Friday, August 15, 2008

Race and Class in Conjunction

I wrote earlier this week about my misgivings towards the proposal to replace race-based affirmative action with its class-based kin. That post specifically tried to refute the idea that such a move would defuse White resentment over the program. I noted that historically, the motivating force behind such anger was not that it was color conscious or seemed to give Blacks an "unfair" leg up. Rather, it was the simple fact that Blacks benefited that got Whites so riled. That anger remains perfectly consistent even in totally race-neutral programs that are perceived as assisting Black folks (such as welfare).

But in the comments to the TMV version of the post, folks said that the real issue here wasn't about White resentment, but "fairness". The usual suspect -- the wealthy or middle-class Black man getting AA -- was trotted here in support. As one commenter put it:
A CLASS based affirmative action plan would help anyone who starts out unfortunately low on the totem poll, even if they happen to be white, and exclude people with more than enough means of their own, even if they happen to be black.

The underlying assumption here is that race is not an independent source of disadvantage. Blacks might face disadvantage, but that's only because they're more likely to be poor. The argument here is that a wealthy Black man is surely not "disadvantaged" compared to a poor White.

That may be true, though I think it oversimplifies things greatly. Assuming that we could create an "oppression ledger" and add up all one's privileges and disadvantages to figure out who is better off, it may well be that wealthy Blacks are in a better overall situation than poor Whites. In fact, to the extent I think the question makes sense, I'd say it's likely. But all that it shows is that wealth can mask race-based disadvantage -- it doesn't mean it's not present. And there are racial disadvantages that cannot be "bought off", such as the risk of being racially profiled (which may well go up when you transition from shopping in Wal-Mart to Saks). Or perhaps not -- maybe wealthy or better educated Blacks don't feel like the experience significant racial discrimination.* In general, I think different axes of oppression are incommensurable -- it doesn't make sense to me to try and weigh how many dollars of extra income are "worth" being dismissed as "the angry Black man" anytime you get upset about something.

But in any event, it's a flawed comparison. The question -- at least for those of us who support both race and class based affirmative action (as I do) -- is not whether rich Blacks are better off than poor Whites. You got to hold other variables constant. So the real question is, are poor Blacks equal to poor Whites? That's the proposition that advocates of class-based AA superseding its racial cousin have to demonstrate -- and it's a tough claim indeed, because most of the research does not back it up.

A solely class-based affirmative action program would presumably treat equally poor Blacks and Whites the same. But if those two groups are not the same -- if poor Blacks face additional hurdles on account of their race in addition to what they face because they're poor -- then a solely class-based system would treat them unfairly. A system which looks at oppression holistically, by contrast, can accurately measure the relatively deprivations faced by people of all blends of race, class, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity axes, and would thus seem to be superior to a counterpart that focuses only on race or only on class.

* The polling data we have, however, suggests that wealthy or better educated Blacks do in fact have roughly similar opinions as to the prevelance of racial discrimination compared to their poorer or less educated peers. See Russell K. Robinson, Perceptual Segregation, 108 Colum. L. Rev. 1093, 1112-13 (2008).

Off Base

I love how the second half of this Lisa Schiffrin post manages to make an unwarranted assertion about West African immigrants (are they predominantly illegal?), totally misunderstand capitalism, and manages to be shocked that African immigrants would greatly prefer Barack Obama to John McCain. It's a lot of dumb packed into a single paragraph.

Via Balloon Juice.

Hypatia Issue Dedicated to Iris Marion Young

"In Honor of Iris Marion Young: Theorist and Practitioner of Justice."

It's available here. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be available to the public (you need to be hooked up to an academic network with a subscription to MUSE).

Purple Lightsabers

This is a great cautionary tale (it also reminds me of the famous vibrating quidditch broom story).

Yes, Oh God Yes!

I find good posts on the subject of European Jews and Israel as "colonial" to be way to exciting for my own good. Seriously though, Matt's post is precisely what I would say on the subject. The aggressive effort to identify Jews as merely a particularly mistreated European ethnic group (a) totally ignore the existence of non-European Jews, who make up a majority of Israel's Jewish population, and (b) ignore how European Jews thought of themselves, which by and large was not as a sub-group within the larger European community. The post Matt is critiquing also obliterates any sense of Jewish agency, as it documents our history solely with regards to what Europeans wished to do with us, once they could no longer find a "use" for Jews. Our own thoughts and desires are total non-factors.

Civil Rights Roundup: 08/15/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

The family of a gay California teenager who was slain by a classmate is suing the school, saying that it endangered their son by allowing him to wear feminine clothing and makeup.

Solid move by Tim Kaine: He issued a pardon to a local woman who had lived in the US since she was 7, who was facing deportation for a minor crime she committed 12 years ago. The move is giving her at least a one year reprieve from her deportation order, allowing her more time for appeals.

The Post cautions Americans that an enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration will not work forever.

Also from the Post editorial page, a reminder to not forget about New Orleans.

An elementary school principal in Texas is under investigation after allegedly asking that her grandchild be placed in a classroom with "nice white neighborhood boys."

A former state legislator known for his "tough on crime" positions has stirred ire in his local community because he is sheltering former sex offenders who, thanks to ever tightening laws, cannot find places to live.

Rhode Island has lost over half the membership of its Commission on Hispanic Affairs after 11 resigned in protest over increased crackdowns on illegal immigration.

The Florida branch of the United States Civil Rights Commission has come out in favor of automatic restoration of the civil rights of released felons.

Ward Connerly is dodging Nebraska's campaign finance laws requiring donor disclosure by creating a shell organization to funnel the money through.

Black student test scores in San Francisco are lagging way behind their White peers.

Could a Major League Soccer squad do anything more foolish than harass its Latino fans? That's like a hockey team trying to drive out Canadians.

Jurors have convicted to prison guards on civil rights charges after they allegedly allowed inmates to rape a teenager in prison overnight for traffic violations.


Yesterday morning, my blog recorded its 300,000th career hit. Thank you all for visiting, and I look forward to many more days of fruitful blogging and fascinating comments.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Must Love Dogs

I do not love dogs. In fact, I harbor a serious dislike of them. I don't know why -- I assume I had some bad experience when I was four that I'm hard at work suppressing -- but I've always been strongly anti-dog.

Now, many of you out there are pro-dog. Some of you even own one. Which is fine. I can usually tolerate a dog for awhile, though I prefer if you keep it outside or in a different room when I'm around. Just don't tell me this:

"Oh, but he's so friendly!"

Or any variation thereof.

Dogs, to my knowledge, express friendliness by jumping, pawing, and licking at you. To those of us already suspicious of your pet, it is not a perk when you tell us that she enjoys pressing her fang-filled mouth, or any other part of its predatory, wolf-descended body, close to my person. That is precisely what we are trying to avoid.

Thank you for your consideration.

Another Bite at the Accountability Apple

The Center for Constitutional Rights has announced that the 2nd Circuit will rehear the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who we sent off to be tortured for awhile in Syria. The court announced the rehearing sua sponte, that is, on its own initiative without any input from either party. This is exceedingly rare, and a good sign for Arar, who lost before a three-judge panel in his quest to hold somebody accountable for our flagrant violation of American and international law by way of torturing random innocents.

So best of luck to him. Also, fun fact! When I first read this story, I confused it with an entirely different case where we picked up some random guy and tortured him, who also tried unsuccessfully to get some accountability out of the government.

And that, my friends, is a statement I wish I never could say with regards to the United States of America.

Civil Rights Roundup: 08/14/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

The census estimates that the US will become majority-minority by 2042. My projection is that many currently non-White ethnic groups will become or will be absorbed into Whiteness to keep the numbers up.

ICE has detained 42 suspected illegal immigrants working at Dulles Airport, stressing that their is no indication of terrorist activity.

An Egyptian Muslim women writes in the Washington Post: If Saudi Arabia doesn't allow women on its Olympics teams by 2012, tell them to not bother showing up in London.

A dispute over whether a school can prohibit its students from wearing the confederate flag has moved to an (all-White) jury.

A former convict turned inmate's rights advocate is proving remarkably adept at slowing down one of President Bush's District Court nominees (the chief lawyer with Corrections Corporation of America).

A Federal Judge said he was "shocked and disturbed" upon reading reports about mistreatment in the case of an immigrant detainee who recently died in ICE custody.

Unions are asking the FEC to investigate whether Wal-Mart violated the law when it allegedly attempted to persuade its workers to vote Republican.

Up to 600,000 Ohio voters are at serious risk of being purged from the voting rolls.

Can electronic voting be trusted?

Several Thai workers who were held as slave laborers in California have now become US citizens.

When Fox wants to talk free speech, it knows exactly who to turn to: anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers!

Marcia McCormick of the Workplace Prof blog has some good thoughts up about Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson's (R-TX) alternative to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The brewing conflict in the North Forest Independent School District took another turn.

A Mexican man was shot by a US officer on the US/Mexico border during a confrontation.

Nevada judges mete out harsher sentences to Black defendants than Whites. The study, however, does not take into account prior criminal activity.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Open 'er Up

The Supreme Court, as most observers now know, made a big screw-up in Kennedy v. Louisiana (banning the death penalty for child rape). It (along with all other parties in the case, it must be said) missed a change in military law which authorized the death penalty for child rape -- which is significant because much of the majority opinion was based around a supposed evolving consensus away from imposing capital punishment for that crime. And as a result, Louisiana attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case, since this error may of substantively affected the outcome of the case.

Meanwhile, Anthony Kennedy, as most Court observers recall, based a significant part of his opinion Carhart II (upholding a federal partial birth abortion ban) on the proposition that "some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow." This was, at the time, a statement wholly without evidence, and today we learn that it is in all relevant respects false. Women who have abortions are in fact no more likely to face mental health problems than women who deliver. And since giving birth actually is more physically risky for women than is abortion, it is exceedingly difficult to honestly justify the partial-birth abortion ban on the grounds of protecting women's health.

So, is anybody saying that Carhart should be reopened?

Of course, there are differences between the cases. Kennedy involved an elementary and clear-cut error of fact, while Carhart's error was with respect to a complicated empirical question. On the other hand, the mistake in Kennedy was only one point in an array of cases making the majority's claim. In Carhart, by contrast, there was never any evidence for Justice Kennedy's argument in the first place, a point the new study puts a big exclamation point on. Of course, that might also indicate that Justice Kennedy would have made his argument no matter what empirical data was presented before him, making this most recent study quite irrelevant.

Oh well. I thought it was interesting, anyway.

Incidentally, my view as to whether the death penalty for child rapists is justified mirrors Matthew Yglesias' pretty exactly.

Class Doesn't Stay That Way

In an editorial for the Washington Post, Peter Beinart thinks that Barack Obama could put the issue of race away for good if he came out for replacing race-based affirmative action with class-based programs.

I have no problem with class-based affirmative action, though I think it should supplement, not replace, its racial peer, as both are independent sources of disadvantage and both are independent sources of diversity. But even the premise is wrong here. The reason affirmative action inspires disdain isn't because it leaves "deserving" Whites out. The reason is simply that it is a program whose primary beneficiaries are seen to be Black people.

It is well established that even class-based programs which are tagged as predominantly helping Blacks have significant struggles maintaining their popularity. Welfare is a great example of this -- it is, of course, the paradigmatic class-based assistance program, and yet it is just as controversial and (more importantly) just as racialized as affirmative action is (Welfare Queens, anyone?). Affirmative action is particularly vulnerable to this, because many of the arguments deployed against it now work just as well against the class-based variety (that we should "just judge everyone based on merit" applies as much to the poor as it does to Blacks).

Advocates for class-based AA say that it would still help many Blacks, because Blacks are disproportionately concentrated amongst the extreme poor. But if that's the case, then I doubt you'll see any serious dissipation in the antipathy many Whites feel for affirmative action. The causal force is White jealousy of Black attainment. At the end of the day, the procedures don't matter all that much.

See also, Ta-Nehisi Coates: "There's always a good reason to be a racist."

"Sometimes I have feared that, in some wild paroxysm of rage, the white race, forgetful of the claims of humanity and the precepts of the Christian religion, will proceed to slaughter the Negro in wholesale, as some of that race have attempted to slaughter Chinamen, and as it has been done in detail in some districts of the Southern States. The grounds of this fear, however, have in some measure decreased since the Negro has largely disappeared from the arena of Southern politics, and has betaken himself to industrial pursuits and the acquisition of wealth and education, though even here, if over-prosperous, he is likely to excite a dangerous antagonism; for the white people do not easily tolerate the presence among them of a race more prosperous than themselves. The Negro as a poor ignorant creature does not contradict the race pride of the white race. He is more a source of amusement to that race than an object of resentment. Malignant resistance is augmented as he approaches the plane occupied by the white race, and yet I think that the resistance will gradually yield to the pressure of wealth, education, and high character.

My strongest conviction as to the future of the Negro therefore is, that he will not be expatriated nor annihilated, nor will he forever remain a separate and distinct race from the people around him, but that he will be absorbed assimilated, and will only appear finally, as the Phoenicians now appear on the shores of the Shannon, in the features of a blended race.

Frederick Douglass, "The Future of the Colored Race", in Negro Social and Political Thought: 1850-1920, Howard Brotz, ed. (New York: Basic Books 1966), pp. 308-310 (originally published May 1886), 309.

Civil Rights Roundup: 08/13/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

Gay and lesbian Latina/os are finding it more difficult to claim asylum due to improving tolerance in their home nations.

A Virginia court has given the state's first "writ of innocence" after new evidence cleared a man incarcerated on a gun charge. Virginia has until recently been perhaps the most aggressive state at seeking to suppress the admission of exculpatory evidence after conviction.

The NAACP is frustrated with the pace over an investigation about an inmate's death in a PG County jail.

Peter Beinart thinks that Obama can and should neutralize the race issue by calling for a replacement of race-based affirmative action with class-based systems.

The WaPo wants to enhance privacy protections for laptops crossing the border.

The Houston Chronicle reports on immigrants who prepare for immigration raids like the rest of us might prepare for a natural disaster. Ironically enough, ICE supports these preparations.

The Orthodox Jewish community has rightfully come under fire for its tepid response to the massive abuses of worker's rights reported at the Postville Kosher meatpacking plant.

One of the Jena Six defendants will not be returning there for school, instead attending a Connecticut boarding school.

Yet another study dispells the link between abortion and mental illness. I wonder how many copies Justice Kennedy has received in the mail?

The US government is working to reduce the time it takes for citizenship applications to be processed.

Riots are brewing in Malyasia over a proposal to curb advantages for the majority (but poorer) Malay ethnic group.

Real Clear Politics interviews a large swath of America's experts on race and asks them how they think the Obama campaign will affect their field of study. It's a really great article.

I've got a better deal for Ramesh Ponnuru: Americans stop being racist, and the Republican Party might legitimately be able to appeal to more than just White folks.

Prop. 209 may have banned efforts by California universities to reach out to minority students. But it can't stop student volunteers from taking matters into their own hands.

Gay tourism is on the rise in Israel, which does not thrill some of its more conservative, religious elements.

Denver voters have passed a law which would target suspected illegal immigrant drivers.

The Seattle Times asks: Are White Voters Telling the Truth when they say they'll vote for a Black candidate?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Slogan Time

Matt Yglesias thinks that Attorney General Michael Mukasey has inadvertently given us the true motto of the Bush administration: "not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime."

(Yes, PG, I know that there are civil violations which are violations of the law but not crimes. But the laws these folks are accused of violating are in criminal code, and Mukasey knows it).

Why Indeed?

Michael Dorf asks "If the Government Plans to Hold Salim Hamdan Indefinitely, What Was the Point of Putting Him on Trial?"

It's a good question. Unfortunately, Dorf isn't cynical enough to give us what I suspect is the real answer.

It's quite simple. If Hamdan was found guilty, and given a long sentence, then the Bush administration could a) do what it had always wanted to do, but now with a greater veneer of legitimacy and b) retroactively claim that the results justified their original due process-free determinations under which Hamdan was held in the first place.

But Hamdan was not given a long sentence, and was acquitted of the most serious charges. So where does that leave the Bush administration? In the same position it was before we started: defending extra-legal indefinite detention. It's not really any loss, except now they have the advantage of being able to call Hamdan a convicted war criminal and the disadvantage of having a determinate metric (a timeline!) that can be waved in their face.

Sound Skeptical to You?

John McCain has now personally apologized to a Black reporter who was kicked out of one his events earlier this month. But judging by this piece by a Palm Beach Post reporter (who also was removed when she tried to stand up for her colleague), I'm not convinced these reporters are placated:
When asked if race had anything to do with Price's removal, the Arizona senator said, "I have no idea, sir. It had nothing to do with my staff or anyone who is employed with me. ... I think it was a very bad thing that happened."

McCain cited his experience as a prisoner of war to somehow explain why he is a proponent of civil rights.

"I know what it is like to be deprived of your rights. I know what it's like to be in confinement. I know what it's like to be beaten. I know what it's like. So I think I have a special appreciation that maybe a lot of people don't have for what it's like to be deprived of your rights. ... We all improve over the years and we learn and we grow," McCain told Price according to his report.

Emphasis added. But that "somehow" does seem quite revealing, no?

Civil Rights Roundup: 08/12/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

An auto parts store in Houston is being sued by the EEOC for tolerating harassment of Black employees and passing over them for promotions.

PETA wants to put ads up on the Mexican side of the border fence, warning potential Mexican immigrants about the effects of fatty, meat-filled diets.

The ACLU is not thrilled with Hartford for imposing a juvenile curfew.

A Florida cop who was caught on tape beating a suspect has resigned.

Conservative groups in California will likely try to oust the current Chief Justice of the state supreme court over his role in the state's landmark gay rights ruling.

Hartford passes an ordinance prohibiting police from asking about immigration status; as well as arresting people solely for immigration violations.

A huge wave of immigrants who applied for citizenship last year should be naturalized in time to vote in this election.

I think I've come across this case before, but the Florida court which quashed a principal's outrageously anti-gay policies made the right move.

Innocent Black women shot by police; victim blamed. Not only is that title not hyperbole, but it goes downhill from there. Sickening.

On that same case, local Black leaders are furious that the officer was acquitted and are pressing for federal charges to be brought.

Word is that some of the workers building the border fence might not be documented.

A Greenville teenager beaten by a since-fired police officer has filed a civil rights lawsuit.

Florida continues to make strides towards restoring the civil rights of ex-offenders.

Three Hispanic families are suing over a Kansas school district's policy of requiring students to only speak in English while on school grounds (what if they're taking a foreign language?).

It's hard out there for a wheel chair bound individual.

Minneapolis immigrant teens, citing the importance of education, are lobbying to increase educational opportunities (particularly routes to college) for their peers.

Notaries are giving bad legal advice to immigrants (which they're not licensed to do anyway), resulting in screw-ups.

Town divided over brutal murder of immigrant, the Chicago Tribune reports. Presumably, the division is between its human beings and its psychopaths.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Things That Suck

Sending a paper you're really excited about to a teacher you really respect and admire, and hearing back that she thinks it's awful. Not that it "needs work"; not full of hard-nosed but ultimately helpful suggestions for improvement. Simply, telling you that it is an abysmal piece of work and she hopes you never tell anyone she had anything to do with you misguided attempt to "inflict" your writing on the subject.*

I'm not blaming anyone -- maybe the paper deserved it. But it's still definitely falls into the category of things that suck.

* A quick addendum. Obviously, part of this is that this person is no longer my teacher, and thus no longer has any obligation to help me "improve" an idea she thinks is just plain bad. That's a shift in role that undoubtedly take some getting used to (by me, not her) -- though it's not like I was totally unaware of it while I was reading her comments. So again, the point isn't to lash out; nothing "wrong" happened here. But that doesn't make it any easier to hear, no?

Fear the Verb Tense

California court rules that Prop. 8 can be described as "Changes California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry"; on the grounds that "There is nothing inherently argumentative or prejudicial about transitive verbs."

Via Amp.

Civil Rights Roundup: 08/11/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

A nice article about attempting to register ex-felons to vote.

Self-deportation has few takers. Really?

The Boston Globe: Being multi-lingual is a good thing, not a threat to American values.

The Santaria, a religion which has been at the center of more than a few free exercise cases over the past several decades, are being targeted by Florida officials again.

The changing demographics of a historically Black school district (Hispanics are rising in prominence) is creating tension in Texas.

The Houston Chronicle has a good article about how today's students' activism is less about protests and more about action.

The Chronicle also accurately lays out the consequences of the Bush administration's proposed conscience exemption to contraceptive distribution.

Religion clause expert Marci Hamiliton has a critique up of Judge Michael McConnell's recent Colorado free exercise case, about which I blogged upon here.

AlterNet (which I suspect may be too optimistic) claims that the movement to abolish SuperMax prisons and solitary confinement is gaining ground.

Wounded and homeless vets are at a significant risk of disenfranchisement.

A New York Times editorial by the Connecticut Secretary of State also urges the VA to do more to help veterans get registered to vote.

It's nice to know that tradition still exists in some parts of America. In this case, the tradition of hard-core Christian anti-Semitism.

"Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud!" turned 40 this past weekend.

The incomparable Patricia Williams has a stellar article in New York Magazine talking about how we "don't talk about" race.

Contemplations on being mixed race in America.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

From David Benkof, an Orthodox Jewish man who has ceased having same-sex relations due to religious reasons:
Many outspoken Jewish supporters of the "ex-gay" movement are non-observant Jews. One Jewish woman who wanted to encourage me to become "ex-gay" sent me an e-mail - on Shabbat - to suggest some reparative therapy Web sites. I wrote her back to let her know that (and I confirmed this with an Orthodox rabbi) if she had to violate one commandment, it would have been better for her to engage in lesbian sex than for her to e-mail me on Shabbat. She became very hostile. No serious practicing Jew would let such people supervise their kosher meat, so why should we trust them with Jews struggling with same-sex attractions?

Benkof is very hostile towards what Jewish movements there are affiliated with the so-called "ex-gay" movement (a label Benkof firmly rejects). Indeed, he basically views them as either front groups for Christian evangelism or irreligious projects of clueless secular Jews.

I, of course, would rather see Judaism evolve so that people do not see a conflict between being Jewish and being gay. But Benkof's more "traditional" outlook is still worth reading.