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.
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.
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 Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Trayvon 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 McKenna, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux, Aura 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!
I posted a couple of days ago about some of the problems with the AAUP’s recent report on Title IX. I think there are others, but for considerations of space, just mentioned two: one of which was the AAUP’s resistance to the preponderance of the evidence standard, the other was the AAUP’s confusion regarding the increase and manner of OCR investigations. At some point, I think it would be valuable to discuss some of those other issues (I’ll draw on a couple of points from this letter from the National Women’s Law Center below, but I encourage you to read it in full as it pertains to some of the other issues in the report as well), but first, more on the justification for the preponderance standard.
Brian Leiter wrote a reply to my post, taking issue with this passage:
But, more to the point, if Title IX complaints were held to a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence when other civil rights claims are adjudicated by exactly that standard, then it would follow that complainants would be held to a higher standard, i.e., disadvantaged, on the basis of sex, i.e., they would be subject to sexual discrimination.
I cited Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education in the explanation of my thinking, and in an update on his post, Leiter writes, “that retaliation for reporting sex discrimination is actionable sex discrimination for purposes of Title IX does nothing to establish that a higher standard of proof to prevail on a sex discrimination claim is sex discrimination.” Leiter is right that, in itself, that retaliation in the context of Title IX constitutes sex discrimination says nothing about standards of proof, but I didn’t say that it did. What I did say is that I think the courts’ reasoning in the course of determining whether or not retaliation constitutes discrimination – i.e., how the court defined what it is for something to constitute “discrimination on the basis of sex” – does.
Here’s that language again (emphasis mine):
In all of these cases, we relied on the text of Title IX, which, subject to a list of narrow exceptions not at issue here, broadly prohibits a funding recipient from subjecting any person to “discrimination” “on the basis of sex.” 20 U. S. C. ß1681. Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination encompassed by Title IX’s private cause of action. Retaliation is, by definition, an intentional act. It is a form of “discrimination” because the complainant is being subjected to differential treatment. See generally Olmstead v. L. C., 527 U. S. 581, 614 (1999) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment) (the “normal definition of discrimination” is “differential treatment”); see also Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U. S. 669, 682, n. 22 (1983) (discrimination means “less favorable” treatment). Moreover, retaliation is discrimination “on the basis of sex because” it is an intentional response to the nature of the complaint: an allegation of sex discrimination. . .
The import of the Jackson language quoted is not that the retaliation was a response to the person (Roderick Jackson) but to the claim (in Jackson’s case, a series of complaints about unequal treatment that he felt were prohibited by Title IX). It can be analogized to campus responses to sexual assault cases in the following way: when a victim makes a complaint that s/he was sexually assaulted, under Title IX that is a claim of sex discrimination, because sexual assault is a severe form of sexual harassment, and sexual harassment has been confirmed by SCOTUS to be a form of sex discrimination. Therefore, if the school responds to that claim using a process that requires a higher standard of proof than the standard of proof that the school uses for other claims, ones that do not implicate Title IX and do not allege sex discrimination, that is, in the words of the Court in Jackson, “differential treatment.” So if a student made a complaint that s/he was the victim of harassment based on his/her race, the school would be required under Title VI to use a preponderance of the evidence standard. If the school were still using “clear and convincing evidence” for sexual assault cases, this would mean that claims of sex discrimination (severe sexual harassment in the form of sexual assault) would be treated differently, and less favorably, by the school from claims of race discrimination (racial harassment).
Similarly, if one white, male, heterosexual student accused another white, male, heterosexual student of punching him in the face and the school used a preponderance of the evidence standard in its process for responding to that assault, but was still using “clear and convincing” in its process for sexual assault, that would be differential treatment based on the nature of the claim, where the claim alleging discrimination based on sex got “‘less favorable treatment” (see language from Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 682, n. 22, 103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89 (1983) included in Jackson) than the claim not alleging discrimination based on sex.
The National Women’s Law Center (lead counsel in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education) seems to agree that parity with other claims justifies the use of the preponderance standard in Title IX claims: “Given that Title IX was modeled after Title VI, and preponderance of the evidence is the standard used in claims brought under Title VI, it is also the standard that applies to Title IX claims. The preponderance standard is also used in litigation of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regarding sex discrimination in employment. Thus, it is the correct standard for allegations of sexual harassment, including violence.” (If you doubt that courts have taken up this standard, note the footnotes to this passage in their letter.)
Likewise, Nancy Cantalupo, in the piece I linked to a few days ago, writes,
Allowing schools to adopt a criminalized standard of proof such as “clear and convincing” evidence or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” . . . would also create legal and administrative barriers for student survivors of gender-based violence that do not apply to the vast majority of comparable populations involved in civil or civil rights proceedings, all of which use the preponderance standard. To name just a few, these groups include: other students alleging other kinds of sex discrimination; students alleging discrimination based on other protected categories, like race or disability; gender-based violence survivors seeking protection orders in civil court; students alleging other forms of student misconduct; and students accused of sexual or any other misconduct who sue their schools in civil court. In reality the preponderance standard is used in the vast majority of cases, not only in internal disciplinary proceedings but also in other administrative or civil court proceedings and under other civil rights statutes that protect equality . . . Indeed, separating out sexual violence victims for different procedural treatment would enact a new kind of damaging “exceptionality [for] rape,” as Michelle Anderson discusses in her paper for the September 25 Conversation. Using anything more stringent than a preponderance standard would symbolize that we as a society are comfortable with giving one group of women and girls, as well as men and boys who are gender-minorities and victimized because of it, unequal treatment when compared to everyone else.
In a footnote on this passage, Cantalupo notes:
Research shows that the majority of higher education institutions had voluntarily adopted a preponderance of the evidence standard for all student conduct proceedings by the early 2000s. See Michelle J. Anderson, Sexual The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Assault, 84 B.U. L. Rev. 945, 1000 (2004); Heather M. Karjane et al., Campus Sexual Assault: How America’s Institutions of Higher Education Respond 122 tbl.6.12 (2002), http://www.hhd.org/sites/hhd.org/files/mso44.pdf [http://perma.cc/9Z57-PHR5]. Therefore, using a different standard from the preponderance standard in cases involving sexual or other forms of gender-based violence would mean that student victims of gender-based violence would be less protected than students who are victimized by another student in any other way.
Now, Geoffrey Stone has argued against the preponderance standard as follows (emphasis mine):
To justify its insistence on the preponderance of the evidence standard, the Department of Education draws an analogy to civil actions in court. In the typical civil law suit for damages, whether the issue is a car accident, a breach of contract, or an assault, the standard is preponderance of the evidence. But this is a bad analogy. For a college or university to expel a student for sexual assault is a matter of grave consequence both for the institution and for the student. Such an expulsion will haunt the students for the rest of his days, especially in the world of the Internet. Indeed, it may well destroy his chosen career prospects. This is especially likely, for example, for law students.
To the extent that analogy between internal Title IX complaints at an educational institution and action in courts is apt (there is a substantive difference in that what happens in court is thereby public record), the analogy to civil action is far more apt than an analogy to criminal proceedings. In addition to the fact that in criminal cases it is the state, and not the alleged victim, who is party to the proceedings, as Stone writes, civil law adjudicated by a preponderance of the evidence standard provides relief for assault. Again, from the National Women’s Law Center:
The preponderance of the evidence standard is appropriate even in cases where there could be criminal sanctions for the defendant’s actions. For example, it is used in civil proceedings between two private parties, where—like a campus grievance proceeding for a complaint of sexual harassment—each party “has an extremely important, but nevertheless relatively equal, interest in the outcome.” This includes civil proceedings arising out of conduct that can also be criminal, but where there is no authority to impose criminal sanctions, such as a civil tort action for battery, robbery, or murder.
Of course, Stone is right that expulsion may haunt a student. We should absolutely take that seriously, and I do. At the same time, let’s not forget how many students are expelled for infractions like plagiarism as compared to sexual assault; let’s not forget having been subject to sexual violence may haunt a victim; let’s not forget that being subject to sexual discrimination (including sexual harassment and assault) might, and in a number of cases has, destroyed victims’ chosen career prospects; let’s not forget that victims are often forced to transfer schools, or drop out; let’s not forget that victims have also been dragged through the nasty trenches of the internet, nor that some have been driven to suicide as a result. Moreover, let’s not forget that it is exactly these kinds of effects that educational institutions are legally obligated to address insofar as they impact one’s access to education; that is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
An anonymous guest post:
Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.
But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.
Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.
For the survivors:
The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.
It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.
In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, https://rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.
For the speculators:
Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.
So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.
It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.
“Of course, this is hardest for Geoff in this moment. For those who are willing and able, he certainly can use any understanding or support they can offer (this wouldn’t include endorsement of the mistakes he acknowledges in an open letter on his website). I ask that those who have the room for it (now or later), hear him out and judge whether there is room for redemption in all that will transpire.”
That quote is from an email sent out by Geoff Marcy’s department head, in the wake of it being made public that he has been found responsible for sexual misconduct, and that Berkeley decided in lieu of sanctions, to sign an agreement with him about what would happen if he was found responsible again.
Sympathy is complicated. I’m not a moral psychologist, so I won’t pretend to be one — but I am a philosopher who thinks about the way social and political structures can influence our beliefs. And in view of tense and complicated conversations following several cases of issues of discrimination and violence related to members of our professional communities, I haven’t been able to help but think for awhile now about how, like credibility, distributions of sympathy are political.
This seems perfectly predictable, in a certain sense. We’re ready to lend a sympathetic shoulder to our friends. We tend to consider the interests of those in our own social circles more readily than those of others at a distance. Nonetheless, the experience of it can be unexpected. The first time I was ever told that a friend had been sexually assaulted by someone I knew, my reaction was — to me — utterly surprising. Though I knew the wrong-doer, he wasn’t a friend. He wasn’t someone I cared for. The only time I ever spent around him was not of my own choosing, but rather the begrudging result of our having multiple mutual friends. Yet, when I found out that he had assaulted my friend, I found myself absolutely weeping. First, for her – that wasn’t the surprising bit – but then, for him too.
I felt more deeply for him, suddenly, and unexpectedly, than I ever had before I knew what kind of wrong-doing he was capable of. That feeling, I think, was borne out (in part) of the recognition that even in the best of possible futures, there would be no undoing what he had done. If things went as well as they could, given what had already happened, he would recognize the wrongness of his actions, and seek to make what recompense there might be. And how painful would it be to live with that knowledge? How would you cope with knowing that you have irrevocably changed someone’s life by harming them so severely? I also think this was, in part, simply because I knew him.
To be clear, I blamed him. I was angry. I wanted him to be held responsible. At the same time, I felt deep lament and sympathy. My heart ached. I wished that it weren’t true. It didn’t take much reflection to understand a little better why we can be so recalcitrant and resistant in the face of claims to harm against our friends. If I could feel so much sympathy for someone who I didn’t even like, how would I feel had he been a friend? Family? What would I think, if I didn’t also know the victim, or the extent of the evidence? What if I were his department chair, and he were one of my department’s star researchers?
All of this is to say, I get it. I can understand how the pull of sympathy might disrupt our priorities in a harmful way. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay.
Of course it’s fine — perhaps good hearted, even — to feel sympathetic to those among us who have acted wrongly. Sympathy for those who have acted wrongly need not necessarily conflict with an appropriate sense of justice (indeed, I think it can enrich it). But we do need to be careful about what follows. When we’re not so careful, victims can be harmed by the politics of sympathy in many ways. It isn’t news that those who attempt to come forward with allegations against the powerful, well-connected, or socially-established, often find that with friends so well-placed to offer protection and so ready to offer understanding to the perpetrator, evidence simply isn’t enough. Perpetrators may be easy to sympathize with for other reasons (like their gender, being central to a department’s research profile, their interests being closer to our own, their being well-meaning, or sincere). Victims are unjustly harmed when this translates into a resistance to the belief that a perpetrator could be guilty, or results in, once again, concern for victims’ well-being having been sacrificed for the sake of the one who harmed them as we consider the (real or imagined) difficulties that they face while setting the victims’ to the side.
All of this, of course, can be exacerbated by the fact that it’s just easier to look the other way in the first place. As Judith Herman writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”
Sympathy can be valuable, but when readiness to feel it is tied up in our social relationships, it will also, inevitably, have a political element — and that’s something we need to be especially careful with in view of the possibility of mistaking our fellow-feeling for evidence of innocence, or when it signals that we prioritize justice and care for the perpetrator over justice and care for their victims.
It is precisely that prioritizing that is so offensive in the email quoted above. These women who came forward risked their reputations, professional prospects, being subject to public scrutiny, to seek redress for harms they never wanted to be subject to in the first place. The university responded, having found their allegations justified, by doing (roughly speaking) nothing. I am sure Geoff Marcy is having a difficult time right now, and it’s fine to recognize that. But let’s not add insult to injury for his victims.
Wednesday night, a white man walked into a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine parishioners. Today, a Confederate flag is flying on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia — as it does every day. While the flags on top of the statehouse itself are flying at half-mast, the Confederate flag (displayed at a Civil War memorial) is flying at full mast.
There’s more historical context regarding the church itself, here. Today, I’ve been remembering the words of Langston Hughes:
The past has been a mint
Of blood and sorrow.
That must not be
True of tomorrow.
At this point, I should be used to seeing backlash against Emma Sulkowicz, but I still wasn’t fully prepared for what came this week: endless tittering of people around me in real life and in my social feeds saying they “weren’t sure” about Emma’s choice to carry her mattress to Columbia’s graduation; the insistence that Emma’s alleged assailant Paul Nungesser had been “proven innocent” by Columbia and exonerated by the NYPD; the posters someone put up around Columbia with Emma’s picture on them, calling her a “PRETTY LITTLE LIAR.”
Every time I read another version of this narrative—that Nungesser merely “picked the wrong friends,” that the complaints against him were a calculated vendetta—my stomach flopped. Don’t forget: before he appealed away the conviction, Paul Nungesser was found responsible for sexually assaulting a woman at Columbia. And I’m writing this because that woman was me.
. . . If you’re reading this and doubting Emma—if you’re reading this and doubting me—please ask yourself why I’m taking the time to write this. Ask yourself why I filed a complaint against someone I had considered a friendly acquaintance (before my assault). Ask yourself why four unrelated people have taken the time and energy to come forward and file complaints against him. Read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula. Get outside what happened on Columbia’s campus. Try to realize that our stories are everywhere, on every campus, and we’re not all activists like Emma or unreliable sources like Jackie. Some of us are quiet about our stories even if we’re completely sure.
And, after all, it’s safer to be quiet. The reason I’m writing this anonymously is because of what happens to people like Emma, who speak out. Their names are plastered on disgusting posters on their graduation day. They’re inundated with violent threats and graphic comments every time they log into their email and check their Facebook. They’re forever associated with something that happened to them; not their achievements or accomplishments or talents. When I was younger, I naively hoped maybe one day I’d write a book noteworthy enough to make it into The New York Times. The first time my words were printed in The Times, they were anonymous, and they were about someone who had sexually assaulted me. I’m glad I’ve made the decision to decline interviews and stay small and quiet, but, simultaneously, I’m so proud of Emma for showing her face and sending a message. She has a particular kind of strength that I do not, and that’s okay. Maybe by writing this and risking having my name out there—and realizing that telling my story is worth that risk—I’m getting a little stronger.
But even if you don’t believe me, I don’t care. I didn’t report him for you. I reported him because it was the right thing to do. And if I’ve protected even one person from him, it’s been worth it.
Lena Klimova, the founder of Children-404, an online support network for LGBT teens in Russia similar to the It Gets Better campaign in the United States, has launched a new project meant to shame the Internet users who send her death threats.
On April 20, Klimova unveiled a photo album, titled “Beautiful People and What They Say to Me,” where she posted publicly available pictures of individuals in their everyday lives, overlaid with the threatening messages they’ve sent her on VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network.
The photos show the individuals in situations that are casual and intimate: a man poses with a goat, a woman hugs a bouquet of roses, and so on. The text, however, is vicious and obscene, creating a violent juxtaposition between these people’s identities as private individuals and public homophobes.
Jacob Levy has a great post up at Bleeding Heart Libertarians – Folk ideal theory in action (with thanks to Daily Nous for bringing it to my attention) – which made me want to say something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Earlier, we posted Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on nonviolence as compliance; as human beings, and many of us, American citizens, the issues Coates raises are of general interest, but there are important philosophical questions, I think, we should be asking ourselves now too. I know some philosophers bristle at the thought that our academic work should be constrained by such things as goals of social justice — but set that aside. Shouldn’t the modes of thinking we encourage at least not make things worse?
It seems to me, following Charles Mills, that ideal-theory approaches entrench substantial epistemic hindrances for theorizing justice. While we can attempt to engage in thought experiment, e.g., regarding what we might agree to behind a veil of ignorance if we knew nothing about our own social identity, we cannot engage in that thought experiment without thereby deploying a conceptual framework which is, itself, deeply shaped by our existing, non-ideal, social circumstances. Taking Rawls’ for example, by choosing to set the non-ideal to the side until an account of the ideal can be developed, Rawls cut himself off from the means by which we might check the profound impact of inequality and injustice on our very form of thought. An ideal-theory approach to justice is not problematic merely because it is structured in such a way as to fail to offer sufficient guidance in a non-ideal world, but also because it obscures, and consequently risks transmitting the consequences of, that some of our very concepts have been shaped in ways that implicate matters of justice in the first place. There is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice which ideal theory is disposed to inherit, and engagement with the non-ideal is requisite for correction.
When I say that there is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice, I do not mean just hermeneutical injustice, as Miranda Fricker discusses (though, that’s relevant too), where we may lack some concept because the social group which could develop it lacks the social power or organization to do so. I mean instead that we have concepts which we take to have normative force – like nonviolence as an ideal (or ‘genius‘, or ‘atonement‘) – and these concepts may be perfectly worthy in some sense (that is, the sense in which mean for that concept to aim at), but in actuality they can be perverse, both ethically and epistemically. Note: It is not that I think nonviolence is in anyway perverse itself, and I do not mean that I advocate in any way for violence. What I do mean, though, is that our concept of nonviolence is confused. When embedded in our broader social-conceptual framework, nonviolence becomes something that is expected of those who are subjected to oppression, and violence against them as enacted by certain dominant social groups, or certain forms of the state, fails to be recognized as violence at all. It’s that moment when someone tells you in the span of just a few breaths that yet another death of a black man at the hands of police is an unfortunate event, but that they are saddened, or even heartbroken, by the destructive protests which followed. Violence against persons of color is conceptualized as unfortunate, whereas the destruction of property is conceptualized as violent. The concept of nonviolence is socially limited so as to be unequal in its application.
If you’re a Black person and you live in the Black community, all your life, you walk out on the street every day, seeing white policeman surrounding you. When I was living in Los Angeles, for instance…I was constantly stopped. The police didn’t know who I was, but I was a Black woman, and I had a natural, and I suppose they thought that I might be a “militant”…
You live under that situation constantly, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
Whether I approve of guns? I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs–bombs that were planted by racists…From the time I was very, very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment, we might expect to be attacked . . .
In fact, when [one] bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church? I have to pick up Carole, we heard about the bombing, and I don’t have my car.”
And they went down there, and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then after that, in my neighborhood, all of the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and control our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.
I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what Black people have gone through–what Black people have experienced in this country since the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.