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The Banality Of Richard Cohen And Racist Profiling

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Yesterday Richard Cohen wrote this:

In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects -- almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news. 

Those statistics represent the justification for New York City's controversial stop-and-frisk program, which amounts to racial profiling writ large. After all, if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk. 

Still, common sense and common decency, not to mention the law, insist on other variables such as suspicious behavior. Even still, race is a factor, without a doubt. It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.

I wish I had a solution to this problem. If I were a young black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated. If the police are abusing their authority and using race as the only reason, that has got to stop. But if they ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.

It is very important to understand that no one is asking the NYPD to "ignore race." If an officer is looking for an specific suspect, no one would ask that the NYPD not include race as part of the description. But "Stop And Frisk" is not concerned with specific suspects, but with a broad class of people who are observed making "furtive movements."

With that said, we should take a moment to appreciate the import of Cohen's words. They hold that neither I, nor my twelve year old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state. Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality. It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all. Cohen argues that that majority should unduly bear the burden of police invasion, because of a minority who happens to live among it.

Richard Cohen concedes that this is a violation, but it is one he believes black people, for the good of their country, must learn to live with. Effectively he is arguing for a kind racist public safety tax. The tax may, or may not, end with a frisking. More contact with the police, and people who want to be police, necessarily means more deadly tragedy. Thus Cohen is not simply calling for my son and I to bear the brunt of "violation," he is calling for us to run a higher risk of death and serious injury at the hands of the state. Effectively he is calling for Sean Bell's fianceé, Trayvon Martin's parents, Amadou Diallo's mother, Prince Jones' daughter, the relatives of Kathryn Johnston to accept the death's of their love ones as the price of doing business in America.

The unspoken premise here is chilling--the annihilation of the black individual. To wit:

Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.

I think we would concede that it would be wrong of me to assume that every Jewish person I meet is good at chess, physics or medicine. This year I am working at MIT where a disproportionate number of the students are Asian-Americans. It would be no more wise for me to take from that experience that individual Asian-Americans are good at math, then it would be for anyone to look at the NBA and assume I am good at basketball.

Perhaps the standards should be different when it comes to public safety and violence. But New York city's murder rate is as low as it has been in fifty years. How long should a racist public safety tax last? Until black people no longer constitute a disproportionate share of our violent criminals, one assumes. But black people do not constitute such a group--victims of hundreds of years of racist state policy constitute that group. "Black on Black" crime is the racecraft by which the fact of what was done to us disappears, and it becomes something in our DNA.

I think Richard Cohen knows this:

The problems of the black underclass are hardly new. They are surely the product of slavery, the subsequent Jim Crow era and the tenacious persistence of racism. They will be solved someday, but not probably with any existing programs. For want of a better word, the problem is cultural, and it will be solved when the culture, somehow, is changed.

This paragraph is the American problem in brief. Cohen can name the root causes. He is not blind to racism. But he can not handle the import of his own words. So he retreats to cynicism, relieves the American state of all responsibility, and through a magic called "culture." To paraphrase the old Sidney Harris cartoon, the formulation is something like this

(Forced Labor + Mass Rape)AUCTIONING YOUR CHILDREN

+ (Poll tax + Segregation + Grandfather clause)THE KLAN
+ (Redlining + Blockbusting + Race Riots)CUTTING YOU OUT OF THE NEW DEAL
- THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS
= Eh, you figure it out.

A brave anti-intellecualism, a fanatical imbecility, a willful amnesia, an eternal sunshine upon our spotless minds, is white supremacy gravest legacy. You would not know from reading Richard Cohen that the idea that blacks are more criminally prone, is older than the crime stats we cite, that it has been cited since America's founding to justify the very kinds of public health measures Cohen now endorses. Black criminality is more than myth, it is socially engineered prophecy.

You should not be deluded into thinking Richard Cohen an outlier. The most prominent advocate of profiling our current pariah classes--black people and Muslim Americans--is now being mentioned in conversations to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Those mentions received an endorsement from our president:

Kelly hasn't spoken about whether he wants the post, but in an interview with Univision, the president said he'd want to know if Kelly was considering a job change.

"Ray Kelly's obviously done an extraordinary job in New York," Obama said. "And the federal government partners a lot with New York, because obviously, our concerns about terrorism often times are focused on big-city targets, and I think Ray Kelly's one of the best there is.

What you must understand that the individual lives of those freighted by racism are worth less than those who are not, then all other inhumanities follow. This is the logic of Richard Cohen. It is the logic of Barack Obama's potential head of the DHS.This logic is not new, original or especially egregious. It is the logic of the country's largest city. It is the logic of the American state. It is the logic scribbled across the lionshare of our history. And it is the logic that killed Trayvon Martin.

    


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mattnworb
2632 days ago
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great read
NJ
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How to talk to little girls

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For the love of Christ, engage them about something other than their physical appearance. Do this:

"Maya," I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, "very nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.

"Hey, what are you reading?" I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I'm nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

"I LOVE books," I said. "Do you?"

Most kids do.

"YES," she said. "And I can read them all by myself now!"

Do not do this:

"Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"

People do the "OMG, you're so cute!" thing with Minna all the time and it bugs the shit out of me. (I mean, I get it, she's cute. But come on.) It also completely shuts her down because she suddenly feels so self-conscious about herself and her appearance...which has led to her to be more cautious about new people and wary of cameras, the ultimate unblinking eye of cuteness collection. And this is a very chatty, social, and engaging kid we're talking about here, but the "you're so cute" conversation opener twists her up into a preztel of self-consciousness that's so unlike her usual self.

Tags: parenting
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mattnworb
2638 days ago
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NJ
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2 public comments
ksteimle
2637 days ago
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Hey everyone, treat people like people and not pretty toys to look at and we all win!
Atlanta
digdoug
2637 days ago
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This also works for bigger girls too.
Louisville, KY

The Pace of Modern Life

23 Comments and 64 Shares
'Unfortunately, the notion of marriage which prevails ... at the present time ... regards the institution as simply a convenient arrangement or formal contract ... This disregard of the sanctity of marriage and contempt for its restrictions is one of the most alarming tendencies of the present age.' --John Harvey Kellogg, Ladies' guide in health and disease (1883)
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mattnworb
2648 days ago
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NJ
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22 public comments
chrisamico
2647 days ago
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All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
Boston, MA
oliverzip
2650 days ago
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Has twitter wrecked modern communcation?
Sydney, Balmain, Hornsby.
izogi
2659 days ago
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Fortunately, as I'm informed, it had all calmed down again by the time of my parents' generation.
antgiant
2659 days ago
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"Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things." -- Douglas Adams
Oviedo, Florida
bloodvayne
2658 days ago
Society will be society, what's interesting is how inherently the "nostalgia fallacy" is simply society's self-preservation against seemingly "hostile" undercurrent. Reminds me of this article from Art of Manliness, also a very thorugh read http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/12/the-generations-of-men-how-the-cycles-of-history-have-shaped-your-values-your-place-in-the-world-and-your-idea-of-manhood/
stsquad
2659 days ago
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Nice commentary on modern commentary.
Cambridge, UK
bscherrer
2660 days ago
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@mahea50 Word.
San Diego, California
iridesce
2660 days ago
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now let's make one for "damn kids are spoiled and have no respect for their elders these days"
DC
iridesce
2660 days ago
whoops, nevermind, i see you 1906.
rgsunico
2660 days ago
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Brilliant.
Quezon City
marcrichter
2659 days ago
tl;dnr :P
redson
2660 days ago
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The Golden Age Fallacy in action.
claysmith
2660 days ago
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“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 1:9
Escondido, CA
dcwarwick
2660 days ago
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And on it goes.
Edmonton, AB, Canada
taddevries
2660 days ago
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Get off my internet lawn you free loaders.
mscholes
2660 days ago
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The summary is beautiful ;-)
benmurray
2660 days ago
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Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. -- Douglas Adams
adamgurri
2660 days ago
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the public comments on this comic seem to imply everyone swallows the premise of the letters...I had though Munroe's point was more that we keep hearing the same arguments over and over again in each age.
New York, NY
btomhave
2660 days ago
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Those who fail to learn from history... yada yada yada...
Michdevilish
2660 days ago
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Definitive proof that human faculties have been dwindling since at least 1871, and show no signs of abating in their sad dwindleMent...
Canada
the7roy
2660 days ago
1871? Try ~360 BCE when Plato wrote, "they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality."
tfrab
2660 days ago
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O tempora, o mores
italy
pdp68
2660 days ago
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Nostalgia isn't as good as it used to be.
Belgium
yyota
2661 days ago
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Where will it stop?
internetionals
2661 days ago
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Nice to see it spelled out to people that "nostalgia" is of all times. And the that troubles of today were often already there earlier, but people just remember them differently.
Netherlands
Ludwig
2660 days ago
Consider the possibility that the authors of these quotes were correct (well, except the divorce and nudity one,) like that Aristotle quote where he bitches about “kids these days,” instead of resigning it to “ah, it was ever thus.”

How technology redefines norms

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Jeff Jarvis reprints the clip above, in an article dismissing the privacy concerns surrounding Google Glass. The Victorian attitudes of Newport’s cottagers, he clearly implies, were misguided and misplaced. “Rest assured,” he writes. “ I will ask you whether it’s OK to take a picture of you in private.”

The key words, here — words which weren’t even part of the cottagers’ vocabulary — are “in private”. We now live in a world where we have public lives and private lives — and for over a century now, since roughly the point at which the above article appeared, the portion of our lives considered “public” has been expanding, while the portion of our lives we can consider “private” has been contracting. What’s more, Jarvis himself is a prominent proponent of the idea that we should maximize the speed at which we move our lives into the public realm; he also equates a desire for privacy with being “scared of the public” .

Never before have we faced so many opportunities to turn the formerly-private into the newly-public. As those opportunities arise, many people adopt them, and turn “public” into the new norm for such activities. Eventually, the norms become societally entrenched, to the point at which it is now utterly unobjectionable for those who once would have been labeled “kodak fiends” to take photographs outside a Newport tennis tournament.

My point here is that technology has a tendency to create its own norms. The classic example is the automobile — a technology which kills more than 30,000 Americans every year. From the 1930s through the 1990s, societal norms about who roads belonged to, and what people should do on them, were turned on their head thanks to the new technology. The dangerous new activity allowed by the new technology became the privileged norm, to the point at which just about all other road-based activity — and roads have been around for thousands of years, remember, since long before the automobile — essentially ceased to exist. Eventually, we reached the point at which elected representatives were happy saying that if a bicyclist gets killed by a car, it’s the bicyclist’s fault for being on the road in the first place.

If Google Glass — and wearable computing more generally — takes off and fulfills its potential, it will change society’s norms about what is public and what is private. It is therefore entirely rational, whatever you think of the set of norms we have right now, to assume that they will end up moving towards something more well disposed towards the new technology.

Jeff Jarvis will welcome that move, and can come up with dozens of reasons why it would be a good thing rather than a bad thing. “There’s no need to panic,” he writes. “We’ll figure it out, just as we have with many technologies—from camera to cameraphone—that came before.” But let’s be clear here about how much weight is carried by that “we’ll figure it out”. Realistically, “figuring it out” means, in large part, changing norms: irrevocably moving the line between what is private and what is public. That might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing. But if you like the norms we have right now — or if you think they’ve already gone too far in terms of robbing individuals of their privacy — then you have every reason to worry about what the onset of wearable computing might portend.

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mattnworb
2692 days ago
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"Figuring it out" also means mistakes will be made along the way.
NJ
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All shootings aren't created equal?

1 Comment and 9 Shares

American tragedies don't occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don't occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a 10-year old's birthday party in New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News.

David Dennis asks (and answers) a compelling question: Why isn't the New Orleans Mother's Day parade shooting a national tragedy?

Tags: David DennisgunsNew Orleans
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mattnworb
2692 days ago
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NJ
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1 public comment
mjo59
2693 days ago
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Sad but so true...
The D

Why I don’t tweet. Example #47

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So I am on the way to a nice dinner with wife and child and Mr. Bourdain emails me. Seems someone named Andy Cohen, who is also involved in this sprawling and relentless medium of television in some important way, has gotten into a back-and-forth with Mr. Bourdain on Twitter. And out of the blue, [...]
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mattnworb
2694 days ago
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This is the dictionary definition of "smack down"
NJ
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1 public comment
Courtney
2694 days ago
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More assholes need to pick a fight with David Simon (I realize this is the opposite of his desired outcome)
Portland, OR
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