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Sunday, 24 June 2018

White privilege versus racial paranoia

Steve Salerno

If you are white and enjoy any level of public platform - politician, professor, policy wonk - and you use said platform to address social issues, you are certain to be accused of seeing life through the distortive prism of white privilege. Black leaders and social justice firebrands will make the allegation in the most austere terms - witness that spicy moment during a recent debate on political correctness when Michael Eric Dyson bluntly labeled his conservative adversary, Jordan Peterson, a "mean, mad white man." Even those on the Left, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have not enjoyed immunity from this charge. Privilege is framed as a condition that, once acquired, can never be cured. However, it defies credulity to propose that Dyson and other leading social justice voices are alone in seeing life for what it really is, stripped of all parochial subtexts. Common sense suggests the existence of a complementary malady afflicting the accusers: racial paranoia, one might call it.

If some are inclined to miss the unfairness around them, is it not equally possible that others see unfairness where none exists? Nowhere in the public arena do paranoia and privilege collide more explosively than on the topic of unequal treatment under the law. In making their case, black advocates uniformly cite the videotaped incidents that by now have become an eponymous part of the national conversation on race: Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Philando Castile. All gave oxygen to Black Lives Matter, and later to the NFL's take-a-knee protests. Surely videos can be dramatic exhibits in mounting a case for extrajudicial violence. What a video cannot do, of course, is show us whether excessive force is excessively applied or racially motivated. For that we must turn to facts and figures.

A study out last week suggests that the view of law enforcement as a hotbed of racism is indeed highly inflected by paranoia. "Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force?" examines available data from police shootings in 2015 and 2016. The authors observe that determinations of bias normally are made simply by "comparing the odds of being fatally shot for Blacks and Whites, with odds benchmarked against each group's population proportion." That necessarily yields an incomplete picture, the authors assert, because of the substantial per capita difference in crime among blacks: "When adjusting for crime, we find no systematic evidence of anti-Black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects."

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