AM on March 8, 2013


DrMew, I understand your point, but street crimes are often associated with violence. White collar crimes are not.

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

-----

The point Mr. Guthrie is making is that when you're out of work and you've lost your home and your wife leaves you and you've got no medical care because a group of wealthy white motherfuckers crashed the global economy for personal gain and laughed about it, you might reasonably wish that one of them had just punched you and taken the $40 in your wallet, because it would have fucked your life up significantly less.

But of course none of them go to jail.
posted by Myca at 11:35 AM on March 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Absolutely. I want to hear the rationale for it. Because to prosecute an individual who made a bad choice but who in fact may have been pushed into that bad choice by the inequities in society, who might have made a different choice had he/she had other or better opportunities is to simply perpetuate the system.

Understand, I don't believe this, and I'm not defending the clerk who frisked Whittaker (and we're pretty far afield now, but 120+ comments in what do you expect I guess).
posted by kgasmart at 11:41 AM on March 8, 2013


I used to work as a security doorman at my undergraduate college's campus center. The college was urban and located in the middle of lower income projects in the city, and was a relatively safe place only because it was heavily patrolled by campus security. Even then, every once in a while there'd be a shooting on campus or we'd get alerts about violent gang activity that cautioned us to stay inside until things quieted down.

As doorman it was my job to check the IDs of everyone who walked into the center - the whole point of my job was to only let students and staff in, and refuse entry to anyone else. But practically speaking, there was no easy way to enforce this - waves of students coming in at all times, sometimes 40 or 50 at once after a class lets out, all talking to each other and ignoring my little table and my meek insistence for people to flash their IDs at me. Stopping one student to ask for her ID would mean a bunch of other students just casually walk past me, and I had no authority to punish or stop anyone unless there was real trouble. From day one my manager told me to let things slide, and just eyeball people to get a sense for whether they looked like they were part of the university or "looked like someone from the projects." I was told it was the only practical way to do my job.

So my job became this blur of trying to get a sense of who people were and what a student looked like within the half a second that I saw them approaching and walking past me. Hardly anyone offered their ID unless I asked... I tried to ask a few people every few minutes regardless of whether they looked like they belonged or not, but mostly my brain space was dedicated to "does this look like someone from the neighboring projects"? - which, yes, skin color was first, clothing was second, general demeanor third in this flash-second evaluating. It felt wrong but I kept my head down and did it. I only ended up refusing entry to maybe half a dozen people in the span of a year working there, so there wasn't even a real problem that I was solving.

I finally got called out by a black student who stopped me exasperated and said, "Look, man, you've asked for my ID multiple times and always let other people around me through without even a glance. It's always me. You should know me by now." Looking at him, he was definitely a "university type" of guy, even stereotypically so - black plastic frames, nice black coat, etc. I'd never even glanced at him for more than a second, I guess - I'd only seen skin color all those times he walked by. He was absolutely right. There was no defense for my behavior. No doubt I'd done the same thing to other black students who were too polite to say anything.

I was "just doing my job", and at the same time I was confronted with my actions as monstrous, and confronted with the very premise of my job being monstrous. I'm a person of color myself, and I was acting in the worst way imaginable, obliviously. It was basically racial profiling day in and day out for a year. It still hurts to think about it. I quit the job shortly after that but I still wonder about how much the issue was my individual latent racism being revealed, how much of it was a wider systemic problem that I was caught helplessly up in, and to what degree it was some murky combination of the two.
posted by naju at 11:41 AM on March 8, 2013 [39 favorites]


Because to prosecute an individual who made a bad choice but who in fact may have been pushed into that bad choice by the inequities in society, who might have made a different choice had he/she had other or better opportunities is to simply perpetuate the system.

Understand, I don't believe this...


Neither does anyone else (at least, not here). Your reduction of the discussion to that is disingenuous at best.
posted by Etrigan at 11:45 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Similarly, you should be able to say to someone, "You just did a racist thing. Not cool,"…

Here we are yet again reducing racism to a problem of social etiquette, when clearly Coates is pointing to problems in the system.

Yesterday, Coates hosted a conversation with Barbara Fields, the author of Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, and his op-ed is likely influenced by reading that book. Fields argues that racism doesn't emerge from skin color, but from political and social conditions like inequality. She says that racism doesn't create slavery; slavery creates racism — which is to say that if you live in a society that demands slavery for economic reasons (or today, social inequality), racism arises to explain and justify it.

When you address the problem of racism at the level of how white people treat black people, you are taking for granted that these divisions are fundamental to begin with, and can be addressed by improving race relations. Racial groups are believed to be caused by real genetic differences rather than social and economic forces.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:40 PM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Similarly, you should be able to say to someone, "You just did a racist thing. Not cool,"…

Here we are yet again reducing racism to a problem of social etiquette, when clearly Coates is pointing to problems in the system.


I don't disagree, but I also think that Coates is saying that separating "That person did a racist thing" from "That person is a racist" can be useful to the dialogue.

I also don't think that talking about one aspect of race relations is "reducing racism to a problem of social etiquette."

When you address the problem of racism at the level of how white people treat black people...

Considering that this whole thing came about as the result of someone (whose race we don't know) treated a particular black person, I think it's a valid thing to talk about. Again, not as the entire issue, but as a thing that should be discussed.

...you are taking for granted that these divisions are fundamental to begin with, and can be addressed by improving race relations. Racial groups are believed to be caused by real genetic differences rather than social and economic forces.

I'm sorry, I genuinely don't understand what your point is. Are you saying that these divisions are fundamental and based on genetic differences* or are you saying that they aren't fundamental, even though they are based on genetic differences?

* -- Many people see a distinct difference between "Black people are genetically predisposed to have more melanin and sickle-cell anemia" and "Black people are genetically predisposed to commit crimes." One of these is not a particularly useful argument to make.
posted by Etrigan at 1:07 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


if you live in a society that demands slavery for economic reasons (or today, social inequality), racism arises to explain and justify it.

Well, I haven't read the argument so I'm just responding to your summary of it: but this doesn't make a lot of historical sense so far as I can see. There's lots and lots of examples of societies with large scale slavery which was not racialized (Rome and Greece, for example) and lots of societies with strong racial prejudices without much of a history of slavery (Australia, for example). Certainly the two things feed into each other but it strikes me as a pretty dubious global explanation of the history of racism.
posted by yoink at 1:08 PM on March 8, 2013


She says that racism doesn't create slavery; slavery creates racism — which is to say that if you live in a society that demands slavery for economic reasons (or today, social inequality), racism arises to explain and justify it.

I think this is a great point, but to be clear, I disagree that social interaction between whites and blacks is then unimportant - white people still need to be aware of how they are (consciously or unconsciously) buying into and/or reinforcing this system.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:11 PM on March 8, 2013


Yes, everyone is racist to some degree, and no, you probably shouldn't simply label some people racist and others not. And calling out someone for acting racist -- or worse, for being racist -- naturally pisses them off because, for the most part, no one feels that way, and thus they feel like you are calling them a liar. And most certainly, these individual-level debates aren't going to significantly change the systemic, institutional, or even deep ideological problems that are the main cause. But without mentioning the controversial term that stirred a slight debate upthread, my point was just that there is nevertheless some value in individual-level distinctions, in individual-level second-guessing and in individual-level accusations. You can diminish your behavioral-level racism even if you may not be able to easily change your subconscious tendencies. The shop-keeper, accused of being a racist (an unfortunately dichotomizing distinction), will probably let a disproportionate number of suspicious black patrons go unaccused in the future, should he/she ever get a similar job again. And that's a good thing. There is value in second-guessing ourselves, and in asking others to second-guess their own motives and behaviors. Even though such small-scale interpersonal interactions won't make a huge difference, catching yourself or someone around you engaging in subtly racist behavior and doing something about it does help, just as it helps with many other socially damaging activities. How you do it is a challenge, since people are quick to anger when accused of such things -- but that doesn't mean that bringing it up should be verboten, nor even that you should be so careful as to effectively never actually bring it up.

I went to an inner-city school where I was picked on and often physically attacked by black kids from a poorer nearby school, for years. My deep brain is probably pretty well trained in racist tendencies. Yet when I take the implicit association test, I do very well. And that's because I cheat. The implicit association test (which you can take online) shows you a series of black and white faces with associated adjectives and asks you to associate adjectives with faces. Since everyone knows not to associate black faces with bad adjectives, the test instead (secretly) measures how long you take to answer, which is usually shown to correlate with race (ie, you take longer to ascribe good traits to black faces and vice versa). But if you know what it's doing, you can "cheat" -- just take your time and/or try to answer quickly for any positive trait. The testers don't want you to do this because it prevents them from measuring your implicit racism, which is fine for their purposes; but what it also shows is that this implicit racism is incredibly fragile to even a modicum of self-censorship. Knowing you've got it and consciously working to cut against it does significant good. And talking others into doing the same thing -- even at the cost of occasionally pissing them off -- is also beneficial. These ideas matter, and passing them along interpersonally, while not as effective as grand legislation, is still a decent and necessary ground-level strategy. If people feel like certain terms such as the one I used up-thread or "liberal guilt" are hopelessly tainted, it's still worth finding some term we can rally behind for this process of second-guessing yourself -- which nobody as confident, pragmatic Americans wants to promulgate, but which we should all, actually, be doing.
posted by chortly at 1:45 PM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


She says that racism doesn't create slavery; slavery creates racism — which is to say that if you live in a society that demands slavery for economic reasons (or today, social inequality), racism arises to explain and justify it.

This is very interesting and I think it gibes with what was discussed above about whites acting hostile towards "non-threatening" black people such as Michelle Obama. To explain away injustice and their own privilege, the narrative was that blacks were worse, in most regards. When confronted with counter evidence on so great a scale and such a high profile stage, the racist shifts the narrative slightly in order to continue the justifications of societal inequality.
posted by cell divide at 1:52 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jahaza - the Wikipedia article I think you meant to link to, shopkeeper's privilege, explicitly says
The shopkeeper's privilege does not include the power of search.[8]
with a citation to
8. William L. Prosser, Proceedings of the 34th Annual Meeting of The American Law Institute, 1957 A.L.I. PROC. 283 (remarks of Mr. William L. Prosser, Reporter)
Note also the passages I quoted from a security guard's training manual for New York State.

I can believe that in particular cases circumstances resulted in the court decisions you mention but (while not being a lawyer myself) I'd have to be extremely skeptical that employees of retail stores have a general authority which exceeds that of law enforcement officers.
posted by XMLicious at 1:54 PM on March 8, 2013


yoink: you may find this FPP on Thomas Jefferson and his legacy of slavery interesting.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:56 PM on March 8, 2013


There are real differences here in the rates of crime itself. In what way, if any, are people allowed to take these numbers into account in their daily lives?

How do people take crime rates into account in racially homogenous situations? There are plenty of places in this country where there are not enough people of color to be statistically significant, and yet there is still crime. How does the security guard at a lily-white suburban Mall asses who might be a potential shoplifter?

Using crime statistics to justify profiling says "I can't tell the difference between a doctor and a gangbanger"and yet a white Dentist, who likes to ride his Harley on the weekend doesn't live in fear of being targeted as being a member of a Outlaw Biker Meth gang.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:24 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "The rioters hurled stones at the White House, shot guns into the air and hung an effigy of the president that they then set on fire. The protest is considered one of, if not the most violent demonstration held near the White House. As a result of the unrest, the District of Columbia decided to create its own police force."

There's a big difference between being very angry at a president for not doing something you want him to do, and believing in the president's illegitimacy to hold office [because he is black].

Naturally the birthers do not explicitly say that, which is why Ta-Nehisi brings it up. It just happens to be easy for many people to look at Obama's face and not consider him a real American. As Ta-Nehisi points out in his excellent article Fear of a Black President, if Obama is not a legitimate American, then America has never had a black president.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:01 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also think that Coates is saying that separating "That person did a racist thing" from "That person is a racist" can be useful to the dialogue.

Well, I disagree — that's reading him as if he were Jay Smooth. It's probably true that confronting racism by talking about an individual's actions vs. their motivations or thoughts is a better, less controversial or whatever. But that still worships at the altar of individual agency. Drawing attention to systemic factors is saying that the feeling of being able to make individual choices is an illusion. In fact, your feeling of freedom is (partially) conditioned by the system.

Considering that this whole thing came about as the result of someone (whose race we don't know) treated a particular black person, I think it's a valid thing to talk about.

Yes, it's valid to talk about it, but I'm saying that doing so is an implicit rejection of Coates' argument, and I think lots of people are missing that. They're agreeing with him, and then taking the contrary position.

I'm sorry, I genuinely don't understand what your point is.

Here's an example - some have claimed that black people are less intelligent and this is due to genetic differences from white people. But they used to say that about the Irish vs. English. The Irish were believed to be a different race, but it wasn't because the English were intolerant of Irish difference. It was because it was necessary to construct the notion of a separate Irish race to justify an unequal and exploitative economic arrangement. Addressing anti-Irish bigotry by talking about racial harmony between English and Irish reinforces the basic premise that the system is founded on.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:53 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was because it was necessary to construct the notion of a separate Irish race to justify an unequal and exploitative economic arrangement.

"Necessary" according to what notion of causality? It wasn't "necessary" to construct a notion that the English working class was a "separate race" in order to justify an "unequal and exploitative economic arrangement" with them, was it? I find it really hard to separate out chickens from eggs here and I think any claim that it's "obvious" which way round these things go (or even, really, whether they are "causally" related in any very strong sense) is just telling a just-so story that you happen to like.

Americans are, by almost any measure, massively less racist towards the Chinese now than they were 100 years ago; but also by almost any measure they rely vastly more on an "unequal and exploitative economic arrangement" with Chinese workers than they did at that time. If "racism" is what we conjure up to justify our economic relationships with people, why is this case so aberrant?

Jews in Vienna in the late C19th and early C20th weren't in a particularly "unequal and exploited" relationship with the gentile majority--they were largely petty-bourgeois with a small but remarkably influential haute-bourgeoise intelligensia. Why, then, the sudden massive rise of racist hatred against that community in the twenties and thirties? It seems clear, there, that it's the rise of a racist doctrine that leads to the "unequal and exploitative relationship" and not the other way around.
posted by yoink at 4:10 PM on March 8, 2013


Whether or not Forest Whitaker was actually frisked for his race, the point is that black people are enormously more likely to be detained and have their rights infringed upon than white people. Here's a two-year-old story on how black people are routinely frisked by the NYPD; more on Stop and Frisks from this past year.

Giancarlo Esposito Of 'Breaking Bad' Says He Was Stopped And Frisked By NYPD
posted by homunculus at 6:05 PM on March 8, 2013


Americans are, by almost any measure, massively less racist towards the Chinese now than they were 100 years ago; but also by almost any measure they rely vastly more on an "unequal and exploitative economic arrangement" with Chinese workers than they did at that time. If "racism" is what we conjure up to justify our economic relationships with people, why is this case so aberrant?

While I agree with your broader point, I don't think this is a great example. The Chinese people whose labour that was exploited to build the computer I'm writing this on are in China. We can enjoy the fruits of that exploitation without ever having to witness it. But if it's the 19th century, that exploitation is in much closer proximity to me. I have to come up with a reason to justify exploiting Chinese immigrants. If I don't, why is it okay to exploit them and not me? We're living in the same country and whatever else, after all.
posted by hoyland at 6:16 PM on March 8, 2013


But if it's the 19th century, that exploitation is in much closer proximity to me.

Chinese immigration in the US in the C19th was highly localized. Anti-Chinese racism was very widespread and strongly urged, by many, many, many people who would have had hardly any contact at all with any Chinese people in their entire lives. It would be simply untrue to say that it was a phenomenon driven by people guilt-ridden over their everyday experience of oppressing Chinese people.
posted by yoink at 6:24 PM on March 8, 2013


Yes, but California (or wherever), while far away in 19th century terms, was still the same country and probably closer-seeming than China is to me.
posted by hoyland at 6:27 PM on March 8, 2013


(California being the far flung reaches of the country, rather than the only place Chinese people lived.)
posted by hoyland at 6:29 PM on March 8, 2013


I think any claim that it's "obvious" which way round these things go (or even, really, whether they are "causally" related in any very strong sense) is just telling a just-so story that you happen to like.

I'm drawing from The Invention of the White Race by Theodore Allen, who recounts the events around Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia in 1676. The army of European-American and African-American bond laborers and poor freemen scared the ruling plantation elites, so they invented the concept of whiteness to divide the newly assertive working class:
A new social status was to be contrived that would be a birthright of not only Anglos, but of every Euro-American, a "white" identity designed not only to set them "at a distance" from the African-American bond-laborers, but at the same time to enlist European-Americans of every class as active, or at least passive, supporters of capitalist agriculture based on chattel bond-labor. The introduction of this counterfeit of social mobility was an act of "social engineering," the essence of which was to reissue long-established common law rights, "incident to every free man," but in the form of "white" privileges: the presumption of liberty, the right to get married, the right to carry a gun, the right to read and write, the right to testify in legal proceedings, the right of self-directed physical mobility, and the enjoyment of male prerogatives over women. The successful societal function of this status required that not only African-American bond-laborers, but most emphatically, free African-Americans be excluded from it. It is that status and realigning of the laboring-class European-Americans that transformed class oppression into racial oppression.
It may not have been the working class position of Jews that generated anti-semitism, but the antisemitic figure of the wealthy Jewish banker suggests that the ills of capitalism are encoded there. It's function is pretty obvious, it is to blame the Jews so that you don't have to really confront the problems of capitalism. The myth of the Jewish banker supports the belief that all the bad parts of capitalism are caused by Jewish corruption, not problems in capitalism as such.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:30 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So, we are, indeed, all implicated in racism. Not just conscious bigots--all of us. There's nothing we can do to escape this..."

And this is where "we" get let off the hook. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Shrug your shoulders and move on.
posted by MikeMc at 6:38 PM on March 8, 2013


What we call "African American culture" is a strongly connected component within the greater social graph, essentially meaning that if you're black, probably most of your social circle is also black.

Sorry... this is pretty much a pedant derail, but this doesn't make sense from a graph theoretic perspective. What are we supposed to understand the edges to mean?


The social graph, extended to real life instead of the internet. Edges represent the relation "is an acquaintance of". That's subject to interpretation, and you'd want to weight the edges according to strength of the relation, but it's the basic idea.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:20 PM on March 8, 2013


It wasn't "necessary" to construct a notion that the English working class was a "separate race" in order to justify an "unequal and exploitative economic arrangement" with them, was it?

Well, yes, it pretty much was, in that the working classes were held to be biologically inferior to their upper-class betters, which was reinforced by the discovery of genetics/eugenics.
posted by junco at 10:31 PM on March 8, 2013


Yesterday, Coates hosted a conversation with Barbara Fields, the author of Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, and his op-ed is likely influenced by reading that book.
She's in conversation with Doug Henwood on his radio show here; found her impressive and thought-provoking.
posted by Abiezer at 1:14 AM on March 9, 2013


NYPD is setting a terrible tone in the city, that it's OK to presume guilt among dark-skinned people.

Congratulations to the NYPD on Its 5 Millionth Stop and Frisk!
posted by homunculus at 2:44 PM on March 14, 2013


I'm curious as to whether all five million of those actually involve someone being frisked since the NYCLU article doesn't list a number for overall stops. Because while all of the other numbers tracking rates by ethnicity are horrible and clearly show bias and racism, if it's 5 million stops in total over more than ten years in a conurbation containing more than 20 million people that does not seem unusually high to me; if I'm doing the math right that would be an average chance of less than 1 in 40 for each person being stopped in a single year ceteris paribus.
posted by XMLicious at 4:33 PM on March 14, 2013


Meanwhile, at the off-season GOP convention: CPAC Event On Racial Tolerance Turns To Chaos As ‘Disenfranchised’ Whites Arrive
posted by zombieflanders at 3:28 PM on March 15, 2013


Also: CPAC Participant Defends Slavery At Minority Outreach Panel: It Gave ‘Food And Shelter’ To Blacks
posted by zombieflanders at 3:31 PM on March 15, 2013


NYPD Commanding Officer Caught On Tape Ordering Cops To Stop And Frisk Young "Male Blacks"
posted by homunculus at 3:36 PM on March 22, 2013


Ray Kelly Wants Stop And Frisk To "Instill Fear" In Minorities, State Senator Testifies
posted by homunculus at 5:48 PM on April 1, 2013


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