False Categories: Black-on-Black Crime

Photo Credit: Flickr user Phil CrisologoI maintain that doubting and refining (and sometimes rejecting) one’s ideas is a fundamental part of knowing. Without those habits, ideas become brittle and dogmatic, and demagoguery becomes common. Without those habits, we can develop entire concepts with ready-made distortion built in. I think of these concepts as false categories: words or phrases where peripheral qualities are used to define a convenient set of things regardless of relevance.

Have you ever had someone ask you a rhetorical question that just made you think “that’s a stupid question,” but you couldn’t put your finger on why? Did you find yourself reluctantly pulled along by their logic, knowing full well that there was a flaw somewhere but unable to find it? This has been my experience when I encounter false categories—I recognize that there is a specious premise in the question, but it take a while to parse it out because it was hidden in the language instead of stated outright.

Of course, categories are useful and effective shorthand for thought and debate. This is why we rely on them so much. But human beings are also too enamored of categories; we think too little about them, and we overlook false categories that contain questionable implications. You can draw a circle around any convenient thing and call it a category, and we do, especially when there is an ideological motive for doing so.

Case in point, the phrase “black-on-black crime.” For white people, racial tensions they had mostly ignored have become much less ignorable in the recent past. For those white people motivated to dismiss the idea that racism still has any role in American society, “black-on-black crime” is a refuge. “Look!” these people can say, “there are proportionally more murders by black Americans of black Americans! Black-on-black crime is the real issue you should focus on, not [insert topic here].” Black Lives Matter? Then why don’t they focus on Black-on-Black Crime (and stop picking on George Zimmerman, or white people, or police officers)?

On the face of it (ignoring the false choice idea that you can only focus on one thing at a time) the category of “black-on-black crime” is apparently real. FBI crime statistics bear out that there is, indeed, more crime within races than across races, and more crime overall in black communities. So one could be forgiven, after a cursory glance at the data, for thinking the category of “black-on-black crime” is a natural category with real implications. Which is where a lot of people would stop, so let’s not.

The phrase “black-on-black crime,” especially when used in discussions about structural racism, implies a false equivalency between crimes motivated by racism and crimes motivated by poverty. To suggest that the Black Lives Matter movement should focus on “black-on-black crime” instead of structural racism in police departments implies that because more poor black people kill other black people than do racially motivated police, the latter should be somehow less important. Even the premise that you could focus on one and not the other implies no chain of causality between a community unable to trust its police force and the levels of crime within that community.

The phrase “black-on-black crime” carries with it the implicit limit of violent crime, the sort of crime where one or two people have one or two victims and there is direct interaction between them. If one includes fraud, embezzling, tanking the world economy, or various other kinds of white-collar (and mostly white-person) crime, the question of who counts as a victim becomes altogether muddled. White people often talk about white-collar crimes as “victimless,” but I think all the people who got stuck in foreclosure after being bamboozled into bad mortgages would disagree on that point.

The thing that bothers me most about “black-on-black crime” is that it is fundamentally a bait-and-switch. The category acknowledges that race is an important factor in the discussion, but then uses that importance to divert attention and avoid responsibility. It betrays a deeply separatist view of American society and carries the deep conviction that races are just different, which leads treacherously to the idea that some races are more criminal. Crime in white communities is painted as an aberration, but the implication of the phrase “black-on-black crime” is that crime in black communities is inherently tied to the racial makeup of those communities. Never mind that we know crime is actually tied to the density and socioeconomic makeup of communities, and societal structures and history have conspired to make poor urban communities more black than white.

This is why I believe “black-on-black crime” is a false category. Like many false categories, it takes an incidental factor and paints it as causal. Usually that’s just a mistake, a cognitive shortcut that we take so often that it’s tough to avoid. In this particular case, though, it echoes a long and shameful history of white people judging other races as inferior.

Some white people try to convince themselves that they no longer do this. Some try to convince themselves that racism isn’t a real part of society. “Black-on-black crime” does have something real to say about race, but what is has to say is that uncomfortable white people are trying very hard to look away. Racism, though, will not be buried in so shallow a grave; it will keep rising to the surface until we deal with it honestly, and structurally, and humbly.

August Recommended Reading

At the end of each month I compile links to articles I found thought-provoking over that month, categorized with pull-quotes for your perusal and edification. Each of these is a story that made me stop and think, and hopefully one or two of them will do the same for you.

LGBTQ Rights:

When Public Servants Refuse to Serve the Public – Garrett Epps

“Is it possible to agree on what religious freedom is not? It’s not a right to wear a Marine uniform but refuse to fight. It’s not a right to be a county clerk and decide which citizens you will serve and which you won’t. Religious “accommodation” doesn’t mean what Liberty Counsel thinks it means. If a person can perform the duties of a job with some adjustment for religious belief, that’s an accommodation. If they’re not willing to do the job, they have to leave. That’s not just a requirement of law; honor requires it as well.

Government in particular has an obligation to dismiss any employee who claims a right to discriminate against citizens. It’s not good enough to say, “Go to another county if you want a license.” It’s not good enough to say, “I won’t let anyone get married.” Those aren’t a clerk’s decisions to make.”

Racism:

Black American lives are being erased. The victors still rewrite history. – Lindy West

“There is nothing intrinsically wrong with paying tribute to a big, beautiful lion whose life was sacrificed on the altar of white male insecurity. There is nothing intrinsically wrong, I suppose, with devoting column inches to an apparently dangerous racist publicly confirming that he is a dangerous racist. But we must remember that when we use the phrase “History is written by the victors”, we are talking about moments like this. This is what that looks like. The victors (ie the beneficiaries of the status quo) are writing history, in front of our eyes, in real time – deciding what will endure and what will fade away. This isn’t necessarily an overt, explicit or even conscious process – it’s often just a series of seemingly innocuous choices that add up to a slow, grinding erasure.”

Tracking Police Violence A Year After Ferguson – Donovan X. Ramsey

“Over the past few months, The Guardian and The Washington Post have published reporting projects that measure the number of civilians killed by police. The Guardian’s count for 2015 stands at 690, and the Post’s, which tracks deaths from police shootings in particular, is at 581. Both projects rely on data provided by news outlets, research groups, and the open-source reporting projects Fatal Encounters and Killed By Police. The Guardian’s and Post’s projects have captured the public’s attention, but Sabol says they lack the rigor needed to provide lasting answers. The projects are, after all, works of journalism designed to offer estimates based on available data, not official measurements.”

Sexism:

Why Can’t the FBI Identify Serial Rapists? – T. Christian Miller

“That’s what’s striking about ViCAP today: the paucity of information it contains. Only about 1,400 police agencies in the U.S., out of roughly 18,000, participate in the system. The database receives reports from far less than 1 percent of the violent crimes committed annually. It’s not even clear how many crimes the database has helped solve. The FBI does not release any figures. A review in the 1990s found it had linked only 33 crimes in 12 years.

Canadian authorities built on the original ViCAP framework to develop a modern and sophisticated system capable of identifying patterns and linking crimes. It has proven particularly successful at analyzing sexual-assault cases. But three decades and an estimated $30 million later, the FBI’s system remains stuck in the past, the John Henry of data mining. ViCAP was supposed to revolutionize American law enforcement. That revolution never came.”

It’s Weird How People Correct Me When They Think I’m a Woman – Jef Rouner

“It went on and on and on. I even saw one person (who I blocked because I don’t need to see this sort of nuttiness) on a friend’s Facebook share refer to my work as “typical white women liberal logic”, whatever the heck that means. Time after time, I was assumed to be a woman, and those who did so were usually the ones who immediately tried to mansplain away every seed of logic and well-sourced information that I had planted.”

To Have and to Hold: Reproduction, marriage, and the Constitution – Jill Lepore

“The coincidence of the fiftieth anniversary of the Court’s ruling in Griswold and its anticipated decision in Obergefell makes this, inescapably, an occasion for considering the past half century of legal reasoning about reproductive and gay rights. The cases that link Griswold to Obergefell are the product of political movements that have been closely allied, both philosophically and historically. That sex and marriage can be separated from reproduction is fundamental to both movements, and to their legal claims. Still, there’s a difference between the arguments of political movements and appeals to the Constitution. Good political arguments are expansive: they broaden and deepen the understanding of citizens and of legislators. Bad political arguments are as frothy as soapsuds: they get bigger and bigger, until they pop. But both good and bad constitutional arguments are more like blown-in insulation: they fill every last nook of a very cramped space, and then they harden. Over time, arguments based on a right to privacy have tended to weaken and crack; arguments based on equality have grown only stronger.”

‘This isn’t right’: New York City rape victim blasts police who asked if she was a drunk ‘party girl’- David Ferguson

“Having to recite her story repeatedly to openly skeptical police officials was a humiliating and degrading ordeal, Ellett said. “I had to keep retelling my story to a dude who didn’t even care, and who kept asking me to prove that I wasn’t some whore who forgot that I said that this guy could have sex with me,” she recounted.

She was then taken to the city’s Fifth Precinct headquarters where five more male police officials interrogated her. “[The officer] said, ‘Maybe you led him to believe it was okay in some way?’ I kept repeating myself and I got so frustrated. He told me, ‘If it’s his word against yours it’s gonna be years of an uphill legal battle, a lot more strife.’ He was basically deterring me from doing anything about it. I just asked him, ‘Well isn’t rape a crime? Isn’t it a felony?’” she said.”

Classism:

The Teen Who Exposed a Professor’s Myth – Ben Collins

“The theory picked up traction over the last decade, but seemed to reach an unexpected fever pitch in the last few months. Explainer websites this year used it to highlight popular myths of persecution complexes that are, as Vox put it, “stand-ins for an entire narrative about how immigrants are treated in America.” That’s from the lede of an article printed in March called “‘No Irish Need Apply’: the fake sign at the heart of a real movement.” Here, of course, is the problem: After only couple of hours Googling it, Rebecca, a 14-year-old, had found out these signs had, in fact, existed all along. Not only in newspaper listings—in which they appeared in droves—but, after further research, in shop windows, too.”

Haunted by Student Debt to the Grave – Mary Green Swig, Steven L. Swig and Roger Hickey

“Many people, including many student debt holders, may be surprised to learn that people can be pursued for student debt even into their elder years. In fact, the government is withholding Social Security payments for some retirees because their student loans have not been fully repaid. This is a growing problem that Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have asked the government to study in greater depth. “Garnishing Social Security benefits defeats the entire point of the program – that’s why we don’t allow banks or credit card companies to do it,” said Sen. McCaskill. “Social Security is the sole means of retirement income for tens of millions of Americans, and allowing those benefits to be garnished to collect student loan debt cuts a dangerous hole in our safety net.” ”

Climate Change:

Hurricane Katrina, Ten Years Later: How a Country that Bore Witness Still Plays Business as Usual – Erika Spanger-Siegfried

“The default, our reality, is still business as usual along much of our coasts. And business as usual—that is, acting as though the sea hasn’t risen and won’t keep going—is risky business. Let’s consider New Jersey, which has the memory of Katrina and the punishing first-hand experience of Sandy to guide its coastal decision making. Just last month, New Jersey adopted major changes to its Coastal Zone Management Rules that, according to the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management, “do not consider the effects of sea level rise; incorporating sea level rise into the permitting process is critical if it is to meet its goal of not putting the inhabitants of the New Jersey shore at risk.” This follows on a trend of rapid re-development in highly vulnerable places, such as the Barnegat Peninsula.”

Science:

Would You Rather Lose Your Morals or Your Memory? – Vlad Chituc

“This view, that our memory is what’s most essential to our identities, is most often credited to John Locke, a 17th century British philosopher. It’s difficult, though, to test this directly—after all, you can’t really ask someone who’s lost their memory whether or not they’re the same person as someone they no longer remember. To get around this requires some thought. In past work, Strohminger and Nichols tested Locke’s hypothesis with hypothetical scenarios: imagine someone seriously injured their head and lost their memories, or they lost their sight, or they lost their moral compass, and so on. Strohminger asked people to rate how different someone would be after these kinds of accidents. “What we find consistently, really no matter how we ask this question,” Strohminger told me, “is that moral traits are what matter the most.” ”

Scientists replicated 100 recent psychology experiments. More than half of them failed – Julia Belluz

“Consider the newest evidence: a landmark study published today in the journal Science. More than 270 researchers from around the world came together to replicate 100 recent findings from top psychology journals. By one measure, only 36 percent showed results that were consistent with the original findings. In other words, many more than half of the replications failed.

“The results are more or less consistent with what we’ve seen in other fields,” said Ivan Oransky, one of the founders of the blog Retraction Watch, which tracks scientific retractions. Still, he applauded the effort: “Because the authors worked with the original researchers and repeated the experiments, the paper is an example of the gold standard of replication.” ”

Science Isn’t Broken: It’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for – Christie Aschwanden

“Taken together, headlines like these might suggest that science is a shady enterprise that spits out a bunch of dressed-up nonsense. But I’ve spent months investigating the problems hounding science, and I’ve learned that the headline-grabbing cases of misconduct and fraud are mere distractions. The state of our science is strong, but it’s plagued by a universal problem: Science is hard — really fucking hard. If we’re going to rely on science as a means for reaching the truth — and it’s still the best tool we have — it’s important that we understand and respect just how difficult it is to get a rigorous result.”

June Recommended Reading

At the end of each month I compile links to articles I found thought-provoking over that month, categorized with pull-quotes for your perusal and edification. Each of these is a story that made me stop and think, and hopefully one or two of them will do the same for you.

Racism: 

Black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as white people – Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland and Jamiles Lartey

“Steven Hawkins, the executive director Amnesty International USA, described the racial imbalance as ‘startling.’ Hawkins said: ‘The disparity speaks to something that needs to be examined, to get to the bottom of why you’re twice as likely to be shot if you’re an unarmed black male.’ ”

I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing – Redditt Hudson

“It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed. And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty.”

11 ways white America avoids taking responsibility for its racism – Dr. Robin Diangelo

“When you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesn’t change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.”

Why don’t Americans call mass shootings ‘terrorism’? Racism – Jessica Valenti

“Despite the fact that Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said early on that “this is a hate crime” and that a witness reported that suspect Dylann Roof said to the black people he killed, “you rape our women and are taking over our country”, conservative columnist AJ Delgado maintained that the “odds would favor [the crime] NOT being racial”, Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham called him a “whacked-out kid” and suggested he was “looking for Christians to kill them, and USA Today referred to him as a “lone wolf”. The Daily Beast described the killer – a man who reportedly sat with a bible study group for an hour before he started to kill people – as “quiet and soft spoken”, averring that he had black friends on Facebook, even as his nine victims remained unnamed and uncelebrated.”

Feminism: 

What we know about false rape allegations – Dara Lind

“Research has finally nailed down a consistent range for how many reports of rape are false: somewhere between 2 and 8 percent, which is a lot narrower than the 1.5 percent to 90 percent range of the past. But it’s also shown that the cultural debate over rape shapes the reality of how rapes are reported and investigated. The incidents that many people think of as “gray rape” — cases where the victim knew or even dated the offender, where the victim was intoxicated, where the victim didn’t fight — are the ones most likely to be treated as false by investigators. But in reality, the rape reports that turn out to be false are more likely to involve strangers and violence.”

Investigative Report: How Victim-Blaming Led to the Rape Kit Backlog – Sofia Resnick

“The discovery that victim-blaming attitudes dissuaded police and prosecutors from testing kits was not shocking to the study’s lead researcher, Rebecca Campbell, a professor of ecological-community psychology at Michigan State University. But what did strike her was how slim many of the Detroit police officers’ investigation reports in these sexual assault cases were. Campbell told RH Reality Check that in many of the cases her team studied, there was “virtually no investigation” conducted by police, particularly in cases where the suspect said the sex was consensual. “We could hold reports up that were a single page, and that was it,” she said. “There was no investigation ever taken on the case.” ”

What If We Treated All Consent Like Society Treats Sexual Consent? – Alli Kirkham

“Consent around sex is ignored all the time, and it’s not okay. These everyday examples of how we give consent for other things shows just how absurd it is to blame sexual assault survivors or to try to justify rape in any way.”

Politics and Policy: 

Waiting for the Conservative Jon Stewart – Oliver Morrison

“Six years in, Obama’s party has been thoroughly trounced in the midterms and publicly excoriated by right-wing politicians, yet there’s a dearth of conservative satirists taking aim, even though the niche-targeted structure of cable media today should make it relatively easy for them to find an audience. After all, it would have been difficult for Stewart or Colbert to find an audience during the era when three broadcast stations competed for the entire country and couldn’t afford to alienate too many viewers. But cable TV news programs need only find a niche viewership. Why then, hasn’t a conservative Daily Show found its own place on Fox?”

Hidden costs: Emotion responses to command and control – Cornell Food & Brand Lab

“The most successful public policies are those that are framed positively and support choice. “It’s clear that people value freedom of choice. When policies seem to encourage good choices, rather than limit bad ones, we see a much more positive response” says David Just. For example, in one study, 173 adults were told to select various meals for lunch reacted differently depending on how the price of each item was proposed. When changes in the price were framed as a tax on unhealthy items, more people chose the unhealthy foods. However, when the change was framed as a price discount for healthy foods, demand for healthy items went up. This shows that rebelling against noxious policies is an important driver of consumer demand and cannot be ignored in policy recommendations.”

The American Landscape: 

How Wal-Mart Became the Town Square in Rural America – Rachel Monroe

“In cities and city-adjacent places, people can refuse to shop at Wal-Mart as a political or aesthetic choice. In rural areas, that’s much harder to do. In some towns, Wal-Mart may be the only grocery store, or the only pharmacy, or the only place to buy books and DVDs. Wal-Mart’s supercenter stores are open 24 hours; in many small towns, they’re the only store with lights on after dinner time. All of this, of course, is part of the Wal-Mart plan: They move in, push other stores out of business while simultaneously expanding their services—at some supercenters you can get new tires, new glasses, and a teeth cleaning—until suddenly you find yourself buying everything at Wal-Mart because there’s nowhere else to buy it. So as Wal-Mart encroaches on more parts of life, more of people’s lives happen at Wal-Mart.”

Ideas and Beliefs:

No, Seriously, Don’t Politicize Anti-Vax Sentiment – Colin

“It’s a dangerous notion that creates an ideological split where there wasn’t one before…. Right now, most people support vaccination and reject anti-vaccine talking points. (I know that can seem implausible, given how visible those hoary anti-science stories are online. But vaccination rates don’t lie—the vast majority of parents reject anti-vax scaremongering.) If we start drawing party lines on top of the vaccine debate, people will start to use their party affiliation to define their position on vaccines. They won’t realize they’re doing it. They’ll honestly think they’re making decisions about vaccines based on the facts. But they’ll be judging those facts based on the community they belong to, the way we all do.”

‘Natural’ illusions: Biologist’s failed attempt to defend organic food – Iida Ruishalme

“When I looked at these studies one by one, my immediate reaction was: surely now that these results were available, where necessary, organic farming practices could be adapted so that they would continue to provide consumers with the best environmentally friendly sources of food. But that relied on an assumption I held that I had so far not even thought of checking.

I thought organic farming was based on evidence, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t designed by studying what would be best for the environment. On the contrary, to my surprise I found it’s roots were actually in biodynamic agriculture – a method that emphasizes spiritual and mystical perspectives on farming. What? How could I have missed such a point for a decade? The picture I was beginning to piece together was that being ‘organic’ was based on the idea that modern farming – industrial agriculture – was bad, and the old ways of farming were better. That whatever natural was, that was better.”

Researchers Find Everyone Has a Bias Blind Spot. Believing You’re Less Biased Than Your Peers Has Detrimental Consequences – Shilo Rea

“People seem to have no idea how biased they are. Whether a good decision-maker or a bad one, everyone thinks that they are less biased than their peers,” said Carey Morewedge, associate professor of marketing at Boston University. “This susceptibility to the bias blind spot appears to be pervasive, and is unrelated to people’s intelligence, self-esteem, and actual ability to make unbiased judgments and decisions.”

May Recommended Reading

At the end of each month I compile links to articles I found thought-provoking over that month, categorized with pull-quotes for your perusal and edification. Each of these is a story that made me stop and think, and hopefully one or two of them will do the same for you. This time I’m adding a “pick of the month” category for the best and most interesting story I saw this month.

Pick of the Month: 

The Wreck of the Kulluk – McKenzie Funk

This is truly excellent reporting, and incredibly informative. It’s a gripping story of Shell Oil cutting corners, hunting for arctic oil, and being hoist with their own petard. There is no one quote that will do this justice, but it is equal parts corporate desperation, intrigue and suspense, and action and heroism on the high seas.

On Baltimore and Racism: 

Black America’s Baltimore schism: Why the Freddie Gray tragedy demands serious soul-searching – Brittney Cooper

“The right of the people to revolt in response to unjust conditions is a founding principle of this Republic. But another founding principle of this republic is that Black people are not fully human. Therefore they are not legitimately “the people,” not a part of the “demos” in democracy. Thus revolution and rebellion remain the province and property of America’s white citizens. All other comers are illegitimate.”

De Blasio: Civil Disobedience Means Do What The Cops Tell You – Christopher Robbins

“In short: if you want to disobey the police, you have to make an appointment. It also helps if you’re a prominent, white, male, elected official running for higher office. Challenging the status quo sometimes means being a part of it. To the protesters who turned out on Wednesday to protest police brutality, whose friends and relatives were killed by the police, or whose skin color alone equates them with criminality in the eyes of the law, the mayor gave very clear advice: ‘Pay attention to the instructions of the police, and I think everything will go fine.’ ”

Media coverage of gang violence sure looks different when the perpetrators are white – Jenée Desmond-Harris

“Those who are using what happened in Waco to start conversations about stereotypes and media biases against black people aren’t complaining about the tenor of this weekend’s media coverage. They’re saying something a little different: that by being pretty reasonable and sticking to the facts, this coverage highlights the absurdity of the language and analysis that have been deployed in other instances, when the accused criminals are black.”

Classism: 

Wisconsin GOP Advances Bills Controlling How People On Welfare Eat And Pee – Arthur Delaney

“Legislation approved by the Wisconsin State Assembly on Wednesday would require drug screening for poor people in the state who want [need] public benefits and force food stamp recipients to spend most of their benefits on state-approved groceries.”

Feminism: 

Female McMaster professors getting a pay boost to same level as men – CBC News

“Female professors at McMaster University will get a pay raise under a new plan to make sure women faculty are paid fairly.The university will boost the base salaries of female faculty by $3,515 per year starting on July 1. The increase comes after a joint study between the university and the faculty association determined that female faculty make that much less than their male counterparts.”

“The Good Ones Say No”: Why Purity Culture and Rape Culture Are Two Sides of the Same Coin – Miri

“On one side of the coin is the idea that only ‘good’ women are worth anything, and only women who consistently refuse men’s advances can be ‘good.’ Of course, this creates a paradox: if women are only ‘good’ as long as they refuse, and men could only ever want to get emotionally (and materially) invested in ‘good’ women, what happens when a woman stops refusing? So either men are supposed to only have sex with virgins and only once, or they’re supposed to indefinitely stay in relationships that are not sexually fulfilling (because there is no sex), or they’re supposed to coerce and rape women. The latter option is the only way to have sex with someone who says no, by the way.”

Entering the Mind of My Rapist: An Exercise in Extreme Empathy – Deborah Copaken

“I didn’t even want him not to graduate. I wanted to confront him in a safe place in front of others. I wanted him to understand that what he did to me—penetration against my will—was wrong, really wrong! I wanted him to express remorse for having crossed a moral and legal line, so that if and when he ever raised a son, he could teach him not to cross it. I wanted, in short, an apology.

Am I delusional? Is this line of thinking the product of too much empathy and not enough rage? Maybe. But I don’t think so. No matter how my rapist (and I will always call him that, “my rapist”) told the story of what happened that night before graduation, the fact that one of us experienced it as a rape should have been enough to force an immediate discussion in which proving guilt, beyond a shadow of a doubt and at the expense of my reputation—a second rape, if you will—was not the goal.”

Incapacitated and Forcible Rape of College Women: Prevalence Across the First Year – Kate Carey, Sarah Durney, Robyn Shepardson, and Michael Carey

“Before entering college, 28% of women had experienced attempted or completed rape. During their first year, one of six female students had experienced [attempted or completed incapacitated rape] or [attempted or completed forcible rape]. The lifetime prevalence of attempted or completed rape increased to 37% by the start of sophomore year.”

In summary, 1 of every 4 women is assaulted in her first year of college, and 1 in every 3 women has been assaulted sometime in her life before her sophomore year.

LGBTQ Rights:

Alabama minister tried to marry a lesbian couple — now she’s on probation – Jin Zhao

“A minister arrested on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for trying to perform a gay wedding in an Alabama courthouse pleaded guilty on Monday but will avoid serving time in jail, Montgomery Advertiser reports. Anne Susan DiPrizio, 44, entered the plea in Autauga County Circuit Court. A judge ordered her to pay a $250 fine and gave her a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended later in place of a six months unsupervised probation.”

Government and Privacy:

Court rules NSA program illegal – Jim Acosta, Ted Barrett and Jeremy Diamond

“ ‘This decision is a resounding victory for the rule of law,’ said ACLU Staff Attorney Alex Abdo, who brought the challenge. ‘For years, the government secretly spied on millions of innocent Americans based on a shockingly broad interpretation of its authority. The court rightly rejected the government’s theory that it may stockpile information on all of us in case that information proves useful in the future. Mass surveillance does not make us any safer, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy necessary in a free society,’ he said.”

Climate Change:

400 Again – Phil Plait

“There are people out there who still will pooh-pooh this, saying carbon dioxide is good for us, and plants love it. Let me be clear: This is the single dumbest thing climate change deniers have ever said, and that’s a deep, deep well of dumbosity. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and the science on this is very basic, as basic as knowing a rock will fall when you drop it from your hand. At first blush 400 ppm may not sound like much, but it means we’re significantly accelerating planetary heating. And warming the Earth doesn’t just mean we’ll be able to grow pineapples in Canada. It means huge changes to global weather patterns, changes we’re already seeing.”

What if climate change is real? – Katharine Hayhoe

This one is a video—a TED talk by a conservative climate scientist from Texas.

Ideas and Beliefs: 

How Facebook’s Algorithm Suppresses Content Diversity (Modestly) and How the Newsfeed Rules Your Clicks – Zeynep Tufekci

“Here’s the key finding: Facebook researchers conclusively show that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm decreases ideologically diverse, cross-cutting content people see from their social networks on Facebook by a measurable amount. The researchers report that exposure to diverse content is suppressed by Facebook’s algorithm by 8% for self-identified liberals and by 5% for self-identified conservatives.”

Canvassers study in Episode #555 has been retracted – Ira Glass

“Last month [This American Life] did a story about canvassers who’d invented a way to go door to door and, in a 22-minute conversation, change people’s minds on issues like same sex marriage and abortion rights. We did the story because there was solid scientific data published in the journal Science – proving that the canvassers were really having an effect. Yesterday one of the authors of that study, Donald Green, asked Science to retract the study. Some of the data gathered by his co-author seems to have been faked.”

I Don’t Want to Be Right – Maria Konnikova

“The longer the narrative remains co-opted by prominent figures with little to no actual medical expertise—the Jenny McCarthys of the world—the more difficult it becomes to find a unified, non-ideological theme. The message can’t change unless the perceived consensus among figures we see as opinion and thought leaders changes first.

And that, ultimately, is the final, big piece of the puzzle: the cross-party, cross-platform unification of the country’s élites, those we perceive as opinion leaders, can make it possible for messages to spread broadly. The campaign against smoking is one of the most successful public-interest fact-checking operations in history. But, if smoking were just for Republicans or Democrats, change would have been far more unlikely. It’s only after ideology is put to the side that a message itself can change, so that it becomes decoupled from notions of self-perception.”

This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind – Alex Tribou and Keith Collins

“Eleven years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the Supreme Court on April 28 will hear arguments about whether to extend that right nationwide. The case comes amid a wave of gay marriage legalization: 28 states since 2013, and 36 overall. Such widespread acceptance in a short amount of time isn’t a phenomenon unique to gay marriage. Social change in the U.S. appears to follow a pattern: A few pioneer states get out front before the others, and then a key event—often a court decision or a grassroots campaign reaching maturity—triggers a rush of state activity that ultimately leads to a change in federal law.”

With cool graphs!

“Thug” is Becoming an Epithet

Let’s say you are a white person, and you want to convey that a black person is worth less than you are, that they are unruly and unreliable, that they are violent and deserving of punishment, and that, in general, the state should be able to do to them whatever it deems appropriate?

Via Fibonacci BlueWell, you used to have a word. You used to be able to use that word because you were in power, and you knew you were in power, and the black people you were discussing were legally chattel. So you could use whatever word you liked and the majority of the people (well, the majority of those who were recognized as people, anyway) would agree with you and not think twice about it.

Then, as time went on, society became a little less white, and you became a little less powerful. With some chagrin, and a lot of vicious underhanded terrorism, you admitted that you were wrong to hold as much power as you did and that you had to share. Sometimes. Eventually you decided that you having more than your fair allotment of everything and sharing sometimes was the same as everyone being equal. You got pretty content with this state of things, because lots of people around you (who were white) agreed with you that the problem was solved, and you still got to enjoy many of the benefits of having the problem (while black people around you were still suffering from the problem).

And then something went wrong. Many people have always been saying no, you having the most and sharing sometimes is not enough, but they started saying it louder. Maybe it was because the agents of social control that you built act mainly on your behalf, and so black people tend to end up dead at their hands. And you needed a reason to dismiss these angry black people, a reason to say they were wrong, and a word to explain how you felt about them.

“Thug” is a very convenient word. It has all the associations of your old word, but (officially) does not have racial connotations. There are white thugs, right? Totally. So you can express all that hate and resentment you feel quite nicely with this new word, which is just broadly-defined enough to give you plausible deniability.

But guess what? There is no plausible deniability for language. Language is a democracy. Meanings are not prescriptive, they are descriptive. So, when you use “thug” to mean “a black guy who makes white folks a little more uncomfortable than they prefer,” no one is confused about what you mean. Except maybe you, doing internal backflips to convince yourself that what you are saying is not a racial epithet—even if you are using it that way, and even if you are conveying exactly the meaning you want to be conveying by using it that way. Even if other people, perhaps just a bit ignorant of what is going on, use it too. Even if there are other meanings.

What I’m saying is, we will not let you off the hook. Because, no matter how much you justify and contort and argue that you are not being racist (and racism isn’t even a thing anyway, you assure us) the rest of us hear what you really mean. We know very well what you are saying, and we want you to stop.