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Privilege, Part II

I unpacked just some of the institutional racism black people face in the US. Trust me when I tell you that I barely scratched the surface, but I hope that I presented enough to paint at least a partial picture of how the deck is systemically stacked against black people in America and therefore offers white (or whitish) people privilege. White people have the privilege of having access to better education, opportunities for career advancement, fair (in the context of the scummy banks we all have to deal with) bank loan opportunities, and a multitude of other things that you literally don’t know you have because you can’t know that other people don’t have what you have, unless you listen and trust what is being told to you.

Some (okay, a lot) of people take personal offense to the notion of white privilege. Some people actually become angry at the mention of white privilege. Those people are usually the dumb racists. Why do I say dumb racists? Because studies show that racism is tied to low IQ. It’s not just one study, there are several out there. Sorry, I got off track with the dumb racists and whatnot. My point is that having white privilege isn’t your fault, and therefore shouldn’t be a source of shame or anger. Telling you that you have white privilege isn’t an accusation. It’s simply a statement of fact. I have white privilege. I never asked for white privilege, I’m not even white and yet, I am the proud owner of white privilege. Okay, maybe not proud but also not ashamed. I’m simply aware that I have it.

In this post, I want to get into the ways that racism is practiced by we, the American people. Not the institutional kind, but the kind that happens on the street, in stores and shopping malls and restaurants.

I’m going to start where I’ve spend much of the past three months; with cops. Cops are racist. Lots of cops are racist. Black, Latino, and white cops can all be racist. A really interesting study was published in the American Psychological Association earlier this year that looked at how young black men are perceived by cops (to be clear, I will be using "cops" as opposed to "policemen" based on nothing other than the number of characters I need to type, not disrespectfully). In this study, researchers tested 176 cops to look for 2 types of bias, "prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes". I’m actually not going to get into that second one because I’m just dubious of that characterization. So they took 176 mostly white cops from large urban areas and asked a series of questions. From the study;

"To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody."

One of the really interesting things that emerged is something that definitely requires further study. From the article;

“We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force”.

Fortunately, they did that research. This study took 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities and asked them to rate the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25 years old. They judged all of the pictures of kids up to 9 years old, regardless of race, equally innocent. In other words, it didn’t matter the race of the child, they were all seen with roughly the same amount of innocence. And then something interesting happened. Starting at age 10, they saw far less innocence in the black kids. From the article;

"The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated blacks with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent."

So 10 year old black children were seen as nearly 15 year olds. Back to the article;

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

So when Timothy Loehmann opened fire on Tamir Rice without saying a word to him, and then claimed he thought Tamir was 20 years old, he was probably telling the truth (but just about that one thing). These studies suggest that he thought Tamir was 20 years old because Loehmann is a racist fuckwit with a really, really low IQ. In fact, his father’s statement on the shooting tells me he comes from a long line of racist fuckwits with low IQs.

More from the article (to address the racist part);

"In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor."

In our society, black people no longer appear to be innocent children by the age of 12 or 13. They start appearing less innocent to us by the time they’re 10. Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine being seen as and reacted to as an adult at the age of 13? And it’s not just cops, it’s all of us. So when you’re 13 and people treat you like you’re 13 and want to protect you, that would be referred to as privilege.

Here’s an interesting little graph The Washington Post published that shows how much crime white people attribute to black people, versus how much crime is actually committed by black people.


Do you understand that this means that we see black people not only as being less innocent, but also as being more guilty? So when a car is broken into in your neighborhood, who do you think the cops are going to look for first? And in a situation that is unfolding quickly, who are the cops most likely to shoot if they have to make a split second decision? No need to guess, I have some numbers (of course I do!)

Pro Publica took a close look (read the whole article because there’s a lot there that I’m not going to go into) at federally collected data on police shootings. If you follow my Facebook or G+ pages, you know that this data is seriously incomplete (by design), but it’s all we have to work with. They looked at 1,217 fatal police shootings from 2010 – 2012. They found that that blacks, from the age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, compared to whites who were killed at a rate of 1.47 (same age range). If you’re not awesome at math, this means that black teenagers are twenty-one times more likely to be shot by a cop than white teenagers are. If that number isn’t shocking enough for you, they were kind enough to put this into perspective;

"One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week."

How do imagine white people would react to 185 more of their kids being killed by cop? Don’t. Don’t imagine what you would do. You have no fucking idea what you do because you haven’t experienced all of the layers upon layers of disadvantages that have been foisted on black people in this country from almost the moment they’re born. Just don’t do it. This is not your lane, and it’s best to stay in your own lane. When the looting and rioting broke out in Ferguson, I had no judgment to make on the matter because I understood that I couldn’t possibly understand. And even though I think I understand the situation intellectually by way of examining the data, I know that I don’t understand it emotionally. I have no idea what the appropriate level of rage is in this situation. I’m actually someone who feels perfectly comfortable not having an opinion about things. I don’t feel compelled to chime in on every topic, just because. And when I choose to have no opinion, that’s not an opinion. Not judging the rioters in Ferguson wasn’t a tacit approval of what they were doing. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to understand that not having an opinion is okay, and many felt the need to judge my lack of opinion.

I have another interesting study that I couldn’t smoothly work into this piece, so I’m going to share it now in order to lighten the mood from riots. Well, lighten as much as one can lighten the injustice of prejudice. I went over how being black costs you more money in the form of job opportunities, salary, financial opportunities, etc. Being black also means that you can’t sell your stuff without paying a let’s just call it "black tax". There was an interesting paper that examines racism on eBay. Yeah, I said racism on eBay. They specifically looked at items where the picture of the item included a hand. Presumably the hand of the seller. Since eBay is fairly anonymous and you can’t tell who you’re buying from, what their history is, and even if they’re male or female, the color of the hand might be the most you know about who you’re buying from. Wanna know what happened to the purchase price in auctions where there was a black hand in the picture of the item? I’m pretty sure you can guess where this is going. On average, those items sold for 20% less than comparable items held by white hands.

Be honest, did that ever occur to you? In all of your thoughts on racism in America, did it ever occur to you that eBay is racist too? It didn’t occur to me, which is why I can’t judge events like Ferguson. My point in writing these two posts is to show you that, if you’re not black, you can’t possibly understand the scope and the depth of the privilege you have. We never notice when we get more than the person next to us, but we always notice when we get less. And that’s why black people see the privilege you have, even if you don’t.

So what do you do about it? Pay closer attention. Don’t dismiss president Obama when he says he was followed around in stores as a young man, or Bill de Blasio when he says that he had to have "the talk" with his son. Listen. Be more aware. Learn what "the talk" is. You can’t take away your own privilege, but maybe you can help to give it to those who have never had it by virtue of noticing when it isn’t offered to them.                    


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