While we can never make statistically valid claims about who and what is posted in online comments, I believe those comments represent common beliefs more than we’d like to admit.
Possibly the nastiest and most troubling comments occur when I publish something about race and racism, as in this piece in The State (Columbia, SC) about racial inequity in school discipline and mass incarceration.
Let’s consider some of the failed logic:
- “I don’t believe your statistics and here are some statistics that prove my point”—this comment reveals the power of seeking support for a belief someone will never release. What is also interesting is that this approach almost always shifts entirely the discussion, not actually refuting the original statistical evidence: to reject racism in mass incarceration, for example, single-mother birth rates are cited.
- Racism denial almost always plays the poverty card, but in the racial inequity of mass incarceration, that point falls flat. Impoverished white males outnumber black males 2 to 1; thus, incarceration is not more significantly a function of poverty than race, since black males outnumber white males 6 to 1 in prison.
- Racism denial also has a favorite statistic: black on black crime rates. However, white on white crime rates are about the same as black on black crime rates, both over 80%. In fact, crime in the U.S. is typically within race and by someone the victim knows (often family). If within-race crime rates explained mass incarceration, then blacks and whites would be about equally represented in prisons.
- And finally, I have been told by email that I don’t know anything about being a police officer since I have never been a police officer—these denials are by white former officers who, of course, know nothing about being black (using their logic). Much of what I offer about the racism of school discipline and the judicial system is based on the research and lived experienced of blacks, to me a much more credible source of understanding the inequity.
The raw data on school discipline and mass incarceration are undeniable in terms of racial inequity. As I noted, that requires a careful and nuanced consideration of the many reasons that inequity exists. In the case of mass incarceration, Michelle Alexander has offered a detailed examination that uncovers significant racism in who is arrested, how (and if) people are charged, and what sentences are handed down.
Decades of research also shows racial inequity in school discipline and then high and disturbing correlations between school discipline and incarceration rates.
Denial of racism in school discipline and incarceration, from the nasty to the illogical, is embracing school and judicial realities that mis-serve black children and black young adults—and then mis-serves us all.
Asking why these inequities exist so that they can be eradicated is a call for justice, not a plea for anarchy.