Guardian: Cali Police and Prosecutors Cape for Neo Nazis & White Supremacists

The latest from the “Jeezus, what now?” file: The Guardian reports that police in Northern California have been caping hard for members of neo-Nazi/white nationalist groups, in some instances while in custody, in attempts to identify and target anti fascists for arrest.

A bit of background

California (and the West Coast generally) has been a major site of recent neo-Nazi and White supremacist mobilization. Meanwhile bands of loosely-connected anti fascists have actively countermobilized, leaving the two forces literally fighting in the streets. Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville may have focused attention on right-wing violence but fatalities and serious injuries have been piling up for years, especially in California. To be clear, the open or tacit sanction of violence against women, people of color/immigrants, so-called race traitors and cucks, and political opponents generally is less a coherent strategy than an endemic feature of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. As sociologist Kathleen Blee notes in a 2017 essay on far-right mobilization (p. 5):

Chaos is not only a description of white supremacist membership; it is central to how many racial extremist groups operate… In the chaotic swirl of life in racist groups, ideas are sidelined by action and discussions by simple slogans. People are valued and accorded leadership roles for their aggression and willingness to take risks for the cause more than for their understanding of the cause… [T]hey are attracted by… coercion, fear, the lure of profit, opportunities to engage in violence, access to drugs or alcohol, ties of friendship, familial and sexual relationships, and links to criminal networks.

To be fair, Antifa is not bashful about engaging in and even instigating street-level violence but the willingness to go lethal with swords, guns, bombs, and driving into crowds of protesters is a hallmark of right wing groups. Certainly the publicly available body count, not to mention years of social science research, corroborate this.

A morality tale about policing

This Guardian story corroborates activists’ long-standing claim that local police have a wink-and-nod relationship with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. We can scream “NOT ALL OFFICERS!” about this all day long but to do so is to lose the plot (quite possibly on purpose). The central dilemma in this story is the moral rot that characterizes local policing’s historical origin and defining features. That rot didn’t get here because X percentage of officers lack personal integrity. Rather, it got here because there is no legitimate oversight of their practices. Even in the rare instances where they are brought to account for abuse, restitution comes from government; not police departments. Although it may be glib to claim that consent decrees and court decisions are toothless, it is perfectly accurate and fair to say that they largely do not impact practices on the ground like those highlighted in the Guardian article. 

So regardless of whether 1% or 99% of officers openly abet fascists or coyly turn a blind eye to their misdeeds, the practice itself does not violate any policy. And more importantly, even if it did there is no entity with the power, resources, and authority to enforce such a policy. (Many department heads lack even the authority to fire officers for getting drunk, doing drugs, or selling drugs while on duty.) Prosecutors may lose cases against Antifa activists built on fascist testimony but exoneration comes long after the targeting and arrest have already occurred. Meanwhile, it remains an open secret that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists have been infiltrating law enforcement for decades. Infiltrate might be too strong a term since many departments don’t even bother to scrutinize such affiliations in the hiring process. FBI reports from 2006 and 2015 make clear that this infiltration is national in scope, and not just a few fat Southern sheriffs reppin’ the ‘Stars and Bars.’ So when an officer in Northern California says to a neo-Nazi (in custody for beating up his wife), “We see YOU as the victim. Help us identify Antifa members,” the scandal is bigger than just his bias. We are way past that. The scandal is that no one in local law enforcement–not the officer or anyone else–can be held to account specifically for this practice. That level of moral rot cannot simply be cut out of local law enforcement. It is not an institution that can be saved or reformed. It has to be scrapped and re-imagined entirely. 


Native American Mascots: It Ain’t About Who is Offended

Jacqueline Keeler, a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer, just published a piece in The Nation on the Washington, D.C. NFL club’s mascot. You know the one. The piece is worth a read. It is both passionate and thoughtful, which for me hits a real sweet spot.

Native American mascots must go. I’m all in, but this May 19th article by John Cox, Scott Clement, and Theresa Vargas, about a Washington Post (WaPo) opinion poll of 504 Native Americans should engender some thoughtful reflection by those of us who oppose Native American mascots. The poll, problematic in its own right, lays bare core weaknesses in how mascot opponents have framed the issue. Though I agree with Keeler in broad brush strokes, I think her analysis also displays some of those weaknesses. The most damaging is that, like many mascot opponents, she falls into the “personal offense” trap. Although taking offense is not trivial, it obscures a fundamental problem with Native American mascots: White supremacy. Native American mascots enact White supremacist ideology, which is unjust on its face, regardless of who takes offense to it.

Keeler’s critique of the poll doesn’t amount to much and manages to obscure a far more important point.

To be clear right up front, I am not Native American. So I’m definitely not here to “Redsplain” (if that’s a thing) Native American mascots to somebody who is. I am here to take Keeler’s points seriously and offer counters where I disagree. (At one time, we used the term “discourse” to describe this practice of responding to public statements.)

An important point on which I wholeheartedly agree with Keeler is that Native mascots do psychological harm to Native American people. (Peer-reviewed research establishes the effects.) In fact, I wish Keeler had simply chosen this point as the basic rejoinder to the WaPo poll. On this basis alone, school boards, state athletic associations, the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA, and other amateur and professional sports leagues ought to choose to retire them. Removing these mascots harms no one. Perpetuating them does. Within the limits of social science, this is a pretty inescapable conclusion. This is why the American Psychological Association called for their retirement in 2005.

Unfortunately, Keeler leads with a criticism of the poll itself that obscures this more fundamental point. I have no idea about her background in survey/polling methods, since she does not reveal it in the column, but I have taught undergraduate and graduate research courses in marketing at the University of South Carolina for 13 years. I’d state with some confidence that most of her objections to WaPo’s sampling methods are quite minor. They are not necessarily wrong, but they do not explain away the poll’s results. Additionally, I can’t see, based on her column and my own reading of the poll, anything to justify the claim that WaPo allowed a narrative to drive a specific set of results.

Let me reiterate, the poll is problematic. And, I do not think we should interpret it’s results at face value. Sampling wasn’t the problem though.

So, let’s talk about problems with the poll and move on to what’s important.

From a methods standpoint, it’s a pretty orthodox poll; not problem-free, mind you, because no poll is. People far too often wish to invalidate poll results they don’t like by pointing out minor, insubstantial flaws. Every flaw is not fatal. For example, Keeler raises a legitimately interesting criticism of the sample’s high age relative to Native Americans nationally. The sample appears to skew older and more male. But even considering that, WaPo wouldn’t have to add many more young people to a 500 person sample (a reasonable size, so let’s not go there) to lower the median age. Adding a few more young people  would indeed lower the age, but seems very unlikely to substantially change the results.

With that out of the way, let’s get to what’s really wrong with the poll. The reported results are very much open to charges of “social desirability bias.” On matters that may be controversial, people often respond to survey/poll items in ways that are consistent with how they want others to perceive them. Just like in real life, we may lie or exaggerate so we don’t look bad. On polls, we may tell a pollster what we think s/he wants to hear. Or, we may respond in ways we think we are “supposed” to when that’s not how we really feel. Social desirability just happens. It’s not necessarily something the researcher creates with bad form. When researchers ask questions that tap into people’s experience of vulnerability social desirability is an obvious potential problem. People will always be highly motivated to guard against feeling vulnerable. As you might imagine, social desirability bias looms large in survey-based research on sensitive topics, like experience with racism (see linked abstract). Again, researchers don’t create the bias. Nor can they make its effects disappear entirely. They can, however, take steps to minimize its effects.

With that in mind, read the WaPo poll item that’s driving all the talk on this topic.

WaPo mascot poll

Now I’m not one to gossip, but I wouldn’t let one of my undergraduates send out this item (or any of the others) on such a sensitive topic worded this way. This poll doesn’t just fail to minimize social desirability bias, it practically begs for socially desirable responses. The Washington Post or their research agency basically called up 500 Native Americans and asked them, “Well, are you some kinda punk sissy or not? If you are, how badly have you personally been wounded by this cartoon figure?” I’m only being a wee bit tongue-in-cheek. That is NOT an unreasonable interpretation of the item, particularly from an older, male-heavy sample.

Academics probably worry about social desirability bias more than pollsters, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for pollsters. Ultimately, I feel comfortable saying the WaPo poll results are probably driven by desirability because they failed to do even the simplest things that would suggest any awareness of a (potential) problem. Frankly, to see near unanimity on ANY topic, much less a controversial one, really ought to have arched a lot of eyebrows at WaPo. Add to that, numerous statements from elected tribal councils and some other polling data. That kind of context suggests that the WaPo poll results don’t really deserve benefit of the doubt, not when the WaPo poll has zero–no–indirect items. That’s standard practice when social desirability may be a problem. Nope. Every question is about “you, personally.” Even WaPo admits to being surprised by the consistency of their results in Keeler’s column. Well, WaPo, I have an explanation for why your numbers look the way they do but doesn’t take them at face value. You can’t rule it out because you didn’t even try.

Even socially desirable responses can be meaningful. What do these mean? 

WaPo kinda sidesteps social desirability bias by adopting the language of anti-mascot activists to frame their questions. They are not wrong in this. It just doesn’t solve the problem. Nevertheless, this is where the anti-mascot crowd (mostly us liberals) need to own our contribution to this, and use it as an opportunity to grow and get better.

Liberals have helped frame the mascot issue around “personal offense,” largely, I think, as a way of avoiding any discussion of White supremacy. It is difficult to imagine a more disempowering way to frame the mascot issue than personal offense. It must be frustrating for someone doing their best to escape or manage the harm Native American mascots cause, however mild or severe, only to find that the language of those opposed to the practice almost completely mischaracterizes their dilemma. I can see why 90% of Native Americans polled flat out rejected “personal offense” language. And really, can you blame them? Time to move that to the dust bin.

Native American feelings are important, but not central. Injustice is.

The problem you (or anyone) should have with Native American mascots is the same problem you should have with me smacking you (or anyone) upside the head whenever I feel like it. It’s not complicated. My actions are ipso facto unjust. There is no moral or ethical principle that entitles me to take liberties with your person, or your extended self (which includes your stuff and your likeness). “Me and my friends don’t mean any harm. We’re just having a good time” does not entitle me to take such liberties. Any harm I cause you would be over and above that fundamental injustice, and it is the duty of clear-thinking people committed to justice to call on me to stop.

Unfortunately, the (American) cultural tendency to psychologize every blessed thing has caused many people to conflate matters of social justice with personal feelings. A consequence has been to obscure the fact that the White supremacist ideology that gave life to Native American mascots is fundamentally unjust. And as such, it is not subject to some “no harm, no foul” proviso. (If 90% are unwilling to admit to being personally offended then the mascots must be okay. Now, back to our war chants and chopping.)

As manifestations of White supremacy go, some undoubtedly have less capacity for harm than others, but they are all unjust. Some manifestations are ground into physical and social infrastructure. The injustices that stem from them are difficult to escape or undo. They are with us. Other manifestations are quite fleeting and ethereal. They are the unexpected smack upside the head. But sometimes these fleeting instances of White supremacy have opt-outs. People of goodwill can simply choose to opt out; to not smack someone else upside the head just because they wish to do so. If nothing else, the Native American mascot issue is an interesting look into who opts out and who doesn’t when given the chance.






If you just happened upon this post because of some random google search thanks for stopping by. Welcome also if you came here at my invitation, as family, friend, or colleague. I am re-booting my very lightly-used blog as a repository for a project that I’ve been working on the past several years. Generally, this will be a place to for me to summarize and discuss that work and others that I find interesting.

I conduct consumer research generally, and I have a particular interest in understanding anti-racist resistance that occurs in the domain of consumption in some way or another. In other words, given that many people must navigate what sociologist Philomena Essed calls “everyday racism,” I try to understand how they do it. And, I try to answer the question what role does consumption play?

Paul Mullins excellent blog, Archeology and Material Culture, is an exemplar of what I’d like this blog to be–you know, if I had his talent and dedication. I am working on the dedication.


To any visitors who have been gracious enough to grant an interview, or gracious enough to otherwise allow me to collect data about you and your experiences, a special welcome and a disclaimer. This is my personal blog, but I still follow standard research protocols. Nowhere will I ever use identifying information about you. I also use pseudonyms (and change other innocuous details) to help ensure your anonymity. You need not ever self-identify as a study participant.


I have recently completed a manuscript that I am about to submit to the Journal of Consumer Research pending some i-dotting, t-crossing, and putting together a viable visual. I am going to summarize the findings of that research in a couple paragraphs in this post for interested readers. Then, in a series of subsequent posts I will go a little deeper into the study.


Here’s a brief summary of the study and findings. Racial inequality in the United States persists despite areas of meaningful and sustained progress. Longstanding scholarship in the social sciences on the topic has traditionally focused on identifying its scale, scope, and effects, but scholars are now paying increased attention to anti-racist resistance. To date, they have focused primarily on challenges to systemic racism that seek to make life more equal. These challenges occur primarily in the formal political domain (e.g., elections, policy advocacy, protests, and insurrections). By contrast, far less scholarship explores the act of managing everyday racism, which seeks to make life more tolerable but not necessarily more equal. Managing everyday racism is enacted by individuals within the scope of routine social interactions, including consumption.

This study adds much needed theorizing to research on managing everyday racism by examining consumption’s role. The existing research on anti-racist resistance over-emphasizes the role of formal politics and undertheorizes resistance that is embedded in routine social interactions like consumption. This study responds to that problem by presenting a nuanced mapping of a historically prevalent consumption-focused ideology, strategy of action, and specific behaviors used to manage everyday racism.

To deliver on this theoretical goal I investigate Black anti-racist resistance in the USA, specifically Black people’s use of racial uplift ideology and its associated strategy of action, the politics of respectability. Racial uplift and respectability trace their historical origins to the concurrent emergence of a Black petit bourgeoisie and consumer culture during post-Civil War Reconstruction. Racial uplift and respectability emphasized the use of high-status consumption as a critical part of an anti-racist counternarrative to White supremacist discourse in the late 19th century. My analysis of archival data, fieldwork, and ethnographic interviews with a sample of middle-class Blacks theorizes consumption’s role in their efforts to manage everyday racism in the post-Civil Rights Era (since 1970).

In sum, I find that racial uplift ideology mobilizes micropolitical action in routine social interactions, funneling it into what Evelyn Higgenbotham (1993) first called “the politics of respectability.” I show that people think about respectability as either of two related but distinct versions, which I label normative and agnostic. Each version uses high-status consumption to manage everyday racism, but does so differently. Normative respectability emphasizes avoiding stigmatized persons, objects and behavior. Agnostic respectability, which emerged in the post-Civil Rights Era, uses consumption to de-stigmatize persons, objects and behaviors associated with blackness. Actors’ perceptions of how successfully each version of respectability manages everyday racism are contingent on how they implement the strategy in their specific locales. Because places vary systematically by historical and structural features, the perceived success or failure is not just about a person’s skill in implementing. It also depends of the specific features of place.

NEXT: The Persistence of Racial Inequality & Anti-Racist Resistance


The Seductive Logic of White Supremacy, Part 2

In part 1 I call “broken windows” policing what it is: fear-based collective punishment in the service of white supremacy. In part 2 I discuss broken windows’ most infamous policy innovations: stop-and-frisk and police militarization.

**Broken Windows Begets Stop-and-Frisk**

Broken windows policing in US urban areas traces its roots to 17th century “pre-professional” urban police forces deployed specifically to imprison the poor. In the rapidly industrializing urban centers of US in the 19th century, the “coppers” were the first line of defense against the poor, immigrant hordes, and waves of black Southern migrants. They were allowed broad discretion in use of force to defend that line. Thus, “fighting crime” has often amounted to little more than preserving nativism and white supremacy through collective punishment. James Q. Wilson and George Kelling formalized broken windows policing in the 1980s, they were mostly re-stating the views of their neoconservative mentor Edward Banfield, who in a 1969 article explicitly called for a return to the “pre-professional” policing style of the 19th century.

New York’s infamous (and now illegal) stop-and-frisk policy, popularized in the 1990s, is just the latest version of these age old contain-and-punish tactics. After years of collective punishment imposed on blacks and Hispanics under the guise of fighting crime (to a degree that European immigrants never faced) stop-and-frisk was successfully challenged in federal court. In Judge Scheindlin’s takedown she essentially ruled that New York couldn’t make a compelling case that stop-and-frisk was ever about anything other than race. The fact that nearly 90% of people stopped had violated no laws precludes even a post-hoc justification for stop-and-frisk, but far more importantly this kind of collective punishment is anathema to American jurisprudence. NYC Mayor William deBlassio withdrew the city’s appeal after taking office, ending stop-and-frisk as official policy. That is a victory for clear-thinking, humane people. It should be acknowledged as such.

Unfortunately, broken windows thinking is deeply embedded in contemporary urban policing. For example, deBlassio, widely viewed as an arch-liberal who campaigned on an anti-stop-and-frisk platform, remains an ardent broken windows devotee. He tapped former Police Commissioner William Bratton to reprise his role as architect of the city’s broken windows policing strategies from the 1990s. Bratton has vowed to continue aggressively confronting minor, so-called “quality-of-life” crimes. So not surprisingly, early reviews suggest that not much is likely to change on the ground for black and brown folk in NYC. deBlassio may be quicker to settle police misconduct civil suits than his predecessors, but he is no more interested in curbing the violent police encounters that are all but explicitly called for in broken windows policing. Even supposedly liberal politicians and bureaucrats either cannot see past broken windows or cannot effectively confront it.

**This Whole Thing in Ferguson Has Gone Sideways**

As you are no doubt aware, Michael Brown was shot down by local police in the “inner ring” St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, MO. In the immediate aftermath Ferguson PD refused to release a formal incident report, or any significant details of the incident. They held out until August 15th–most likely relenting only after pressure from the Department of Justice, who was already consulting on the investigation at the governor’s request. The Ferguson PD’s initial statements appear to conflict with multiple eye witness accounts. Notably, police at the scene collected camera phones from at least some eye witnesses. Yet no law enforcement personnel took statements from anyone on the scene. Darius Johnson, who was a party to the incident along with Brown, and presumably fired upon by the officer, was never detained as a suspect in a crime. Nor was he interviewed by Ferguson or St. Louis County PD as a material witness to a shooting. (He was interviewed by federal prosecutors days later, after giving multiple media interviews.)

By Sunday night into the early hours of Monday, angry residents took to the streets in protest. They burned a gas station to the ground and engaged in other intense but sporadic looting, mostly confined to an area roughly 5 minutes from the site of the shooting. (And coincidentally about 5 minutes from my high school.) A friend and classmate left a message on my voice mail late Sunday that ended, “Man, this whole thing in Ferguson has gone sideways.”


Since that time, things have moved well past sideways. The St. Louis County Police Department took over primary operations from Ferguson PD by Sunday evening (even if the Ferguson police chief mostly appeared on camera). Predictably, St. Louis County PD escalated tensions. For reasons that are to date being seriously under-reported, County PD began to treat the situation as a counterterrorism action beginning on Monday. They donned their counterterrorism finery and began to run plays from their counterterrorism playbook. They started by cordoning off West Florissant Ave., the main thoroughfare, with a mine resistant armored personnel carrier. They followed by teargassing protesters. That was Monday. On Tuesday, Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal confronted the Ferguson Police Chief at a press conference about being teargassed the previous day. By Wednesday evening, County PD had began a second round of smoke bombs, flash-bang grenades, rooftop snipers and LRAD sound cannon. By late Wednesday County PD was chasing people through residential areas, tossing teargas canisters into front yards without evident discrimination. Notably, the County officers openly harassed journalists. They fired teargas directly at an Al-Jazeera America crew filming on site, dispersing the crew. As crewmembers ran, officers then turned their recording cameras to the ground.

County police also ordered reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post to stop filming before detaining them for several hours without charge before releasing them. They initially declined to provide the reporters an incident report naming an arresting officer before relenting to provide a report in 4-6 weeks. This is important, as both reporters allege that the officers were unduly violent when detaining them. County PD also arrested St. Louis Alderman Antonio French as he recorded events from his car and live tweeted while parked at the scene.

**This Ain’t Irony. This Ain’t Even Coincidence**

On my twitter feed I saw tweets of solidarity with the people of Ferguson, MO coming from Palestinians, coupled with helpful hints on dealing with teargas and other so-called counterterrorist tactics. Many people pointed to the irony of a US city reduced to a war zone while people in an actual war zone looked on in shock and horror. But they are wrong to call the events in Ferguson irony. Irony’s defining quality is the unexpected, but willful blindness in the face of the unpleasant does not make the unpleasant unexpected. Ferguson is what collective punishment can look like, and increasingly does look like. What is happening in Ferguson is not irony. It is the burlesque of white supremacy. Extra-legal law enforcement killings and forcefully quelling the rage of those at the bottom of the order is the entirely foreseeable cost of maintaining such an order. Not everywhere, but anywhere. Not all the time, but anytime.

**Posse Comi–What’s That Now?**

Local law enforcement has been steadily militarizing for years now. Much of the build-up of military grade equipment has gone unnoticed, as much of it finds its way to local law enforcement from or through the Department of Homeland Security. This business in Ferguson has put it on full display. Of course, black and brown communities have seen militarization from the gun barrel end for quite some time. The War on Drugs has local police serving simple (and often outrageously broad) search warrants, and even chasing down rumors from informants, with full-on SWAT teams.

The enormous scope of federal agencies with broad authority to operate with local law enforcement on issues like drug trafficking, immigration, natural disasters, and terrorism threatens to render posse comitatus effectively meaningless as local police departments increasingly see themselves as para-military organizations. They are already equipping and training officers as paramilitary soldiers. For example, in a 2011 report centered on the Occupy protests, Raw Story, citing work by journalist Max Blumenthal, noted that Israeli-style counterinsurgency training has become the latest thing in urban policing. Police departments nationwide are sending officials to train with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). These “exchanges” have become a something of a cottage industry. Interestingly, it does not appear that law enforcement from areas of that include white separatist and militia groups known to engage in terrorism are lining up for these exchanges. Rather, law enforcement from the large cities (e.g., New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Washington, DC.) and college towns (e.g., Ann Arbor, Berkeley) are lining up for counter-insurgency training.

Coincidentally, former St. Louis County police chief, Tim Fitch (who just resigned in December 2013), traveled to Israel for counterterrorism training. Not so coincidentally, County PD serves as the regional counterterrorism “fusion” center, where they coordinate counterterrorism strategy across all levels of law enforcement. As I noted earlier, St. Louis County PD began coordinating operations on the ground in Ferguson within hours of the shooting. So any suggestion that police response to the citizens of Ferguson resulted in any way from incompetence or boobery just doesn’t seem to square with what we know. This has always been a counterterrorism action.

The Seductive Logic of White Supremacy, Part 1

So, it’s been kinda light on the posting in 2013 and 2014. No sense in lying and saying that I’m definitely gonna do better. We’ll just have to see. Lately though, I’ve been thinking a good deal about so-called “broken windows” policing, mass incarceration, and white supremacy. I needed a place to put my thinking on wax, so to speak, and remembered, “Oh yeah. I started a blog about a year ago.”

***Broken Windows Policing***

In a 1982 Atlantic Monthly essay, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling introduce their “broken windows” approach to policing. It is not a very complicated argument. It’s more of a thin intellectual veneer for collective punishment than well-developed criminology. In fact, Wilson and Kelling openly acknowledge that broken windows policing likely has no direct effect on crime but has other important merits. For them “Law & Order” is more properly “law” & ORDER. Big emphasis on order. Grant police a wide berth to establish order, the thinking goes, and crime takes care of itself.

Why don’t you let Nick Nolte ‘splain it to you in this clip from the insanely underrated 1990 film Q&A. Nolte co-stars as Detective Mike Brennan and provides the cliff’s notes version of broken windows. He’s being investigated by internal affairs (played by a youthful looking Timothy Dalton) for murdering several criminals.

It’s no secret. I believe in kickin’ ass… but things got better when I was there… If we lose control over this fuckin’ jungle we’re finished… So I break a couple a heads? You know what we’re fighting out there, and they know it.

Brennan’s language is less polite than Wilson and Kelling’s, but that’s about the only difference. Broken windows is perhaps the best contemporary example of the seductive logic of white supremacy. It generates fear of the other and offers their subjugation to whites as a palliative. Of course, white supremacy can only offer subjugation–and nothing else. Shockingly, that never works for very long. The fear of the subjugated other eventually returns. Unfortunately, white America routinely double down on subjugation. Kickin’ ass is the answer to every question. It cannot fail. It can only be failed.

Jamelle Bouie over at Slate has done a nice piece about doubling down on subjugation. Hit the link. [Seriously. Go read it now and come back. I’ll wait…] What I like about Bouie’s piece is that it doesn’t pander to the white liberal fantasy about racial hostility and xenophobia being limited to NASCAR dads and the small town rabble. Nah. Bouie’s not having that. He cites academic literature that makes a strong case that anti-black attitudes are common among whites in the US and they fuel support for racially punitive policies. Let me be clear: anti-black attitudes are NOT universal, but neither are they rare. They are widely diffused throughout the population, even among the highly educated in liberal bulwarks like San Francisco and New York. Bouie forces the reader to acknowledge that blackness in the white racial imaginary is mostly negative and strongly associated with crime, an association often made below the level of conscious awareness.

If it was just about attitudes I wouldn’t be writing this post. Unfortunately anti-black attitudes constitute the microfoundations of much American policy, to paraphrase social-psychologist Lawrence Bobo. As it concerns crime policy specifically, we can see the dynamics between anti-black attitudes, policing, and mass incarceration. From Bouie:

Tell people that blacks are overpoliced and over-represented in prison, and it triggers thoughts of crime, which leads to fear, which causes a backfire effect as people follow their fear and embrace the status quo of unfair, overly punitive punishments.

These “thoughts of crime” tend to be insensitive to actual crime, persisting even where crime is declining. In their snap judgments the mere presence of black people generates the fear response in whites; not a dispassionate empirical estimate of their likelihood of criminal victimization. Whites then–again, collectively–demand that assuaging their fears be the central objective of public policy.

As a consequence, data on racial (and other) disparities that should indicate obvious and fundamental unfairness instead indicates that the systems designed to assuage their fears are doing just that. At least for a little while.