Culture or Race

David Schraub over at The Debate Link, links an essay at Dorf on Law from which he quotes:

I don’t think Chemerinsky is wrong, but I have my own supplemental theory. Liberals value integration as a good in itself because liberals, like conservatives, value color-blindness, albeit in a different sense. Conservatives believe that GOVERNMENT decision-makers should always or almost always be color-blind in the sense that government should not make decisions that turn on race. Liberals believe that INDIVIDUALS should be color-blind but see ubiquitous evidence that they are not. In deciding where to live, with whom to socialize and all sorts of other matters, individuals make decisions based on race.

It seems to me, that more and more often than not, those decisions in which we judge a group as such, that is not by or on individual merits but by group we base them not on race, but culture. For example, when viewing an individual and pre-judging him in a negative fashion I’m more influenced by cultural cues than racial ones. Mr Schraub is fond of supporting race based, i.e., non-color blind policy. But, if one altered his “race” based logic to culture/sub-culture based would the same theory follow. That is, if one found that for promotion, schooling, judicial/enforcement and other criteria negative prejudice was greatest for the “biker” subculture. Would it therefore make sense to give “bikers” the greatest prejudicial advantages from a governmental standpoint (of course setting aside the question of whether that particular subculture gives a hoot about the government in the first place except as an adversary).

In the past I’d asked Mr Schraub how me might justify supporting race based governmental policy when there are substantial identifiable non-black and even white subcultures arguably worse off than many black ones, e.g., the Appalachian rural communities. Or more pointedly, “How do explain to an appalachian single mother why somebody else gets some particular advantage?” I’d left this on a comment, and didn’t ever see if he responded, for which I apologize. However, if Mr Schraub reads this, I’d ask that he might respond (or point out/paste his earlier response) because honestly I’m interested in how those who support non-color blind policies respond to giving something when there are those who on average are worse off but not excluded by the very nature of the non-color blindness of the policy.  And any other readers, who might support non-color blind governmental policies might chime in as well.

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20 comments

  1. First, a clarification: By and large, I support race-conscious policies, which is different than race-based. With a few exceptions, I support race being part of a matrix of factors that we bring to bear in making some sort of normative judgment. Very rarely do I support solely “basing” those decisions on race. I’d also note that racial and cultural cues aren’t necessarily so easy to disentangle–a cultural cue might gain its meaning due to association with race (e.g., shying away from a kid wearing baggy, “ghetto” clothing because its associated with Black urban culture, irrespective of who is wearing the clothes).

    To answer your question, I’ve always held that oppression and disadvantage work along many axes, and that I’ve never claimed we should focus only on one. Certainly, the grinding poverty of Appalachian community is a major source of disadvantage. But their Whiteness isn’t a part of that disadvantage–their poverty, and perhaps their location, are the contributing factors. Along the axis of race, Black is disadvantageous compared to White. Along the axis of class, poor is disadvantageous compared to rich. When we’re talking about rich Blacks and poor Whites, there is a cross-cut–the White is advantaged over the Black on account of race, and the rich dude is advantaged over the poor dude on account of class (deciding which outweighs the other strikes me as rather unimportant and probably impossible, as I don’t think varying oppressions can be reduced into each other). I see no reason and have no objection to working to remedy both problems, but I insist on recognizing that they both are problems and they both require our attention.

    I’d actually invite you to talk to Rachel Sullivan, a White Sociology Professor at Long Island University who specializes in race issues and herself grew up quite poor in Appalachia. She, presumably, would be able to give more insight on this, as she experienced the case you are describing and still came out of it firmly supporting color-conscious policy.

  2. Mark says:

    David,
    Two questions on your reply:

    1. Can you clarify what you mean by your distinction between between your race based and race conscious?
    2. I have heard John Mark Reynolds talk and he mentioned growing up in Appalachia (he blogs at Scriptorium Daily). He had to train himself to dress and talk differently to be accepted in society. You indicate poverty not subculture as the key to your policy. Why do you reject subculture vs race as the key for your of policy?

    As I indicated in the above, from my own (individual) bias I find little race based and more culture based prejudicial attitudes. Do you think you think government or individuals should be “subculture” blind as far as their prejudicial attitudes.

  3. 1) “Race-based” is determinative, “race-conscious” isn’t. If I advocate “race-based” college admissions, that’s basically “you’re Black, you’re in.” I advocate “race-conscious” admissions, in which membership in a racial minority group is part of a broad array of factors considered (of which, I should add, I think economic wherewithal also should be one). Nobody is getting in “based” on them being Black, they are getting in due to the totality of characteristics, race being one. Alternatively, you could imagine the criminal justice system. Was the trial of X Black defendant fair? If I answer “a Black man can’t get a fair trial in America, so no,” that’s a race-based claim, and one that I think goes too far. But I do think that the defendant’s race is part of the totality of factors we should examine in examining whether or not the trial was fair. I won’t shut the door on ever supporting a “race-based” policy (slave reparations comes to mind), but by and large “race-conscious” is more accurate.

    2) I don’t “reject” anything about culture, I just think race can be an independent source of disadvantage. A Black guy wearing an Armani suit still is Black when he hails a cab in New York City (does Barack Obama have cultural problems?). Or here’s a great example: a Black acquaintance of mine owns a nice sports car. But he says he can never take it out for a ride–even just a quick trip to the grocery store–while dressed in “casual” clothes (a sweatshirt, jeans, stuff like that). If he does, he gets pulled over, simple as that, because cops think he must have stolen the car. That’s a race issue, not a cultural one (I can drive whatever car I want in whatever clothes I want without getting pulled over on suspicion of carjacking). I’d imagine Professor Sullivan would not be shy to articulate the ways in which she has had to adapt her manner, but she’d also explain how this does not obviate race-based barriers to success (if you do shoot her an email, btw, tell her I sent you–she’ll probably be more receptive).

    And I also think that “race” and “culture” can’t be so neatly divided. Just because society’s negative views towards, e.g., rap music, dreadlocks, baggy clothes, urban slang, etc., might apply even to that odd white guy sporting dreads doesn’t mean that the negative cultural association isn’t tied to their link to Blackness.

    Again, this isn’t to deny that culture has significance–but remember the topic of discussion here. I’m staking no claim as to whether society should or shouldn’t take into account culture, subculture, location, or anything like that in normative decision-making. Insofar as you prove that they’re socially salient factors, I’m perfectly willing to say “them too” for each of them (I’m a cultural pluralist, first and foremost). But in advocating color-blindness, you have to show that race is not salient, not that other factors are too.

  4. Mark says:

    David,
    If that’s your distinction then race-based is essentially an empty phrase. I’ve never heard anybody advocating that (unless as you point out on reparations on which you and I disagree I think, but that’s different can-o-worms).

    So, it seems the different for you with race is that you “can’t take it off”. So … in 10-15 years, when bio-tech has just a few more advances and Blackness can be removed just like one can dress differently and lose the accent. Will race then “go away”. When, with a little cosmetic alteration and you can become Black, your acquaintance can become Caucasian, and another Asian. Then culture will all there is.

    My claim is that subculture is the predominant factor not race. I agree that it’s a “mix”. Where I disagree is that race is more important than subculture. Whether or not it is for everyone, it certainly is for me.

    And, another thing, the “getting pulled over” whether you’re a greasy biker or a black man in a $100,000+ sports bar … there’s nothing there that race/subculture conscious law will help. The law is blind there. They’re both getting pulled over because of subcultural profiling. People who dress that way looking like that more often have stolen cars than people who look like a geeky pre-law college student.

    And I also think that “race” and “culture” can’t be so neatly divided. Just because society’s negative views towards, e.g., rap music, dreadlocks, baggy clothes, urban slang, etc., might apply even to that odd white guy sporting dreads doesn’t mean that the negative cultural association isn’t tied to their link to Blackness.

    If you drop the “dreadlocks” from the “white guy” he’s no longer the “odd” man out, but fairly common. And honestly, if you add a little body ink and piercings as well you have exactly the subculture I had in mind when I started this piece, i.e., the subculture I find myself most prejudicial against. My negative feelings toward that group has nothing to do with Blackness. It has to do with observed insolence, laziness, and disrespect to authority that I see those white boys demonstrating. I am far more prejudiced against them than black Americans even though when one counts physical harm down to me in my lifetime, Black American’s have done more directly to me than any hip-hop-ized suburbanite slackers.

  5. If that’s your distinction then race-based is essentially an empty phrase. I’ve never heard anybody advocating that (unless as you point out on reparations on which you and I disagree I think, but that’s different can-o-worms).

    I think a hard quota system arguably would fit under my “race-based” definition–but I’m going to insist on “race-conscious” as the term even if you think the distinction is empty because it emphasizes that my advocacy is not deterministic, which is really important and often gets lost.

    So, it seems the different for you with race is that you “can’t take it off”. So … in 10-15 years, when bio-tech has just a few more advances and Blackness can be removed just like one can dress differently and lose the accent. Will race then “go away”. When, with a little cosmetic alteration and you can become Black, your acquaintance can become Caucasian, and another Asian. Then culture will all there is.

    Even assuming the surgery is universally affordable (I’d argue that it’d have to be free if we’re staking our entire racial equality project on it), it begs the question about why Black people should have to change their appearance in order to be equal members of society. That seems to be a wildly unfair and unreasonable burden to place on them. If a Black person wants to be Black, he should be able to be Black without any social disability whatsoever. There is no substitute.

    [See also Jerome McCristal Culp, Jr., The Michael Jackson Pill: Equality, Race, and Culture, 92 Mich. L. Rev 2613 (1994)].

    And, another thing, the “getting pulled over” whether you’re a greasy biker or a black man in a $100,000+ sports bar … there’s nothing there that race/subculture conscious law will help. The law is blind there. They’re both getting pulled over because of subcultural profiling. People who dress that way looking like that more often have stolen cars than people who look like a geeky pre-law college student.

    A $100,000 sports bar? They must have some good beer on tap. Seriously, though, my Black pal is not being pulled over due to the supposedly larcenous tendency of the sweatshirt set. He’s being pulled over because he’s a Black man, not in a suit, driving a sports car. If he wasn’t Black (but still wearing a sweatshirt and driving the same car), he wouldn’t be pulled over. That’s racial.

    Law can help here in several ways, although I agree it cannot directly stop these actions. First, it can redefine what counts as a “reasonable” stop so as to minimize the justificatory impact of racial cues. Second, it can use the prevalence of these disparate stops as legitimate trial arguments–either in civil rights suits, or as defenses if their is contraband in the car (if my friend has some marijuana in the car, he should have a valid defense that the search was race-based and the proffered reason was pre-textual). Third, recognition of the existence of this sort of discrimination can be seen as part of the nexus I’ve talked about that establishes how Blacks still face systematic disadvantages in America–disadvantages that you now admit we can’t really address directly–which then in turn justifies remedial affirmative action programs under existing Supreme Court precedence.

    [See also Jody Armour, (New York: New York Univ. Press, 2000)]

    If you drop the “dreadlocks” from the “white guy” he’s no longer the “odd” man out, but fairly common. And honestly, if you add a little body ink and piercings as well you have exactly the subculture I had in mind when I started this piece, i.e., the subculture I find myself most prejudicial against. My negative feelings toward that group has nothing to do with Blackness. It has to do with observed insolence, laziness, and disrespect to authority that I see those white boys demonstrating.

    Even granting that none of these things have any subconscious link to Blackness (I mean, I listen to Disturbed, whose lyrics are every bit as disturbing as hardcore rap, but since it’s a metal band it doesn’t get anywhere near the attention of Jay-Z or Ludacris, even though its a very popular group), again you’re only showing that there are multiple routes to something having a negative social association (a cultural route and a racial one), not that race exerts more influence. It’s “okay, that too” all over again. I’ll even see you one better though–my experience has been that while, yes, I look askance at inked-up pierced White boys in backwards caps blaring hip-hop music, I have an even more intense negative reaction to tattooed and pierced Black kids in backwards caps playing rap music. The Blackness intensifies the negative reaction.

  6. […] Schraub today notes he might be “for reparations” for Black slavery 150 years ago. One wonders how to atone […]

  7. Umm, if you can edit comments there is a broken link that should lead here:

    Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America (Critical America)

    The amazon card catalog summary:

    Jody Armour believes that, despite the fact that most whites today are racially well intentioned, race-based mistrust and misunderstanding pose one of the greatest obstacles to racial harmony in contemporary America. Beset by media images of black criminality, whites consistently cite statistics, trends, and past experiences to support their deep distrust of backs, a distrust blacks deeply resent. Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism is a crucial book, at a crucial time, just as white America is gradually coming to understand the hidden travails of African American life: the suspicious glances in department stores, the baseless questioning by police, the inability to get a taxi. Armour shows convincingly how this phenomenon has been so persistent as to constitute, literally, a tax on African Americans, sapping them of resources, opportunity, time, and energy. Skillfully drawing on a wide range of referents, from Greek mythology to Thomas Bayes, the father of statistics, armour plumbs our racial psychology and in the process exposes the racialized nature of our daily life and of our legal system. Unlike so much recent writing on race in America, Jody Armour’s book is no plaintive cry of despair. His perspective is rooted in a measured, even hopeful belief that we both must and can overcome racial bias. Toward that end, he introduces specific ways in which we can overcome the unconscious discrimination and the automatic negative responses that tax blacks and so trouble progressive whites.

    Update: I edited for clarity on what I took as David’s request

  8. Mark says:

    David,

    Even assuming the surgery is universally affordable (I’d argue that it’d have to be free if we’re staking our entire racial equality project on it), it begs the question about why Black people should have to change their appearance in order to be equal members of society.

    I’m curious how you think that it’s a onerous requirement for your friend to have to set aside the markings of one subculture but it is not for the biker, hip-hop, or Appalachian white who must do so in order to fit in. Ms Sullivan and Mr Reynolds had to put considerable cost (time and effort) into dropping the markings of their past to fit into a liberal progressive Academy.

    So, you claim Blacks shouldn’t have to change their identified sub-culture while everyone else has to and always has. Your hip-hop youth or biker babe can’t get a job in a top law firm or in anywhere in business without putting on expected subcultural attributes of that particular arena.

    (and I meant sports-car of course)

    Seriously, though, my Black pal is not being pulled over due to the supposedly larcenous tendency of the sweatshirt set. He’s being pulled over because he’s a Black man, not in a suit, driving a sports car. If he wasn’t Black (but still wearing a sweatshirt and driving the same car), he wouldn’t be pulled over. That’s racial.

    No. It’s not. (necessarily). A greasy biker or white person not fitting expectations of the sort of person driving such a car would be picked up as well. It’s not racism. It’s real-world expectations following how appearance and dress act as markers of belonging to group/subculture. Cops key on those things which don’t “fit” expectations. This is actually a good thing, in that its how they identify those who are breaking the expectation of being law-abiding. As I indicated, a homeless person, biker, or quite possibly a slacker teen would also get picked up.

    I look askance at inked-up pierced White boys in backwards caps blaring hip-hop music, I have an even more intense negative reaction to tattooed and pierced Black kids in backwards caps playing rap music. The Blackness intensifies the negative reaction.

    I don’t think I’d have a “more intense” negative reaction to a Black kid dressing the same, possibly actually less. Now, you might argue that’s, to quote Mr Bush, evidence of the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. Your greater reaction might be your dismay at those black kids fulfilling the same.

    All in all, however, so far I think you’re convincing me more and more that I’m right, that subculture is more important than race. Perhaps Race should be dropped from dialectic.

    As for Supreme Court action regarding affirmative action and so on, I’m against based on general structural arguments. That is, I’ve come to think that decreased authority at the local level is looming crises for our nation and because of that soon we will be democratic in name only. Dealing with “Otherness” as well as many problems we face as we can should be pushed down to the local level.

  9. First of all, ideally speaking I don’t think that anybody (biker, Black, whoever) should have to cover or convert their identity in order to participate in American society. I see no reason why I can’t listen to angry metal music and be a lawyer and be Jewish andget a piercing (one of those four I made up out of whole cloth!). Kenji Yoshino’s unbelievably spectacular awesome drop-dead amazing book Covering explains this in greater (and beautiful) detail (as you can see, I don’t know enough superlatives to adequately describe it). I’m sure Dr. Sullivan would agree that this would be preferable than establishing a norm and demanding everyone conform to it (and lo and behold! It matches up perfectly with White heterosexual Christian middle-class men! They don’t have to change a thing–it’s the rest of us that have to accommodate them! But that’s not a hierarchy or anything). I’d also reiterate that rather than speaking for the Appalachian case yourself, why don’t you just ask Professor Sullivan to explain how she feels her situation parallels and diverges from those of Black people, as she is perhaps uniquely positioned to comment on the topic? Since the example has such resonance for you, you should jump at the opportunity to explore its actual implications in more depth.

    You’re continually making this “them too” mistake, and I don’t know how I can more clearly explain the problem than what I’ve already done. Yes, a variety of factors can come together to make it significantly more likely that a sports car driver will be pulled over. Race is one. There are others. Race is still one even when there are others. I suspect race is also a stronger predictor than a lot of others (a White slacker teen in jeans and a t-shirt with a tattoo and a piercing probably wouldn’t be pulled over as frequently), but that doesn’t even matter that much. This isn’t that difficult.

    And these sorts of biases, far from being a good thing, have serious moral drawbacks. Establishing a standard of normalcy required for moving in social circles that tracks societal privilege creates a distributionally skewed burden that falls heaviest on marginalized castes in society. What kind of world is it where only White people can go into wealthy neighborhoods in anything but a suit and tie without being harassed? You say Blacks should adapt by putting on suits, I say Whites should adapt by not targeting or sanctioning harassment at suitless Blacks. Even if I were to agree that both were morally equivalent demands (and I don’t), I’d still say its Whites who have to adapt on distributional justice grounds.

    This what Armour talks about and interrogates in his book to excellent effect. It is a bad thing being Black (or being Black in jeans) constitutes “breaking the expectation of being law-abiding,” but being White (in jeans) doesn’t. That’s indistinguishable from classic racism. (YES, it’s also bad that being homeless is “breaking the expectation of being law-abiding” too–for the last time, that’s a completely irrelevant point).

  10. Mark says:

    David,
    I’m not sure exactly why you think that the norm everyone needs to conform to is that of “White heterosexual Christian middle-class men”. That only works in the subcultural settings in which they are accepted. As you surely realize there are occupations where that those subcultural “coloration” tags will not work.

    What kind of world is it where only White people can go into wealthy neighborhoods in anything but a suit and tie without being harassed?

    Well, it’s this sort of world for one.

    I haven’t contacted Prof. Sullivan as yet, because I’m on the road and don’t have email access reliably until sometime mid-next week. I don’t think her case has necessarily particular resonance but more that it’s a clean example.

    As for profiling, to think that it is harassment requires a certain assumptions on your part. Being in an airport the following analogy comes to mind, if one is given the task TSA has been handed, (largely) protecting our airways does one need to be “egalitarian” about one’s suspicions or would it not make sense to “profile” and concentrate more on Middle Eastern males? You assume that the behavior of police is not one that they have put some thought into. That is, that the profiles for which they look based on subcultural bias don’t match in some substantial way with the crime they seek. They’re not doing this “for fun”. The “bad thing being Black … in jeans” is the high percentage of black men in jeans actually committing crime. If the percentages do not match the reality … then the police are wasting money and time. That isn’t a matter for law, but for executive attention, i.e., stop wasting time and money.

    What kind of world is it where only White people can go into wealthy neighborhoods in anything but a suit and tie without being harassed?

    It’s not. It’s the kind of word where poor people cannot go into wealthy neighborhoods without being harassed … and I can’t go into inter-city Black neighborhoods without being harassed either (or more specifically if I wanted to, I’d have to dress appropriately to avoid harassment).

    Finally, I’m planning on getting those two books (probably via library … not purchase). And, as a result I’ll probably blog about them. If I might make a counter suggestion. Might you get the two Daniel Mahoney books that I’ve been blogging about in the near past, specifically about the political thinking of Solzhenitsyn and Betrand de Jouvenel. I’d be curious how they read from a liberal viewpoint.

  11. The “acting White” link is a complete non-sequitur–it has literally nothing to do with the point I was making. Black people need to wear suits while driving fancy cars because….some Blacks consider being smart to be “acting White”? What? I don’t actually have a strong opinion on the “acting White” phenomenon, although my gut intuition is that a) it does exist to some extent, and I’ve seen plenty of progressives (including progressive Blacks) address it, b) I’m curious as to how it’s operationally different from the universal “nerds are unpopular and mocked” scenario, aside from the fact that it is race-specific (which is significant), and c) I’m positive that you’re not helping matters by implying that Black people need to adopt White cultural markers in order to be considered normal, which would obviously breed a backlash amongst those who are proud of their racial heritage and wish to assert cultural autonomy. The proper response to the “acting White” problem isn’t to urge Black people to “act White” with more force, it’s to break the linkage that says achievement, intelligence, education and merit have anything to do with racial/cultural markings like dress, dialect, or musical taste.

    It is probably true that you and I would need to change our demeanor and appearance in order to enter certain poor, Black neighborhoods of the city. But that merely enhances my point: why on earth do I need to go there in the first place? I can live a perfectly successful, top-level existence in DC while being effectively barred from Anacostia or Ivy City. I can’t do that while not being able to move through Georgetown, Downtown, or the Capital area. I’m reminded of Anatole France’s famous quote: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids poor and rich alike from begging, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread.” Sure, Whites and Blacks both have places they’re restricted from moving through, but they hardly have the same import.

    I oppose racial profiling for a variety of reasons. In airports and other cases where we’re facing an organized attempt at sabotage or directed political violence, it’s because it’s vulnerable to the Carnival Booth Effect: terrorists are encouraged to “step right up and see if they’re a winner,” and in doing so can construct an “anti-profile” that lets them evade serious inspection. Strong, but random, security fixes this problem while having the added benefit of being non-discriminatory (color-blind, you might even say).

    In lower-level cases (regular policing, e.g.,) I have at least five more reasons why I think profiling is a bad idea.

    1) I think the distributional burdens outweigh the prospective gains: treating innocent Blacks as if they were criminal is a big harm, and I don’t think it’s outweighed simply by catching more (Black) criminals.

    2) It’s self-reinforcing: profiling means we’ll catch more Black criminals vis-a-vis White ones, which will enhance the perceived disparity in crime rates, which will justify more profiling.

    3) It tends to exceed its own justificatory boundaries: The rates at which Black people are profiled (i.e., more likely to be pulled over than Whites) tends to exceed the level that they are more likely to commit crimes–racial profiling lends itself to an exaggeration of the perception of Black criminality, leading to the program exploding beyond any reasonable link to the actual disparities in crime rates.

    4) It makes it easier for Whites to commit crimes when police resources are specifically (and publicly) diverted away from looking at them, so the overall anti-crime effect may be marginal.

    5) It’s self-defeating: Police profiling of Blacks makes Blacks (rightfully) view the police as their enemy, fueling urban tensions and making it more difficult for serious crimes to be solved.

    So, yeah, I think being egalitarian in my assumptions is better on a whole mess of grounds.

    ***

    I’ll check out those books when I get back to Carleton (though I can’t make any promises–LSATs and my senior thesis are on the immediate horizon too). Of my two books, Yoshino’s is the must-read–Armour’s is good, but Yoshino’s is among the top-five books I’ve ever read in my life.

  12. Mark says:

    David,
    Why on earth

    . But that merely enhances my point: why on earth do I need to go there in the first place? I can live a perfectly successful, top-level existence in DC while being effectively barred from Anacostia or Ivy City.

    For 10 years I attended the University of Chicago which is in Hyde Park and completely surrounded on three sides by neighborhoods much like describe above (the fourth side is the lake). When I started school very few undergraduates had cars and during my decade there I never did. I had many reasons “to go there”, namely to go downtown (leave Hyde Park) to eat, to see movies, concerts and other events via public transportation.

    I’m not saying Blacks have to act more White (whatever that means) in order to fit in. I’m saying whatever you try to do you need to adopt the subcultural norms in order to do that. You might be a lawyer (or in business) and be required to hold to certain norms while working. But that wouldn’t work to get a job as a DJ or in much of the artistic world. It wouldn’t work to get a job in the trades. You need to adopt the subculture present in your field of endeavor. It’s always been that way.

    Your paper doesn’t realize it seems, that is likely that CAPS (profiling) + random would be even better. It will catch the less prepared or sophisticated terrorist and provide some small measure against the other. Plus it seems to assume that CAPS is “deterministic”, i.e., that being missed all flagged as such means is an assurance that next time they will be missed as well. I’ve been searched. I’m fairly certain any sort of CAPS search would not “flag” me.

    On police profiling … what do you suggest? That police randomly query and select any and everyone when they are doing any investigation? No. That’s actually not how it works. The police pull over cars which are weaving a little because that profile indicates possible inebriation. How might one detect car theft pro actively? Well, one might question people (like the drunks) who don’t fit the profile of people driving such cars. Of your enumerated objections, only #2 is makes sense (although possibly #3 is the same as #2).

    The only good argument essentially against a particular profile is that the profile is inaccurate. #2 is the point that using a bad profile may skew data and lead one to believe it is correct.

  13. Mark says:

    David,
    On further reflection (during the day), I think the crux on the police picking up of a young black man in an affluent neighborhood in a sports car.

    Your implicit assumption is that this is inherently unreasonable. However, my working assumption is that is not necessarily. For example, if the population of under 25 y/o black men in casual clothing driving flashy $100k+ sports cars was found to be

    • 70% drug dealers,
    • 20% stolen,
    • 5% top tier professional athletes,
    • 5% children of legitimate wealthy black businessmen and lawyers (like your friend).

    In that case, it might be that up to 60-75% of cars stopped in this circumstance might lead to an arrest. If that was the case, your friend, far from declaiming the cops as “rightly seen as his enemy”, should instead look at the black community in general (or in specific) for allowing this profile to exist in the first place. That is, in that case he should be thankful that the police stop him to help suppress destructive behavior in a community with which he might have some connection.

    You assume the “profile” is illegitimate and wrong. I don’t assume that is the case, for I (and you I think) don’t actually know the numbers in this case.

    Profiles based on subculture or appearance are certainly not wrong. If, some high percentage of elderly gentlemen of Sicilian extraction spending afternoons in find dinning establishments negotiating business were highly connected with organized crime, it might behoove the RICO/organized crime division operatives to be attentive to that fact.

    Racial and subcultural profiling is only wrong … when it doesn’t reflect reality.

  14. While I’m sure that your trips in and out of downtown Chicago were highly traumatizing, I am curious how many police gun barrels have you stared down?

    And for the update, that cuts back into my point #3 (there is no conceivable way that 90% of Black sports car drivers are criminals), raises tough Terry questions on when a stop is “reasonable” (your point is discussed in Armour’s book in the “Intelligent Bayensians” section), and (presumably from your view, most importantly) a massive breach of the color-blind principle. I can’t use that to defeat profiling, because I’m not a color-blind adherent, but you do recognize there’s a rather massive exception you’re carving out to your principle that works to the detriment of a marginalized group?

  15. Mark says:

    David,
    Your sarcasm is appreciated, although a little on the nasty side. The point was why would anyone want to go there. I provided a reason.

    While it never happened to me, I did have a number of friends of close acquaintances “stare down gun barrels”, although alas not held by police, which would have been preferable (and cheaper in time and money). As for myself, I only had rocks thrown at me (while in a bus), presumably because the subcultural cues of non-belonging, i.e., we were white. The net result was my companion on the trip had to spend a time at the emergency room getting his stitches in his knee from being cut by broken glass.

    there is no conceivable way that 90% of Black sports car drivers are criminals

    So. You’re only argument then against profiling is that the profile is incorrect. We agree that it seems that is the only correct method to follow, that is, regarding profiling is that the profile should be accurate. Part of the weakness of your assertion of “there is no way” is that you have no statistics either.

    It’s no breach of the principle of the law being color blind. The “building of the profile(s)” should be color blind. The result is not necessarily so, because that’s based on data. If the data has some racial skew, disregarding that is a disservice to that racial group, no? It’s not a breach of “color blindness” for the police to “profile” and try to catch criminals based on all the subcultural cues they give as to their identity.

    Look neither of us has statistics. My question in point of fact was … if those statistics were correct is it not true that your friend is pointing at the wrong culprit as I intimated above.

    My unsolicited advice to your friend (or the person in the link) would to be to drive a less testosterone influenced car design, say a Prius. He would then still get around, would be comfortably “green”, and not be confused for a drug dealer/car thief.

  16. Well, no, I have lots of reasons for opposing profiling, six of which you can conveniently find by scrolling up. It just so happens that you dove headfirst into one of them, so I emphasized that in the subsequent post. At least several others are relative-weight claims and independent disadvantage claims, so they stand-up regardless of what the stats are.

    But more interestingly, I’m now confused as to how you can keep this profiling stance:

    The “building of the profile(s)” should be color blind. The result is not necessarily so, because that’s based on data. If the data has some racial skew, disregarding that is a disservice to that racial group, no? It’s not a breach of “color blindness” for the police to “profile” and try to catch criminals based on all the subcultural cues they give as to their identity.

    while maintaining an opposition to colleges also “building a profile” of those likely to have faced systematic disadvantage, also based on statistics, on the basis of colorblindness. To wit:

    The “building of the profile(s)” should be color blind. The result is not necessarily so, because that’s based on data. If the data has some racial skew, disregarding that is a disservice to that racial group, no? It’s not a breach of “color blindness” for the police colleges to “profile” and try to catch criminals admit students based on all the subcultural cues they give as to their identity.

    I’m missing the distinction. Why can profiling only be used to hurt Black people, but never to help them?

    For that matter, do you support profiling White people when they’re (statistically) more likely to commit a crime? Most White collar crime is done by White people in suits and ties (many of whom drive nice cars). Can police pull me over on reasonable suspicion of embezzlement? What if I was working in Houston when Enron blew up? I’ve read stories of whole blocks of Black men stopped for questioning after a robbery because they “fit the description” of the robber (“Sure,” one said, “young Black male. I always ‘fit the description.'”). I’ve never heard of something similar happening to all young White men in a given area, despite knowing that young White men have been known to, on occasion, rob people.

    Can the guy drive a Prius? I guess so. He can change his lifestyle so as to not fit the socially constructed profile of the Bad Black Man. But I am reminded of a conversation in X2: X-Men United (where I go for all my deep political commentary needs) between Mystique and Nightcrawler. After finding out that Mystique could take the appearance of and perfectly imitate any person she wanted (and thus, not have live as a mutant) Nightcrawler asks why she doesn’t do that all of the time. Her response? “Because I shouldn’t have to.”

    And finally, the reason I emphasize police guns is twofold. First, Black people are victimized by criminals as much as (if not greater than) White people (I have seen the stats on this), so pointing to cases where the guns have been from thugs is non-unique. Second, I submit that being perpetually threatened by the police as an innocent man is a unique harm, because they’re supposed to be on your side, because it breeds distrust in communities, and because it is a particularly acute case of not being “innocent until proven guilty,”–you’re permanently under a pall of suspicion by the very people who are tasked with keeping you safe. That, to me, is a very specific and harmful occurrence that deserves unique discussion.

  17. Mark says:

    David,
    I’m not against profiling to find good students if that is the goal. I’m against admissions profiling when the purpose is not to obtain academically qualified students. Unfortunately racial profiling based on academics is just as likely to further disadvantage the blacks due to an anti-intellectual cultural thread in the black community.

    Yes, I saw your list. What I should do, but failed to is detail why I only found 1 (or perhaps 2) items in that list “interesting” or valid. I need to itemize my objections to the other for you. I’ll do that later today.

    Why is “covering” OK when I am forced to do it, but not when driving a Prius is not OK. A primary method used by myself to avoid attention in unsavory neighborhoods was to alter my dress habit, that is dress in a manner in which it was apparent (and it was often the case as well) that was not worth the time, trouble, and risk for a mugging.

    I thought your were a debater. The “Enron”/stop all white drivers to combat white collar crime seems particularly clumsy. In the case of dealing drugs out of your sports car (or driving a stolen car), the stop leads to evidence which leads to arrest. The likelihood of finding evidence of white collar crime via random stops in a car is very low. The profile is bad. Duh. If the profile wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t object.

    So, why the crackdown on the inner city black man? Hmm. Perhaps race isn’t the reason. Oddly enough that never comes up in your discussion. Crackdowns in Black communities are done as a method to suppress gang and drug related violence. These communities lack the parental and community checks to self-correct outbreaks of violence. This is apparently not needed in inner-city Polish neighborhoods. It seems we are back to subculture not race. The problem is not the police or racism. It’s flaws in the subculture which don’t for which the solution is not law or law enforcement but culture.

  18. My position on AA has always included arguments for why it leads to an overall more meritorious student body (academically and otherwise–colleges, for lots of good reasons, don’t only factor in pure academics when making admissions decisions) than in its absence. (Contributing to) Racial (and other) diversity is a component of merit (studies have shown it leads better performance across the student body, better ability to work across a variety of groups, increases critical thinking capacity, broadens experiential horizons). Also, colleges can create a profile of disadvantage (which could and should have a racial component) that would indicate that someone’s GPA or test scores might mask their true merit (this, I believe, is the general justification for AA in the first place–as compensatory for concurrent disadvantage). So by your own framework, AA is justifiable under the grounds it is normally justified. Even the reason you give for knocking it makes no sense (how does encouraging Black people do go to elite colleges further the negative impacts of the anti-intellectual thread you cite? If anything it would seem to do the opposite by showing academically talented Blacks that there are perks to staying on that path rather than giving in to the immediate pressures to give up academics. Your acknowledgment of this pressure, furthermore, would seem to concede the existence of these race-based pressures that would strengthen my argument about “masking” merit. Knowing that he was faced with massive cultural pressures to avoid academics, a Black man who has good grades looks not just good, but excellent). Again, the problem with your advocacy is because it seems to allow race to be a part of a profile only when it hurts Black people–when it puts them in jail, when it places them on the wrong side of police gun, or when it denies them a job. It’s small wonder the Black community takes this nexus of positions as hostile to them.

    I don’t support anybody having to “cover” (Yoshino devotes lots of time to dispelling the idea that anti-covering folk make an exception for White people–we don’t), including yourself. Black people tend to have to cover more, and the burdens tend to be more onerous, but I never said or implied that it was okay for you to have to. I don’t think anybody should have to cover. Don’t project.

    Your response to the Enron example is clumsy itself, and misses the point. First of all, its quite conceivable that an employee might be taking relevant documents away from the site to hide them. Or that he might be an implicated employee that constitutes a flight risk. Maybe nailing the guy early will frighten him enough to get him to talk, rolling up an entire operation before the company has the time to launch a cover-up. There are loads of reasons why a stoppage could possibly give useful information, especially when we’re tying the suspicion to something as vague as a “profile.” But even if I buy the proximate point, I just have to shift scenes to make the scenario work. A goodly portion of white collar crime occurs in fancy office buildings. That’s a pretty solid profile. Can police officers randomly search all the white-shoe law firms in downtown DC for fraud? Certainly, if the evidence is there, that’s where it’ll be. And places like that are where the crimes, insofar as they occur, will happen. Meanwhile, it still doesn’t grapple with why White folk are never profiled even when they meet the case-specific profile (“young white male robs a bank.”). Put simply, there are many situations where Whiteness is part of a good criminal profile. There are few to no situations where Whiteness is, in fact profile, and I’m skeptical that there are any that prevent law-abiding Whites from participating in mainstream or elite society.

    And finally, you’re too slick in the race/culture distinction. You’re willing to include Blackness among the factors that contributes to the profile, so race is in play at some level. I don’t even know what work “race” versus “culture” is doing–if it’s a critique of Black “culture”, I still consider that at least partially a racial ground (it’s targeting the culture of a racial group). Even if the “reason” for the inclusion of Blackness (Black culture) isn’t because “I hate Black people,” that’s going to seem irrelevant insofar as Black people are disproportionately burdened by the policies you lay out, especially when they seem to be inconsistently applied only to hurt Blacks but never to inconvenience Whites, especially when they’re laid out by a White-dominated polity, and especially when they stretch far beyond whatever empirical reality justified them in the first place. There’s just too much evidence pointing in the other direction, and pleas of good motives tend not to be too persuasive to the poor, starving, sick, and oppressed.

    Someone once told me that if a theory of law gives you every single result that you want, you’re probably letting your policy preferences drive the theory, even if you can come up with “neutral” reasons for each and every case. Similarly, if your policy theory is comparatively harmful to Blacks each and every time, or ends up in opposition to the Black community’s position each and every time (we can racially profile in crime, because Blacks are more likely to be criminal, but not in college admissions, because race has nothing to do with collegiate merit; we can stop every “young Black man” when there was a bank robbery by one, but it’s unfair to stop someone just because he’s White when a White robs a bank; we can profile in street crimes which just happen to have stereotypical black offenders, but not in white collar crimes, which have stereotypical white offenders), it’s a good sign that something racial is driving the argument. Certainly, Blacks perceive it that way. And I don’t blame them.

  19. Mark says:

    David,
    I studied primarily hard science and math in college. So academically in the settings with which I am most familiar it is hard for me to see how diversity matters there one whit. Further even accepting the argument that diversity for diversity’s sake is important then race shouldn’t be the important factor but again, culture. For example ignoring race, you’d get more diversity by including (as above) Appalachian whites then suburban Blacks (or Asians). Inner city Hasidic Jews are going to stray more as well. This doesn’t even touch various ethnic recent immigrants who will all be far more diverse than any indigenous American cultural group. As you pointed out, the slacker suburban white subculture has more in common with the black urban culture than does many of the subcultures you are excluding if you use race as determinant.

    Actually on the white-collar profiling bit, the IRS does indeed do that. If you show up, on a “profile”, they come in and shut down your accounting for a few weeks while the agent reviews everything he can until he finds something. The “arrest” rate is basically 100% because they operate on the principle that everyone is guilty (and given the complexity of the tax code that’s impossible to avoid) and they search until they find enough for the fines to justify their time. In this case the only defense of this sort of behavior is that there is really no other way to operate.

    But that’s beside the point, what you are not demonstrating in the least is that profiling is incorrect. If a profile leads to a low arrest rate, then it is improbable cause and a bad profile, be it black or white. On a profiling basis the problem with stopping “all black youths” in the neighborhood is that it is a bad profile.

    To show the profile is a bad idea you have to show a good profiles giving “unfair” or wrong results. Demonstrating profiling is bad is not done by trotting out examples of bad profiles.

    And the reason the “stop every Black man” due to robbery is not done on profile but for other reasons as I indicated above and you ignored. It isn’t on account of because of profile or even perhaps to actually catch the robber. In the inner city, many chicken or ribs fast food chains (Harold’s for example) use bullet-proof glass and revolving doors to pass out your food because of the prevalence of violence and robbery. Why? Because there is a lot of violent crime. The “pick ’em up” is a method of general suppression of endemic crime. If you have nifty new and better ways of suppressing high crime rates, feel free to contact your local gendarmes. The point is, the objectionable behavior has nothing to do with profiling. The reason that “pick up every white office worker” isn’t done is that there isn’t a rampant crime wave needing suppressive activity. If there was, it would be happening.

    I’m making two claims here regarding profiles,

    1. First that for a good profile it needs to be culturally unbiased in its development not in its outcome. But race is only a good method in small regions. Why? Because then race is indicative of culture. The other problem with going after profiling is of course that all police work involves profiling. You can’t sensibly say, “profiling is bad”. It’s the only way police work works, a profile is refined until it identifies the culprit.

    2. And that as far as providing academic or other advantages based on profile for reasons of diversity race is less important than subculture to provide diversity. That is if it’s diversity you’re after, color of skin is not an primary indicator (compare for example the difference between you, a black suburban male, and a Georgian immigrant from Tbilisi).

  20. The Profile…

    In the comments to this post, Mark Olson and I had a long debate on (among other things) whether racial profiling was just. He said that the only relevant consideration was whether the profile was accurate–that is, does it accurately describe (and t…..