Talking past each other: Racism

Yes, I’ve talked about this before. And yes, I remain pessimistic.

There are some hopeful signs though; for example President Obama and Governor Romney agree on that the “Confederate flag” (old battle flag really) should be taken down.

However, it is very difficult to get conservatives to even entertain the idea that racism is anything beyond what a statistically small percentage of sociopaths practice, even though there is evidence that racism affects our public policy discussions (e. g.: social safety net discussions)

Now Hillary Clinton addressed this:

But, this won’t convince conservatives, even those who accept the statistics that she cited.

After all, white people aren’t causing black people to commit crimes against each other and there is evidence that the police drawing back in Baltimore is causing an increase in black crime victims.

No one is telling people to have more kids than they can afford: (the video is about a glitch that cut off a SNAP payment; you can see a conservative’s reaction to this here)

Yes, I know. Inductive thinking can fool us; some statistics are very misleading and there is evidence that social pathology follows poverty rather than the other way around.

My personal take

When I am confronted with “people in group X aren’t getting a fair shake”, sometimes my first reaction is that my own (small amount) of success is being attacked! I might respond that “I worked hard for my Ph. D.” (and I did), etc. But, the truth is:

1. The opportunities were there for me to take advantage of
2. There were some things that I didn’t have to put up with and
3. I had encouragement along the way; that is significant!

Now of course, there are plenty of people who have ample opportunity and end up not doing anything with it. There is no doubt about that; individual choices matter and it appears to me that conservatives are better about understanding that. However individual choices matter within the realm of “what is reasonably probable” and social circumstances are a major driver of that.

Let me use a personal analogy: in yesterday’s Steamboat 15K I finished well behind the leaders in my age group. I was in the bottom of my age group (not quite dead last but..)
Now yes, I probably run less than those who finished in the top 5 of my age group; my physical activity is spread among many types of activities (weight lifting, swimming, walking and running). So if I really dedicated myself to running, did running speed work, planned my long runs and targeted this race, what would happen? In reality: I’d move up a few places; that would be about it. Finishing near the top of my age group in this race is just outside of the realm of “reasonably probable”; I don’t have the DNA to be a good athlete nor do I have a “runner’s body” (my frame is too heavy and I sweat too much; I lost 8.5 pounds during this race!)

Now my analogy is flawed in that it is an individual analogy and it concerns natural talent. But apply similar reasoning to a group when poverty and all of its trappings (schools, nutrition, safe environment, good role models at home) is concentrated in an area. Sure, a few will always escape, but on statistical grounds, you’d expect a lesser degree of economic achievement from the group as a whole.

Unfortunately when these sorts of things are brought up, some feel as they are accused of being immoral or evil people.


June 21, 2015 - Posted by | racism, social/political | ,

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