The Racial Double Standard

 Posted by on 22 August 2014 at 11:00 am  Justice, Law, Police, Racism, Rights
Aug 222014
 

When I was an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, I worked as a server in a restaurant in Clayton. (Clayton is a very upscale business part of town.)

The head cook was a very good (black) man, albeit with a very checkered past. He’d served time for attempted murder: fellow drug dealers went after his pregnant wife, and he fully intended to kill them in retaliation. However, in prison, he’d gone straight. When I knew him, he was a great kitchen manager, he worked crazy-long hours, and he was a devoted father. He also worked hard to keep the younger (black) kitchen staff on the straight and narrow and out of trouble with the law. He was the kind of guy that I’d trust with my life, without hesitation.

One night, he told me that if he was driving home alone — or with another black person in the car — he’d get home without incident. However, if he was giving a ride to one of the (white, female) servers, he’d be sure to be pulled over by the cops and questioned.

Can you imagine living with that?

I’m used to going about my business without interference from the police — unless I’m speeding or whatnot. If I’m pulled over, I can expect to be on my way in a few minutes — perhaps with a ticket but without being questioned about my private business, let alone searched. That’s not the case for too many people, I think.

The Power of Speaking Out

 Posted by on 10 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Bullying, Culture, Ethics, Racism
Jan 102014
 

Paul sent me this video, knowing that I’d like it. He was right!

Update: I just fixed the video, so that it works now!

I love to see people speaking out against such racist bullying, even when remaining silent would be the easier course. Bullies are cowards at heart. They’ll almost always back down in face of firm opposition, which is part of why it’s so important to say that they’re wrong, clearly and openly. Also, speaking out against a bully helps the victims: they don’t feel alone and under attack from all sides. That’s why I liked the first woman most of all: her immediate focus was to protect the victim from these vicious comments by letting her know that she rejected the bully’s racism.

Videos like this one give me hope for the future of American culture. Americans are concerned about justice — and many will not stand idly by while another person is unjustly victimized. We just need to figure out how to reach them with rational principles in ways that make sense to them.

Racial Segregation at the University of Alabama

 Posted by on 26 September 2013 at 10:00 am  Courage, Ethics, Racism
Sep 262013
 

This story is fascinating: Sorority Exposes Its Rejection of Black Candidate:

On the campus of the University of Alabama, accusations that traditionally white sorority chapters had turned down an apparently impeccable candidate simply because she was black hardly came as a surprise.

The surprise was that it was sorority members — and not the candidate herself — who made the allegations, saying that in some cases they were pressured by alumnae to turn her down.

The allegations, reported on Wednesday in the student newspaper The Crimson White, were based on the account of Melanie Gotz, a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, and members of several other sororities who remained anonymous. In the report, parts of which were corroborated by sorority members, many students said they were open to recruiting the young woman, whose family has asked that she not be named; she is the stepdaughter of a state legislator and stepgranddaughter of a former State Supreme Court justice and current trustee of the university.

The members said they were pressured by outsiders, including a case in which, The Crimson White reported, the recruit was dropped from consideration at the insistence of a volunteer sorority adviser who also works for the university.

The original report from The Crimson White is well worth reading. Here’s a bit:

[Melanie] Gotz was the one to openly question the motives behind executive members and alumnae of Alpha Gamma Delta as to why they dropped the black student that she and others wanted to become a pledge.

“It was just like a big elephant in the room,” Gotz said. “So I raised my hand.”

In response, Gotz said alumnae in the room cited the chapter’s letter of recommendation requirements as a reason for the potential new member’s removal. Active sorority members then began standing up to voice support for the recruit and challenge alumnae decisions, Gotz said.

“It was just so cool to see everyone willing to take this next step and be the sorority that took a black girl and not care,” Gotz said. “You know, I would say there were probably five people in the room that disagreed with everything that was being said. The entire house wanted this girl to be in Alpha Gam. We were just powerless over the alums.”

It’s appalling that such racism exists in America today. However, I’m heartened by two elements of this story. First, many sorority members wished to pledge these girls — based on their merits, without regard for skin color. Second, after being refused in various underhanded ways, some of those sorority members spoke to the media about what happened. Melanie Gotz did so openly, and that moral courage impresses me.

Now that this problem has been more thoroughly aired than ever before, let’s hope it gets solved soon. Racial segregation isn’t good for anyone, dammit.

The Lone Juror

 Posted by on 22 April 2013 at 10:00 am  Crime, Law, Racism
Apr 222013
 

This is an amazing story of a lone juror who refused to convict a black man of rape based on flimsy evidence, despite pressure by the prosecutor. The actual rapist confessed to the crime a few months later. (I’ve left the spelling and grammatical errors as is.)

In 1994 I was called to be a jury in a rape case. A black man had supposedly attacked a young woman in a park, and raped her. He was apprehended by the police only hours later and faced up to 30 years in jail (including aggravated assault). I received the letter one morning and immediately was angry at it as it would waste much of my time in the coming months. However, I have a strong sense of honor, and felt it was my duty.

The interview was kind of weird. After the first questions by the judge, both parties went to ask questions about me and my opinions. First, the defendant had a public defendant who asked me almost no questions (for those not familiar with the law, with a jury trial, both parties select jury members according to strict rules). The prosecutor was very direct and, in my mind, completely unethical. He asked me some VERY direct questions. It went something like this:

PROSECUTION: Hello sir Glad to see you here. In your mind, do you think the defendant is guilty or not? ME: Uhhhh… I don’t know, I didn’t hear all the case details… PROSECUTION: Yes, but considering he was arrested by the police and they have a whole file on him… ME: I will wait to see the whole file on him.

At this point, I understood something. If I acted like I was racist, surely would they dismiss me from being part of the jury!! I thought about it for a second, thought about the month of underpaid work I’d saved, and decided it was worth a shot.

PROSECUTION: Consider the defendant. Do you think his ‘situation’ make him more likely to commit this crime? ME: Huhh… I don’t know… PROSECUTION: A poor woman was viciously attacked, beat and raped. I think we can both agree it was a horrible crime? ME: Yes, absolutely. PROSECUTION: She described the man exactly as he is standing there. He was arrested and interrogated by the police. Do you agree this man might have committed this crime? ME: Yes, I do. PROSECUTION: What is your view on black people? ME(lies): Not particularly dislike them, but not particularly like them. PROSECUTION: Explain? ME(lies): They are human and they have a right to live, but I don’t see them exactly like us.

The prosecution party seemed satisfied of the answers. Keep in mind this was in front of the judge and at this point I was 100% sure I would be dismissed, with a “RACIST” tag over my head forever.

Not at all.

I was informed a bit later, to my great surprise, that I would be part of the jury. If I could describe the case in one word, it would be: “long”. It was terribly long. Hours and hours passed, hours became days and days became weeks. Then, each parties had its final hearing. To my surprise, the public defendant was doing a very decent job in front of the prosecution party.

Then, we went inside, all 12 of us, to discuss.

I had made my mind close to the end of the trial. He was not guilty. There was definitely not enough evidence to convict him. The woman had given (a really tearful) testimony but admitted she couldn’t identify him. The police, after a few questions, had to admit they had no prior file of this man. An expert psychiatrist, hired by the defense, said the man was “happily married with childrens and unlikely to commit that kind of crime. But what really helped me make my mind was when the police admitted they had no DNA evidence at all (which was kind of new at the time). However, the police had a signed confession (which I supposed coerced) and the women had identified a mark the defendant had on the bottom of the neck. Also, he had no alibis and was, to his admission, “walking around at the time”. Finally, a witness supposedly saw a man running away with the same clothes as the defendant.

The jury hearing looked like it would last less than an hour. By the 45-minutes mark, most jury member had made their minds: he was guilty. By the 1h15 mark, all jury members decided he was guilty.

Except for me.

I still wasn’t convinced. I told them I would say he was not guilty. Everyone sighed. “For christ-sake this is the 5th time we vote, I think it’s time we decide already”. We kept talking, and one jury member even got mad: “ARE YOU SAYING THE 11 OF US ARE WRONG? Look at us, there are women and men alike here. This guy IS guilty.” One even told me I was a “nigger-defendant” which made me doubt of the composition of the jury.

The day ended and we all went home.

I spent the night without sleeping. In the morning, I was even more sure: he was not guilty. And then came the second day, long as hell. A fat man became seriously mad and asked to get out (which he couldn’t). I could feel, at the end of the day, that they were all mad at me.

Then came the third day and the 1235235th vote. Again, we failed to reach consensus. They all guessed who voted not guilty. Then, one man flipped out.

MAN: Look out son. I don’t know what your freaking problem is… We have his confession. The woman identified him. A FREAKING WITNESS SAW HIM! What the fuck do you need? ME: I am not convinced by any of the evidence.

Then, things became weirder. The prosecution attorney came to talk to me. To my surprise, he was very kind to me.

PROSECUTION: Hey sir,I heard you thought the defendant was not guilty? ME: WHAT??? Sir, this is supposed to be confidential! PROSECUTION: And it will. Behind us. Sir, I just want to tell this: twenty police officers worked on it. Twenty. I wouldn’t take a man to trial without the absolute proof he is guilty. ME: Thanks… I will consider it…

But I already made up my mind. Fourth day passed and at this point no one was talking. At the end of the fifth day, the judge made us all appear in front of us. Every jury member was looking at me.

JUDGE: Has the jury reached a verdict? CHIEF JURY: No, your honor. JUDGE (really surprised): Do you need more time to reach a verdict? CHIEF JURY: No, your honor. JUDGE: You… You don’t think you can reach a verdict? CHIEFT JURY: No, your honor.

Everyone in the audience sighed. Not one second I put my head down. After a couple of days, a hung jury verdict was given. And everything was to be started again. My life took a turn to the worst, I was bullied, intimidated in my life. My car was frequently arrested by patrolling police officers for no reason. I started to think about moving out.

Two months later, before the new trial began, a man confessed to the crime at a police station. He was also black, although looked nothing like the first man, even in terms of weight/height. He gave a crying confession to which he admitted everything. Then, he gave details that were kept private (not shared with any outsider) and that he could in no way know unless he was the perpretator of the crime. He said he followed the long trial, and was tortured thinking about everything that happened. When the woman saw him, she immediately said it was him, and I had the feeling police told her it was the first black man who did it.

Later on he was convicted, served a prison time, and was released after many years. Sorry to make this so long. AMA.

I’m floored that this guy was selected for the jury despite expressing racist sentiments. I’m even more floored that the prosecutor attempted to pressure him into changing his vote during deliberations. Surely, that’s waaaay out-of-bounds, right?

Feb 062013
 

On Super Bowl Sunday, I watched a short but excellent feature from Sunday NFL Countdown on Doug Williams, the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl. (ESPN has only posted the first minute, but a terrible recording of the whole thing can be found here.)

The segment was fascinating in so many ways, and I really admire Doug Williams for gracefully handling such intense pressure, particularly when injured. However, I was particularly interested in the segment from the perspective of cultural change. That Super Bowl happened just 25 years ago, in 1988. It was a big deal for the reason that’s stated at the outset of the segment:

There’s always been this idea that blacks lacked the intellectual decision-making capabilities of playing the quarterback position.

That view is just mind-bogglingly incomprehensible to me — and it’s really bizarre to think that such was only demolished by Doug Williams just 25 years ago. Sheesh, that was in my lifetime: I remember the hubbub about this Super Bowl when I was kid.

The simple fact is that, while racism and racial tensions are not wholly absent from America today, they are far, far less severe and less common than they used to be. Every American — whatever their skin color — is better off as a result.

That’s part of why I’m so glad to be living in the supposed “cesspool” of modern society. Racism is not merely one evil among many. It’s a particularly disgusting, destructive, and dishonest evil. As Ayn Rand said, “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.”

(As some of you might recall, I discussed a number of positive cultural barometers in answering this question about what’s good in American culture in a December 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard that episode, check it out!)

At the end of the Sunday NFL Countdown segment, Doug Williams offered a hopeful note on today’s NFL:

You don’t read about Seattle’s quarterback, you don’t read about the Washington Redskins quarterback, being black. They just happen to be their quarterback. I think that’s the way it should be, and hopefully that’s the way that it will be from here until eternity.

Hear, hear! And thank you, Doug Williams, for helping to make that possible!

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