Category Archives: Race and Racism

Policing Reform: Then, now, next

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This post is meant to be a rough draft of an overview of police reform activism over recent decades. What I’m saying here is mainly from my own memory. Ever since I’ve been storing and retaining memories, I’ve been one sort of environmentalist or another, but police reform activism has been part of my life since, well, since the Beatles were still together, almost. Recent conversations led me to think about this more than I usually would, and I realized that there is some worthwhile historical insight to be had.

While this overview is based on memory, I did spend a couple of hours this morning looking at old articles, checking Wikipedia pages, etc. There is fodder for a well researched and closely documented essay. This is not that essay. But, feel free to throw your thoughts, experiences, and information into the comments just in case there is such an essay!

Today we are concerned with militarization of the police. This is a little odd in long term historical perspective, because at one time in the past, militarization of the police would have involved reducing their firearms and training capacity considerably.

From around the beginning of the 20th century both the British and American armies used either an Enfield rifle or similar (“Enfield” refers to a range of similar designs made by Lee-Enfield or copied by American manufacturers). You would pull the trigger, then use a bolt to move a new bullet into the chamber, then pull the trigger. The military had other weapons, of course, but the average soldier had this rifle. Meanwhile, in the 1920s and 1930s, when gangsters literally ruled large parts of the United States, both police and the gangsters commonly used a submachine gun. “Militarizing” the police in 1925 would have involved taking away their powerful weapons and downgrading. Over recent decades, militarizing means replacing a handgun with the modern equivalent of a submachine gun.

This perspective on militarization is not very relevant to modern activism, but telling the story here serves the purpose of reminding us that the “old days” were not a few years ago, and history is complex. The relevance of militarization will be more apparent below.

There was a time, back when I first got involved in police reform activism, when it was common practice for the police to shoot people in the back if they fled. It was considered normal, and was part of police training. My own early activism arose from the shooting of a young African American kid named Keith by a New York State Trooper. The kid was caught driving a motor scooter on the New York State Thruway. The trooper told him to stand there, the kid decided to drive away on his scooter. The New York State Troopers had just gotten their much coveted giant .357 magnum side arms, after a long fight in the legislature, where liberals thought the police might use them to kill people and the police wanted them to shoot at cars. My memory is that Keith was shot in the back, and nearly cut in half as the giant high powered bullet tore through his spine and exploded his internal organs, only weeks after that new pistol was issued. Within a few months, 15 year old me was on a bus going to Chicago to participate (and cover for a local anarchist newspaper) the Fight Back conference and protest, sparked by a spate of similar killings.

Our activism, and the legal process, worked. Now there are laws in all but a few states that prohibit shooting a fleeing suspect except in special circumstances. A 1986 (IIRC) supreme court decision said something similar. During that period of time, say from the very late 1960s through the end of the 1980s, our activism led to changes in law, and court outcomes, that cut the number of police killings of citizens to less than half, and made shooting people in the back mostly illegal. You are welcome.

That wasn’t enough of course, more had to be done. And circumstances conspired to make things worse rather than better in the 1980s. During the 1960s (and before) and through the 1970s, drug use was an urban phenomenon, and people would go “downtown” to buy their pot, heroin, etc. Remember the “war on drugs”? Well, that happened when the rise of suburbs shifted the drug marketplace to the suburbs. During the 1980s, you would go to the suburbs to get your pot, as likely as anywhere else. Under Reagan, the War on Drugs turned to the suburbs. I remember a friend of mine who was a cop at that time (the first woman cop in the state, IIRC) told me that if I, ahem, happened to know anyone looking for pot tell them to stay away from the ‘burbs. She could see the writing on the walls. there was going to be some serious federally funded action in the suburbs.

She was right. There were major busts in one suburb or another across the US every single day for a few years. Reagan drove drugs back into the “inner city” where they belonged, at least according to the nice people in the suburbs.

There was not a lot of shooting and killing connected with that operation, but I believe the results were deadly. By pushing drug dealing back into the urban zone, it also pushed it more into the hands of people of color. Tough drug laws, a product of the 1970s, were expanded and increased. Police were given more powers, like the ability to take property used in drug transport. They were also given more weapons and other forms of support, though nothing like the later militarization. The ultimate result: crime fighting was equated with the war on drugs, and both were equated with police repression of people living in ethnically diverse, but mainly Black or Hispanic, urban zones. It wasn’t just the drugs, it was everything in life. The systematic, daily, attacks on people in certain neighborhoods increased. Meanwhile, the police procedurals and shows like Cops taught people in the suburbs that sometimes the police just had to get tough on on the bad boys. What ya gonna do when they come for you? Don’t run, don’t hide, keep your hands in sight or you die. Police repression of the people of the “Inner City” or “Downtown” became a feature of American society and was normalized in the minds of the middle class, whose very parents or grandparents used to live in those neighborhoods.

I don’t know much first hand about political activism regarding police reform in the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s. I was mostly out of the country or buried in the library or lab in graduate school, or teaching. My weekly political act when in the US focused on pro choice clinic defense, then later I added defending science in the classroom. I was as much looking the other way as the rest of us white people of priv, speeding through higher education, or working corporate, or whatever. (Still a citizen of the urban zone, though … the ‘burbs still feel new to me.) And fruitlessly fighting the Republican takeover of everything.

Then 9/11 happened. Everyone seemed to freak out. The nation and anything that looked like defense or protection, policing or investigation, became the child who would not stop crying to which you acquiesce and give whatever candy they want. The right wing introduced a bill called “S1” which made many crimes punishable by death, gave police and investigative agencies broad powers, etc. etc. They introduced that, IIRC, in the 1970s, and kept introducing it again and again and again, and it would always be defeated, or simply ignored, because it was so extreme and draconian. It would change our society into a police state. It was unacceptable.

Within months after 9/11, that bill was strengthened and passed. You know of it as the Patriot Act. And, it made militarization of the police not only acceptable, but required, and funded.

I don’t think is is safe to say that the police were less bad in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after the right to shoot a fleeing suspect was removed, but before the War on Drugs Reagan style. It might have been, though. The police were less armed, less numerous, and had had their wings clipped, at least to some extent. But if they were less dangerous, it was only for a while.

I would like to know if it is true that there is a combat vet to cop pipeline, and if that has made our police forces more dangerous by concentrating, exacerbating, and arming PTSD. I would like to know if it is still true (or really ever was) that police forces avoid hiring people who show some degree of intelligence, on purpose. I would like to know how badly we’ve messed up by increasingly linking corporate costs of doing business to police funding. What percentage of a police officer’s lifetime salary is ultimately paid for by large corporations rather than taxpayers, right now, and how has that changed? It is imperative to get a handle on the relationship between government lawyers and police agencies, if we expect to police the police. What needs to happen there?

Finally, I think we need to assess our victories. The Chauvin murder conviction is only barely a victory. It is a great thing for those immediately involved, and it is a demonstration that accountably is possible. But saying that the Chauvin conviction is a step in the right direction is ingenuous. He held the man down for 6 minutes while he died, and another 3 minutes for good measure, guarded by his fellow cops, whom he was teaching how to be a cop, while surrounded by citizens making the moral, legal, and logical case against what he was doing, filming the whole time. This is like saying to your dog, “you pooped, good boy.” This was not an accomplishment of the system.

One of the more recent changes in police behavior and associated law, the one we are dealing with now, is the right of a cop to kill a person if doing so conforms to expectations of what a cop would do, with special consideration to the cop being afraid. This is why the police who carried out most of the recent killings in Minnesota got off. There is recent case law supporting the concept. It is like the shoot the fleeing suspect rule. At one time shooting the fleeing suspect was considered normal by much of society, was codified in law, supported by the courts, and taught in police training. Now, none of those things are true (mostly). Today, killing a suspect because you are afraid of black people is codified in law and court doctrine, built into training, and accepted as normal and expected behavior by much of society.

Stop that.


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How the Chauvin Trial Will Go, and other matters of White supremacy

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I don’t expect convictions in the Chauvin or Rittenhouse trials.

In both cases, it is about White supremacy. I don’t subscribe to the idea half of the country comprises batshit crazy right wing red hat wearing insurrectionist Nazis. Not half. But enough that in putting together a pool of 12 people, it is almost impossible to not get one or two. They will obviate any criminal jury decision. This will apply to these two trials as well as many of the Capitol attack/Jan 6th criminals as well.

I believe the following things are true, correct me if I’m wrong.

1) Criminal trials require a unanimous decision and for burden of proof, rely on the concept of “shadow of doubt.”

2) Civil trials require a majority decision, and for burden of proof, rely on the concept of preponderance of evidence.

4) Normally, day to day, when a jury trial happens, there is a conviction most of the time.

5) On the infrequent occasion when a trial is highly visible and the stakes include things like White supremacy or other socio-political issues, when a jury trial happens, there is a hung jury or acquittal.

(Those last two points are conjecture, but it feels that way.)

Given all this, I expect these trials to involve both acquittals and some sort of examination of our thousand-year old history of the jury system. (The latter will lead to nothing.) I expect that in a subset of these cases (including the murder of Mr. Floyd) there will be a civil trial, and the civil trial will produce the equivalent of a conviction. And yes, I do think the OJ Simpson saga fits into this pattern.

Fight me.


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Combating Specious Ideas: Review of How To Argue With A Racist

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I wrote a review of Adam Rutherford’s new book, “How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference.” The review is published in American Scientist. American Scientist, by the way, is a great magazine that I highly recommend. A notch or two above all the others. Three notches in some cases.

The review is here.


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Racial inequity in teacher evaluation leads to racial inequity in education

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This is an oversimplification but it is true and part of the problem: There is a great deal of racial inequity in our school system. Put another way, kids of color get screwed over by our school system. One way to help with this is to increase diversity in the teaching and administrative staff of schools. However, the pipeline of incoming teachers and administrators is very white. Why? There are a number of reasons, and probably a lot of unknown unknowns. But one factor is bias against teachers of color. We see this bias all the time. A friend of mine called me up two years ago about this. Have you heard anything about Mr. X (a particular teacher in our school)? No, I haven’t, I said. I’ve heard from five people that he is a bad teacher, but my kid is in his class now and he is hands down the best teacher she has had. I wonder why people say that, I asked. I was wondering, she said, if it is because he’s black. He’s the only black teacher in the school. Were those parents complaining about him white? Ya. OK then.

Anecdotes are not evidence. But put together enough anecdotes and you get culture.

Anyhow, a recent study demonstrates that Black teachers might be discriminated against through a Catch-22 effect, whereby variation in performance across teachers is context dependent in a way that privileges White teachers and screws over Black teachers. The study is here. The abstract of the study says:

“Racial gaps in teacher performance ratings have emerged nationwide across newly implemented educator evaluation systems. Using Chicago Public Schools data, we quantify the magnitude of the race gap in teachers’ classroom observation scores, examine its determinants, and describe the potential implications for teacher diversity. Between-school differences explain most of the race gap and within-school classroom-level differences—poverty, incoming achievement, and prior-year misconduct of a teacher’s students—explain the remainder of the race gap. Teachers’ value-added scores explain none of the race gap. Leveraging within-teacher variation in the teacher–evaluator race match, we find that racial mismatch does not influence observation scores. Adjusting observation scores for classroom and school context will generate more equitable ratings of teacher performance and mitigate potential adverse consequences for teacher diversity.”

The press release includes this quote from one of the study’s authors:

“Our findings indicate that these classroom observation scores do not equitably compare the performance of teachers who taught in very different classroom and school settings,” said Steinberg, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University. “The race gap in teacher scores does not reflect real differences in teacher performance.”

“Left unadjusted, these scores may lead to disproportionate and incorrect identification of Black teachers for remediation and dismissal, and may have serious implications for the diversity of the teacher workforce,” Steinberg said. “Our study, which focused on Chicago, raises questions about how classroom observation scores are being analyzed and used by school leaders across the United States. School leaders everywhere need to account for the potential impact of school and classroom factors on teacher scores.”

This picture shows two really important things. Frse, these bell curves overlap enough to tell us that small biases could make the difference. That’s the one on the upper left. Then the other graphs show how when we consider all the factors, the distribution of scores showing “racial” differences are explained by other factors.

This next picture shows the different factors found to explain differences in scores sorted by “race.” Note that the teacher is not a cause of the explainable variation, statistically.

There is a lot more than that in this paper, but that’s the basic idea.


Steinberg, Matthew and Lauren Sartain. 2020. What Explains the Race Gap in Teacher Performance Ratings? Evidence From Chicago Public Schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.


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Making Racism Uncomfortable

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In his book, “The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioural Science,”* Philosopher Abraham Kaplan wrote “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” There are other versions of this hammer-nail link. In the normal course of things, the human mind is prepared to hammer new information into ready made spaces, an efficient but not always accurate way to think. That the brain works this way was not lost on the 19th and early 20th century philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce. Peirce saw the human mind as an ever developing collection of “habits” formed of new experiences. A novel experience, usually involving some sort of linguistic or symbolic interaction, is associated with an emotional state that could not be confused with comfort (any other emotional state might due) until that kind of experience stopped being that way, and became habit-formed. Because of this individualized developmental process, individuals have ways of thinking that are normal, comfortable, generally unexamined, and the product of the culture in which we formed (and are still forming). Culturally embedded sexist and racist thinking are examples of this.

When new information comes along, the most comfortable thing to do is to place it into an existing framework. Over recent years, we seem to have gotten good at doing this using only headlines flashed across social media. So, if a headline has the words “gene” and “intelligence,” we conclude that more evidence for a genetic basic of intelligence, probably organized in categories of race, has been found. It does not matter that the article may have shown contrary evidence for a gene-intelligence link, and it seems to never matter that most modern research about genes and abilities do not make any reference to human divisibility into genetically discrete groups that could be called “races.” In our minds we have spaces for races and a need for genes, and a hammer at hand to put things in their place. The article headlines reinforce our pre-existing racist beliefs.

When a liberal-minded anti-racist thinker encounters evidence of race-based biology in humans, excuses are made. People of African descent can be celebrated for their amazing prowess in sports, and Jews (as good a “race” as any) have evolved and passed on among themselves measurably high levels of intelligence. And so on. Liberal guilt is assuaged when we hand out a few well placed goodies. This passive, seemingly (but not really) harmless version of race based thinking probably keeps a certain amount of racism alive in places where it should have withered in antiquity.

This is part of Adam Rutherford’s message in his new book, “How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference.”*

This book does not really tell us how to argue with a racist. Well, it covers Part I of doing so. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and don’t bring half baked notions and shoddy data to a debate with a white supremacist who is up on his Stormfront reading. Rutherford’s book can prepare you with key data, clear concepts, and a rich reference to the relevant literature. You’ll need to find the techniques of argument elsewhere.

Rutherford trashes the commonly held framework for race, genetics and DNA. The concept of race itself, that humans can be divided into a number of categories (“White,” “Black,” “Whatever”) does not come close to reflecting the underlying genetic and historical reality of our species. I’ve made this argument countless times, and I’ve read most of the other stabs at it as well, and Rutherford’s version is the best, and most up to date. Beyond this, Rutherford takes to task, with engagingly presented detail and impeccable logic, some of the key myths about race, such as the aforementioned kudos to African-heritage athletes, and more generally, the racialization of sports.

Consider runners. Rutherford documents the fact that there has not been a record-fast white person in the Olympics since the entirely non-white American running team boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980, and that was a fluke year. For endurance running, in subsequent years, it has been mainly Kenyans and Ethiopians who have won the vast majority of high stakes marathons. If you start with the assumption that there is a gene for “fast” or a gene for “endurance,” you’ll quickly find one for each of these traits, and the innate causality argument presents itself. But if you broaden the argument to full interrogation of the human species, to use the genetic model to explain fastness or endurance across the wide world of sports, the argument quickly dissipates. If certain genes lent great fast, or long distance, running prowess to dozens of specific populations around the world, why do only two such populations produce these runners?

This is how scientists are supposed to operate. We observe variation in something, then try to understand the variation. When an explanation explains only a tiny amount of the overall variation, it probably fails. A genetic argument for rapid or powerful muscles predicts that several different populations should dominate in certain sports, not just one or two out of hundreds. A parallel genetic argument regarding lung capacity, or adapting to living at high altitude, predicts that several different populations should dominate the marathon. But they don’t. Rutherford does what scientists do, and observes another possible source of variation that could explain why Kenyans and Ethiopians seem to always win marathons. Turns out, it is cultural. (You’ll find details in the book.)

How to Argue With a Racist provides a good summary of the history of “race science,” a term Rutherford asks us to stop using (there are no races, and this isn’t science). The author explores arguments about physicality, sexuality, morality, athleticism, and intelligence. I would like to have seen the section on IQ expanded, since it is important for documenting how nefarious race science has been especially in apartheid era South Africa. Here is where our role as variation explainers is possibly clearest. The full range of modern IQ values for any large American population is of the same magnitude of the range of historical IQ means over time, with the earliest values being low and modern values being high. (The “Flynn Effect.”) The same is true with human stature, by the way. Populations of US immigrants, as well as several European nations, gained considerable height and IQ points over nearly a century of time. Yet, the cemetaries are not full of non-reproducing short dim people. We did not genetically evolve tall stature and IQ’s of 100 on average. Genetics does not explain variation in IQ (or stature) over time, so we might wonder how well genetics explains either of these traits across space synchronously.

Also not mentioned by Rutherford is the racist physical anthropology of J. Philippe Rushton, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps Rutherford is not as comfortable with bones as he is with genes (human biology is subdivided into these areas). The short version of that story is that Rushton was in a long line of physical anthropologists who got very good at massaging brain size estimates so that they would correlate with largely useless statistics about intelligence, morality, and sexuality, across the three main “races” of White, Black and Asian. In this case, though, the variation in brain size isn’t simply explained better by a non race based explanation. The variation is made up, introduced by “adjusting” the already iffy data.

Another concept not covered by Rutherford is the role of culture and childhood. Interestingly, Rutherford does mention Henry Harpending, who was a member of the famous Kalahari Project led by Irven Devore (my PhD advisor) and Richard Lee, to study the ways of the Ju’/hoansi bushmen of Namibia and Botswana. Harpending was the geneticist on that project. Later in his career, he wrote a paper and a book dismantled by Rutherford on the intellectual superiority of the Jewish people. He was also known for making rather startling statements about race (I will not repeat here my conversations with him, but I can verify Rutherford’s impression of Harpending’s running commentary.) Another person on that same research project was Mel Konner, husband of Marjorie Shostak (author of Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman).* I believe it was Konner who first fully articulated the role of childhood in making a little human into a big one. (See his book The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind*)

Childhood is a special derived feature of humans. It is deadly, costly, and often annoying. Clearly, such a trait must be maintained by strong selection. The things that make our fully formed brains so impressive, such as the use of language, human style “theory of mind,” and so on, arise in a typical individual during this period of slowed down maturation. We humans reach maturity years later than we should (compared to other apes) because of this costly childhood phase. We are who we are as individuals because of our culture, and childhood is the delivery mechanism for culture. If we want to explain variation across individuals or across geography in human behavior, look to culture and its development first, and if there is much left unexplained, consider genes. This is, by the way, how we can make two seemingly contradictory statements unironically: There is no such thing as race; yet race is an important human concept. Genetically, no races. Culturally, race is a possibility (but not a necessity).

Slavery of Africans did not breed better athletes, repression and widespread murder of Ashkenazim did not breed professors and Fed chairs, the genetic variation we see in humans is best explained by distance across geographic space and not by bounded internally consistent races, and there are very few cases of variable human traits that map neatly onto underlying simple variation in genes.

Rutherford’s book also addresses genealogy, both the kind you get when you do documentary research into your family tree, and the kind you get when you spit in a tube and send it to a commercial DNA analysis place. In some ways, that might be the most important part of the book, because of the extreme popularity of this exercise, and its link in some quarters to white supremacy. You will be amused, shocked, and amazed by this discussion, and you won’t believe some of it even though it is really true. Rutherford is a geneticist, and he understands and does a great job explaining the concept of genetic isopoint. An example: All living Europeans (as a quasi racial group that includes, for example, Albanians, Brits, Poles, and Ukrainians, etc.) have as ancestors every person who lived in Europe at the time of William the Conqueror.

The global isopoint is much more recent than people think, being only a few thousand years in the past, and post dating the earliest, and even some of the latest, regional origins of agriculture. Everyone alive at that time was either the ancestor of everyone alive today or the ancestor of no one alive today. So, the idea that an African foraging population split off into different regions, some of which developed agriculture or this or that civilizations, others remaining as foragers, etc. is simply not an accurate way to describe genetic history. Stephen Miller in the White House and a Maasai Woman in a traditional village in Tanzania share a set of isopointal ancestors about 3-5 thousand years ago, like it or not. And I’m sure she does not. I know you don’t believe this, but just read the book and come back and complain if you like. As the descendant of royalty, I don’t care.


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I shall not presume to dwell at length about the associations that cluster about this day….

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And if you like that kind of talk, I’ve got more for you in a minute.

The person who said those words was the Vice Presidential running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket (though he did not ask to be). He was a criminal; born a slave, but escaped. He’s on a stamp. Two stamps, I think. He wrote this book, this book, and this book. And, he gave a few speeches.

Here are some great kids, and by “great” I mean “great, great, great, great, great!” kids giving his Forth of July Speech, originally delivered on July 5th, 1852. By Frederick Douglass

Don’t be fulled by the children’s brevity. Nobody was brief in 1852. Here is the full speech: Continue reading I shall not presume to dwell at length about the associations that cluster about this day….


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Republcian Rep Matthew Grossell: Be prepared to defend the Republic!

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Representative Matthew Grossell, of the Minnesota Legislature, tells us to “be prepared to defend this republic” from protesters calling for racial equity and criminal justice reform.

Ex cop Grossell calls for citizens to take up arms against anti-racism protests.
Grossell is a rep from District 2A, which is one of the most famous districts in Minnesota because it is where we find International Falls, often cited in national weather reports as having the lowest temperature in the connected 48 states.

Grossell has deemed the George Floyd Protests Are “Evil” & “Not About Race,” “a coordinated attack on our God given freedoms”, “a springboard for an alter agenda to destroy this republic and any other free nation around the world”, “not about race”, “an attempt to divide us as Americans”, and “the lies and deceit of evil.”

Grossell’s gross sell is being criticized by the Minnesota DFL (Democratic) party, who call this an “unhinged social media tirade … in which Grossell attacks the protests calling for justice and reform that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and appears to call for violence to be used against protesters.

We know Grossell is a typical Republican, and he proves it with his remarks. My question is, does his expressed point of view reflect the thinking of the good people of his district? I know several people who live in 2B, and no, it does not as far as I can tell. Grossell is out of step and needs to be replaced.

Just so you know I’m not cherry picking, here is the full text of Grossell’s Facebook post:

What’s on my mind is this folks, as I look at what is going on across the state, across the nation and across the world. One thing stays in my heart and mind, this is a coordinated attack on our God given freedoms as written in the Constitution of these United States. The tragic death of one man has been used as a springboard for an alter agenda to destroy this republic and any other free nation around the world. This is not about race though it is being used in an attempt to divide us as Americans. We must not let the lies and deceit of evil divide us and we must stand ready to defend this nation, this republic, the land of the free the home of the brave. I took an oath as a soldier, a law enforcement officer and now as a state representative to uphold the Constitution and I have never been relieved of that oath nor will I ever give it up. I call upon my brothers and sisters across this state, this nation and around the world to stand ready to face this evil, which will never be appeased by compromise nor will it ever stop taking until it has taken every freedom we hold dear, and stop it dead in its tracks. It was said somewhere by a wise individual ‘all evil needs to get a foothold is for good men to do nothing’. So I call upon my brothers and sisters to first and foremost pray and secondly to be prepared to defend this republic, the land of the free the home of the brave! We are one nation under God and it’s time for us to stand ready to defend this nation this republic which God has so graciously given us. Please share this as far and wide as you possibly can. Thank you, God’s blessings and protection cover us all.

This is a state representative calling for his fellow citizens to take up arms against those who want change. I think he should be censured.


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American Racism, Confederate Trappings, And this, too, shall melt away

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A pottery cone is a cone-shaped object made of a pyro-sensitive material (in the early days, some kind of clay) so when a pottery kiln reaches a certain temperature, the cone droops. Pottery kilns are made with a tiny window one can look through and if your eye doesn’t melt (don’t worry, there are provisions for this) you can see which of a series of different cones have melted, and thus estimate the temperature of the kiln. You then add fuel if necessary, and keep a record and an eye on the clock, and over time your pottery fires just right.

The pottery cone, reaching a certain level of heat and then falling over, is a metaphor for Confederate monuments in America. The perennial racism-fueled conflict between white supremacists and everyone else flows and moves, waxes and wanes, and always generates heat. Every now and then enough heat is generated, and some sort of civil meltdown occurs in relation to one of these statues. This has happened since the very first months after the Civil War. It has happened more frequently, it has been more widespread, and it has been accompanied by much greater heat, in recent years. So, the statues are drooping, in their own way, like the pottery cones.

The falling statues are the direct result of activism, but they are also metaphors in their own right. They are metaphors of a changing demographic. The racist and classist cancer that infects society in the United States is perpetuated mainly by less educated white men, and although it appears in other societal tissues to some degree, that is currently the main source of the disease. Progressive minded people have been engaged in an open conspiracy for decades now, consisting of two parts: 1) Educate more, and 2) make sure “education” remains education and does not become indoctrination (or it wont’ work). This conspiracy has been only modestly successful, so the number of metastasizing cells, as it were, has not diminished much via liberal education.

But racism is becoming unfashionable, and that is probably the best thing that could happen to it. What was once de riguer, or at least, not something one complains about, in all areas of white or white-ish society, is now widely recognized as bad. Active racists know this, and they revel in its badness, with the new war cry of “make the liberals cry.” The key difference between now and 50 years ago is this: Out of fashion, racism is not recruiting from the young as much as it could, and is withdrawing rapidly from many areas it once held sway. This means the source, less educated white men, are aging as a demographic.

Racism in America will ultimately be addressed by the death of most of the racists.

Most people will react to this idea with the following, or something like it: “But racism will always be there, because of the basic nature of human beings.” This is one of the great lies of racism, that racism is natural, inevitable, and therefore, possibly, normal and even good. This is the Naturalistic Fallacy being used to excuse or underwrite nefarious behavior. Don’t be fooled by that fallacy. Also, despite the fact that we find racism of one sort or another in many societies, you need to know that American racism is it’s own thing. Racism in modern America grows out of American history. American slavery, American immigration, American isolationism, the American frontier, and many other things American are either unique, or at least, very different in America than any other place or time, and the combination is utterly unique. It is not some sort of demented American exceptionalism to claim that running a physically large country (or set of closely interactive colonies) for centuries on the back of widespread slavery, so that most of the people in the slave regions were the slaves themselves, is unique. (The Caribbean of course is part of this story, but lets not give this discussion over to the professional historians until we hit the comment section below.)

To understand this better, consider just one aspect of racism against East Asian people in America. In the 19th century, Chinese people, usually imported workers, were viewed, literally and unabashedly, by most white Americans, as subhuman. There wasn’t even a little apology there. They were a form of monkey that could talk in a lot of white people’s minds. The legislation to keep them out, the norms and regulations that gave Chinese workers less protection than the mules that died along with them building railroads across the mountains, clearly document this, as do the depictions and writings of the time.

Today, a different belief about East Asians pervades American culture. While many of the White Supremacists may view East Asian people as subhuman (I don’t put much past them), today East Asians are more often viewed as superior (like how well the kids do in school), of a more effective or demanding culture (how the parents of those school kids keep things under control) of greater physical prowess (East Asian marshal arts have redefined American fighting) and more gentile and artistic (see all the Asian influence in all the arts) all at the same time. Now also consider the plight of the Irish, considered sub human (again, monkeys that can sort of talk), or the Italians (monkeys that can talk very loudly) or the Polish or other Eastern European groups, and so on and so forth. All of these groups went through a period of intense denigration, were the subject of attack and murder, and economic disenfranchisement. Until the weren’t. That all went away. We see almost no remnant in day to day life of any of that.

American Racism is centered on, and consists mainly of, disdain for African Americans, the descendants of kidnapped Africans bred as a slave population on which our economy was based, and from which our country grew strong. This core of American racism is different from the other, just mentioned, racist historical trends, let alone racism among humans in general.

Yes, American Racism is big, bad, ugly, utterly unique, and most importantly, American racism exists because of its own specific history. Anything that arises from context and history can be put down with new context and future, if that future is unfriendly to it. White supremacy reproduced itself generation after generation in America not because it is innate, but because it is very large and very strong, very convenient, money-making, and desired even by those not directly engaged in the most obvious forms of it.

But now, the cones are melting. The reasons racism is good are melting away. Racism against African Americans is no longer economically neutral or convenient for an increasingly large part of the white dominated business world. In fact it can be downright damaging. It is hard to find a city or state where a wink and a nod in favor of racism increases your vote count. Individuals with histories tied to the American racist model are politically doomed these days, but not in the old days, where the “old days” were five years ago or so. Prosecutors who rode the law-and-order wave of recent decades are increasingly inviable as candidates for executive office, because that “law and order” movement is what made Americans the most incarcerated population in the world, with a strong racial bias. An up and coming mover and shaker who wore blackface to his frat party is no longer seen as a mere doofus. The societal and cultural feedback loops have been breaking for some time, but in recent years, they are being systematically identified and ripped asunder. This is one of the key roles of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” It is an ironic statement designed to pop the racist mole so it can be solidly, and with finality, whacked.

I am not suggesting that racism in America is suddenly over, or that it is going to become unimportant any time soon. Rather, I’m saying these three things. 1) Racism of the kind we see in America is not a mere reflection of human nature, and to see it as such is not only factually wrong, but defeatist; 2) while American racism is big and complex and should not be underestimated, if it was a disease, it would be best cured by cutting out that one element of society that keeps it going, less educated white men; and 3) we need to keep up the pressure, to stop them from recruiting or spreading their culture, over the next 30 years while most of them die off. Under current conditions, with Covid-19, the tendency of these very men to also disdain science may speed the process. We can talk about that after a 30 day period following the upcoming in-person Republican National Convention sans mask.

Of course, we speak here in statistical generalities. Lots of less educated white men are not contributing to this problem. But the demographic of less educated white men has a lot of ‘splainin to do.


“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

  • Abraham Lincoln

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Racism and Related Books for Kids

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New Kid by Jerry Craft.

Class Act by Jerry Craft.

I Am Not a Number by Dupuis, Kacer, and Newland.

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Celano, Green, Collins, and Hazzard.

That’s Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia (Spanish and English Edition) by Tafolla, Tenyuca, and Ybanez.

Sulwe by Nyong’o and Harrison.

Where Are You From? by Mendez.

Hat Tip: Sam Fredrickson, Birchview.


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Browner Nation USA

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My family recently moved into what was long known to be the bestest of all public school districts in Minnesota, and also, long known to be the whitest in the Twin Cities area. We moved here because it is where my wife works, and we got lucky, tricking the owner of a run down old town house to sell it to us for about 30% off market value. So, whitest, most privileged, in what is considered to be a white state by people who have heard of Minnesota but never been there.

Every morning I go to the bus stop with my blond and pale-skinned Nordic son, who goes to the elementary school in this district. He is the token white kid born in the USA at that bus stop. The other kids are: Indian, of an Indian family, he was born in the US but none of his family were. Ironically, he has a thick Indian accent while his older brother, born in India, talks like a standard American teenager. Funny how that works. Two kids whom I had guessed were from Indonesia, not really English speakers a year ago when they moved here, but now are very American-English savvy. “Yes, everyone thinks they are Indonesian” their born-in-China mom told me. “But I’m Chinese and my husband is from Somalia.” Indonesia is, of course, about half way between the two, so that makes total sense. Then, one kid from Russia, speaks very little English, but it is fun to hear her speak Russian every day with one or two additional English words thrown in. Today it was “Bla bla bla kid’s play area bla bla bla.” Then, the little girl who speaks mostly French, just moved here from Quebec. My son’s school is white-minority, but probably plurality, with Asian (mostly south Asian) probably being second, with African-American, African-from-Africa, and Hispanic rounding out most of the rest. But, as noted, about half of the “white” kids are not from the US, or at least, their parents are not.

How many teachers and administrators are there in the school system who are not white? I’ve personally never met one but there is a rumor of an African American woman in the High School admin, and one of the teachers at my son’s Elementary school is African American, and maybe another one is kinda Hispanic. Not the Spanish Teacher, Mrs O’Reilly, though. She’s Irish American.

We hear about how “America will be not white majority in” some future year kinda far off. Most recent projections say 2045, but don’t believe it. It will be sooner. And, now there is a report that non-Hispanic white kid ratio has risen to about 50-50. From what I see, don’t believe that easier. That transition is happening too fast for demographers, who are always a few years behind in their data, to measure. The results of the 2020 census will be very interesting!

White supremacy is one of this country’s major problems. It is rearing its big ugly head these days for the reasons cited above. I think that problem will get worse before it gets better. But, in 20 years from now when the US is a very brown nation, most of the White Supremacists will learned to shut up, or will have died off. Or both.

We’ve been here before. This was once a white minority sub continent. Our brief history of mighty whiteness was a mixed bag, to be sure.

See: Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History (2018)

Children of color projected to be majority of U.S. youth this year (2020)


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Why is no one immune to having racial biases?

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I’ll just put this here:

Racism is a phenomenon that emerges from our individual lived experiences and the culture in which we grow up and participate in as adults. A humanistic perspective or a logical mind does not obviate biases in how we know things, and thus, how we perceive or perform as actors in it.

Anthropologist Greg Laden will discuss North American racism as a phenomenon in science and society, its history, and how it is maintained. How do racial, or similar, biases form at the individual and societal level? How are they affected, or not, by societal fixes, great speeches, or education? How can Humanists be better humanists by grappling with this difficult area of human behavior?

Greg Laden is a biological anthropologist, educator, and science writer. His PhD work (at Harvard) was with the Efe Pygmies of the PR Congo, and he has contributed to research on the key features of human evolution, the initial chimp-human split, and the rise of our genus Homo. More recently, Laden studies, speaks, and writes about climate change and race and racism. He is working on a book on falsehoods we know and love.


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