Walking While Black, Ctd

Readers add further nuance to the viral video we posted:

Thank you for updating your post with the sheriff’s comments.  (And since the person in question was originally identified as “light-skinned”, it’s not clear that being black was ever the issue.) Pontiac, Michigan is a city where the County sheriff patrols because there is no longer a local police force. A parent from our kid’s school was shot dead while minding his shop. For awhile, it was normal, driving through Pontiac, to have to sit in one’s car while the car in front of you executed drug deals with people on the street.  It is a place that was at one point, quite literally, lawless.

In that video, a shopkeeper, having been robbed more than once before, called the sheriff when something looked suspicious, and the sheriff came.  Once there, he was calm and respectful, and did his job responsibly.  In Pontiac, that is just absolutely awesome.

Another points to a 2009 incident in which Bob Dylan was similarly stopped by cops and asked for his ID:

Not all neighborhoods like people walking about.

It’s like there’s something wrong with you. Why don’t you have a car? Why are you walking? In the place I grew up – very blue-collar burbs – people simply did not walk. Then I moved to NYC, and since that time I never want to live in a neighborhood where you can’t walk. All people should feel comfortable to walk down the street, hand in pockets or whatever, but the guy in the video was right to note the absurdity of the person who made the call in the first place. At least the guy and the officer were able to discuss it without anything horrible happening.

Another notes a website we’ve featured before:

While I appreciate your sentiment that “more black men need to bring their cell-phones to these police interactions,” you should note that recording police puts the people with the recording devices at risk. There’s a great website called PhotographyIsNotACrime.com that has documented literally hundreds of incidents of police abusing, arresting or assaulting people who have tried to exercise their First Amendment rights to record or photograph the police. If black men started routinely recording interactions with the police, then that would escalate the risk to those black men.  Just to pick three stories from the last few days – here, here, and here. (Those are literally the top three non-Ferguson stories from the “recording the police” category as I type.)

Another pans out:

I think we’re missing a drama that accentuated part of the issue over the last few days. I’m a 60-year-old engineer visiting San Antonio on business. Last week, as you may know, a white guy shot up downtown Austin, targeting the Mexican consulate, the US courthouse and the Austin PD building before being killed by police. Today I was having lunch with a coworker who lives in Austin and had been visiting Philly last week. When I mentioned the shooting to him, he hadn’t heard of it, even though he LIVES in Austin.

In the last few years, over a dozen white, right-wing anti-government terrorists have targeted police officers resulting in the deaths of over 10 cops. Yet this is so invisible even people living in Austin don’t know about it. When I mentioned this to a buddy of mine, a white conservative cop, he waved it away saying criminals killed more cops than white terrorists have.

It’s obvious the blinkers are on, EVEN AMONG COPS. Yes, criminals kill cops, but can you imagine the outcry if a dozen cops had been killed by Muslims? The St Louis Police Officer’s Association demands an apology from football players for raising their hands in sympathy with the Brown family, but where is the outrage against the Republican officeholder who said she’d kill government officials who “tried to take away her rights”? Where is the outrage against the NRA that enables military weapons to be openly sold in the US (and they get around this by saying weapons like the AR15 aren’t “military”.)

Cops ARE being targeted by the right. Cliven Bundy was proof. He was a hero until his racism was too strident even for the right. Yet the cops still ignore the threat posed by right-wing terrorism and, instead, shake down black US citizens who walk with their hands in their pockets in the winter.

Superhero Social Justice, Ctd

In light of recent developments in superhero diversity, including a black Captain America, Daniel D. Snyder muses about the subject:

Traditionally, movies have done a curious thing with black heroes: Charge them not with saving the world, but rather with protecting their immediate, ethno-specific domains, or, in many cases, to put it bluntly, the ghetto.

The 1977 blaxploitation film Abar, the Black Superman, may be of questionable filmmaking merit, but is essential in defining the tone of black-superhero movies to come. In it, an affluent black doctor and his family move into a white neighborhood, prompting anger, protests, and even threats of violence. A local black leader, Abar, steps into help protect the Kincaids and is able to do so until extreme circumstances force him to take a serum of Dr. Kincaid’s creation, granting him invincibility and psychic powers. Abar then goes on a quest to vanquish racism and the machinery of oppression. It’s an (amusing, absurd) empowerment fantasy, but it’s also a limited one—about the men and women next door, not mankind itself. …

There is obviously nothing wrong with the messages behind these films—that real heroes come from and protect specific places. But taken together, over time, they contribute to the stagnant idea of what a black hero can be to the world. Even when moving outside of the neighborhood-watch paradigm, black heroes still aren’t granted the mantle of universal protector bestowed on their counterparts. Spawn (1997) and Catwoman (2004), the latter widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, both feature black leads (at least before Spawn‘s Al Simmons gets turned into cooked burger meat) but their narratives are tied to tales of personal revenge, where any worldly do-gooding is merely incidental.

Suing For An Affirmative End To Affirmative Action

The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill, claiming that their admissions policies discriminate against Asian students:

The lawsuit filed against Harvard cites an Asian-American student who was denied admission despite being valedictorian of a competitive high school, achieving a perfect ACT score and a perfect score of 800 on two of the SAT II subject exams, and participating in numerous extracurricular and volunteer activities. The applicant, the lawsuit states, was “denied the opportunity to compete for admission to Harvard on equal footing with other applicants” due to his race.

The suit cites statistical evidence to claim that Harvard holds Asian applicants to a “far higher standard than other students” and that Harvard uses “racial classifications to engage in the same brand of invidious discrimination against Asian Americans that it formerly used to limit the number of Jewish students in its student body.”

The data are unassailable:

To get into the top schools, Asians need SAT scores that are about 140 points higher than those of their white peers. In 2008, over half of all applicants to Harvard with exceptionally high SAT scores were Asian, yet they made up only 17 percent of the entering class (now 20 percent). Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in America, but their proportion of Harvard undergraduates has been flat for two decades.

The discrimination against an entire race of students is simply unmistakable. Fixing it could be accomplished not at the expense of racial diversity, but in curtailing affirmative action for athletes and legacy admissions. And there’s evidence that the discrimination is based, in part, on racist stereotypes:

A new study of over 100,000 applicants to the University of California, Los Angeles, found no significant correlation between race and extracurricular achievements. The truth is not that Asians have fewer distinguishing qualities than whites; it’s that — because of a longstanding depiction of Asians as featureless or even interchangeable — they are more likely to be perceived as lacking in individuality. (As one Harvard admissions officer noted on the file of an Asian-American applicant, “He’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor.”)

Why is that kind of thing not an outrage to liberals usually accustomed to seizing questions of racial discrimination with alacrity?  Kaitlin Mulhere peruses what ending racial discrimination against Asians would actually lead to:

Between 1992 and 2013, Harvard’s Asian-American enrollment ranged between 14 percent and 20 percent. On the other hand, CalTech, an elite college that doesn’t consider race in its admissions policies, saw its population of Asian students grow from about 27 percent in the 1990s to more than 40 percent last year. In 2008, Asian Americans composed 27 percent of Harvard’s applicant pool, 46 percent of applicants who earned above 2200 on the SAT and 55 percent of those students who earned about 2300 and sent scores to Harvard. … “In light of Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policies, [Asian Americans] are competing only against each other, and all other racial and ethnic groups are insulated from competing against high-achieving Asian Americans,” the lawsuit reads.

That seems utterly undeniable to me. But Scott Lemieux disputes the contention that affirmative action is ipso facto discriminatory:

It may well be salutary for universities to experiment with different means of achieving a diverse student body. At least some may find formally race-neutral means that work well. What these lawsuits seek, however, is not merely to encourage experimentation but to forbid taking race into account altogether. That is a different story.

On this question, the argument that affirmative action is categorically illegal under the Fourteenth Amendment or the Civil Rights Act is simply wrong. Neither text explicitly forbids affirmative action. And it is illogical — not to mention ahistorical — to argue that racial classifications intended to promote diversity are the legal equivalent of racial classifications that sought to uphold a white supremacist caste system. Opponents of affirmative action are hardly underrepresented in the ordinary political process, and this is where they should make their case.

Yes, the suits seek an end to all affirmative action. But the courts could provide a less extreme remedy that both gave Asian-American candidates a fair shake and kept a race-neutral way of encouraging diversity. Racial classifications may not be as bad as those upholding white supremacy, but they are unjust in any case. And the maintenance of a clear racial burden for Asian-Americans undermines equal opportunity in a corrosive way. Rick Kahelnberg makes the case simply enough:

“It’s one thing if an affirmative action program discriminates against whites, who have had lots of advantages in American history. It’s a very different thing to allege that affirmative action is discriminating against Asian-Americans, a minority group that has been subject to official and private discrimination throughout American history.”

Sam Sanders, meanwhile, asks whether Asian Americans are actually all that worried about affirmative action policies hurting them:

A recent poll of Asian-American adults in California found that about 70 percent of them supported “affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women and other minorities get better jobs and education.” But there’s inconclusive nationwide data on Asian sentiment about affirmative action, and a lot of times, the percentage of support changes depending on how questions about affirmative action are worded.

And even in California, polling might not tell the entire story. Recently, a push to bring affirmative action back into California public universities was squashed after some groups in the state – including Chinese-American groups – strongly opposed the measure.

The way Jeff Yang sees it, this lawsuit isn’t really about helping Asians in the first place. After all, “Jane Dou” – as he calls the rejected Harvard hopeful – “didn’t end up at the center of the Harvard suit accidentally”:

She was discovered through a broad-based campaign conducted by SFFA founder Edward Blum — a frustrated Republican congressional candidate who has chosen to make a career out of waging war on laws and policies that give “special privileges” to minorities. Dou was someone Blum wanted — a student willing to serve as a test case in a high-profile attack on affirmative action. It’s important to note that whatever its outcome, the lawsuit won’t help Dou. It’s almost certain that she’s been accepted by other colleges, and by the time the suit is resolved she will likely have graduated from one of them. What this lawsuit is really is just the latest attempt to derail an apparatus that has given hundreds of thousands of blacks, Hispanics and, yes, Asians a means to climb out of circumstances defined by our society’s historical racism.

So she should have somehow suspended her education so as to be a better plaintiff?

The arguments deployed to obscure what would, in the case of African-Americans and Latinos, be prima facie evidence for structural racism, are ever more inventive. But the reality – that if you’re an Asian-American trying to get into Harvard, you will be effectively as discriminated today as Jews once were – endures.

Smells Like Teen Misdemeanor

Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller report on a shift in how adolescent misbehavior gets punished:

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database. This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school.

Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

Robby Soave comments:

It’s worth mentioning that violence in schools did decline dramatically over the last two decades. I’m not certain how much of that should actually be attributed to police omnipresence, given that violence declined nationwide, not just in schools. But it would be reasonable to think some amount of policing had a positive impact on the extreme end.

That does not justify what’s happening now. Today, schools are relatively safe environments for kids; there’s no excuse for treating students like prisoners of war. Students are being educated in an environment of absolute non-freedom and petty authoritarianism. Administrators have all the power to ruin their lives over arbitrary enforcement of stupid rules.

Josh Marshall adds some analysis:

[W]e now have a system in which lots of kids end up in the hands of police for things that seem to be obviously things schools should handle on their own – as part of the socialization process that is a key aspect of the school system – rather than calling in the cops. As with the militarization of policing, the trend falls disproportionately and hardest on blacks and other minorities. But it’s notable that it is not restricted to non-whites. It’s general.

But one of of Josh’s readers focuses on race:

In the decades since Brown v. Board, there’s been a massive nationwide exodus of more affluent whites from our public schools. That’s resulted in resegregation, as whites and more well-off families of color tend to send their kids to a parallel school system of private and parochial schools, or to charters and “magnet” schools within the public school system designed to screen out undesirables (though the segregation at most charters runs the other way). So our schools in cities large and small chiefly serve students of color, mostly low- and lower-middle income kids. And as recent research has shown, those kids come in for much harsher punishment for stupidly minor infractions than do white kids — horrifyingly, even in preschool. This is actually something de Blasio’s DoE has been promising to address through revision of the discipline code.

Anyway, I think this accounts for why you don’t see this kind of stuff so much at white private and parochial schools (where neither do you see grueling testing regimens, or homework, or even, a few old-school nuns aside, the kind of wild fetishism of classroom order and discipline that inner city charter schools market themselves with). Fear of a black student.

Fifty Shades Of Racism?

Reviewing James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love, Alexander Adams praises the biographer for pushing back against Larkin’s more vociferous critics, especially those who dwell on his private sexism and racism. About the latter charge:

Any biographer has to take into account the criticism Larkin has faced for racist comments made in private letters. Those who are quick to apply the label ‘racist’ are usually unwilling (and NPG x12937; Philip Larkin by Fay Godwinunable) to distinguish causes and types of racism.

Racism is a spectrum of views, ranging from the pseudoscientific conviction that certain groups are genetically superior/inferior to a dislike of certain cultural manifestations. The causes of racist sentiment can be anything from displaced dissatisfaction, cultural prejudice, political partisanship, religious conditioning and nationalist sentiment in time of war right up to paranoid delusion. Dyspeptic misanthropes often express disgust in racist form when their frustration is of a general unfocused kind.

There is no suggestion that Larkin ever uttered a racial insult to a person’s face or engaged in any discriminatory behaviour (indeed, Booth presents examples of where Larkin supported the careers of non-white authors). Booth points out that Larkin only voiced racist opinions to receptive individuals (Amis, Monica, etc) in private and often undercutting epithets with irony or self-mockery.

While true, this does not make Larkin’s racist expressions false.

It would be surprising if a culturally conservative white Englishman with mild nationalist sentiments did not resent some of the cultural changes of Britain from the 1950s onwards, just as it is equally unsurprising that he felt somewhat ashamed of his prejudices and unwilling to hurt anyone directly. Booth has no need to excuse Larkin’s prejudices, just as we should have no reason to require excuses. HP Lovecraft’s racist view on life is an essential part of his writing; Larkin’s racist comments about West Indian cricketers and Indian doctors are peripheral and irrelevant to understanding his poetry.

There is also a very English Amis-Larkin cultural sub-text here: the ironic private use of racist and sexist language as a kind of mock meta-protest at the forces of progress. Jonathan Raban, in a review for The New Republic, discussed this question – without flinching from the actual words – this way:

In 1978 [Larkin] wrote to Robert Conquest: “We don’t go to Test matches now, too many fucking niggers about.”

The letters to male friends like Conquest and Kingsley Amis are salted with terms like “wop”, “coon” and “wog”, just as they are salted with nursery ruderies like “bum”, “piss” and “shit”; and in context the childishness of the words counts for a good deal more than their tiresome spray-gun racism. Larkin’s alternative conservative manifesto (“Prison for strikers, Bring back the cat, Kick out the niggers—How about that?”) and his ditty addressed to *H.M.* the Queen (“After Healey’s trading figures, After Wilson’s squalid crew, And the rising tide of niggers—What a treat to look at you”) have all the political heft of a pre-schooler showing off his hoard of dirty words to épater the aunties and get in with the big kids. No word was dirtier than “nigger”, and Larkin used it extensively to his boys-room cronies, for the usual boys-room reasons.

You see this increasingly on the American right: essentially trolling liberals by semi-humorously advancing outrageously racist or sexist  ideas and images as some kind of cultural identity. Merely a glance at much conservative media sees this Breitbartian tendency in full bloom. See: Drudge and depictions of African-Americans. See: Rush passim. But the difference, of course, is that the latter is fully public; while Larkin’s foul racist language was absolutely and extremely private.

Does that distinction matter? For the poetry, it seem pretty clear to me that it doesn’t. For the human being? Of course it does. To my mind, this kind of statement is dispositive:

I find the “state of the nation” quite terrifying. In 10 years’ time we shall all be cowering under our beds as hordes of blacks steal anything they can lay their hands on.

That quote comes via a review by John G Rodwan Jr of a book exonerating Larkin. And yet, as Rodwan notes, the same person who wrote that in private could also write the following in public:

The American Negro is trying to take a step forward that can be compared only to the ending of slavery in the nineteenth century. And despite the dogs, the hosepipes and the burnings, advances have already been made towards giving the Negro his civil rights that would have been inconceivable when Louis Armstrong was a young man. These advances will doubtless continue. They will end only when the Negro is as well-housed, educated and medically cared for as the white man.

It’s also true that few racists would have devoted their critical lives to reviewing jazz, as Larkin did. It was his one true passion apart from poetry, and it is an indelibly African-American art form. Rodwan deals with that question really insightfully.

I would simply add that human beings are extremely complex. No one is immune to the primate, private aversion to “the other”, whatever it is. No one is immune from resistance to cultural change. What we are responsible for is whether we allow those impulses to control our thoughts and actions, in private and public. My rather conventional view is that we should all strive as hard as we can to obliterate those impulses in both the private and public spheres. But in actuality, given human nature, they will tend to manifest themselves in all sorts of ways that can be misread or misunderstood if the only two categories are racist or non-racist. And what I worry about – especially with the almost constant stream of easy online pieces and posts decrying the racism or homophobia or sexism of one person or another – is that we simplify things that, in most human lives, resist simplification. By defending the dignity of some, we can reduce the complex humanity of others.

It is possible for a human being to be racist and non-racist in the same day, and indeed exhibit a mountain of contradictions across a lifetime. It is possible for someone to be publicly homophobic but privately tolerant and embracing, just as it is possible for someone to publicly be a model of human virtue while harboring private impulses and acts that are truly foul at times.

What I’m saying is that Larkin was clearly both things – in many mutations and manifestations through his life. What I’m also saying is that we are all both those things to some degree or other. And the spectrum of these varying thoughts, feelings and acts is broad and wide. We are not either/or. We are both/and. We are human.

Update from a reader:

It sounds as if Larkin was fine with AMERICAN culture being multi-racial, with AMERICAN Negroes getting their civil rights, with AMERICAN jazz reflecting the indelible print of African-American tonality and rhythm … but the idea that ENGLAND was going to experience the same diversity and cultural change was very scary to him.

(Photo of Larkin by Fay Godwin, via Wiki)

A Short Life Remembered

Ta-Nehisi interviews Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis:

It’s been almost two years since her son was murdered by a man who took offense to his music. The murderer was Michael Dunn. After shooting the boy, Dunn drove to a motel with his girlfriend. He ordered pizza. He mixed a few cocktails. Then, the next day, he turned himself in and claimed that he was defending himself against a shotgun-wielding Davis. No shotgun was ever found. In his first trial, Dunn was convicted of attempted murder, for shooting—unjustifiably—at Davis’s friends. He was not convicted of murdering Jordan Davis after the jury deadlocked. The state of Florida retried the case, and this time convicted Dunn of first-degree murder. …

Davis hailed from the striving class of America.

He grew up with all the comforts and possibilities that black people associate with Atlanta, where he was raised, and which Americans at large associate with middle-class life. And yet African Americans raised in such circumstances understand that in so many ways they are not that far removed from the block. Many of them are just a generation away, and they still have cousins, brothers, and uncles struggling. Their country cannot see this complexity, and thinks of the entire mass as the undeserving poor—which is to say, in the language of our country, criminal.

“For these people, The Cosby Show was just amusement,” McBath said. “They don’t know that in the black community the Cosbys exist. They don’t know that we educate our children, we train up our children, we have fathers, nurturing, and supporting. We have that. But that’s the America that a lot of people don’t know exists, and they don’t know because they don’t want to see it.”

Black-ish Is Beautiful

Alyssa Rosenberg declares the ABC sitcom “the best new comedy pilot of the fall television season”:

The series focuses on an upwardly-mobile black Los Angeles family, headed by Andre (Anthony Anderson), an advertising executive, his doctor wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), Andre’s father (Laurence Fishburne) and their four children. Andre appreciates the opportunities that are open to him, including a nice home and a possible promotion at his firm, but when “Black-ish” begins, he is also gravely concerned that his kids are drifting from his own sense of what it means to be black, in part because they have grown up in such relative comfort. …

But the tension Andre is feeling does not simply play out in his own family, where he and Rainbow–who is mixed-race–have radically different perspectives on everything from their own children’s choice of sports and attraction to Judaism to an ongoing disagreement about whether O.J. Simpson is actually guilty. Instead, the great insight of “Black-ish” is that everyone has a relationship to black culture now, as well as to issues of class and gender, and that there is great comedy and great insight to be mined in looking at the fine-grained differences in the perspectives everyone brings to blackness (and whiteness), family life and money.

While watching the first episode – available in full here – Judnick Mayard felt a pang of recognition:

The pilot, which airs this week on ABC, follows “Dre” on the day he is promoted to senior vice president at the ad agency where there are no folks of color on the management team. To his surprise, he is named SVP of the Urban Division, essentially boiling his job down to black man in charge of black stuff. His boss insults him further by requesting that he also keep it real on his first pitch, which incenses Dre into a mad spiral of reaffirming his blackness to himself and his family. Dre’s anger and antics throughout the rest of the episode come from feeling like his blackness (and his family’s blackness) is being attacked. It’s a feeling that many of us can understand.

Linda Holmes contends that “while the racial politics of Black-ish are interesting and feel pretty fresh … what’s even more unusual is Dre’s mention of money”:

What makes the show interesting and the comedy more pointed, for me, is that there’s a candor about the way that having money affects Dre and Rainbow’s sense of who they are and how they’re raising their kids that’s very uncommon in a world where the obviously rolling-in-dough families on Modern Family, for instance, almost never discuss it. That’s not to even mention, of course, the many much-maligned examples of people living in palatial New York apartments they would never be able to afford in their proffered professions, from everyone on Friends to Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, who was somehow supporting herself in high style and hot shoes by writing one column for one outlet, rather than living in a closet with four roommates and a cockroach infestation. Black-ish concerns itself largely with the way Dre’s sense of racial identity intersects with the introduction of wealth.

Willa Paskin adds, “What ultimately gives Black-ish so much warmth – a warmth reminiscent of, yes, The Cosby Show – is its optimism that audiences, of all colors, will not be turned off by its specificity”:

Black-ish is about the affluent black experience, no apologies, no soft-pedaling. And that experience, of course, encompasses the anxiety of raising your children, the sustaining of a great marriage, and the ongoing project of being the person you most want to be. Like the many, many sitcoms about the affluent white experience, this is a show that is meant to be seen and enjoyed by everyone.

But Kellie Carter Jackson longs for more all-black casts:

How is it that in the “Age of Obama,” there is even less black programming on TV, save the ratchet reality TV shows of Love and Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta? Not only are these reality shows a false and horrible representation of black culture, but they are essentially made for pennies on the dollar when compared to a network drama or comedy.

Of course, if reality TV such as Love and Hip Hop was about authentic, complex characters, I’d watch it. I’d watch a show about drug dealers, if it were authentic and thoughtful. Who didn’t love The Wire? Who doesn’t love a good anti-hero? Black TV isn’t always about the politics of respectability. What American television should be about is presenting America with a world as diverse and complex as it really is. TV’s visual binary should not consistently be limited to that of black success or black struggle: Most of us live somewhere in between.

Perhaps in the age of Obama, the decline of all-black casts is simply because African-American actors are more woven into the fabric of TV overall. If anyone knows of any demographic data pointing either way, email us at dish@andrewsullivan.com.

The Racial Divide On Spanking Kids

In the wake of the Adrian Peterson case, various threads are emerging. Josh Voorhees investigates the race angle:

The perception that black parents are more likely to employ corporal punishment than their nonblack counterparts is borne out by academic research. In one study that examined 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that 89 percent of black parents had spanked their children, compared with 79 percent of white parents, 80 percent of Hispanic parents, and 73 percent of Asian parents. There is no single reason why blacks are more likely to turn to the rod for discipline, but the numbers are correlated with factors that include socio-economic status, religious upbringing, and even the heartbreaking feeling that, as it’s often put, “I’d rather my child get a beating from me than from police.”

Still, it’s important to note that while black parents might be more likely to spank their kids, they’re not alone in raising a hand to administer punishment—the rates for white, Hispanic, and Asian parents in that University of Texas study are all above 70 percent.

Michael Eric Dyson had a deeply moving piece today – on the roots of such violence in the slavery era. I learned a lot. Money quote:

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

But the rates are not that much higher than for whites. Maybe it’s another function of the greater levels of and tolerance for physical violence in Jacksonian America. Aaron Blake has some data to back that up:

[A] funny thing happens when you look at race within the South. Then, you find, the gap between black and white is smaller. Here’s the eastern/Atlantic portion of the South:


Clarence Page brings a personal perspective:

Regardless of how much some of us look back with wistful nostalgia on our own spankings — as my Alabama cousins and I jovially recalled at a recent family reunion — corporal punishment poses more hazards than it is worth when compared to many nonviolent alternatives. …

I tried spanking our son in his preschool years, but he’s too much like me. He only grew more angry and defiant. But the kid was terrified of timeouts. The prospect of spending more than 10 seconds in solitary confinement — away from friends, TV, books, computer or video games — brought instant compliance.

I have to say that what surprises me is the joviality about it. Maybe that says something about the lack of permanent psychological scars; or maybe it’s a way of coping with them.

When A Black Woman Kisses A White Man

Ashley Southall tells the story of a possibly racist misunderstanding:

The actress, Daniele Watts, who appeared in “Django Unchained” and plays Martin Lawrence’s daughter on the FX show “Partners,” revealed the incident last week in a note on Facebook. She said she was “handcuffed and detained” by the officers “after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place.” … Ms. Watts’s boyfriend, Brian James Lucas, a celebrity raw food chef, said in his account of the incident posted to Facebook on Friday that the officers’ questions indicated that they suspected the couple were a prostitute and her client after observing their different skin colors, his numerous visible tattoos and her shorts. He did not say what questions the police had asked. Mr. Lucas also accused the officers of threatening to call an ambulance and to drug Ms. Watts “for being psychologically unstable.”

Yomi Adegoke contextualizes the incident:

Cases such as Daniele’s illustrate why intersectionality is crucial to any discussion of racism and, more pressingly, any discussion of feminism. We must face the facts — this would not have happened to Daniele had she been a black man, nor would it have happened if she were a white woman. … As it stands, black women are sexualised to such a degree — and black people criminalised to such a degree — that it appears the police are unable to fathom something as common as an interracial relationship in anything other than sexual terms, despite an incumbent biracial president.

And Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes the occasion to describe the extent to which non-black women are not hassled by the police.

The only correlate I have to stories of routine street harassment and cruelty by cops is how often I haven’t been bothered, arrested, or abused. And let’s just say I’m no angel. I have absolutely walked the streets of so many cities drinking alcohol from travel mugs, ducking into dark parks and alleys to sneak a joint or a kiss; purchased drugs and even untaxed cigarettes in the relative open; and generally engaged in the kind of semi-suspicious and minimally-criminal public behavior that I’m certain would get someone with darker skin or more testosterone at least harassed (if not arrested or assaulted) many times over. …

I wish everyone had the privilege I’ve had to not just break dumb laws without really fearing repercussion but even simply to go about regular life without being treated like a criminal. Incidents like this one with Watts, however, show how it’s not merely about the attitudes of cops. Excluding everything the officers did or didn’t do once they showed up, there’s still the fact that someone seems to have called them on an assumption that this young black woman cozying up to a white man must be a prostitute. Absent anything the cops did in Chris Lollie’s case, there’s still the fact that someone called them in to investigate a black man suspiciously sitting idly. There’s the fact that in my decade of living, working, walking, loitering, and sometimes breaking the law in cities, no one has ever called the cops on me.

Update from a reader:

Listening to the police tapes of the encounter clouds the narrative a bit. The police can’t go around randomly asking for ID – but they do have a right to ask for ID when they receive a call about a potential crime in progress, in this case what witnesses thought was public sex in a car. While that initial call to the police might have been racially-motivated (or they might have actually been getting frisky in the front seat), the actions of the officer seem to be pretty standard response: check IDs and move along. She was briefly detained when she refused. But come on: a cop, after getting a call about a possible crime, is obliged to investigate and is not just going to walk after if someone is being uncooperative. Racial bias in policing is deplorably common, but alleging racism over basic policing protocol doesn’t help the cause.

Corporeal Appropriation

Cultural appropriation in fashion isn’t limited to the clothes themselves. Stacia L. Brown takes issue with a Vogue article on “the era of the big booty”:

The ways in which black women and their bodies are discussed in mainstream, predominantly white media matters. “Vogue” isn’t the only publication to frame conversation like this poorly. Just this month, The New York Times published a piece on “natural hair” titled, “Curls Get Their Groove Back.” It’s a multi-paragraph missive about the “new” trend of white women eschewing hair-straightening and “cultural bias” against white women with curly hair. One line is given to the discussion of black hair.

Back in April, Carimah Townes argued along similar lines:

In an article comically entitled “Rear Admirable,” Vanity Fair showcases social media sensation Jen Selter, who skyrocketed to fame after posting photos of her butt on Instagram. The pictures used in the spread include a backside shot of Selter in a black corset, and another of the model in 1940s-inspired, fishnet lingerie. The accompanying text describes Selter as a “member of a rapidly rising subset of Instagram stars: young women unfraid to share their deeply bronzed, sculpted figures.”

The takeaway message is that showing off curves in a public way is not only a new phenomenon, but looking darker, “or bronzed,” is the new way to be beautiful. It’s a breath of fresh air to see curves and darker skin tones applauded by a world-renowned publication, but disappointing that Vanity Fair used a white Jewish woman to convey a newly-accepted norm.