Black scholarship matters (UPDATED)

The Journal of Political Philosophy just published a symposium on Black Lives Matter, which initially sounds like a great idea.  However, Chris Lebron writes (in an open letter to the journal):

So, if you might – please do – try to imagine my distaste when it was brought to my attention that your journal published a philosophical symposium on ‘black lives matter’ with not one philosopher of color represented, without one philosopher of color to convey her or his contextualized sense of a movement that is urgently and justifiably about context.

Melvin Rogers has also written to the journal:

I do not typically claim that persons of color have an intellectual monopoly on issues affecting their life chances, but given the meaning and purpose of the movement it seems especially egregious that a person of color was not included.

So I write to find out how it is that these group of papers, only one of which mentions Black Lives Matter, came to be classified under a heading titled Symposium on “Black Lives Matter”? This question is especially important since I have now come to understand that the authors did not know they would be classified as such.

I very much urge you to read the whole of both open letters, linked to above.  They lay out with beautiful clarity just why the composition of the symposium is a problem, and correct some widespread misunderstandings of this kind of criticism.

The journal has replied in an open letter.  Here’s the start of it:

We, the Editors, sincerely apologise for the oversight in not
including a Black author in a Symposium explicitly entitled ‘Black
Lives Matter’. We accept the point eloquently and forcefully made by
our colleagues that this is an especially grave oversight in light of
the specific focus of Black Lives Matter on the extent to which
African-Americans have been erased and marginalised from public life.
Part of the mission of the JPP is to raise awareness of ongoing
injustices in our societies. We appreciate and encourage having an
engaged and politically active scholarly community willing to hold
everyone working in the profession to account.


Trump and Authoritarian Propoganda

There’s a really interesting new piece by Jason Stanley over at the The Stone in the New York Times on Trump and authoritarian propaganda. Excerpted below; the whole piece is here.

Trump regularly says that America’s “inner cities” are filled with Americans who are impoverished, and of African-American descent. According to Trump, these are places of unprecedented horror. In a tweet on Aug. 29, 2016, Trump wrote: “Inner-city crime is reaching record levels. African-Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!”

This has continued as one of the central themes in his campaign; there is supposedly an unprecedented wave of violent slaughter. In November 2015, Trump tweeted an image of the following statistics about race and murder from 2015, supposedly from a source called the “Crime Statistics Bureau of San Francisco,” which does not appear to exist. It included wildly inaccurate figures that indicated that a large majority of white people killed were being killed by black people.

In the United States, around 14 percent of the population is of African-American descent. White Americans make up around 75 percent. If 81 percent of white American citizens who were murdered in 2015 were murdered by a small minority group of American citizens with some kind of vaguely generalizable profile, it may be worth addressing in policy. However, F.B.I. statistics from 2014 tell us that 15 percent of whites are killed by their black fellow Americans, and 82 percent of white Americans are killed by their white fellow American citizens. Fact checkers of Trump’s tweet were displeased.

. . . The chief authoritarian values are law and order. In Trump’s value system, nonwhites and non-Christians are the chief threats to law and order. Trump knows that reality does not call for a value-system like his; violent crime is at almost historic lows in the United States. Trump is thundering about a crime wave of historic proportions, because he is an authoritarian using his speech to define a simple reality that legitimates his value system, leading voters to adopt it. Its strength is that it conveys his power to define reality. Its weakness is that it obviously contradicts it . . . Denouncing Trump as a liar, or describing him as merely entertaining, misses the point of authoritarian propaganda altogether. Authoritarian propagandists are attempting to convey power by defining reality. The reality they offer is very simple. It is offered with the goal of switching voters’ value systems to the authoritarian value system of the leader.

National boycott and some small things philosophers can do to help

Yesterday, Shaun King at the New York Daily News announced a national boycott against “police brutality, racial violence and systemic injustice in America.” The boycott will start December 5, the anniversary of the 1955 start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Here are some of the key features of the planned boycott, from the King article linked above:

1. We will not be releasing the names of the cities, states, businesses, and institutions that we will be boycotting until Dec. 5, 2016. Between now and then, we hope that cities and states around the country will begin to enact emergency legislation and policies to prevent police brutality and racial violence. Furthermore, we do not want any potential institutions to somehow undermine our efforts.

2. We can tell you this, our boycott will be national. That means we will be boycotting:

  • Entire cities and states much like what you see being done in North Carolina right now over the anti-LGBT House Bill 2.
  • Particular brands and corporations who partner with and profit from systemic oppression.
  • Particular brands and corporations headquartered in cities and states notorious for police brutality and racial violence, which say and do little to nothing about it.
  • Particular institutions, including banks, which fund, underwrite, inform, train or otherwise support systemic oppression and brutality.

8. We do expect this boycott to last for months, or even years, not days or weeks.

It’s worth reading the whole article to learn about the background and the other details. So, here it is again.

For those of us who intend to support the boycott, some planning is in order. We won’t know which particular cities/companies/institutions are subject to boycott until the day is upon us. But we can make some reasonable conjectures.

Here are a couple of small things philosophers can do to show solidarity with the movement. It is highly plausible that Baltimore will be among the boycotted cities. The 2017 Eastern APA will be held in Baltimore in early January. Philosophers who are in a position to do so may wish to hold off on pre-registering for the APA and purchasing airline tickets to Baltimore until we know whether or not Baltimore is subject to boycott. And, if Baltimore is targeted, those philosophers who are able to skip the meeting should seriously consider doing so. Further, philosophers, especially APA members, should consider writing to the APA to inform the Association that they will be joining in the boycott and hence will miss the Baltimore meeting if Baltimore is boycotted. They should therefore urge the Association to develop both an official position and a clear plan in case Baltimore is boycotted. Finally, we should speak with our colleagues in other disciplines and urge them to take similar tacks with their professional associations, who will similarly have meetings planned in cities that are likely to be boycotted.

(h/t SE for the links)

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.


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.

Kimberle Crenshaw: Say her name

When she speaks at public meetings, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw has a trick. She asks everyone to stand up until they hear an unfamiliar name. She then reads the names of unarmed black men and boys whose deaths ignited the Black Lives Matter movement; names such as Eric GarnerMichael BrownTamir RiceFreddie GrayTrayvon Martin. Her audience are informed and interested in civil rights so “virtually no one will sit down”, Crenshaw says approvingly. “Then I say the names of Natasha McKennaTanisha AndersonMichelle CusseauxAura Rosser, Maya Hall. By the time I get to the third name, almost everyone has sat down. By the fifth, the only people standing are those working on our campaign.”

Read the whole article!

Un-diversifying academia

An important article on universities’ failure to tenure and retain the members of underrepresented groups that they hire.

This disturbing trend of denying tenure to women and minorities at disproportionate rates vis-à-vis white males is revealed in June Junn’s study at the University of Southern California. Junn found that of 106 tenure cases, heard between 1998 and 2012 at USC, 92 percent of white males were tenured, whereas only 55 percent of women and minority scholars were.

What’s in a name?

Yale philosophy major, Karléh Wilson, brings philosophy of language to bear on the recent controversies surrounding Yale’s decision not to rename Calhoun College in the Boston Review:

A few weeks ago Peter Salovey, president of Yale, made a controversial decision: he rejected the students’ argument and opted to retain the name. The decision has significant national consequences. If Yale, by reputation a liberal bastion in a liberal state, retains the name of Calhoun College, what does this signal for colleges and universities engaged in similar struggles in states where racial equality is yet more elusive?

Calhoun College was named in 1933 in honor of John C. Calhoun, an antebellum statesman who played a critical role in articulating the southern defense of slavery. In 1837 Calhoun, serving at the time as senator of South Carolina (he had previously been Andrew Jackson’s vice-president), told the Senate:

“In the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.”

President Salovey’s reaffirmation of the college’s name has been taken by some as a sign of disrespect for African Americans. He has defended his decision by recourse to a novel and intriguing argument: he was motivated, he wrote, out of a sincere desire to remind subsequent generations of Yale students about our nation’s troubled past. The reaffirmation is thus intended to serve Yale’s educational mission, not to honor Calhoun. According to Salovey, from this point forward the name “Calhoun College” no longer honors Calhoun’s dishonorable legacy, and therefore no longer communicates disrespect for African Americans. “Ours is a nation that often refuses to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of that history,” Salovey emphasized. “We cannot erase American history but we can confront it, teach it, and learn from it. The decision to retain Calhoun College’s name reflects the importance of this vital educational imperative.”

President Salovey supposes that his decision can change the meaning of “Calhoun College.” It cannot.

. . . Speaking is a social act. Our social world is constituted by familiar practices, myths, symbols, and stories. Words therefore acquire social meanings. A use of a word has a certain meaning because of facts about the culture, such as entrenched social practices. Salovey’s argument presupposes that his decision can change the meaning of “Calhoun College.” Since it cannot, his argument fails.

To appreciate the point, consider the Wikipedia entry “List of places named after people.” The long list attests to a worldwide social practice of naming places, cities, towns, countries, and continents to honor respected figures. Because of the ubiquity of the practice of naming in order to honor, it is reasonable to assume that when a place is named after a person, its name honors that person’s legacy. Indeed, otherwise the practice is totally illegible. This accounts for the widespread practice of renaming streets, towns, cities, and institutions as political regimes change. Vladimir Lenin’s and Joseph Stalin’s names have been removed from institutions, cities, towns, and streets throughout the former Soviet Union, as have the names of many other former tyrants. Germany has no universities, colleges, cities, or streets named after Adolf Hitler or other Nazi leaders; previously, it did.

She concludes by noting that while Salovey has a significant amount of power as the president of Yale, it is not so significant as to enable him to change the social meaning of naming places after persons. The whole piece is here.