Public Reaction to White Male vs Black Male
September 29, 2010 10:45 PM   Subscribe

 
I once saw a clip from this show with a similar experiment. They had a group of white kid actors bang up a car in a parking lot. No one really reacted. They had a group of black kid actors bang up a car in the parking lot. People called the cops.

The best part, though? The black kids who had been hired to act as vandals got tired when they weren't shooting, so they took a nap in a van. People called the cops on the black kid actors sleeping in a van in a parking lot.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:54 PM on September 29, 2010 [28 favorites]


I kept hoping against all reason that the black person was going to be Dave Chappelle.

(Not to be flippant about prejudice or anything.)
posted by dhammond at 10:56 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, 20/20. They had another one where a guy very obviously slipped something in a girl's drink to see if anyone else at the bar would say something, and if it mattered whether the girl was dressed conservatively or provocatively. The bad news: no one outright called him out on it. The good news: a lot of people spoke up, and it didn't matter what she was wearing.

More on hulu.
posted by phunniemee at 11:01 PM on September 29, 2010


That's a hidden camera show, not a "study."
posted by dersins at 11:02 PM on September 29, 2010 [19 favorites]


Hiss! The Truth! It burns!
posted by peppito at 11:10 PM on September 29, 2010


It sads me that there are people who don't know the answer is "yes".
posted by kafziel at 11:13 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


So if I'm reading this right, the absolute best, most foolproof camouflage for a bicycle thief is completely hapless and raised-in-a-mercury-mine dumb white kid.
posted by isopraxis at 11:32 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]




uncanny hengeman: That's an awesome quote.

As has been noted above, this is news at 11 stuff. It's a well known, self replicating and utterly depressing phenomena.

What makes it doubly depressing to me is there's going to be a huge number of people who, after seeing it, will think that it doesn't apply to them. Everyone is guilty of doing this. I am, Jesse Jackson is and so are a majority of normally unracist people.

I don't see what we can do to fix it either. Other than creating a lovable cartoon character aimed at 3+ year olds called "mr confirmation bias".
posted by seanyboy at 11:55 PM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Very scientific.
Next week, will a man look a woman in a bikini?
posted by pianomover at 11:56 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


at
posted by pianomover at 11:56 PM on September 29, 2010


I'm curious as well, as to why people are decrying the lack of scientific method at play here. There are scientific studies about this phenomena, but this is obviously a non-scientific news report. It's a magazine piece and doesn't really deviate away from the tropes used within that format.
posted by seanyboy at 12:03 AM on September 30, 2010


I'd have probably ignored both equally, safely ensconced in my "Not My Problem" field. Though I will cop to likely being slightly more nervous around the black 'thief.'

(He looked fitter and more able to beat me up if I did the wrong thing. The white kid just looked kind of dweeby and pudgy.)
posted by Scattercat at 12:07 AM on September 30, 2010


Uh, I assume you're talking to me. I wasn't criticizing the lack of scientific method in the show (although I do think it's some combination of crap, boring, obvious, and shooting fish in a barrel). I was, however, criticizing the OP's decision to call it a "study" in his post, when, as you correctly note, it is quite clearly not.
posted by dersins at 12:07 AM on September 30, 2010


I wouldn't be at all surprised if racism occurred here, but it also troubles me that the *only* explanation even considered for the behavior of the passersby was racism.

There were several ways in which the two "thiefs" differed, which could possibly have something to do with the difference in results. Probably most significantly, the black kid was wearing a red shirt, which is more attention-grabbing than the light blue shirt. People could more easily have passed by the blue shirt without really looking, while their attention would have been drawn to the red shirt even from a distance. I would like to see this exercise replicated with the actors wearing identical outfits, not just "similar" outfits as the narrator described them.

I also would have thought the black kid was younger than the white kid, although the narrator assures us they are the same age. The black kid looks about 12 or 13 to me, so I wouldn't have thought it possible that he was an employee of the parks department. On the other hand, the white kid looks like he might be 16 and could conceivably be an employee sent to retrieve an abandoned bike.

Third, and I'm fairly certain I'm going to be shouted down for this, but I believe that the black kid's body language, at least from the clips shown in that video, was more furtive than the white kid's. I wonder if the black actor wasn't so used to being considered suspect that he acted more furtive because of that. I'd be curious what would happen if the video were edited to obscure each actor's race by placing blocks over their face and hands. I wonder if the viewing audience would perceive their body language as identically suspicious (or not).

Again, I wouldn't be surprised if there were racism involved on the part of the passersby. I am not saying it wasn't. But I also feel like confirmation bias was on display in the making of this video, and in the interpretations of it, not just in the reactions of the passersby.
posted by parrot_person at 12:10 AM on September 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Would like to see a version where the white kid is placed in a predominantly black neighborhood and tries to steal the bicycle.
posted by quadog at 12:15 AM on September 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


So? If Star Trek has taught us anything, it's taught us never to wear read shirts when a blue one will keep us safer?
posted by seanyboy at 12:17 AM on September 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


Go to DC Superior Court, room C-10, where people are being brought in from lock-up, on any given day. If you see a single white person brought in through the back, then you've won the jackpot. It only happens maybe once out of every ten days.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:20 AM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


How did black people respond to the two pretend thieves?
posted by pracowity at 12:21 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Hey, honey – look at the stupid white kid trying to steal a bike. He's got bolt-cutters and a goddamned diamond saw in his bag, and he's smacking the lock with a little hammer. What an idiot."
posted by koeselitz at 12:23 AM on September 30, 2010


Again, I wouldn't be surprised if there were racism involved on the part of the passersby. I am not saying it wasn't. But I also feel like confirmation bias was on display in the making of this video, and in the interpretations of it, not just in the reactions of the passersby.

Yeah, well, selective editing in this sort of thing is also entirely possible, but having been around long enough to see this sort of thing happen first-hand, I gotta say "excuses, excuses."
posted by peppito at 12:26 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ach! The comments in the posted link are pretty awful.
posted by seanyboy at 12:27 AM on September 30, 2010


How is this confirmation bias? Confirmation bias is when people pay attention to information that confirms their beliefs, and ignore information which contradicts their beliefs. This is more like the observer-expectancy effect, when an experimenter's expectation influences the outcome of the experiment.

My own personal bias is that everyone on Metafilter uses "confirmation bias" to refer to any cognitive or experimental bias. Prove me wrong (but I'll ignore it).
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:27 AM on September 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Next week, will a man look a woman in a bikini?

A man will not look a woman in a bikini. Not next week. Not ever.
posted by vidur at 12:33 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


pracowity: There's a black couple interviewed in the video who make some extremely salient points, and then there's the Jesse Jackson quote linked by uncanny hengeman. This is a societal problem that doesn't magically go away if you yourself are a P.O.C.
posted by seanyboy at 12:37 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe confirmation bias is the wrong term.
posted by seanyboy at 12:38 AM on September 30, 2010


Go to DC Superior Court, room C-10, where people are being brought in from lock-up, on any given day. If you see a single white person brought in through the back, then you've won the jackpot. It only happens maybe once out of every ten days.

During law school, I spent four months as a public defender in Baltimore City. One thing I noticed while looking at the forms for a violation of probation is that under "Race", they'd put a number instead of a letter like they usually do. My guy was Race #1. I thought what Race #1 was likely to be - Asian, if it's alphabetical? White, if it's eurocentric?

Turns out, Race #1 means Black, because that is I guess the default in Baltimore City District Court.
posted by kafziel at 12:44 AM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Third, and I'm fairly certain I'm going to be shouted down for this, but I believe that the black kid's body language, at least from the clips shown in that video, was more furtive than the white kid's.

What exactly does furtive body language look like in the context of somebody publicly removing a lock?

Apparently, it's something observable, so you should be able to describe what it is you're observing that I'm not seeing here.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:48 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


No one reported seeing these kids stealing a bike, even though the police were just across the street (and a dashcam was running). In the OP link, that African-American kid does look a lot younger and smaller than the white kid, which is maybe why some of those folks got right in the black kid's face and even took away his tools - he didn't look as physically threatening. Still, I couldn't believe that A) not one person called the cops or at least a park employee on the white kid, and B) that so many people got aggressive with the black kid. I personally would not have confronted either one, since both were brazen enough to steal a bike in a crowded park in broad daylight and were carrying large, potentially dangerous tools.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:21 AM on September 30, 2010


Well, that might be one reason for the disparity in the prison populations compared to that of general society.
posted by bwg at 1:25 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Confirmation bias is when people pay attention to information that confirms their beliefs, and ignore information which contradicts their beliefs."

People who have posted here mostly seem to have the belief that the passersby are necessarily racist. Therefore they pay attention to the information that supports that belief (namely, that the actor who is more commonly perceived as a thief is black), and they ignore the information that does not support that belief (e.g. that the actor who is more commonly perceived to be a thief is wearing a red shirt).

"What exactly does furtive body language look like in the context of somebody publicly removing a lock?

Apparently, it's something observable, so you should be able to describe what it is you're observing that I'm not seeing here."

I translate this as:

"I will pretend to ask you a question, but really I'm making a statement that you are wrong, and am not actually interested in considering any response from you, which I know already will be wrong wrong wrong. Further, in order to answer the "question" I have posed, I expect you to make the same assumption I make as part of the ground rules for answering (namely, that you can and should be able to exactly describe, to MY satisfaction, the body language in question; if you can't or won't, it didn't exist)."

Since I perceive that any effort I make to describe what I saw will be dismissed out of hand anyway, I am not interested in re-watching the video and trying to pinpoint and verbally express the body language I feel I saw. If anyone is actually interested in even being OPEN to the possibility that maybe even a tiny part of this had to do with anything other than racism, I'd be a hell of a lot more motivated to continue trying to express myself. As is, not so much.
posted by parrot_person at 1:39 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder how people in the video would have reacted if both kids had simply answered, "No, it's my friend's bike and he lost the key to the lock, so I'm helping him because he has no tools."
posted by bwg at 1:46 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember a poster that was up in the London Tube stations back in the early 90s, where there's a picture of a white man (maybe it was a white policeman in uniform) running behind a black man. And then when you read the text you realize that the black man is a plain clothes officer and both of them are running after someone who isn't in the photograph. So the Brits clearly thought that people are more likely to view black men as criminals and were trying to do something to counter that stereotype. No idea how effective the campaign was.
posted by bardophile at 2:00 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


vidur: “A man will not look a woman in a bikini. Not next week. Not ever.”

Look me in the eye and tell me you really believe that.
posted by koeselitz at 2:14 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


IIRC it was an ad for The Guardian newspaper. The point being that they would show you the whole story.
posted by i_cola at 2:17 AM on September 30, 2010


parrot_person: People who have posted here mostly seem to have the belief that the passersby are necessarily racist

That's strongly worded, and it's not true. I think most of the people here:

- Understand that this is a news segment.
- Have consumed media or experienced situations which corroborate this phenomena.
- Would categorise the phenomena as non-deliberate on the part of the bystanders.

You expected to get blowback about your "furtive" comment, and you got it. Quell Surprise for you.

I'll admit that I was a bit taken aback by your comment too. Firstly because I didn't see either of them being particularly furtive and secondly because I DID see the black kid wearing street clothes and the white kid wearing College clothes. That they were wearing the same clothes informed my of my own racial biases. My emotional reaction here is to assume that from your comments, you're influenced by the same kinds of biases as me, but your desire not to be seen as racist removes your own ability to parse this.

I don't expect you to agree with me on this. Also, I haven't received your last months brain scans, so I don't know for sure what you think or how you see the world. But both your comments read to me like denial. I believe that this is where the anger towards your particular stance is coming from.
posted by seanyboy at 2:28 AM on September 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


IIRC it was an ad for The Guardian newspaper. The point being that they would show you the whole story.

TV advert from the Guardian 'points of view campaign, might be the same as the poster you saw.
posted by theyexpectresults at 2:43 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm intrigued by the fact that in the FPP-linked clip, in both instances (white + black) it is members of the "Great Generation" that step up -- George & Arlene in the first case, the guy with the cellphone who actually calls the police in the second. Seems like a lot of younger folks aren't that keen on getting involved.

Meanwhile, the scene is a bit strange -- usually a bike thief would start running like heck as soon as someone spotted him (aside from probably not using an electric saw in broad daylight.)
posted by chavenet at 2:51 AM on September 30, 2010


Third, and I'm fairly certain I'm going to be shouted down for this, but I believe that the black kid's body language, at least from the clips shown in that video, was more furtive than the white kid's.

Instead of throwing this out there for confirmation or criticism, the furtiveness you assigned to the black kid should have given you pause. That's the whole point of the story. No one can convince you that the black kid wasn't being furtive. But, maybe if you look closely at both of them, perhaps you will find that your own biases informed that perception. If we are busy convincing ourselves that we are not biased, we miss a great opportunity to check ourselves and notice our own biases.
posted by bperk at 3:03 AM on September 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it may have been a Guardian newspaper campaign. Don't remember very clearly.
posted by bardophile at 3:27 AM on September 30, 2010


I remember a poster that was up in the London Tube stations back in the early 90s, where there's a picture of a white man (maybe it was a white policeman in uniform) running behind a black man. And then when you read the text you realize that the black man is a plain clothes officer and both of them are running after someone who isn't in the photograph. So the Brits clearly thought that people are more likely to view black men as criminals and were trying to do something to counter that stereotype. No idea how effective the campaign was.

That reminds me of a hobby I have. "Spot the black criminal in Ad Land."

If there is a crime being acted out in Ad Land, every single TV advert I've seen for car or personal or home security [eg. burglar alarms, pepper spray, security doors, home&car insurance, purse snatching etc etc.] has a 20-50 year old white male as the perp. Every. Single. One. Oh, yeah – and also Federal Government funded anti domestic violence adverts.

My hobby is batting about 0 from 1000 in the past three decades.

On the flip side [and bless their clever marketing hearts] a famous local car rental company, Bayswater Hire, once put the pic of an Aboriginal boy in one of their adverts. The unfounded screams of "waaah racism!" were something to behold. One Aboriginal shakedown merchant [think: the Aussie version of Al Sharpton] was quoted as saying something completely off the planet about the car hire company's perceived "worthlessness" of Australian Aborigines. I kid you not.

Is this the case in the USA, UK, Canada et al, as well?

This is not a response to the FPP, it's a response to the post I quoted up top. I got two posts yanked yesterday for being off topic [which was probably fair enough] so I thought I better make it clear where I'm coming from.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:33 AM on September 30, 2010


koeselitz: "Look me in the eye and tell me you really believe that."

*starts sobbing*
posted by vidur at 4:14 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


uncanny hengeman: I couldn't find the advert you talked about, but this seems to cover the controversy.

The "No Birds" advertising campaign marketed itself as so cheap that it wouldn't use birds (women) in their adverts. The implication with the Aboriginal kid was that he was a cut rate alternative to female models.

I'm no race expert, but implying that aboriginal labour is cheaper than white labour seems pretty suspect.

In answer to your question, the UK advertising industry is very sensitive to portraying black people as thieves. I don't really mind it as I spent a good portion of my life watching adverts with no black people in them at all. We've come a long way, but we've a long way to go.

Your comment also reminded me of Tesco's Racist Tortillas which has been covered on metafilter before. This is a more interesting to me because these *are* racist in an American context, but *not* racist in the British context. (As we have no national stereotype of lazy mexicans)

If the link doesn't work - sorry. I'm blind posting the link, as it's blocked at work
posted by seanyboy at 4:23 AM on September 30, 2010


Ok, maybe this is my inbuilt racism judging the actors, but I thought the way the black actor dressed was more indicative of being poorer--baggier pants, the hat not all the way on, crooked. The white actor looked more likely to be wealthy. This is the sort of experiment that would really be convincing if they put more effort into it, controls, etc... Can they find an outfit that looks similarly low-class on both the white and the black actors? E.g. white tank tops with stains? Also, the white actor seemed to do a better job at hemming and hawing and avoiding saying that he was stealing, whereas the black actor seemed more ready to admit guilt. Could this be my racist culture showing itself? Yes, I suppose. But still. I'd like to see this sort of thing done with a little more thought given to some of the different variables involved.
posted by brenton at 4:36 AM on September 30, 2010


In my defense, as I was thinking about this further, I think I'm just bothered by the poor science of the method in general. The more I think of it the more I think of different variables that weren't accounted for, age, weight, build, time of day, the order in which the tests were run, etc. etc. etc. Which has got me to thinking, have there been any actual scientific studies on things like this, or just TV studies? I seem to recall a study where very young children of all races were shown to prefer white dolls to black dolls.
posted by brenton at 4:46 AM on September 30, 2010


we have no national stereotype of lazy mexicans

Well, obviously we do have a stereotype of Mexicans, because there it is. The thing is we don't have very many actual Mexicans to volubly take offence.
posted by Grangousier at 4:56 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, seanbaby, cheers for doing the legwork! I thought it was so obscure and long ago that I didn't bother looking for a link.

Here's my take from what I've read and what I'm guessing, especially regarding their famous "NO BIRDS!" slogan.

Apparently a "bird" is jargon for an unnecessary layer of fluff that costs money. Bayswater Hire claim that it has nothing to do with the human female slang definition of the word and that it's a generally accepted management term. No birds = lower prices for the customer.

Hmmmm. I think they might be having a lend, or at the very least the etymology of the term is derived from having some pretty-young-thing sitting at the front desk doing not much apart from drawing a wage and batting her eyelids.

They've had many other controversial pictures in their adverts [I think "half the rate" and "no birds" are often stated in the same advert], including a bare chested, large breasted woman... but on closer inspection, after a brief "WTF?!" moment you realise it's a lady with her knees drawn up against her chest, and cropped to look like something it ain't.

Oh, you crazy Bayswater Hire jokers!

If I recall correctly, after the hysteria about the Aboriginal boy appearing in their advert they replaced him with a Pauline Hanson [a famous Australian racist politician] look-a-like for a year or two!

I totally dips me lid to their marketing people. I'm certain it wasn't a racist advert - it was a "watch me make these dumb motherfuckers go crazy about nothing and let the free advertising roll in" advert.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:00 AM on September 30, 2010


Grangousier: I never said we didn't have a stereotype of Mexicans. It's obvious we do. You just misread what I said.
posted by seanyboy at 5:05 AM on September 30, 2010


I always call the police on people wearing red shirts. I've never known a one of them to be up to any good.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:30 AM on September 30, 2010


How did black people respond to the two pretend thieves?

There's a black couple interviewed in the video who make some extremely salient points, and then there's the Jesse Jackson quote linked by uncanny hengeman. This is a societal problem that doesn't magically go away if you yourself are a P.O.C.


Two black people and a Jesse Jackson sound bite are really not enough. Why not film it again, somewhere with almost 100% black people? Or better yet, film it in a place with a mix of black people and white people. Even if this wasn't the original point, it's the point that I want to make:

This doesn't answer the question (however unscientifically) "Is a white kid more likely to be stopped from stealing a bike than a black kid?", it answers the question "Is a white kid more likely to be stopped from stealing a bike than a black kid, when the stealing goes on in a place where almost every passerby is white?".

It would at least be interesting see if people would be more or less likely to confront a black kid if there were other black people around to see the confrontation.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:06 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


You are standing on a beach. Blue-green waves gently lap the shore from the west. On the ground you see

Shell Fragments
Cigarette butt
Glowing green orb
Woman in a bikini

>check out woman in the bikini

I don't understand what you mean.

>look woman in a bikini

On closer inspection, you see that the woman is lying on a blanket and halfheartedly reading a pulp novel.
posted by Jpfed at 6:06 AM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Which has got me to thinking, have there been any actual scientific studies on things like this, or just TV studies?

Oh there have been tons of well-designed studies on discrimination, and they pretty much all show the same depressing results. Here's one that has the full text online: Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination [pdf]. Here's the abstract:
We study race in the labor market by sending fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. To manipulate perceived race, resumes are randomly assigned African American or White sounding names. White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. Callbacks are also more responsive to resume quality for White names than for African American ones. The racial gap is uniform across occupation, industry, and employer size. We also find little evidence that employers are inferring social class from the names. Differential treatment by race still appears to still be prominent in the U.S. labor market.
Then there's Devah Pager's study on the effects of criminal records on job applicants, The Mark of a Criminal Record [pdf]. That study found that, while a criminal record reduces a white person's chance of a callback by 50%, it reduces a black person's chance by 66%. Further, a black non-criminal's chance of a callback was actually less than a white criminal's. More anecdotally, three of the black testers were asked up front about a prior criminal record, whereas none of the white testers were.

Both studies were published in peer reviewed journals, the American Economic Review and the American Journal of Sociology, respectively.
posted by jedicus at 6:47 AM on September 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


There's very little doubt in my mind that this bias exists. But television shows tend toward wish-fulfillment to score cheap ratings. People use more clues than race to profile strangers: They use types. The white guy looked like a nerd, all pudgy, fluffy hair, dressed in powder blues. A black guy can look nerdy too. But this dude looks sleek and hungry. His shirt is not only red, it is "long", covering that much-maligned possibility of beltless pants. If hip hop culture didn't glorify crime, it wouldn't lead strangers nearly so much to peg strangers who dress hip-hop, as criminals.

No doubt, if this show were to really try to prove the bias with at least a LITTLE science and objectivity, they would uncover something very real, and far less inflammatory. But this just gets people's undies in a bunch.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 6:58 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always call the police on people wearing red shirts. I've never known a one of them to be up to any good.

Quite.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:08 AM on September 30, 2010


Which has got me to thinking, have there been any actual scientific studies on things like this, or just TV studies?

I forget the name and details of the research, but Gladwell's Blink has a chapter which covers this in detail. The results, as jedicus says, are depressing.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:09 AM on September 30, 2010


This can't be true. I was assured that racism ended November 4, 2008.
posted by rocket88 at 7:22 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


vidur: “A man will not look a woman in a bikini. Not next week. Not ever.”

Look me in the eye and tell me you really believe that.
posted by koeselitz at 2:14 AM on September 30 [1 favorite +] [!]


Just to clear this up for good, I'm pretty sure vidur was playing on the linguistic ambiguity created by the dropped "at" in pianomover's original post. A man will not look a woman in a bikini, just as a person WILL look a right prat occasionally if they take a joke too seriously.

Back on topic, I'd really like to see this experiment conducted, with a little more rigor, specifically to observe police reaction.
posted by newmoistness at 7:36 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm certain it wasn't a racist advert - it was a "watch me make these dumb motherfuckers go crazy about nothing and let the free advertising roll in" advert.

Racist trolling is hardly better than "real" racism.
posted by kmz at 7:40 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


But this dude looks sleek and hungry. His shirt is not only red, it is "long", covering that much-maligned possibility of beltless pants. If hip hop culture didn't glorify crime, it wouldn't lead strangers nearly so much to peg strangers who dress hip-hop, as criminals.

If a black kid wears a shirt that covers his waistband, he's all hip-hop and shit. If a white kid wears a shirt that covers his waistband, he's just avoiding the insidious trend of showing the top inch of his boxer shorts.

What exactly about the black kid's outfit connects it specifically to hip-hop culture? I mean, aside from hip-hop artists often being black?

(Not to mention, uh, last I checked, hip-hop covers the usual range of popular-music subjects. Why does crime stand out as a "glorified" subject?)
posted by desuetude at 8:03 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just to clear this up for good, I'm pretty sure vidur was playing on the linguistic ambiguity

When telling someone a joke flew over their head, you might want to quickly check above yours.
posted by ODiV at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does crime stand out as a "glorified" subject?

Because people with only a passing familiarity with hip-hop are most aware of the gangsta rap shit that dominated airwaves for the past 25 years? They might not know Biggie from Tupac, but they might've heard that there were some major rap beefs that left people dead.

These people also will assume that metal is all about Satanic worship, and even though rock-and-roll is about sex and drugs, "it's different now, because AIDS didn't exist/drugs weren't as strong back then/we didn't know better."
posted by explosion at 8:39 AM on September 30, 2010


Of course racism is involved.

But, that doesn't mean what most people think it means. When we say "racism" people tend, naturally I suppose, to think about individual racism. You say "racism" and people think of the KKK, they think of white people who hate black people, etc.

The problem is that, in the modern world anyway, individual racism is pretty much irrelevant. Yes, it sucks when someone is deeply, personally, racist, but outside a few contexts it mostly is just a variety of assholery.

The much deeper problem is systemic racism, unconscious racism. The racism that exists not in white people hating black people, but that exists in the sort of unconscious decision making that we make all the time. Such as how to respond to someone who is blatantly stealing a bike, or whether to fear someone walking behind us on the street, or whether to call someone back for a job interview.

Systemic, cultural, racism is the big problem, and it is difficult to address because people tend to instantly jump to individual racism in any discussion of racism. We all, including black people, have systemic racism as part of our unconscious thought process. We pick it up through subtle social messages, through jokes, through TV shows and movies, through every bit of media we consume.

To take a minor example , one of the very few illustration of a black man in the GURPS Campaigns rulebook is in the section on drugs, and depicts a black drug dealer. I don't for a moment think that the people at Steve Jackson Games made a conscious decision to depict one of the only black people in their manuals as a drug dealer. But regardless of intent, that was the result. That is both an example of the problem and the cause, the problem being the unconscious, systemic, racism and the cause being the way that unconscious, systemic, racism is transmitted via media and other cultural artifacts.

Addressing systemic racism is a much more difficult than addressing individual racism.
posted by sotonohito at 8:52 AM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think they should have gotten two people that were the same size. The black kid looked a lot smaller and might have made people feel less threatened.
posted by e40 at 9:07 AM on September 30, 2010


Because people with only a passing familiarity with hip-hop are most aware of the gangsta rap shit that dominated airwaves for the past 25 years? They might not know Biggie from Tupac, but they might've heard that there were some major rap beefs that left people dead.

Oh, right, the gangsta-rap shit that dominated airwaves for the past 25 years.

Wait, what?

Gangsta rap is more ubiquitous than R&B?
posted by desuetude at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there is a crime being acted out in Ad Land, every single TV advert I've seen for car or personal or home security [eg. burglar alarms, pepper spray, security doors, home&car insurance, purse snatching etc etc.] has a 20-50 year old white male as the perp. Every. Single. One. Oh, yeah – and also Federal Government funded anti domestic violence adverts.
Yeah, white people are soooo oppressed.
Ok, maybe this is my inbuilt racism judging the actors, but I thought the way the black actor dressed was more indicative of being poorer--baggier pants, the hat not all the way on, crooked. The white actor looked more likely to be wealthy.
Yeah man the black guy was clearly dressed like a black person! Whereas the white person was dressed as a white person! This is just terrible science.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gangsta rap is more ubiquitous than R&B?

On the radio? Maybe not so much. But in hand-wavey OMG SCARY BLACK PEOPLE media coverage? Absolutely.
posted by dersins at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2010


one of the very few illustration of a black man in the GURPS Campaigns rulebook is in the section on drugs, and depicts a black drug dealer

This ties back to uncanny's comment about 'Spot the Black Criminal in Ad-Land' - to portray a black man as a criminal is to blatantly stereotype. To deliberately portray those stereotypes in a different fashion only works inside the framework of the stereotype itself, by recognizing the inherent prejudice.

This reminds me of another great MeFi comment that I can't offhand locate, which was referring to the prime-time sit-com trope of 'fat doofus husband with hot smart in-control wife that would normally be waaaay outside of his reach'. It's a weirdly recurrent motif, of these absolute putzes with awesome wives who are on top of everything. It makes no sense, until you look at it in the prior 'Father Knows Best' form of stereotype structure - that the man of the house is the Decider, the figurehead, the dispenser of wisdom, and the woman's job is to follow that lead, provide support as requested, and defer to his judgement in all things. The modern 'Doofus and Superwoman' paradigm isn't breaking the prior mold, it's reinforcing it by reversing it. The comedy makes no sense without the prior stereotype.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:31 AM on September 30, 2010


Yeah, white people are soooo oppressed.

That's not what UH was saying - the point isn't that white folks are being unfairly presented as criminals, it's that there is a really convoluted media self-awareness when it comes to dealing with the stereotyped image of black criminals.

Remember back in the 80s, when suddenly all 'street thugs' transformed into 'scrawny white punks with mohawks'? It was a really bizarre trend that only made sense when you viewed it as a reaction to self-consciousness regarding the portrayal of black criminality of any kind.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Errrr... MOVIE/TV PORTRAYALS of 'street thugs', that is. I'm done posting now!
posted by FatherDagon at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2010


pianomover: “Next week, will a man look a woman in a bikini?”

vidur: “A man will not look a woman in a bikini. Not next week. Not ever.”

koeselitz: “Look me in the eye and tell me you really believe that.”

newmoistness: “Just to clear this up for good, I'm pretty sure vidur was playing on the linguistic ambiguity created by the dropped "at" in pianomover's original post. A man will not look a woman in a bikini, just as a person WILL look a right prat occasionally if they take a joke too seriously.”

Look, I took it as a personal slight; I got the distinct impression that vidur was looking askance concerning the look of my new bikini. However, looking at it now, I see that vidur was probably looking to make a joke. Which is good, because I was sad about this before, but things are really looking up. Anyway, if I'm going to look a prat, at the very least I'm glad I've gotten to look one that's correct.

Isn't it funny how words start to look really, really weird when you look at them long enough? Particularly very common words that can be found in almost every paragraph if you know where to look?
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 AM on September 30, 2010


The trotting out of that Jesse Jackson quote reminds me once again why black people are often extremely loathe to"air our dirty laundry" -- that is, our own issues and problems with black people -- in public. When we do, it's almost always used by "I'm not racist, I'm just saying..." folks to justify their feelings about blacks and accuse liberals/progressives of being blind, hypocritical or ignorant. "Look," they say, "you can accuse me of being racist if you want, but even black people say such things about each other. So, I'm just saying...."

Plus whenever I see someone refer to Rev, Jackson or Rev Sharpton as shakedown artists, it makes extremely difficult for me to give much weight to anything else they say. While it's true that both men have used their race and positions for their own personal gain at times (which makes them different from, say, Newt Gingrich how?), I would be willing to bet all the money in my bank account (which ain't much, admittedly) that they've done more to promote racial harmony than the people who dismiss them as shakedown artists.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:47 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


What makes it doubly depressing to me is there's going to be a huge number of people who, after seeing it, will think that it doesn't apply to them. Everyone is guilty of doing this. I am, Jesse Jackson is and so are a majority of normally unracist people.

That Jackson quote is conveniently context-free. It's entirely possible that he feels "relieved" that the person walking behind him is white not because a black person would certainly rob him, but because, hey, if he's gonna get robbed, it's way better that it should be a white person doing it: If the robber is black, the cops will be rounding up everyone in the area who "fits the description" (i.e. "black male"); if it's a white guy, they'll look for a person of that age, height, build, facial features, distinguishing marks, hair, gait, and clothes traveling in a particular direction and looking suspicious.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:14 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Remember back in the 80s, when suddenly all 'street thugs' transformed into 'scrawny white punks with mohawks'? It was a really bizarre trend that only made sense when you viewed it as a reaction to self-consciousness regarding the portrayal of black criminality of any kind.

Ungh, yes, this. It's as if society crossed its arms and pouted and whined, "fine, all the movie-thugs are white now. Problem solved. I don't want to talk about it." It's especially humorous since not only are mohawks an ostentatious signifier to begin with, they don't really signify much having to do with most people's experiences of hooligans, be those hooligans black or white.

As such, it's only more of a glaring reminder of how racism and class and crime are interconnected. In our popular entertainment, we replace what people "actually" think of with what, I guess, we wish we thought of - easily identiable subhuman goons who don't really resemble what people think of when they think of criminals, and who don't belong to any class we feel especially bad about oppressing. To do otherwise would force us to 1) admit institutional racism and 2) admit that we're all part of the problem, as it were.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:13 PM on September 30, 2010


Well, the black male was wearing his hat sideways and that is a sure sign that he is a gangsta.
posted by zzazazz at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2010


The white kid was acting shady as hell. And there was nothing "gangsta" about the black kid except that he is black. And they were both wearing their hats crooked. And white kids listen to a whole lot of hip-hop.
posted by desuetude at 4:14 PM on September 30, 2010


I always call the police on people wearing red shirts. I've never known a one of them to be up to any good.

I got stopped by the police in Tokyo once for wearing a red shirt, or so they claimed. They apparently just wanted to look at my alien registration card, but I don't understand why they would make up this lurid story about a red-shirted mugger in the area when most legal aliens here (myself included) will show them the card with no hassles if they just ask nicely.

(There's also the logical issues with their story: If they're looking for suspects based solely on appearance and clothing, how are they ruling me out by learning my name and address? But I remembered in time that it's not usually a good idea to suggest to cops that you might actually be a criminal, and kept my big mouth shut.)
posted by No-sword at 4:25 PM on September 30, 2010


Amazing how a lot of people here are calling the tv spot "not controlled' and also present reasons why people became more agitated with the black kid as opposed to the white kid. In various occasions the white kid made inferences that the bike wasnt his, and most passersby did not do anything, while the black kid was completely surrounded and it got to the point where people were screaming at him.

The fact that he is smaller, had a hat backwards, whatever had nothing to do with it, it only means that you are rationalizing bad behavior and you are only a step away from saying, well the other kid was white and he was black of course he is more likely to be stealing the bike.
posted by The1andonly at 4:47 PM on September 30, 2010


Black people are racist against blacks as well, so the fact that it might not differ in a black neighborhood doesn't mean much.

Here is a slew of videos demonstrating the differences between how whites are treated and how people of color are treated.

Here is the link the other What Would You Do mentioned in the first comment:

White kids vandalizing car

Black kids vandalizing car

I'm interested in explanations for why people called the cops on two black kids sleeping in a van, if it's not racism.

Further, a black non-criminal's chance of a callback was actually less than a white criminal's.


Well, what color were their shirts? Age, height, weight, build? Did they wear jackets, and how tight were they? /sarcasm

Just for emphasis: a black man with no criminal record has less chance of getting called back for a job interview than a white man with a criminal record. Now what does that mean in this jacked up economy? Is that another reason why the unemployment rate for black men is twice that of white men?

As to why this is important, there are a number of issues that immediately come to mind:

1. In the case of the black bicycle thief versus the white one, sure they're both criminals, but when one is consistently let go and the other one arrested, then we have two systems of justice. And that is no justice at all. This is why the mass incarceration of black men is such a tremendous social problem; in fact, the author cited in that link calls it "the new Jim Crow" and I agree with her.

2. Black people (especially men) are under siege in America. Just ask the predominantly black population of Brownsville Brooklyn, where 93 out of 100 residents were stopped by the police last year. Here's a video with interviews of residents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvIBIn5Xp7s
. What I find so heartbreaking is the nonchalance of teenager boys who have already been stopped and frisked dozens of times and think this is just part of life.

3. The link between black and criminal is accompanied by the assumption that black people can't be victims. This is especially devastating for black women, who are victimized at rates far above whites. But as many black women will tell you, nobody stops to dry our tears.

I could go on and talk about all the personal experiences I have with these phenomena. Having a seizure and passing out in the heat, vocally begging for help as person after person passed me by (July 2010). Don't know if I cried more from the pain or the people who looked at me and looked away. Or all the times my train-watching brother and father have been questioned by police, even as white men sat next to them unnoticed beside the tracks. Women close to me, raped and abused and not even seeing themselves as victims because this is just what happens to black women.
posted by Danila at 6:12 PM on September 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


If a black kid wears a shirt that covers his waistband, he's all hip-hop and shit. If a white kid wears a shirt that covers his waistband, he's just avoiding the insidious trend of showing the top inch of his boxer shorts.

White kids with long shirts = metal (at least when I was in HS)
posted by rosswald at 8:25 PM on September 30, 2010


If a black kid wears a shirt that covers his waistband, he's all hip-hop and shit. If a white kid wears a shirt that covers his waistband, he's just avoiding the insidious trend of showing the top inch of his boxer shorts.

Solution: The return of the crop-top.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:29 PM on September 30, 2010


I have no doubt that this would have returned the same end result had the kinds been wearing the same color shirt and acted the same way, but I bet the difference would have been less stark. That, of course, is the reason the show's producers did what they did. They're not out to "expose people's biases". That isn't their job. They're out to make something sensational enough to draw viewers. For that reason, I'm sure there was a brainstorming session in which some guys sat around and tried to devise ways to enhance the results. This kind of results enhancement happens in all TV shows, even nature documentaries (see an earlier news item).

I would definitely pay less attention to someone in a blue shirt doing that than someone in a red shirt. Stupid? Yes. But that is human behavior. Also, the white kid was slightly evasive, answering questions with remarks like "no, not exactly" or "technically no" and it did seem plausible that he worked for the park. The black kid answered something like "no, it's not mine, but it's about to be mine" which blows away that assumption. Also, I think of crooks as people who live physical lives and don't tend to be fat like the white kid. That's probably an unfair bias, but it's yet another complicating factor.

Had they had similar builds, similar answers, and identical clothing, you probably would have had to conduct a thorough all-day study to see the race bias, and when it appeared (which it still probably would) it wouldn't have been so dramatic and TV-worthy.
posted by Xezlec at 8:53 PM on September 30, 2010


Had they had similar builds, similar answers, and identical clothing, you probably would have had to conduct a thorough all-day study to see the race bias, and when it appeared (which it still probably would) it wouldn't have been so dramatic and TV-worthy.

I wish that they had tried harder to be consistent as well. But I think that the results would have been exactly the same.

Ooh, with different excuses as to why it was like so totally different.
posted by desuetude at 9:16 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Had they had similar builds, similar answers, and identical clothing, you probably would have had to conduct a thorough all-day study to see the race bias, and when it appeared (which it still probably would) it wouldn't have been so dramatic and TV-worthy.

I think Danila has a whole bunch of videos for you to see.
posted by The1andonly at 4:21 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's more about the neighborhood being filled with white people than the actor himself. I am a white guy living in a black neighborhood, and I have often gotten suspicious looks when I do things that would not attract a second glance in white neighborhoods. Things like leaving old possessions out on the curbside, or spray painting a piece of my furniture out on the street.
posted by molamir at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2010


Racist trolling is hardly better than "real" racism.

So a simple picture of a healthy, happy, black child is now racist trolling? Incredible.

Sadly, the car hire company's strategy worked well. But the racist, attention seeking trolls you speak of might not be who you think they are, kmz.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:30 PM on October 1, 2010


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