Tag Archives: racism

Post-summer reading list: The Family, gender, race, economics, gayborhoods, insecurity and overwhelmed

I was extremely fortunate to have a real vacation this summer — two whole weeks. I feel like half a European. In that time I read, almost read, or thought about reading, a number of things I might have blogged about if I’d been working instead of at the beach:

beach-reading-2

The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change

Yes, my own book came out. I never worked on one thing so much. I really hope you like it. Look for it at the Norton booth at the American Sociological Association meetings in San Francisco this week. Info on ordering exam copies here.

About that gender stall

The Council on Contemporary Families, on whose board I serve, published an online symposium titled, After a Puzzling Pause, the Gender Revolution Continues. It features work by the team of David Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman on a rebound in gender attitudes; new research on sex (by Sharon Sassler) and divorce (by Christine Schwartz) in egalitarian marriages; and how overwork contributes to the gender gap (by Youngjoo Cha). For additional commentary, see this piece by Virginia Rutter at Girl w/ Pen!, and an important caution from Joanna Pepin (who finds no rebound in attitudes in the trends for high school students). If I had written a whole post about this I would have found a way to link to my essay on the gender stall in the NYTimes, too.

Gender and Piketty

How Gender Changes Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’.” A discussion hosted by The Nation blog between Kathleen Geier, Kate Bahn, Joelle Gamble, Zillah Eisenstein and Heather Boushey

Scientists strike back at Nicholas Wade

Geneticists decry book on race and evolution.” More than 100 scientists signed a letter to the New York Times disavowing Wade’s use of population genetics. This story quotes Sarah Tishkoff, whose work Wade specifically misrepresented (as I described in my review in Boston Review). The article in Science also includes Wade’s weak response, in which he repeats the claim, which I do not find credible, that their objections are “driven by politics, not science.” He repeats this no matter how scientific the objections to his work.

Here comes There Goes the Gayborhood?

Amin Ghaziani’s new book has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention in the last few weeks. Here’s one good article in the New Yorker.

Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times

Marianne Cooper’s book is out now. From the publisher: “Through poignant case studies, she reveals what families are concerned about, how they manage their anxiety, whose job it is to worry, and how social class shapes all of these dynamics, including what is even worth worrying about in the first place.” Cooper led the research for Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, and the book is from her sociology dissertation.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time

Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post journalist, has written a really good book about gender, work, and family. (I was happy to listen to it during the drive to our vacation, because it helped me let go and ignore work more.) I’ll write a longer review, but let me just say here it is very well written and researched on the issues of time use, the household division of labor, and work-family policy and politics, featuring many of your favorite social scientists in this area. Well worth considering for an undergrad family course. (Also, helps explain why there are so many Europeans on American beaches.)

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New York City police killings: 1964 (life) – 1989 (art) – 2014 (life)

In July 1964, just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, White New York City police officer Thomas Gilligan killed Black 15-year-old James Powell. After two days of peaceful protest, police and protesters clashed and six nights of violence followed. This is not James Powell being killed, just another guy being beaten:

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In the summer of 1989, Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing featured the killing of Radio Raheem by White police — using the already-infamous chokehold — after they swept into the sweltering neighborhood, where a fight had broken out. The climactic incident sparked an explosive riot (watch the scene on Hulu with membership):

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Now, another quarter century later, police on Staten Island have apparently choked 43-year-old Eric Garner to death after he refused to cooperate with whatever random demand they had, as captured on video (and posted by the Daily News):

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Now the chokehold is against police department rules, but the number of chokehold complaints — a statistic the department keeps — has been rising and last year reached 233, only a “tiny fraction” of which are substantiated. In the Daily News video, Garner is heard saying, “I can’t breathe” many times.

UPDATE: Spike Lee has now produced a video splicing together the chokehold scenes of Eric Garner and Radio Raheem. It’s embedded on Indiwire here.

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Reviewing Nicholas Wade’s troublesome book

boston-review-frontpage

I have written a review of Nicholas Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, for Boston Review. Because there already are a lot of reviews published, I also included discussion of the response to the book. And because I’m not expert in genetics and evolution, I got to do a pile of reading on those subject as well. I hope you’ll have a look: http://www.bostonreview.net/books-ideas/philip-cohen-nicholas-wade-troublesome-inheritance

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Michigan Black college completion falters (with consequences)

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that Michigan voters have the Constitutional right to ban the state’s government from using race-specific policies. The immediate implication for Michigan, and other states, is for university admissions polices. So now if the state wants to pass a law allowing children of alumni easier admission to the University of Michigan, it’s a simple act of the legislature; but if they want to consider race in their admissions, they will need to amend the state constitution.

The University of Michigan has been at the center of national affirmative action debates for several decades (at least since I arrived there in 1988). I previously reported that court decisions against the state’s affirmative action policy led to a precipitous decline in Black students entering the University in the 2000s, as shown in this graph:

That’s just the University of Michigan, an important school, but only one. (The New York Times has a graphic showing enrollment trends in a series of states with affirmative action bans.) For the whole state of Michigan, Black college graduation rates fell further behind the national average over the last decade. Here is the percent of Black 25-29 year-olds who have completed college, from 1970 to 2012, nationally versus in Michigan alone, for women (left) and men (right):

michigan-black-grad-rates

Source: 1970-2000 Decennial Censuses and 2010-2012 American Community Survey, via IPUMS.

During the 2000s, the national-Michigan gap widened from 2.3 points to 4.1 points for men, and from 3.4 to 4.8 points for women.

I am not expert in the legal arguments over this, so I can’t analyze the decision (here’s one good take). But regardless of whether it’s bad law, I think it’s bad policy.

Yesterday in a tweet I picked on the new, data-heavy news operations run by (from left to right) David Leonhardt (NY Times Upshot), Ezra Klein (Vox), and Nate Silver (Five Thirty Eight) for having very White-looking staff teams:

thenewteams

I don’t know any more about what goes into their hiring decisions than I do about what goes into University of Michigan admission decisions (and I know they have staff beyond these featured writers). I’m sure they all want talented people with a wide range of perspectives and skills. But the outcome in both the media and college situations is bad. It limits the perspectives presented, undermines progress toward racial-ethnic equality, and contributes to the inertia that stymies the potential of future leaders.

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What they say about race when they don’t say anything about race and poverty

My picture from the 2013 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

My picture from the 2013 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Referring to The Bell Curve, Paul Krugman wrote that Charles Murray was “famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites.” In response, Murray wants us to know that the book was not about race and IQ. The research in the book (co-authored with Richard Herrnstein), purporting to show the powerful effect of genes on intelligence and success in America, was about Whites. Its sole concrete statement about race, Murray says, was this:

It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not justify an estimate.

That led to this Twitter exchange:

murray-fire-tweet

Why do so many people think the book was a sociobiological racist tract, when it made only indirect claims about genetic racial hierarchies? Context matters. In the U.S., you can practice racism without speaking about race.

In my teaching, I often discuss the role of male incarceration, mortality, and unemployment in contributing to the difference in marriage rates between Black and White women. And when I show that Black men have incarceration rates many times higher than White men’s, I focus on racism more than race. That is, these inequalities are not the outcomes of race, but of the way racial inequality works — explicit and implicit racism, unequal opportunity, policing practices, incarceration policies, and so on. Sometimes I do use phrases like “low-income communities,” or “inner city areas,” but I try to be specific about race and racism when it’s called for — even though of course it can be uncomfortable, for me and my students, to do that. It’s important because in the U.S. system of inequality racial inequality is not just an outcome: the system doesn’t just differentiate people by class or gender or skills or something else, with a lower-class population that “just happens” to be disproportionately from racial-minority groups.

One thing that frustrates me in the growing conversation about economic inequality is the appearance of a perhaps-too-comfortable stance in which being explicit about economic inequality means not having to address racial inequality. It is true, and important, economic inequality exacerbates racial (and gender) inequality. That’s why this stance frustrates me rather than angering me. But there is a certain politeness involved in talking about class instead of race that sometimes doesn’t help. Of course, this issue is not new at all, having been litigated especially extensively in the 1980s around the sociological work of William Julius Wilson (see, e.g., this collection).

Wilson’s research — the declining significance of race, or, the increasing significance of class — contributed to today’s movement against class inequality (as Krugman’s post illustrates). But it has also been co-opted by people taking the really racist position that inequality is caused by race (rather than racism). That is: poor minorities cause poverty. This position ironically doesn’t have to discuss race at all, because the framing is the dog whistle.

Which brings us around to the flap over Paul Ryan’s recent racist-without-race remarks. Here is a series of quotes to put that in context. None mentions race. Follow the underlined sequence:

William Julius Wilson: “Inner-city social isolation also generates behavior not conducive to good work histories. The patterns of behavior that are associated with a life of casual work (tardiness and absenteeism) are quite different from those that accompany a life of regular or steady work (e.g., the habit of waking up early in the morning to a ringing alarm clock).”

Newt Gingrich: “Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods, have no habits of working, and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday, they have no habit of staying all day.”

Paul Ryan: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Charles Murray: “Try to imagine a GOP presidential candidate saying in front of the cameras, ‘One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy.’ You cannot imagine it because that kind of thing cannot be said. And yet this unimaginable statement merely implies that when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.”

In this progression, we go from children not being sufficiently exposed to steady work, to children seeing no one working in their daily lives, to multiple generations not even thinking about working, to people who are genetically lazy. That’s something!

What they talk about when they’re not talking about race

In his post on the Paul Ryan comment, Shawn Fremstad compares Ryan to Murray and concludes that Murray is more apocalyptic because he’s warning against a White cultural collapse, not just complaining about a Black one. Murray has perfected the strategy of writing about Whites (including in his latest book, Coming Apart). But I usually think of this as a dog whistle device to protect his mainstream image while whipping up his racist base. That is, if you show that genetic intelligence determines economic inequality among Whites (Bell Curve) or that declining moral standards undermine families and the work ethic among Whites (Coming Apart), then the implications for Blacks — poorer and therefore supposedly more morally decrepit and less intelligent on a population level — are obvious and need not be repeated in polite company. Just say, calmly, “Smoke,” and let (racist) nature takes its course.

But maybe Fremstad is right, that the Full Murray is more extreme than the dog-whistling Ryan. Here’s how he puts it:

In short, today’s Charles Murray thinks the much bigger culture problem—the one that really puts American society’s very survival at risk—is with white working-class people, which is what makes Ryan’s almost-nostalgic dog-whistling about “inner-city” men so striking. The big question here is whether Ryan is willing to up ante, and go for the full Murray by calling out white working-class “culture”, particularly in the suburbs and small towns where so many low- and moderate-income white people live.

I don’t know. But one answer to that came in the follow-up flap, in which Ryan insisted to a reporter that he was talking about all poor people, such as the rural poor, for whom “there are no jobs.” As Jay Livingston points out, that’s not a clarification that was warranted when he was talking about “inner city” men who are “not even thinking about working.”

What does Brad Wilcox have to not say about this?

The other recent entry in this tradition is none other than Brad Wilcox, currently a colleague of Murray’s (and apparently an impressive one) at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). In last year’s attempt to promote early marriage, the “Knot Yet” report, he wrote about the “education and class divide” in non-marital births — and avoided race almost entirely.

But seriously, if you claim to be serious about the serious issue of unmarried women having babies, you can’t politely ignore race and racism. It’s ridiculous (as I’ve argued before, about mobility). This issue simply does not reduce to social class or education level. Look: Black mothers are much more likely than White mothers to be unmarried at every education level.

unmarriedmothers

Among college graduates, Black mothers are 5.4-times more likely than White mothers to be unmarried; for high school graduates it’s 1.7-to-1. Asian mothers who are high school dropouts are less likely to be unmarried than Black college graduates. However you want to address this issue (if you want to address it at all), if you ignore this pattern and only talk about education or social class, you’re either uninformed or dishonest.

Or, you don’t care about Black families. This is exactly what Wilcox exhibited in a shocking interview with James Pethokoukis for AEI. Wilcox said the government should lead a public education campaign to convince people to be married before they have children. Then the question was, “What would be the nature of that sort of PR campaign, and to whom would it be directed?” This was his answer (from the edited transcript):

Well, the first thing is you have to understand is where all the momentum is here. Basically, since the 1970s, you’ve seen pretty high levels of single parenthood and non-marital child bearing among poor Americans and Americans who are high school dropouts. And we’ve also seen in the last really 20 or 30 years that in some important respects, marriage is stronger among college-educated Americans. So, for instance, divorce has come down from the ’70s to the present for college-educated Americans. So there’s been progress there.

But I think in terms of where all the sort of movement is recently, and it’s primarily in a negative direction, it’s among moderately educated Americans who have got a high school degree or some college or kind of classic working-class or lower middle-class Americans. And it’s this particular portion of the population and where about half of their births are outside of marriage today. And they’re at a tipping point. They can go down the road of not having marriage as the keystone to their family formation, family life, or we can hold the line, if you will, and try to figure out creative strategies for strengthening marriage in this particular middle demographic in the United States.

What is the “classic working class or lower middle-class American”? Hm. Here I’ll switch to my own transcription of the audio file AEI posted, because the details they edited out are interesting. Pethokoukis asks Wilcox to elaborate, “is this the bottom 20 percent we’re talking about”?

No, no. I’m talking about, essentially, from the 25th percentile, if you will, to the 65th percentile. So, one way to talk about it would be, sort of, you know, in some ways the NASCAR demographic would be one way to talk about it. Actually a large share of the Hispanic population in the United States would fit into this demographic group. You know, it’s sort of this middle American group, both white and Hispanic, where, once again, they’re at kind of a tipping point. And if we can kind of I think get a positive message to this group or these groups about marriage and fatherhood, you know it’s kind of an ideal, it’s a goal. That is part of the solution.

Really. The 25th to the 65th percentile of family income? That is from $32,500 to $85,000 income per year. That includes 33 percent of the African American population, 37 percent of Whites, and 38 percent of Latinos.* So, it’s more or less the middle third of each group. Or, you know, sort of, Whites and Hispanics. And NASCAR people.**

Photo by familymwr from Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by familymwr from Flickr Creative Commons

Now I suppose this is what Shawn Fremstad calls the Full Murray. Wilcox is raising the alarm about Whites, “classic” Americans, who are “at kind of a tipping point.” Just as Ryan invokes the lack of jobs when he gets out of the “inner city,” when Wilcox is talking about “classic” Americans, he says there is still time to stop them from going “down the road of not having marriage as the keystone to their … family life.” With them, “we can hold the line” for marriage. The clear implication is that Blacks passed that “tipping point” already, so that no such intervention is warranted.

*All these numbers are based on the Current Population Survey of the civilian non-institutional population.

** Wilcox presumably assumes NASCAR fans are White, but various sources (like this and this) say Blacks are about 9% of its fan base (can you find the Black fan in the picture above?).

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The less things change, the more they stay the same: Michigan edition

The Black Student Union at the University of Michigan is protesting against the campus administration. One of their demands is 10% Black representation on campus.

The story in the Michigan Daily brought me back to my freshman January in Ann Arbor, in 1989, 25 years ago this week! It was the university’s first “Diversity Day,” a ham-handed response to student demands that the university celebrate Martin Luther King Day by canceling classes. At the time, the United Coalition Against Racism was demanding 12% Black representation.

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What a great photo, by Robin Loznak.*

The story of Black representation at Michigan is long and rather sad, in the intervening decades involving multiple Supreme Court cases (Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003), and then a ballot measure that banned affirmative action, which is before the court now.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS Data Center (which has this useful tool), the University of Michigan’s full-time undergraduate student population was 4.4% Black in 2012. The states’ 18-24 year-old population is 18.9% Black.

How does that compare to other big state universities? Using that NCES tool, and IPUMS.org’s 2012 American Community Survey data tool, I made the same comparison for the 30 largest 4-year state universities in the country (just enough to include my own, UMD). Those below the red line have higher Black representation in the state 18-24 year-old population than in the university. Those above the line… just kidding (click to enlarge).

blackstudents

Percent Black among 18-24 year-olds in the state, and among full-time undergraduate students in the university (30 largest 4-year state universities, 2012).

The three schools piled on top of each other are Cal State Fullerton, UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

Here’s the data in a table:

blackstudents-table

Michigan trend addendum

Dan Hirschman has provided data on the trend for Michigan from 1975 to 2009. Here is his note (from the comments), followed by my graph of the trend:

Black students at the University of MIchigan have been demanding – and needed to demand – 10% enrollment all the way back to the late 1960s (for a an overly detailed history, see here, starting on page 23). In the mid-1960s, after the first affirmative action programs were initiated, black enrollment rose from less than 1% to a bit more than 3%. At that point, there were actually enough black students to effectively organize and make demands (like increased minority enrollment). By the early 2000s, black enrollment actually approached 10%. Then the Supreme Court decision restricted the undergraduate race-based affirmative action program and the 2006 ban gutted it entirely, and we’re where we are now. So, the overall similarity of present and historical demands masks significant variability, and gains that have been lost.

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* A few days earlier, January 13, 1989, I wrote an op-ed for the paper in support of a proposed mandatory course on racism for arts college majors which never came to pass — the essay is actually here in the Google News archive of the Michigan Daily, where I got this screen shot.

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Black-White Polls on Race

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Photo by Philip Cohen (for my other pictures from the march, see here).

I attended the 50th anniversary March on Washington march the other day. It looked to me like the majority of the crowd was Black, though I haven’t seen any estimates.

Here are a few recent polls on race relations and inequality, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

la-times-race-pollSource: Pew Research Center in LA Times.

virginia-race-poll

Source: Quinnipiac University Poll of 1,589 Virginian adults, August 14-19.

gallup-race

Source: Gallup poll, June 13-July 5.

gss-race

Source: General Social Survey (RACDIF1).

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Who’s following Zimmerman and Martin, and to where?

Some especially virulent racism in the Atlantic comments on my post there about the George Zimmerman trial got me thinking about our “conversation about race.”

Trigger warning: a little hate speech follows. If you’re interested in the hate-Trayvon stuff I’m sure you’ve found it already. Just so you know what I mean, here are a few comments from the Atlantic comment section:

  • …any rational white person should be presumptively afraid of young black men, so long as they “look” and act a certain way. Why? Because they commit a huge, disproportionate number of crimes against white people, and because they act menacingly.

  • The only solution is to make sure we have less blackies in society, sterilization of prisoners is probably the way to start to make sure they don’t leave any off-spring and forced abortions of mothers on welfare.

  • Its not fear to be wary of young black males, its simple common sense. Even Jesse Jackson agrees. What you should fear though is the Federal leviathan and the presstitute Corporate Media which will both come down on your head like an anvil if you are White and dare defend yourself from violent, feral blacks.

  • Trayvon actually got less than what he deserved. PS. not including eternity in Hell where he now resides. [You might be glad to know that the up-vote:down-vote ratio on this one is 2:1. -pnc]

That kind of overt racism seems to simply drive many reasonable people out of the comments section, so there isn’t much resistance. At the same time, about 100 people tweeted out the post, and the ones who had faces visible in their Twitter avatars were mostly Black:

zimmerman jury tweeters

(To fill out the square I enlarged the guy with 90,000 followers.)

I don’t have the data or the know-how to really analyze web traffic on the blogs I write for. But I do see some broad patterns. For example, stories about race get a higher ratio of tweets to Facebook likes, which could represent the greater Black presence on Twitter. The Zimmerman post has a FB/Twitter ratio of 2.5 at this writing, compared with 11.3 for my last post on gay marriage.

ojreax

OJ acquittal reactions.

The conversation

Once again, the divergences in this conversation are more obvious than the convergences. I wonder if this is getting better or worse. One piece of evidence suggests it might be getting worse.

Believe it or not, attention to this case has been low by the standards of “racially charged news stories,” according to polling from the Pew Research Center for the People and Press.

The final days of the trial of George Zimmerman … attracted relatively modest public interest overall. In a weekend survey, 26% say they were following news about the trial very closely. … However, the story has consistently attracted far more interest among blacks than whites – and that remained the case in the trial’s final days. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to say they tracked news about the Zimmerman trial very closely (56% vs. 20%).

That 26% interest is a big enough slice of the population to make CNN go wall-to-wall, but it’s not discourse-shattering. The most interesting part of that Pew report is the historical trend of Black and White interest for a series of related public moments. Their table is sorted so that the events with the largest Black-White interest gaps are at the top.

pewblackwhiteinterestAll the events show greater Black than White interest, unsurprisingly. But if you squint – or sort the table by date – you can see that the gap has widened since 1992. Here are the Black and White interest levels arranged by date:

pewblackwhiteinteresttrend

This is only 10 events that generated national coverage, and there could be any number of reasons for the trend, so we can’t make too much of it. The Rodney King point is maybe in a different category because it’s not just a trial but a major conflagration afterwards. But that decline in White interest is pronounced even if that point is removed. If White interest in our “conversation on race” is declining, the apparent polarization we see now suggests it might be the middle that has lost interest.

My take on this is whole thing is mostly negative. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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Who’s Afraid of Young Black Men?

Originally posted at TheAtlantic.com.

How gender did (and didn’t) affect the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial

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AP Images

In conversation, I keep accidentally referring to Zimmerman’s defense lawyers as “the prosecution.” Not surprising, because the defense of George Zimmerman was only a defense in the technical sense of the law. Substantively, it was a prosecutionof Trayvon Martin. And in making the case that Martin was guilty in his own murder, Zimmerman’s lawyers had the burden of proof on their side, as the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin wasn’t a violent criminal.

This raises the question, who’s afraid of young black men? Zimmerman’s lawyers took the not-too-risky approach of assuming that white women are (the jury was six women, described by the New York Times as five white and one Latina).

“This is the person who … attacked George Zimmerman,” defense attorney MarkO’Mara said in his closing argument, holding up two pictures of Trayvon Martin, one of which showed him shirtless and looking down at the camera with a deadpan expression. He held that shirtless one up right in front of the jury for almost three minutes. “Nice kid, actually,” he said, with feigned sincerity.

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Joe Burbank/AP Images

Going into the trial, according to one kind of analysis the female jurors were supposed to have more negative views about Zimmerman’s vigilante behavior, and be more sympathetic over the loss of the child Trayvon. As a former prosecutorput it:

With the jury being all women, the defense may have a difficult time having the jurors truly understand their defense, that George Zimmerman was truly in fear for his life. Women are gentler than men by nature and don’t have the instinct to confront trouble head-on.

But was the jury’s race, or their gender, the issue? O’Mara’s approach suggests he thought it was the intersection of the two: White women could be convinced that a young black man was dangerous.

Race and Gender
Racial biases are well documented. With regard to crime, for example, one recent controlled experiment using a video game simulation found that white college students were most likely to accidentally fire at an unarmed suspect who was a black male — and most likely to mistakenly hold fire against armed white females. More abstractly, people generally overestimate the risk of criminal victimization they face, but whites are more likely to do so when they live in areas with more black residents.

The difference in racial attitudes between white men and women are limited. One analysis by prominent experts in racial attitudes concluded that “gender differences in racial attitudes are small, inconsistent, and limited mostly to attitudes on racial policy.” However, some researchers have found white men more prone than women to accepting racist stereotypes about blacks, and the General Social Survey in 2002 found that white women were much more likely than men to describe their feelings toward African Americans positively. (In 2012, a minority of both white men and white women voted for Obama, although white men were more overwhelmingly in the Romney camp.)

What about juries? The evidence for racial bias over many studies is quite strong. For example, one 2012 study found that in two Florida counties having all-white jury pool – that is, the people from which the jury will be chosen – increased the chance that a black defendant would be convicted. Since the jury pool is randomly selected from eligible citizens, unaltered by lawyers’ selections or disqualifications, the study has a clean test of the race effect. But I can’t find any on the combined influence of race and gender.

The classical way of framing the question is whether white women’s group identity as whites is strong enough to overcome their gender-socialized overall “niceness” when it comes to attitudes toward minority groups. But Zimmerman’s lawyers appeared to be invoking a very specific American story: white women’s fear of black male aggression. Of course the “victim” in their story was Zimmerman, but as he lingered over the shirtless photo, O’Mara was tempting the women on the jury to put themselves in Zimmerman’s fearful shoes.

Group Threat
But do white women really feel threatened by black men? That’s an old, blood-stained debate. In the 20th century there were 455 American men (legally) executed for rape, and 89 percent of them were black–mostly accused of raping white women. That was just the legal tip of Jim Crow’s lynching iceberg, partly driven by white men asserting ownership over white women in the name of protection. But the image of course lives on.

In the specific realm of U.S. racial psychology, one of the less optimistic, but most reliable, findings is that whites who live in places with larger black populations are on average express more racism (here’s a recent confirmation). Most analysts attribute that to some sense of group threat–economic, political, or violent–experienced by the dominant majority.

cohen_racegraph.png

Maybe white women’s greater overestimation of the black population is not an indicator of perceived threat. In the same survey white women were no more likely than white men to describe blacks as “prone to violence.” But that’s a question with an obvious right or wrong answer. Anyway, whether women feel more threatened than men do isn’t the issue, since the jury was all women. The question is whether the perceived threat was salient enough that the defense could manipulate it.

I don’t know what was in the hearts and minds of the jurors in this case, of course. Being on a jury is not like filling out a survey or playing a video game. But however much we elevate the rational elements in the system, of course emotion also plays a role. Whether they were right or not, Zimmerman’s lawyers clearly thought there was a vein of fear of black men inside the jurors’ psyches, waiting to be mined.

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The conversation about race next time

More on the Zimmerman trial soon, but first…

From Adam Nagourney in today’s New York Times:

The fallout over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin reverberated across the country on Sunday from church pulpits to street protests, setting off a conversation about race, crime and how the American justice system handled a racially polarizing killing of a young black man walking in a residential neighborhood in Florida.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it has a certain repetitive feel to it:

conversationaboutrace

 

 

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