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24 July 2013

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Rebekka

Besides that "commit an inordinate amount of crime" may or may not be statistically correct, without being true - if I remember my geography of California class correctly now so many years later, people are arrested and charged at approximately equal rates, while people of color, especially black, are convicted and serve at much higher rates than whites.

bearing

Right, Rebekka.

I didn't find a good place to put this point into my blog post and still retain some thematic unity, but there's also the point that young black males are overrepresented among crime *victims* as well.

I don't pretend to know the best way to, somehow, inoculate kids against an ingrained habit of prejudice, unconscious acceptance of entitlement to privilege over classes of people, and (especially) rejection of the notion that an individual's behavior and fate can be predicted based on statistics -- real or imaginary -- of a group they visibly belong to.

When they're really young, it's more of a what-not-to-let-them-learn than a what-to-teach-them. As they get older, whoo, it can be tough.

DarwinCatholic

I've been trying to reach, in my own mind, a clear understanding of how I react to Coates' piece since I read it.

On the one hand, Hanson can just be kind of stupid about race sometimes. I've read passing references about Catholicism and Mexicans in some of his books which set me off, given that those are groups I identify with.

At the same time, Coates' comments were very much those of someone who knows high crime urban neighborhoods. Coates knows who looks like a threat and who doesn't in a much more detailed fashion than Hanson because Coates moves in urban neighborhoods while Hanson moves in the rural Central Valley of California.

There are certain types of urban neighborhoods (Los Angeles style neighborhoods with lots of Hispanics) where I feel like I know my way around I and I can tell pretty well who looks dangerous and who doesn't.

However, when I'm in one of the higher crime (and majority Black) neighborhoods of Cincinnati, I don't feel like I know what's going on and I'm more likely to do basic outsider things like keep an eye out if I'm around a crowd of young men.

Unlike Hanson, I wouldn't go around telling people to avoid groups of black male youths, but in practice, in a type of neighborhood I didn't know, "groups of young men of a type I don't know well" is something that would put me on my guard.

Plus, at a certain level, the same thing that has Coates riled is the thing that sometimes riles me in his writing. He's willing to say that black youths should watch out for whites who might shoot them (on the model of Martin/Zimmerman) or that blacks are right to be suspicious of the police -- and in that I identify more with groups like "whites" and "police, such comments rub me the wrong way though I certainly see why someone with Coates' background would make them.

Yet again, turning it on me: On the one hand it annoys me when women say things like "if you're a man, and you approach me at night, don't be surprised if I treat you as a threat" and yet I think it's entirely rational for a woman who is worried about her safety to treat men (and thus me) as a threat. In terms of probability, men are more of a threat to her than women. As with your point about who to go to for help.

bearing

Darwin -- "There are certain types of urban neighborhoods...where I feel like I know my way around I and I can tell pretty well who looks dangerous and who doesn't.

However, when I'm in one of the higher crime (and majority Black) neighborhoods of Cincinnati, I don't feel like I know what's going on and I'm more likely to do basic outsider things like keep an eye out if I'm around a crowd of young men....

Unlike Hanson, I wouldn't go around telling people to avoid groups of black male youths, but in practice, in a type of neighborhood I didn't know, "groups of young men of a type I don't know well" is something that would put me on my guard."

I think there's a tendency to assume that a knee-jerk reaction to fear or caution in an unfamiliar neighborhood with unknown people of a different race from you is "racist." I guess in one way it is, since people who find themselves reacting that way in such a situation are literally judging people based on superficialities -- but it's also (a) involuntary, so hardly an indictment of moral failure, and (b) a natural self-protective human reaction. It's a symptom of a particular kind of ignorance: You don't yet know how to size people up in the new environment. But you still have an instinct to TRY to size people up, so your brain does the best it can with the (inadequate) information it has. This is the natural result of living in a society which is overall diverse, but inhomogeneously so.

And it is exactly why it serves no safety purpose to give *explicit instruction* to young people that they should fear the approach of people who are different from them. You can't teach the brainstem anything. Trust that people's self-preservation instincts will provide them MORE than enough incentive to be careful (in other words, incentive to discriminate, possibly to the point of injustice and uncharity!). The kind of instruction you ought to be giving is "remain alert of your surroundings; pay attention to your instincts; here are some things you can do to increase your safety in the presence of a person who sets off your alarms; here are some ways that truly nefarious people often disable our alarms."

Instead, when you instruct "be careful of black people," you're basically giving the intellect permission to create a reason why black people should be feared.

Justice requires our will to suppress the instinct to fear and distrust unfamiliar people when that fear and distrust might cause us to treat them as lesser persons. But Hanson's teaching is permission to let instinct replace justice.

DarwinCatholic

So I guess one of the questions is: Does "being careful" around someone result in an injustice, whether it's done through instinct or spoken advice?

bearing

It depends on the form it takes. If you make a point of crossing to the other side of the street, gripping your purse more tightly, whispering and pointing to your companions, or flashing a weapon, I think you're practically saying out loud, "You look like a dangerous person."

This seems uncharitable to me, at least.

Christy P.

I have not forgotten the story told by my 8th grade science teacher about how she and her husband were separated from their 4 year old son during Christmas shopping. She had instructed him that if he ever needed help he should find a mommy or a grandmommy and ask them for help. When she retrieved her child at mall security he was standing with a bearded, long-haired biker guy all in black leather. Her son ran up to her crying "I tried to find a mommy or grandmommy but this was the best I could do!"
Long hair = mommy/grandmommy - safe

Bearing

Great story!

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