Yes, there is racial bias in police shootings

I imagine many of our readers were shocked by a much-hyped study which purported to show lack of racial bias in police shootings.  You can read a very important critique of it here.

First, there is extensive evidence (including in the datasets Fryer considers) of large racial disparities in who gets stopped by police, even controlling for differences in crime rates (perhaps especially under policies like New York City’s “Stop-and-Frisk”). Because of this, the “hit rate”—or the percent of times a stop ends with a confirmation of wrong-doing—is often higher for whites than blacks. Even if police pulled the trigger without “bias,” this disparity in stops would produce vastly unequal death rates.

This means that when we start the analysis by looking at encounters with police, we have already washed away some of the relevant racial bias. The unique data on police-citizen encounters Fryer relies on from Houston allows him in effect to “control” for the propensity to come into contact with the police in the first place. This is likely part of the reason he finds no evidence of bias in lethal interactions, while others have shown substantial racial disparities. For example, in a 2015 Plos One article, Cody T. Ross estimates that black Americans’ probability of being shot by the police is 3 times the rate for whites—and the disparity goes up to more than 20 in some counties. Similar community-level disparities that are unexplained by differences in crime rates emerge from a recent report from the Center for Policing Equity.

British Colonialism and American Racism

Meena Krishnamurthy:

Anti-black racism in America is much closer than some of us might realize to British colonialism in India. The very same sorts of arguments that were used to justify British colonialism in India can now be found within certain conservative narratives in America and are being used to justify anti-Black racism. We have suffered the dire consequences of a racist British occupation. We cannot allow our fellow Black citizens to suffer in kind from American racism.


Gender and grants (Norway)

This year, a man who applied to SAMKUL had twice the chance of being funded compared to a woman. And this is despite the fact that more women applied than men, and that there were more women than men among the 25 best applications.

Full text here.

Kate Manne on Misogyny

With replies from Susan Brison, Imani Perry, Tali Mendelberg, and others.  Definitely check it out!


Think of misogyny, then, as the law enforcement branch of a patriarchal order. This makes for a useful if rough contrast between misogyny and sexism. Whereas misogyny upholds the social norms of patriarchies by patrolling and policing them, sexism serves to justifythese norms, largely via an ideology of supposedly natural differences between men and women with respect to their talents, interests, proclivities, and appetites.

Sexism is bookish; misogyny is combative. Sexism is complacent; misogyny is anxious. Sexism has a theory; misogyny wields a cudgel.

Sexists subscribe to sexist ideology (albeit often unconsciously). Misogynists engage in misogynist behavior (again, often unwittingly). A sexist believes in men’s superiority over women in masculine-coded domains—such as intellectual endeavors, sports, business, and politics—or that men are less suited to feminine-coded activities, such as domestic work, emotional labor, and caring for children and other dependents. Misogynists may hope that sexists are right, while fearing just the opposite.

Departments changing social activities

As soon as the prospective graduate students visiting Northwestern University’s philosophy department reached the top of Chicago’s lofty John Hancock Center, the cocktails began to flow. Later that evening, everybody had dinner at a prominent professor’s high-rise apartment, where the partying continued well past midnight.

Those raucous recruitment weekends were once routine in the department. But the big, boozy nights are over. Now prospective students spend an early evening with professors at a local Thai restaurant. No one orders alcohol, and the director of graduate studies often brings her children.

That is the new reality as colleges are increasingly vigilant about sexual harassment. When a well-known philosopher at Northwestern, who had hosted the party at his apartment, was pushed out of the university after a female graduate student filed a high-profile complaint of sexual misconduct, the department examined not only his behavior but also its context. “These events all provided a really easy opportunity for nonprofessional relationships,” says Jennifer Lackey, director of graduate studies in the department.

Read on.

Social categories and sports: negotiating a minefield

The Olympics and Paralympics are happening this summer – hopefully to be filled with lots of great sports action and relatively little sewage-borne disease. But in addition to being fun to watch, this summer’s Olympics will be at the epicenter of some incredibly complicated debates about classification and social categories.

Sports are often organized by classificatory categories. Sometimes, doing this is pretty straight forward – e.g., you have weight classes for boxers, and to determine what weight class a boxer should compete in you just weigh them. But others are more difficult. And the most difficult – but also the most significant and wide-ranging – are those classifications that are correlated to social categories: whether someone is a man or a woman, and whether (and how) someone is disabled.

The issue of sex and gender categories – and sex and gender policing – in sports has become familiar in recent years, in large part because of the controversy over South African runner Caster Semenya. Semenya was subjected to horribly invasive ‘gender verification’ tests which ultimately led to the implementation of rules regulating testosterone levels in female athletes. Semenya was allowed to compete in women’s events, but only by suppressing her natural testosterone levels. Her performance suffered. But those rules have recently been overturned, and Semenya is now the heavy favorite to win the women’s 800m in Rio.

A big part of the problem is that sport classification is binary – you either compete as a male or as a female. But biology isn’t that simple. Most people are easily classifiable as male or female, but not all – there is a spectrum of sex variation between the clearly male and the clearly female. And perhaps unsurprisingly, various intersex conditions seem to be over-represented among elite female athletes.

Classifying athletes as either and only male or female requires us draw a sharp division where there sometimes isn’t one. That by itself isn’t a big deal – in fact, it’s something we do all the time in organizing society. Everyone accepts that 10-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to drive but 20-year-olds should. The legal age limit for driving will obviously be an arbitrary cut-off somewhere in the middle. There’s nothing intrinsically special about the age of 16 in the US, or 17 in the UK; it’s just the place where where an arbitrary-but-needed boundary is drawn. But sex and gender in sport is much more politically and socially significant – especially when you consider that the people most vulnerable in the debate (intersex and trans people) are also among the most vulnerable people in our society more generally.

Things get even more complicated when we consider that classification for sport competition is a strange mixture of sex and gender. It clearly isn’t just a matter of gender. A genderqueer person who has female-associated sex characteristics and has never undergone any hormone therapy should clearly be allowed to compete as a woman, regardless of whether they identify as a woman. A trans man who hasn’t undergone any sort of medical transition process should arguably be allowed to continue to compete as a woman if they have done so previously (that is, a change in publicly-stated gender identification doesn’t obviously force a change in sport classification, if that change isn’t accompanied by any sort of medical transition procedure). But it also isn’t just a matter of sex. A trans woman who has undergone years of hormone therapy should arguably be allowed to compete as a woman, regardless of whether she would fit other typical definitions of ‘female’.

In all these cases, what seems to be relevant to sport classification are the sex-related physiological factors which affect sport performance. Separate classifications exist because sex-related physiological differences create differences in athletic ability. Sex classification is often pitched as necessary simply because it allows women to be competitive at elite levels. And it’s certainly true that for sports requiring explosive power, speed, etc males tend to have athletic advantage. But it’s also worth remembering that female bodies have advantages over male bodies in areas such as balance and flexibility, though typically this leads to events where men just don’t compete (e.g., the balance beam) or activities requiring extreme amounts of athleticism being construed as arts rather than sports (e.g., ballet). That being said, it’s clearly the case that sex factors affect sports performance, and some sort of sex/gender classification in sports is important.

Trans athletes have made a compelling case that, regardless of how their sex might or might not be classified, it’s their hormone levels that should determine their gender classification in sports. A trans woman who has been on HRT for years has much more in common – when it comes to the physiological factors that affect sport performance – with cis women than she does with cis men. But allowing trans women to compete on the basis of their hormone levels deepens the complexity of the controversy surrounding hyper-androgenous athletes like Semenya. Sex classification in sports can’t merely be a matter of self-identification (the way that gender classification arguably can be). But is it fair to subject trans athletes – and only trans athletes – to testosterone limits?

Some have argued that hyper-androgenous athletes shouldn’t have their hormones regulated because whatever advantage they incur is natural. If their bodies naturally produce lots of testosterone and that gives them an advantage, so be it. Elite athletes often have unusual physical characteristics that give them an advantage, and we don’t force them to curtail those advantages in order to make sports ‘fair’. But it isn’t quite that simple. The issue with hyper-androgenism – and intersex conditions more generally – is that they create advantage that’s directly related to the male/female classification structure we have in place precisely because some sex-related characteristics (including testosterone levels) give male bodies advantages over female bodies.

Views on this issue run the gamut. A New York Times report persuasively argues that testosterone limits on female athletes create more problems than they solve. But others, including sports scientist Joanna Harper (who is herself trans), maintain that they are the only solution to an otherwise intractable problem. Whatever your view on the matter, this could be an issue where there are simply no good answers. Creating a space for women to compete at the Olympic level against other women is important. But creating a classification that tells us who gets to count as women for sports purposes inevitably shows us how inadequate any sort of binaristic division is, and people get hurt in the process.

Currently, a trans woman who uses HRT to suppress testosterone can compete as a woman, but a genderqueer person with female sex characteristics who takes a small amount of testosterone for a mild androgenizing effect cannot, even if their testosterone levels are the same, and even if the genderqueer person’s testosterone levels are far below Semenya’s. The reasons for this are understandable – testosterone supplementation is a form of doping (indeed it’s one of the most common forms of doping in female athletes). The point is simply that any classification requires drawing a line, and a drawing of a sharp line for sex and gender is going to leave someone out in the cold.

We’re seeing a different, but no less fraught, classification issue emerge in the Paralympics. Again, the controversy arises because distinctions need to be made in order for the sport to function well, but these distinctions require drawing sharp lines across vague boundaries. In doing so, we artificially regiment the borders of politically significant categories in a way that directly impacts vulnerable people.

In the case of the Paralympics, we clearly need to be able to classify whether an athlete is disabled. And we also need to be able to classify – somewhat more baroquely – in what way they are disabled. The need for this is simple. Different disabilities affect sport performance differently, and we want athletes to be able to compete against others with relevantly similar impairments – someone with MS should be able to compete in the paralympics, but not necessarily compete directly against someone with no legs.

But increasing controversy in Paralympic competition surrounds the issue of ‘intentional misrepresentation’ – athletes who purposefully exaggerate some aspects of their disability in order to affect their classification, or (in the most extreme cases) non-disabled athletes who intentionally pass themselves off as disabled. It’s perhaps not surprising, as the Paralympics continues to gain popularity and press coverage, that this type of cheating would be on the rise. But the problem is that attempting to police intentional misrepresentation is both a logistical and political nightmare.

Paralympic classification typically runs on the simplistic assumption that we can measure and quantify ‘how disabled’ an athlete is for her sport. But this is at best a useful fiction. A runner with MS, for example, might have very different physical manifestations of her condition from day to day, some of which could be affected by the environment – especially heat – in which she’s performing. A swimmer with degenerative joint disease will likely have more problems with the strokes notoriously hard on the joints (butterfly and breast stroke) than she will with the less joint-demanding strokes (freestyle and backstroke). And so on.

In response to the problem of intentional misrepresentation, there have been calls for the stricter policing of whether and how athletes are disabled. But the measuring and classifying of disability is incredibly politically loaded, not the least because of how closely tied it is to public misconception surrounding things like benefit fraud. Because we tend to think that disability is relatively stable and easily quantifiable, we assume that, e.g., if someone is seen today not using a wheelchair then she was faking when she was using a wheelchair yesterday, or that if someone can lift their arms over their head today they’ll be able to do the same thing when it really matters tomorrow. In reality, the day to day experience of disability is – at least for many disabled people – much more complicated than that.

The Paralympic disability classifications try to create and subsequently police – again, for understandable reasons – neat disability categories where none exist. The motivation is good: we want a wide range of bodies to be able to compete in disability sport. But the risk is substantial: in trying to create discrete disability categories in such a popular and widely-televised event, there are increasing calls to subject athletes to invasive and insulting testing and increasing worries that we’re inadvertently reinforcing myths about what people who are ‘really disabled’ look and act like.

Both women’s sports and Paralympic sports are important social achievements. In each case, a marginalized group fought hard to have the right to compete in elite sports on their own terms. But figuring out what, exactly, those terms are going to be turns out to be an ethical and political minefield.

Melvin Rogers on Diamond Reynolds

At the very moment these commentators often join Reynolds in seeking justice for her boyfriend and equal deployment of the law to rightly punish the officer, they remind us of the unequal status of black folks.

We would never expect others to display such composure in the face of such traumatic circumstances. We would not penalize their failure of self-control by tying it to untrustworthiness. In fact, we think, and rightly, that emotional eruptions at precisely this moment are appropriate. We think this, I suggest, because the gravity of the situation often elicits this from us. You have just lost a loved one, under horrific circumstances, and by one who is otherwise meant to protect and serve. It makes prefect sense to come undone in that moment, since the emotional eruption is often, at any rate, a judgment of value about the entire event.

Read the rest.

Susan Bordo on straightforwardness, honesty, Clinton (and so much else)

Some super-important points here.


For several days, I’d been watching the media pundits salivate over last week’s poll results, in which Donald Trump rated 16 points better than Hillary Clinton in a question asking which one was “better” at “being honest and straightforward.” These astonishing results, amazingly, merely afforded the media an opportunity to chew yet again over one of their favorite topics: “Hillary’s honesty problem.” This week, it could be freshly juiced up because Bill Clinton had just put his foot and mouth into the wrong airplane. This allowed Chuck Todd, on Meet the Press, to smoothly segue into a discussion of how the “optics”of that event showed that “The Clintons” [sic] “don’t play by the same rules as other people.” Never mind that Hillary and Bill are, last time I looked, two separate people. As usual, Bill and Hillary, fact and “optics,”got smooshed together in the favored “narrative”of Hillary’s troubles getting people to trust her.

It never occurred to any of the pundits (or simply wasn’t journalistically hot enough) to question the poll question itself. As in: Which quality did respondents have in mind? Truthfulness? Or straighforwardness? As my daughter correctly pointed out, they aren’t the same thing at all. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “straightforward= easy to understand, simple; without unnecessary politeness” while “honest=truthful or able to be trusted; not likely to steal, cheat, or lie.” So, it’s perfectly possible to lie in a straightforward way (the best liars, in fact, do so baldly) OR to be truthful but not in a straightforward way—for example, when one is trying to tell someone something that will be hurtful or explain something complex or contradictory.


In fact, a good argument can be made that Trump is a perfect example of a straightforward liar, while Hillary, who (surprise!) is rated by PolitiFact as the most honest of all the candidates (Sanders runs second, Trump last), has, after decades of concocted scandals, developed her famous “honesty problem” precisely because she has learned to speak the truth so cautiously it seems phony.

And there’s more, including some really important points about the email server “scandal”.  Go read it!

I keep seeing references to this poem

Could serendipity be a cosmic hint? In any case, Here it is:

‘This be the verse’

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin

All readers will note the use of “man”.  I think it was written in the 70’s or earlier, for what that’s worth.