So, I said some things that got my friend DuWayne Brayton mad, and this caused him to write two blog posts (here and here), and now with a little time to spare I’m giving this the attention it deserves.
I’m going to let DuWayne and you, dear reader, piece together most the threads that connect what he said and what I said and what he said and what I said. If you want. I highly recommend that you give it a skip. I have not been directly addressing DuWayne’s questions, and his comments have little to do with anything I’ve said (sorry, but true). Given what DuWayne has said about what I said, I don’t expect anything I say here to assuage his concerns, because I think he’s concerned about a big giant problem that really isn’t there, and I think he’s not going to let go of that imaginary bugaboo for a while. And, I feel badly about that but there is nothing I can do. What I can do is to state what my thinking is about some of the negative reactions I saw to my assertion that the paper suggesting that carrying a firearm increases rather than decreases your chance of getting shot. (Under certain conditions.) To put it the way DuWayne describes it, the paper suggest that “…carrying a gun is of dubious value in the event of an assault. … you are more likely to be shot during an assault if you are carrying one.”
Before going one step further let me say that I think the paper in question is interesting, useful, and may be important. I also think it is imperfect and incomplete, but I have yet to see a single research paper that is perfect and complete. I’m not interested in arguing whether this paper is more imperfect or more incomplete than others. I have much better things to do than to defend some paper I didn’t write from critiques that include (but are not limited to) the rantings of gun nuts and people who don’t like Philadelphia, and in the blogosphere it is hard to separate out those arguments from others that may be more reasonable. I direct you to the comment threads referenced above for the full range of critiques of the paper.
DuWayne got mad at me because he thought I was calling him a racist. What I actually was doing was reminding him (and others) that not believing that a characteristic of some other group of humans in an experimental (including natural experiment) situation does in fact apply to you because, like it or not, you are a human too. If you are left on the island you have no different a chance of acting like the kids in Lord of the Flies than anyone else. Male soldiers in combat in war time have a degree of elevated chance of raping that is determined by the interaction of the context and your humanity. Being you does not get you out of that. You might think you are special and that the rules of humanity do not apply to you. If you were thinking that, fuck you. Stop thinking it now because you have not earned that right. OK? Have you stopped? Good, thanks. That was really annoying while you were thinking that, glad you stopped. Now on with the post.
I think Stephanie does a good job here of filling in an important part of this discussion. I’ll try to fill in some more. Let me start with a parallel case.
This is a new instance of an old story. A guy I know who was very very happy with Obama as a candidate back during the primaries and the campaign …. a liberal 60 year old white male … talked to me a lot about his thoughts on the campaign. We conversed almost every day during the whole election process, and one day he said “I love Obama. He’s so articulate.”
And he is. Obama is totaly ar-fucking-ticulate, surpassing many well spoken politicians. Articulate is a good word for Obama’s communication style for a lot of reasons. He is always connecting the context to the bits and pieces as he speaks. His talks are like well done mosaics. And when someone asks a question he is good at hooking the question up to things he’d said earlier. To me, all this connectivity and hookyuppiness goes with a nice word like “articulate” … maybe because, as a Biological Anthropologist, I am accustom to using a form of the word “articulate” to mean “the bones are still kinda stuck together where they are supposed to be” for dead things.
But you probably know that the phrase “oh, he’s so articulate” is problematic in the context of our current overarching racialized conversation. The term has been singled out linguistically as commonly used by whites to refer to blacks who appear to have the capacity of speech. It is an example, in that context, of providing a complement for a black person that you (if you are a white person) would not provide to another white person. The black person gets the complement because you are surprised that s/he knows something or can do something almost like a regular person. My friend used the word articulate in a perfectly reasonable way. But I stopped him and talked to him about the “articulate black” problem. He understood. He was both chagrined and amused, and now he knows about that little problem.
My friend was not making racist talk when he called Obama articulate. Nor does he compliment black people for not having primitive customs at the dinner table, not being illiterate, or not having naturally low IQ’s. He used a codeword wrong, by accident. And I mentioned that.
A less accidental but still often ‘innocent’ thing that happens is when people make this separation between the criminal and themselves. This artificial distinction is often overlain with race-based or class-based presumptions. It would work like this: A study is done that shows that people tend to incorrectly deploy the child car seats they use. This results in increased risks to the children. You read this study and you say to yourself “Hmm, next time I use a car seat, I better make sure I don’t screw it up.” Alternatively, you hear that there is a study that was done in Urban Philadelphia that shows that people tend to incorrectly deploy the child car seats they use. You think “hmm….” and you realize that Philadelphia is filled with some subclass of people that are not you … blacks, Hispanics, Quakers, poor, criminals, Democrats, whatever. So now you think “Hmmm. Those people. Too bad their children must suffer.” And you fail to assume that you might be making the same mistake.
In that second case, you would be making the assumption that you are fundamentally different than these Poor Urban Brownish Criminals to the extent that a study showing a basic human inability would apply to them but not to you. They are presumed to be fallible in this way, but not you. You may not even be aware of the things people are doing wrong with the car seats is, but you know, somehow, that this is a “them” thing and not an “us” thing (where by “us” I mean “you”). So you don’t even try to learn what the people in the study are doing wrong in case you can learn from it.
It may well be that there is something about car seats and humans in general that often results in a situation where the car seat gets improperly deployed. You may want to believe that it is because all those Philly people are Quakers, but it may actually be because car seats are car seats and humans are humans.
Similarly, the study suggesting that carrying a gun increases your risk of being shot can’t be rejected because of the nature and character of those other human beings, unless there is some valid reason …. that directly addresses methods and data … to do so, and even then (see Stephanie’s comments) that rejection may be invalid.
Most importantly, and this is my only point, watch out for the rejection of the other as your subaltern. It is not a cool thing to do.
DuWayne, this is not about you, and the above post is not full of details that are meant to refer to you. For instance, I don’t think you are a Quaker, or that you don’t know how to use a car seat. My message to you was simply what I just said in the previous paragraph, and what is in the title of this essay, and the whole rest of this post was providing the groundwork and the context for that suggestion. The current paragraph, the one you are reading now, is just me telling you what I’m not going to respond to because it would be a waste of your time and mine.