Another perspective on the protests
Two claims drive the recent protests, riots, looting, and white people prostrating themselves before black people. First, racism today is causing blacks to do poorly. Second, the criminal justice system is racist. Both are likely false.
Consider the first claim. Racism today is causing blacks to do poorly.
First, the evidence is thin for racism today being a major factor in explaining how blacks are doing compared to Asians, Hispanics, and whites. The racial pattern is noteworthy. On almost any of issues of group performance (for example, credit score, divorce, education, incarceration, out-of-wedlock children, and poverty), Asians do as well if not better than whites. Unless one thinks that Asian overperformance and black underperformance have entirely different sets of causes, it is likely that differences in education, family structure, and social capital explain much of the groups’ comparative performance.
For example, the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald reports that black seniors in high school college read at the level of white eighth-graders. And the latter’s reading ability is nothing to write home about. Via education, poor reading skills affect employment, income, etc.
Consider, also, math SAT scores. A 2017 Brookings Institution study found that Asians and whites scored more than 100 points higher than blacks. This is not an issue of income. Mac Donald points out that in 2015, poor white students did better than upper class black students on the math SATs. Math ability affects education and, thus, employment, income, and wealth.
Even some of the some of the social scientists’ explanations of discrimination are falling apart. Too often, they have not been replicated or have been found to be invalid, unreliable, or poorly thought out. An experiment is replicated if other experiments with a different situation and subjects get the same basic finding as the original experiment. A psychological test is reliable if the same individual, taking the test multiple times, gets roughly the same score. A psychological test is valid if it measures what it claims to measure. Among the problematic models of racism are implicit bias (reliability and validity problems), micro-aggressions (validity and conceptual problems), and stereotype threat (replication and validity problems). The lack of evidence for real racism has led to pseudo-racism theory, including institutional racism and structural racism, that contaminates elite thinking.
Second, black people are morally responsible for at least some of their difficulties. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution argues that if one does these three things, her chance of being in poverty is small (2%). The three things are finish high school, get a full-time job, and wait until age 21 to get married and have children. When the economy is not in the tank, this is not too much to ask. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, roughly half of people incarcerated in the U.S. committed crimes of force, fraud, or theft. Again, refraining from doing these is not too much to ask.
Blacks consistently vote for candidates who ignore their problems. The biggest problems blacks face are the broken public-school system in the inner cities and the intertwined scourge of massive incarceration and overcriminalization. They bear part of the political blame if there is such a thing. The teachers’ unions own Democratic politicians. In the U.S., inner-city education will not be improved without cutting the teachers’ unions down to size and reforming the education system (for example, more competition and less regulation).
Third, the notion that the criminal justice system is racist is not well-supported. The Sentencing Project found that in their lifetime, roughly one out of three young black men will be under the control of the criminal justice system. This is a damn disgrace. But it is a problem with too much of daily life being criminalized and too much incarceration, not a racial problem.
Heather Mac Donald points out that in 2005, blacks were seven times more likely than whites or Hispanics to commit murder (another study finds them 11 times more likely than whites to commit murder). The very controversial Edwin Rubenstein argues that blacks are not arrested at a disproportionate rate. This can be seen in that arrest patterns track victim and witness surveys.
Consider police shootings. Using numbers from a study by Michigan State University’s Joseph Cesario and University of Maryland’s David Johnson, once you control for factors such as violent criminal behavior, police shootings do not have a racist pattern. Here I sidestep Cesario and Johnson’s analysis. In fact, once you control for this and related factors, police are more likely to shoot a white person than a black person.
Similarly, Harvard’s Roland Fryer found that police do not shoot blacks or Hispanics in disproportionate numbers, although he found that they are more likely to use force against them.
Consider interracial crime. Using government data, Rubenstein finds that a black in 2013 was 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race. He notes that in 2013, of the approximately 660,000 crimes of interracial violence that involved blacks and whites, blacks were the perpetrators 85% of the time. As a result, he claims, a black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa.
Fourth, some of the differential treatment that gets passed off as racism is a rational response to the above factors. It is prudent to consider facts about criminality, education, family structure, and finances when one decides whom to date, hire, or live near.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people admire and respect blacks. Black people are our family members, friends, and lovers. We love to watch them in movies and sports, we lust over them, and consider whether to vote for them. When they are criminals in office (see Barack Obama), they disappoint us. Other times, they inspire us.
In short, the protests, riots, looting, and kneeling rest on false claims. The protesters and those supporting them are embarrassing themselves. Shame on them.
Stephen Kershnar is a philosophy professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org