First of all, we have no choice but to begin this discussion with the most uncomfortable fact of all: blacks commit more violent crime. That’s not because I’m obsessed with this topic, or get any kind of intrinsic joy out of it, but because it’s necessary information for the subject at hand.
Is it possible that these numbers are biased by racist police? No.
Here’s how we know: the National Crime Victimization Survey collects data from victim and witness reports. This data is dependent only on those who testify about crimes they witnessed directly, or on testimony from the victims of violence themselves. Police bias doesn’t even enter the equation.
What does this data show? It shows very clearly that when a person calls in a crime naming a black perpetrator, the cops are less likely to pursue than they are when a person calls in a crime naming a white perpetrator. (So does data looking at the rate at which suspects shoot and kill police. So does the best and most recent experimental data in controlled trials.)
What does that tell us? It tells us two very important things. Not only does it prove that racist cops are not skewing the arrest statistics by pursuing black perpetrators to the exclusion of white ones, it also proves that the black:white ratio in violent crime is in fact larger than what is shown by the arrest rates.
Now, when we take account of these numbers, guess what we find? A given white individual who commits a violent crime is in fact more likely to be shot by the police than a given black individual who commits a violent crime. So blacks are thirteen percent of the US population and more than thirteen percent of those shot by police, sure—but this disparity is entirely explained by blacks’ overrepresentation among violent perpetrators. Police don’t interact with a disproportionate number of blacks because of racism, but quite simply because they are going towards where the violent crime actually is.
And that’s their job.
The reason we hear more about black victims of police brutality is simply because more people get more outraged and make more noise about it when a black person is shot by police than they do when a white person is shot by police. I can prove this to the satisfaction of any literate person reading this article in one paragraph.
If you’ve been paying attention for the last two or three years, there’s a good chance you still remember the name Tamir Rice. Rice was the young black boy killed in Ohio for walking around with a toy gun. Have you ever heard the name of a single white person shot while holding a fake gun? The answer is no. But guess what? We have numbers on this: in 2015, there were a total of five black individuals shot under these circumstances . . . and twenty-two whites. More than four times as many whites were shot in that year while holding fake weapons than blacks—and yet, even if you remember the name Tamir Rice, you can’t recall a single white name.
That’s not because there aren’t white people being shot under the same circumstances. It’s because nobody makes the kind of noise about it that they do in the less frequent case where the victim is black.
There’s no question you’ll remember the name of Michael Brown in Ferguson. But did you know that in the very same month in which Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in self-defense, a black officer, Bron Cruz, shot a white man, Dillon Taylor, in the very same state? You can even watch the bodycam video for yourself. And it is harrowing: Bron Cruz approaches the situation by walking up behind the unarmed Taylor with his pistol already drawn and aimed at Taylor, and shoots him within seconds. Officer Cruz was cleared of any wrongdoing. Do you remember their names?
Of course you don’t.
The NFL is sixty-eight percent black. If ever there were an institution which refuted the claim that America systematically discriminates against blacks, and demonstrated that group outcomes depend on a combination of ability, dedication, and preference, it would be the NFL.
And ayyo, hole up, hole up. Before you go all Ta-Nehisi Coates on me, you can’t make this about some nonsense about how America simply has some crazed fetish for watching “black bodies at work.” Why not?
Ninety-eight percent of professional hockey players are white. And of the top hundred tennis players in the Association of Tennis Professionals in 2009, just three of them were black: the French duo of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Gael Monfils, and America’s James Blake.
If you’re going to offer an explanation for the predominance of blacks in American football, that explanation had better also be able to account for the dearth of blacks in hockey and tennis. You can’t simply claim that we privilege blacks in football because we’re racist, and then turn around and say that we also keep them out of hockey and tennis because we’re racist.
If you’re going to offer an explanation for one of these facts, then that explanation had better be able to explain both of them at the same time. Otherwise, it’s really obvious you’re just making this stuff up as you go along. “We don’t want to let black people live the dream of being professional athletes and prove that they can out-compete whites” fails as an explanation in relation to hockey and tennis because of football, whereas “we just want to make black bodies work and sweat for white entertainment because we’re sick, perverted, racist voyeurs at heart” fails because of hockey and tennis.
A more straightforward way to ask the pertinent question might be like so: how many white people would love to join the NFL and earn a minimum $7,200 a week for an average $2.1 million dollar salary? You’d better believe a whole hell of a lot of them would. Black overrepresentation in professional football is a privilege, not a symptom of racism.
“Oh no! How dare President Trump weigh in on what technically is a private controversy? This is an egregious violation of free speech! People shouldn’t be fired for their jobs over opinions!”
Here’s why you should probably just shut up now: it was barely a month ago that Senate Democrats spoke out in support of Google firing James Damore for an internal memo which politely discussed the reality of average differences in cognitive tendencies and lifestyle preferences between men and women which countless experts agree stated no facts that weren’t supportable by evidence.
James Damore made it clear that he was not sympathetic to the Alt Right. His memo was not “anti-diversity”—it merely asked that efforts to increase diversity take account of reality. So the solutions for increasing the participation of women in STEM careers which Damore discussed in his memo sounded like this:
. . . make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration . . . allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive . . . allow and truly endorse (as part of our culture) part time work . . . [and] allow men to be more “feminine.”
Does any of this sound like woman-hating to you? Does it even sound like conservatism? The man thought that part of the solution to lagging diversity in STEM was to let men be more “feminine.”
For God’s sake, that’s not some kind of anti-diversity fascism, it’s fucking liberal feminism.
So where was the Left during this free speech case? Outraged that career politicians were weighing in on private controversies? Stepping out in support of free speech?
. . . to the attendees at the free speech rally that was held in response to Damore’s firing in Boston which, once again, its organizer made very clear had “nothing to do with the Alt Right.” There were so many Leftists at this event throwing rocks and bottles of urine that the attendants themselves were vastly outnumbered.
As a result of that violent outnumbering, they ended up packing up and going home early.
I’ll be impressed if anyone can name a single liberal that spoke out against this egregious lack of concern for free speech demonstrated by the Left at every stage, from the original firing to their preposterous and often violent treatment of the people who subsequently showed up in Boston to meekly say, “Hey, support free speech and stuff, guys . . . maybe don’t fire people for discussing legitimate facts and trying to create an open discussion about solutions?”
“Social justice warriors” have been hard at work for years to convince us that when someone is offended by another person’s actions, the intentions of the offending party don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you mean no disrespect to Native Americans when you innocently go off to have a good time at a Halloween party in a mock headdress. It doesn’t matter if some of your Native American friends know you mean no harm, or even if they think you’re funny. It’s offensive because some Native Americans are offended, so your job is to shut the fuck up and listen and then take it off, or else.
It doesn’t matter if you meant no disrespect to blacks when you showed up at a private costume party dressed as Tiger Woods (and wearing “blackface”). Do something like this once, and it will continue to haunt you and ruin your career twenty more years down the line—because your intentions are irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter if you mean no disrespect to blacks when you allow your hair to form dreads. Your black campus intern still has the right to physically corner you, prevent you from walking away, and threaten to cut your hair off with scissors right then and there, physically restraining you while sending another black man to get the scissors—and the black student union on campus will openly make statements in support of her actions.
Even a lighter-skinned black woman like Zoë Saldana can’t cosmetically darken her skin in order to more accurately play the role of the very dark-skinned Nina Simone, because blackface was used in racist minstrel shows over a century ago. Zoë Saldana’s intentions don’t matter. Nor does it matter whether those who are offended can rationally justify that an actress in 2017 can’t apply cosmetics to more accurately represent the role she is playing because some people were racist over fifty years ago. Her intentions are irrelevant; people are offended! Therefore:
Everything else be damned.
But now, when conservatives are offended by what they perceive as NFL players’ lack of respect for the values and underlying meaning that they believe the flag represents, suddenly their offense doesn’t count for shit, and the intentions of those doing the offending are all that matter. What if they feel that way because their relatives came home from war in caskets wrapped in that very flag, committing their very lives to what they believed it represented, to the best of their ability?
It doesn’t matter. Now the intentions of the people who are triggering these feelings are all that count.
Here’s the thing you need to get through your thick skulls, though: you can’t have it both ways. Either intentions trump offense, or offense trumps intention. Pick one.
Jonathan Haidt’s work in moral foundations theory has shown us that while liberals care about what he calls the “care/harm” dimension almost exclusively, conservatives care about this dimension as well, but they also include the dimensions of “fairness/cheating,” “loyalty/betrayal,” “authority/subversion,” and “sanctity/degradation.” It’s this last dimension that is relevant for my current point.
As Haidt explains in his book, The Righteous Mind:
Sanctity . . . makes it easy for us to regard some things as “untouchable” . . . If we had no sense of disgust, I believe we would also have no sense of the sacred. And if you think, as I do, that one of the greatest unsolved mysteries is how people ever came together to form large cooperative societies, then you might take a special interest in the psychology of sacredness. Why do people so readily treat objects (flags, crosses), places (Mecca, a battlefield related to the birth of your nation), people (saints, heroes), and principles (liberty, fraternity, equality) as though they were of infinite value? Whatever its origins, the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities. When someone in a moral community desecrates one of the sacred pillars supporting the community, the reaction is sure to be swift, emotional, collective, and punitive.
The instinct that causes conservatives to be revolted when someone violates a symbol of their “moral community” (as Haidt calls it) is, in other words, literally one of the very roots underlying the human ability to form large, complex cooperative societies at all. If you think that this is as simple as people getting mad because someone did something to an inanimate piece of cloth, you’re really missing the point, and you actually just don’t understand the values that motivate conservatives at all.
If you want to get an audience that is predominantly conservative on your side about the problems you believe are facing your community, doing that by disrespecting symbols that represent belonging to their shared “moral community” is exactly the opposite of what you would want to do. It quite literally is exactly like protesting gang violence in black communities by walking around in ghettos making the symbols of local gangs and then spitting on your hands. Or like going into a church to appeal for charity while yelling “Fuck Jesus Christ! I denounce and reject the Holy Spirit! Goddamn the Bible! Hey, good Christian people, would you please give me some money?”
I haven’t created or discovered any of the facts explained in this essay. I’ve merely pointed them out; but they were true for a long time before I restated them here. Nevertheless, knowing these things hasn’t changed anything. “Let’s just offer the people who continue to inject these hostile and false political narratives into our daily entertainment and violently attack free speech rallies a more accurate take on the facts” is not a viable strategy for changing anything. The organizers of that rally made it perfectly clear that they had nothing to do with the Alt Right from the outset, but Leftists still showed up with bottles of piss and rocks and shut it down. No one cared, and it didn’t change anything. The facts I’ve laid out here have been out in plain sight for a long time. No one cared, and it didn’t change anything.
“Let’s make sure people hear as much about white victims of police brutality as black victims” isn’t, either. Do you think the families of those white victims aren’t doing everything they can already to fight for justice? Of course they are. No one cares. And it hasn’t changed anything.
“Let’s give them an in-depth psychological explanation of what symbols like the flag mean to conservatives, and an evolutionary analysis of why it matters” won’t work. Jonathan Haidt is already in academia offering that kind of analysis. No one cares. It hasn’t changed anything.
The fact is, you know the name Tamir Rice and don’t know the name of a single one of the twenty-two whites shot and killed while holding toy guns because the media and the identity politics-based voting blocs care more about a case like Tamir Rice’s. The fact is, the people who care more about the death of Michael Brown than about the death of Dillon Taylor don’t have the same visceral response to the desecration of your national symbols as you do.
And that’s because they don’t belong to what Haidt would call the same “moral community.”
When Alejandro Villanueva stood out as the lone member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to sing the national anthem while the rest of his team stayed off the field in protest, the Steelers’ black head coach, Mike Tomlin, responded with disappointment: “I was looking for one hundred percent participation. We were gonna be respectful of our football team.” In criticizing Villanueva for participating on his own, Tomlin made it clear that respect for the (seventy percent black) collective football team he belongs to matters more to him than respect for the symbols of the (thirteen percent black) collective nation he belongs to. That’s quite simply because the people he works with are his “moral community”—not “the United States.”
The point that I’m arriving at now may seem surprising if you think I’m condemning Tomlin for this attitude, but here’s the thing: this is perfectly normal and natural.
It is perfectly normal and natural for blacks to care more about Tamir Rice than Dillon Taylor. It is perfectly normal and natural for Mike Tomlin to feel more responsibility toward fellow blacks, from similar backgrounds, on his football team than he does to the idea of America as a collective nation. All of this is just basic human nature, and we’re not going to change that anytime soon.
What we might productively change, however, is a reorientation of our concept of nationality. Rather than believing we all belong to the same “nation” the moment we step foot on the same landmass, we might come to adopt the more realistic view that a people actually form an organic “nation” when, and only when, they show a commitment to the same sacred symbols, and thereby demonstrate that they belong to the same shared “moral community.”
Were we to adopt this realistic view, then we would see these protests for what they actually are: a declaration of willful non-belonging to one “moral community”—those who see themselves first and foremost as citizens of the United States—and of allegiance to an entirely different “moral community” which defines itself precisely in opposition to what they perceive as the history of the former.
Then and only then might a real and meaningful discussion of long-term solutions be possible—and it would involve discussing the option of giving members of resistant or hostile “moral communities” their own symbols to unite around, and their own territories to unite around those symbols within. The only possible alternatives will necessarily require forcing some group of people to pledge allegiance to symbols which are not their own in order to pretend to feel affinity with “moral communities” to which they don’t actually organically belong. That isn’t fair for whites, and it isn’t fair for blacks, either. Peaceful and voluntary separation, with a focus on proactively building and contributing to the “moral communities” we do belong to, is the only choice that can possibly be fair to us all.
1. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Random House, 2012), p. 149.