In Defense of Ekow Yankah

It’s not surprising that Ekow Yankah’s op-ed titled “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” has generated some controversy. My initial reaction to the piece was a mixture of contempt and bewilderment. Some of the controversy is probably because of the provocative headline, which Yankah likely did not even write. But the content of the article is quite provocative, too:

As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.

As someone who is skeptical of the postmodern race cult that has gained so much visibility in recent years, I find myself put on the defensive when I read this paragraph. How could anyone teach his children not to trust people on the basis of their skin color? It seems like another one of those critical race theory novices claiming that all white people are racist, that “whiteness” is toxic.

As the title of this post suggests, I don’t think this is actually what Yankah is trying to say. I’m going to try to explain what I think his point is in a way that might be less provocative. Perhaps I won’t get it quite right. But I want to do my best to take what is helpful from what Yankah is saying and make it accessible to people who are put off by the apparent similarity between his op-ed and Tariq Nasheed’s Twitter feed.

I’ll start with what should be an uncontroversial claim: Americans are woefully under-educated about the history of institutionalized racism against African-American communities. We have attempted to rehabilitate the image of the Confederacy, despite the fact that it was founded specifically to protect the institution of slavery. We remember the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but we don’t remember the one that was passed nearly a century earlier and struck down by the Supreme Court, leading to the rise of Jim Crow. We point to the end of de jure segregation in public schools as a sign of racial progress, but forget that de facto segregation of public schools is often a direct result of systemic discrimination in housing. Racism has profoundly shaped the world we live in today, and we often do not see it.

And this, I think, is the crux of Yankah’s argument. The effects of racism are not always obvious. And white Americans have an interest in being oblivious to them. African-Americans should not assume that white Americans will want to understand the ways that racism has afflicted, and continues to afflict, our country. We have an interest in being blind that can only be overcome if we are intentional about loving our African-American neighbors as ourselves. Generally speaking, people are not very good at that.

What Yankah is not teaching his children is that white people are out to get them. That’s a Tariq Nasheed way to approach racism in America, and it’s stupid. Instead, Yankah is teaching his children to recognize that most white Americans, even if they’re not “racist,” will turn a blind eye to racism as long as it’s convenient for them to do so. And this is, tragically, true.

The more universal formulation of this principle, which is less likely to provoke objections from white people, is that people are willing to overlook injustice when it is expedient for them to do so. This is our sinful nature at work. It’s why people who weren’t particularly evil were able to administer the mass-execution of Jews during the Holocaust, it’s why as great a man as George Washington was able to own slaves, and it’s why the revolutionary power of the Reconstruction Amendments lay dormant for almost a century, effectively neutered by the Supreme Court, as conditions worsened for African-Americans in the Jim Crow South.

I think this is the most productive way to read Yankah’s op-ed. The takeaway for white Americans is that we really do need to listen to African-Americans. That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to agree with our African-American neighbors about every detail of every issue. But we can’t assume that we have all the facts right, especially when it comes to issues that we have an incentive to see a certain way, or an incentive not to see at all. Just because a certain instance of racism is not immediately apparent to me doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. For me to effectively love my neighbors as myself requires me to keep that in mind at all times.

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Why Bother with an Op-Ed?

Laurence Tribe has an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that the Supreme Court should strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional. His argument is that the death penalty “violates human dignity and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.” I actually agree with him, in part, and I think that we should abolish the death penalty. However, the mechanism for doing so is through state legislatures or a constitutional amendment, not through the Supreme Court.

It’s odd to me that Tribe chooses to set forth his case in an op-ed at all, given that he obviously isn’t counting on ordinary legislative means to put an end to the death penalty in America. If all you need to do is convince the Court, then why care about convincing the public?

I suppose it makes some sense. If people continue to lose regard for the Supreme Court, viewing it as just another political branch of our government whose rulings are determined by the party that picks the judges, then trying to sway popular opinion is rational, as that will ultimately determine who sits on the Court. And of course, Tribe, like many other progressives, wants the Court to function as a policy-making instrument to advance progressive ends like the abolition of the death penalty, gay rights, and abortion.

But beyond that, if the Court oversteps its bounds too much, it will undermine its own legitimacy. It is the Constitution of the United States that created the Supreme Court and provided the Court with its judicial powers. If the Supreme Court flagrantly disregards the meaning of the Constitution, then it effectively saws off the branch on which it sits. As Justice Scalia said in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges:

With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

The Court cannot enforce its own judgments.  It can only go so far in reinterpreting the Constitution before someone will say “no.” Indeed, this is already happening on the fringes. Roy Moore, a former Alabama judge, was removed from his seat for disobeying a federal court order. He is now the Republican nominee for Alabama’s seat in the Senate.

I don’t like Roy Moore. I consider him and people who support him a threat to the rule of law in this country. But it’s unsurprising that figures like him would pop up, given the Supreme Court’s lawless advocacy of progressive causes. If the Court doesn’t start to hold itself back from resolving all the most controversial political issues on the basis of Anthony Kennedy’s moral philosophy, Moore will start to become mainstream, no matter how many op-eds Larry Tribe writes.

What Roxane Gay Misses on #MeToo

At this point, being surprised at the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment is ridiculous. People are depraved, as they have always been, which is why there were so many “#MeToo”s on social media this week. This is not new information, as Roxane Gay pointed out in her op-ed for the Times, yesterday:

We already know victims’ stories. Women testify about their hurt, publicly and privately, all the time. When this happens, men, in particular, act shocked and surprised that sexual violence is so pervasive because they are afforded the luxury of oblivion.

Every once in a while, there’s a chorus of public testimony to the awfulness of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, usually triggered by a related major news story (e.g. Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein). But does all this public testimony do anything? I’m skeptical, as is Gay. Sexual harassment doesn’t stop being a problem when we acknowledge that it’s a problem. It takes more than “awareness” of sin to stop sin. So what do we do?

Gay says that men need to confess:

Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.

The problem with Gay’s solution is that it will not change anything. Men who habitually harass women probably don’t care all that much about ending sexual harassment. And other men probably don’t have a lot to confess to in this regard. (How many men have actually cornered a woman in a hallway or made lewd comments to a co-worker? Or am I just being naive?) As far as I can tell, this would be only a “balm,” as Gay puts it, making some people feel better because it looks like progress is being made. But what we really want is an antidote, a way to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment.

And this is, in large part, the responsibility of men, too, albeit in a different way. Fathers have to raise their boys to be good men instead of contemptible creeps. Feminists complain about “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture,” but that’s the default setting for depraved human souls. Counteracting the tendency towards sin requires that we replace it with something else. Merely giving everyone a list of things not to do will not work. We need a positive vision of what it is to be good. And boys in particular need to be taught what it is to be a good man, and how a good man treats the women around him.

But even this will not completely eliminate sexual harassment. The depravity of the human soul can be mitigated, but it cannot be overcome (not by us, at least). We owe it to one another to do our best to solve our many problems, but some problems are intractable. We shouldn’t be surprised when we cannot save ourselves from ourselves. Only Jesus can do that.

Ulrich Baer is Destroying America

Who is Ulrich Baer, you ask? He’s a university professor and administrator at NYU. According to his faculty web page, part of his job is to “strengthen NYU’s ongoing effort to create the most diverse and inclusive community of outstanding faculty, students, and staff.” Put another way, he’s one of the high priests of the diversity cult.

This may seem like an extreme characterization, but it’s accurate. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I unsubscribed from the New York Times after they published a whole host of op-eds that were not fit for publication. The one that pushed me over the edge was Baer’s argument in favor of censorship.

This morning I watched the recording of a discussion held at Kenyon College between Baer, Charles Cooke, editor of National Review Online, and Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor. The topic was free speech. Baer and Fryberg both argued that there need to be more limitations on free speech, while Cooke argued that the robust speech protections in our law ought to be maintained.

Fryberg’s line of argument was the stuff you’d expect from a left-wing academic who is committed to creating social justice at all costs. Native Americans such as Fryberg need to “develop a voice” in isolation from oppressive speech from more privileged groups. If they aren’t given space to develop in this way, then they’re effectively being deprived of their free speech rights. This is a stupid argument. None of the greatest minority advocates in U.S. history relied on censorship of the oppressive majority to “find their voice.” Figures such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall rose to the challenge of an overwhelmingly hostile majority and worked to enact justice. But today’s minorities need to be shielded from bigoted words? Absurd.

But as bad as Fryberg’s arguments were, Baer’s were even worse. At least she was making claims, albeit dumb ones. Baer, on the other hand, refused to say anything substantive, which demonstrates the weakness of his position. Cooke would repeatedly point out that no one person is competent to decide what kind of speech constitutes hate speech. But then Baer would respond that someone is, although it may not be him or anyone else on the panel. It’s not particularly reassuring for the person making the pro-censorship argument to say, “I’m not sure who is competent to censor, but there’s gotta be someone out there to do it, right?”

Later, Baer was pressed by an audience member to be more specific about what kind of speakers he thinks should not be allowed to speak on university campuses. This was in response to claims from Baer that universities ought to be more discerning when it comes to giving platforms to speakers. He basically responded that he could name names, but he wouldn’t do so in order to avoid dignifying the people by acknowledging their existence. Of course, the consequence of his refusal to say just who he thinks should be censored is that we actually have no idea what his position is—maybe he just wants to keep David Duke off of campuses, but maybe he also thinks that Charles Murray and Ben Shapiro are hateful bigots who should be kept as far away from impressionable young minds as possible.

And that’s the problem with these anti-free speech arguments. When taken to their logical conclusions, they quickly lead to absurdity. I can imagine Baer as a character in a Socratic dialogue. Socrates pushes him into a corner, but Baer just keeps doubling down on his claims without clarifying them or supporting them until he angrily storms away, saying something like, “I don’t know how to answer you, but you’re wrong, and I’m right.” Eventually, of course, he will conspire with his fellow citizens to have Socrates killed, because that’s what you do when people are “corrupting the youth.”

The utter spinelessness of people like Baer is what has allowed destructive illiberal tendencies to flourish in our universities.  By refusing to talk specifics, they obscure the debate, making it harder to see what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is that people are becoming increasingly pro-censorship, albeit for different reasons than in the past.

Apology to Jess Mathews and the EST

After talking to people and taking another look at all the things I said on Twitter and on this blog, I’ve realized that I was really cruel to the EST staff and especially to Jess. I deleted the post. I’ve deactivated my Twitter account. I’m taking a break from social media to think more about what possesses me to say such awful, unkind things to people. Sorry to everyone that I put down.

Jess has been very gracious to me, and I’m thankful for that. I would certainly not have been so gracious if someone else had done the same to me.

To whoever reads this: please pray that I stop being such a shitty person.

Why Sexual Selection Matters and Why Cordelia Fine is Wrong

Yeyo's Corner

Last week The Royal Society awarded the polemic writer Cordelia Fine with their Science Book of the Year award for “Testosterone Rex”. The central thesis in the book is that the behavioral differences between men and women are better explained by culture than by testosterone and that the theoretical framework that evolutionary scientists regard as the root cause of several of the robust cross-cultural sex differences we see, namely Bateman’s principle and sexual selection, have been largely debunked, at least when it comes to humans. Since this runs pretty much contrary to the broadly held consensus in evolutionary biology the choice has naturally elicited criticism from both biologists and evolutionary psychologists.

Ad Hoc Hypotheses and Occam’s Razor

In her quest to deny that biology is responsible for sex differences in behavior Cordelia Fine has a huge advantage, she benefits from that fact (which the award has made clear) that…

View original post 3,503 more words

All Immigrants, or Only Some?

The NYT has an op-ed today about DACA and immigration more generally. The argument is that pointing to the economic benefits that immigrant communities provide to America distracts from the more important issue in the immigration debate: kicking or keeping people out is inhumane. It’s not enough to oppose the rescission of DACA because it’s bad policy. You have to oppose it because it’s immoral. Masha Gessen writes:

But what’s wrong with the decision to discontinue DACA is that people — not workers — will be deported. Lives — not careers — will be shattered. The problem is that it’s inhumane. As long as politicians consider it necessary to qualify the victims as ‘hardworking’ or ‘talented,’ they fail to stand up to the administration’s fundamentally hateful immigration agenda.

To a degree, I agree with Gessen’s point, especially as applied to immigrants fleeing terrible conditions at home (such as refugees). At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s necessarily inhumane for us to be selective as to whom we allow to enter the country. People who want to come here have to earn a place here by making a positive contribution to our society. Some people cannot do that. It’s reasonable to say that we don’t want those people here. Indeed, I think most people on both sides of the political spectrum would agree with me that we should prefer immigrants who have something of value to offer to us to those who don’t.

Here’s a way of thinking about this: Suppose you operate a business and you’re looking to hire some employees. You would obviously prefer to hire people who are qualified and skillful over people who wouldn’t be able to do the job you need done. And if you happened to hire someone incompetent, you would probably want to fire them. Is it immoral to ignore the adverse effects that firing or refusing to hire an incompetent person will have on his livelihood? Perhaps that person has a family to support. What about his children? Are you a monster for putting those concerns aside and doing what’s in your economic interest?

If Gessen is right, then you are. It is unacceptable for you to view your employees and potential employees merely as workers. You need to consider their personal life and the circumstances they face. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot choose to hire only competent people, nor can you fire incompetent people, and you will likely go out of business.

Gessen says that we have adopted a reductive and harmful way of viewing people: “When we agree to talk about people as cogs, we lose our humanity.” I agree that it’s reductive to focus exclusively on economics when discussing immigration, but every way of discussing people is reductive, because people are too complex for us to comprehend. Moreover, I take issue with her assertion that discussing certain groups of people in economic terms causes us to lose our humanity. People have an economic aspect. Acknowledging that does not negate all the other facets of their humanity.

For Gessen, economics shouldn’t even be a part of the equation. The way she discusses it, her opponents believe it should be the only part of the equation. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between these two extremes. We can consider the whole person when deciding who to let into our borders, including but not limited to their potential economic contributions. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is what most of us want: holism. This way, we can look after our own interests while also helping those who most need it.

“Only 2-10% of Reported Rapes are False”

I’m not going to explain why the statistic in the title is wrong. This blog post does a much better job than I possibly could at that. Instead, I’m going to explain why the false-rape statistic, regardless of its veracity, is utterly irrelevant to the way we handle sexual assault accusations.

I see people tout this statistic in response to the (true) claim that the Obama Dept. of Education’s Title IX guidance denied due process rights to those accused of sexual assault. Supposedly the low false-reporting rate means that due process protections are less necessary. This is nonsense.

Even if it is true (and it’s almost certainly not) that only 2-10% of rape accusations are false, those accused should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. For all we know, they could be part of that 2-10%. The only way to find out for sure is to thoroughly investigate the claim.

Here’s a way to think about the problems with the argument. You can rephrase the false-reporting statistic roughly as such: “90-98% of accused rapists are actual rapists.” Does it follow from this that we should treat 100% of people accused of rape as if they are actual rapists, even in the absence of proof? Surely not! Rape claims should obviously be taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean we should do away with the presumption of innocence.

Remember that to presume that a rape claim is true in the absence of evidence is to presume that somebody is a rapist in the absence of evidence. Such a presumption is unjust, because not all people accused of doing terrible things actually did terrible things.

Opposing DACA: More than Just Prejudice?

Everyone is buzzing about Trump’s decision to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The policy was put into place by Barack Obama, shielding undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children from deportation, if they meet certain conditions. Congress had repeatedly failed to enact legislation (the DREAM Act) that would accomplish basically the same thing, so Obama took matters into his own hands.

I think DACA’s policy goals are good. But I’m skeptical of its constitutionality. Because of that, I don’t necessarily disagree with Trump’s decision to end it, but I do think that it is necessary for Congress to step in and pass the DREAM Act like they should have long ago.

Of course, there will always be those who oppose anything resembling amnesty, preferring to deport thousands of people who have spent most of their lives in the United States to countries they don’t even remember. For some people, getting rid of illegal aliens is an end in itself, worth doing regardless of the costs, both human and monetary.

I think these people are either dreadfully misinformed or blinded by prejudice. Their desire to get rid of illegal aliens prevents them from asking the following important question: Is it really in our interest to get rid of all the DREAMers? Given that the policy requires that applicants be of “good moral character,” it’s not like they are running around committing crimes. If they did so, they would lose their protected status. Most of them are educated and employed, making a significant contribution to the economy. Moreover, many of them have been here so long that they’re basically American in every way except in the eyes of the law.

I have yet to see a good nonlegal argument against DACA. Generally, such arguments seem to depend on outright lies regarding the beneficiaries of DACA. References to crime and refusal to adopt our values just don’t make sense when discussing this particular policy, because the policy itself places requirements on those it shields from deportation. It’s not a blanket amnesty. It’s conditional forbearance.

Which is why it’s hard not to think that certain of DACA’s opponents are motivated more by prejudice than by anything else. For example, Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (yes, you read that right) released a letter explaining why they are in favor of rescinding DACA.

It is easier to speak publically of mercy, as we, and many, do. And, while loving mercy, who will also stand for justice to those citizens who cannot find a job due to cheaper foreign labor? Who will speak of the real cost of illegal immigration to our states? And while many non-citizens are good neighbors, who will stand for justice for Americans victimized by people here illegally who do not uphold our values and laws? And who will prevent more needless crime and death?

This is basically saying, “We should get rid of DACA because the DREAMers are stealing our jobs, committing crimes, and burdening our government.” But there is no reason to think that any of this is true. Indeed, the data suggest that deporting DREAMers would seriously hurt the economy, and that they have a low crime rate.

So what’s really going on here? Are the signatories to the EBI letter just ignorant, or is there something more sinister beneath the surface? I don’t like attributing unsavory motives to anyone without good reason. But I just can’t see any compelling reason to adopt the position that EBI has adopted. It’s one thing to oppose the abuse of executive power. But opposing reasonable protections for people who themselves have done nothing wrong is something else entirely.