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“Reality Of Implicit Race Bias Is Well-Documented”: Overcoming Implicit Prejudice And The Heightened Perception Of Threat It Brings

I once read a question that went as follows:

Two groups of young men are walking on opposite sides of the street. One group is black, the other, white. Both are loud and swaggering, both have baseball caps turned to the back, both are brandishing bats.

Which one is the baseball team and which one, the street gang?

The truth is, many of us — maybe most of us — would decide based on race, giving benefit of the doubt to the white group, leaping to the harshest conclusion with the black one. Some will resist that notion, but the reality of implicit bias has been exhaustively documented.

Dr. Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College who describes herself as a “prejudice researcher,” wanted to push the question further. Earlier this year she published a study testing what she says is the prevailing theory: Prejudice arises from threat, i.e., you perceive those other people over there as dangerous and that’s what makes you biased against them.

“My research,” she said in a recent interview, “tests whether the opposite is true, whether prejudice can precede and cause threat perception.” In other words, is it actually pre-existing bias that causes us to feel threatened? It’s a question with profound implications in a nation grappling with what has come to seem an endless cycle of police brutality against unarmed African-American men, women and children.

Reliably as the tides, people tell us race played no role in the choking of the man, the arrest of the woman, the shooting of the boy. But Bahns’ research tells a different story. She conditioned test subjects to feel negatively toward countries about which they’d previously had neutral feelings, including Guyana, Mauritania, Surinam and Eritrea. “And I found,” she said, “that when groups were associated with negative emotion, they came to be perceived as more threatening in the absence of any information about what the people are like objectively.”

This column, by the way, is for a woman named Tracy from Austin who wrote earlier this year to ask “What can I do?” to fight police brutality against African-American people. I promised her I would seek answers. Well, Bahns’ research suggests that one answer might be to encourage police departments to incorporate bias training in their regimens.

According to Bahns, this training can help people overcome implicit prejudice and the heightened perception of threat it brings, but there is an important caveat: They have to be motivated and willing and have to leave their defensiveness at the door. “Before any change can happen, the first step … is that the perceivers — in this case, the white perceivers, or police officers — have to be open to admitting that they might be influenced by bias. I think we’re not getting anywhere when there’s this defensive reaction. … We’re all prejudiced and until we admit that, we’re not going to get anywhere in terms of reducing its effects.”

Not that people’s defensiveness is difficult to understand. “Everyone’s motivated to see themselves in a positive light,” said Bahns. “..People that genuinely hold egalitarian values and desperately do not want to be prejudiced are very motivated not to see bias in themselves.”

The thing is, we cannot wait passively for their conundrum to resolve itself. Some of us are dying because of this inability to tell the ball club from the street gang. And frankly, if people really do hold egalitarian values and desperately don’t want to be prejudiced, those deaths should push them past defensiveness and on to reflection.

As Bahns put it, the idea “that threat causes prejudice assumes that something about them — the out group — makes them threatening rather than assuming there’s something about us that makes us see them that way.”


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 4, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Brutality, Prejudice, Racial Profiling | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Evasiveness And Apparent Misstatements”: Rubio’s Controversial Finances Keep Getting Messier

The most damaging political controversies tend to be the easiest to understand. To this extent, Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) current flap has the potential to do some harm: in the broadest sense, it’s a story of a presidential candidate who’s made a mess of his personal finances and who’s made claims about the controversy that don’t appear to be true.

Rubio’s rivals are likely to present a question the typical voter will probably find pretty straightforward: should a politician who’s struggled to responsibly oversee his own finances be trusted to help oversee the entire country’s finances?

It’s the details, however, that get a little more complex. The New York Times reported this morning:

A decade after he began using a Republican Party credit card for personal purchases like paving stones at his home, Senator Marco Rubio on Wednesday pledged to disclose new spending records from that account as he sought to inoculate himself against what could be his biggest liability as a presidential candidate: how he manages his finances.

The decision to release the records highlights the enduring potency of a controversy rooted in Mr. Rubio’s days as a young state representative in Florida that he and his aides thought had been put to rest with his 2010 election to the Senate.

I’m not sure I’d characterize this as Rubio’s “biggest liability” – his bizarre mishandling of the immigration issue strikes me as more important – but as Republican primary voters weigh their 2016 choices, the senator’s difficulties in managing his own money probably won’t do his candidacy any favors.

The basic outline is made up of a few embarrassing elements. During his time as a Florida legislator, for example, Rubio occasionally mixed personal and business expenses, including using party money to repair his minivan, and charging $10,000 to attend a family reunion, which is legally questionable, before eventually paying the money back. He also co-owned property with a scandal-plagued colleague, failed to detail the mortgage on financial disclosure forms, and then faced foreclosure.

There’s also the odd liquidation of Rubio’s retirement account – even after the senator received a seven-figure book deal – and the fact that he took on more than $900,000 in debt when his net worth was about $8,300.

But it’s Rubio’s evasiveness and apparent misstatements that arguably matter just as much.

For example, Rubio has acknowledged improperly using a Republican Party credit card for personal use, but at least so far, he’s “refused to provide credit card statements from 2005 and 2006.”

The GOP senator said yesterday he intends to release the records “in the next few weeks.” Why it’s taken so long to prepare the records – materials Florida journalists have sought for years – is unclear.

Rubio has acknowledged “a lack of bookkeeping skills,” which may or may not bother voters. But there’s the related question of whether he’s been fully forthcoming about his messy finances.

For example, Rubio said yesterday that he went through his charges “every month” and reimbursed the personal expenses initially paid for with party money. However, the Tampa Bay Times reported, “Records show Rubio sent payments to American Express totaling $13,900 for his personal expenses during his tenure as House speaker. But those payments were not made monthly. He made no contributions to the bill during one six-month stretch in 2007, the records show.”

Rubio also said yesterday, “[E]very expense on that card is detailed in the Republican Party accounts that they file every month with, reports that they have to file with the state.” But this doesn’t appear to be quite right, since there are still two years of undisclosed charges.

Rubio claimed two weeks ago that all of these line of inquiry have been “discredited.” But we know this isn’t true – all of these questions point to evidence that hasn’t been refuted. Indeed, let’s not forget that while a state ethics commission did not pursue the matter against Rubio, a commission investigator accused Rubio of “negligence” on the credit card issue, adding that his failures were “disturbing.”

As a general defense, the presidential candidate said yesterday, “[The] bottom line is I obviously don’t come from a wealthy family.” That’s true, but I’m not sure how it’s relevant. The typical American doesn’t come from wealth, either, but they don’t routinely find themselves in the kind of messy situation Rubio created.

Put it this way: if Hillary Clinton’s finances were this messy, some of her documents went undisclosed for years, and some of her claims appeared dubious under scrutiny, isn’t it fair to say it’d be the biggest political story in the country?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 5, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | GOP Voters, Marco Rubio, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ben Carson, And The Failure Of Black Conservatives”: The Belief That Individual Resolve Is Enough To Fend Off Structural Racism

I was a 17-year-old teenager growing up on the west side of Detroit when I first read Ben Carson’s biography Gifted Hands.

The first thing that caught my attention were the similarities in our childhoods: He grew up poor; so did I. Carson’s mother couldn’t read; my grandmother, who was my legal guardian until she died soon after I finished high school, could only read and write her name. Young Carson got in trouble as a teen and nearly stabbed a friend; when I was 12 years old, I had an almost fatal run-in with my uncle while he was high on drugs. Carson earned his bachelor’s from Yale University and finished medical school at the University of Michigan. Though I would eventually receive both my undergrad and graduate degrees elsewhere, I, like many kids from Detroit, often dreamed of being a Wolverine.

And though I had no idea what I wanted to be in life, I knew I wanted to do something great. Maybe I wouldn’t become a neurosurgeon famous for separating conjoined twins, but perhaps I could become something equally spectacular.

I knew nothing of Carson’s politics back then. I was 17 and didn’t care. He was a black man from the hood who “made it.” His was an inspiring story, full of adversity overcome, of hard-work and perseverance. That’s all that mattered to me. What I didn’t realize as a teenager, however, was what that same story would one day mean to white, conservative America.

Ben Carson is now not only running for president as a Republican, but he’s arguably leading the GOP field. And in an era where the biggest cheers of the Republican debates go to takedowns of “political correctness” and the media, Ben Carson is taking advantage, warping his personal story into misbegotten political and racial analysis.

In August, when a Fox News moderator asked Carson during a GOP debate how he would address strained race relations in America, he said that the “purveyors of hatred take every single incident between two different races and try to make a race war out of it and drive wedges into people.” He said nothing about the structural issues causing the racial divide between black and white Americans; he just blamed the media.

In September during his tour of Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by former police officer Darren Wilson, Carson said, “We need to de-emphasize race and emphasize respect for each other.” He added that he was raised to respect police and “never had any problem.”

This is Carson’s M.O.

When Carson speaks to the mostly white audiences who support him, he positions himself as a black person who doesn’t “complain” about racism. He argues that we need to move beyond having difficult discussions about race.

And his messaging during his campaign has been crystal clear: I am who I am because I worked hard, and that is the best way to overcome racism. If you are black and cannot succeed like me, he tells his mostly white audiences, then only you are to blame for your problems — not police brutality, an unfair criminal justice system, or racist hiring practices.

It’s a classic case of black conservatism, the belief that individual resolve should be enough to fend off structural racism. But Carson’s auto-biography pokes holes in his own story. When you read about his life, you see someone who was not only exceptionally hard-working, but like all successful people, at times exceptionally lucky.

Had Carson actually succeeded in stabbing the friend he claims to have attacked as a teenager, Carson likely would have served time in jail and struggled to find work as a convicted felon; his right to vote probably would have been revoked, too. Carson likes to discuss how his short temper led to him go after people with rocks, bricks, baseball bats, and hammers. Hundreds of thousands of black people who made similar mistakes are caught in the racially predatory cycle of the criminal justice system that refuses to grant them second chances. Yet, he abhors the Black Lives Matter movement for daring to challenge the racist policies that could have very well prevented him from rehabilitating had he been been jailed for his wayward behavior.

Here’s another telling anecdote: In his 1999 book The Big Picture, Carson wrote about an incident involving his mother being arrested in a suburb of Detroit because she, according to the arresting officer, fit the description of a woman who abducted an elderly couple; the charges were later dismissed with the help of a prominent lawyer friend who was also a fellow Yale alum.

Only a black person who reached the highest summit of social and professional achievement could have called his Ivy League buddy to get his mother out; the residents of Ferguson who were daily targets of rampant racial profiling, according to a Department of Justice report, did not enjoy such social pull.

But Carson, the presidential candidate, doesn’t tell his white supporters about the pitfalls he narrowly avoided; he only talks about the heroic leaps he took in avoiding them. When I read Gifted Hands nearly 18 years ago as a young teenager, I never envisioned Carson becoming a 21st century Nat Turner — but neither could I foresee him dismissing racial injustice entirely. The culmination of Carson’s success, as I now know, was not designed to accommodate any sense of responsibility for those in the black community who didn’t “make it.”

Instead, it is only tailored to assure white voters that they don’t have to bear any of the racial baggage that comes with being black in America.


By: Terrell Jermaine Starr, The Week, November 5, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Criminal Justice System, Structural Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hoodwinked”: Rumsfeld, Cheney, And A Bush-Family Drama

There’s something oddly Shakespearean about all of this.

Former President George H. W. Bush has ignited Republican infighting by alleging in an upcoming biography that former Vice President Dick Cheney formed his “own empire” within the White House and evolved into an “iron-ass” on foreign policy while serving in George W. Bush’s administration.

According to The New York Times, the 41st president is highly critical of Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the book, with the elder Bush slamming both men for having ”served the president badly.”

Cheney, you’ll recall, was the defense secretary for George H.W. Bush before he became George W. Bush’s vice president. But Bush pere has come to believe this latest version of Cheney is “very different” from the one “he knew and worked with.”

The elder Bush was even less kind towards Rumsfeld, whom the former president sees as “arrogant” and lacking in “humility.”

In response, Rumsfeld today responded, “Bush 41 is getting up in years and misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions.”

For the record, Rumsfeld is an 83-year-old man. Not to put too fine a point on this, but hearing an 83-year-old flippantly dismiss the concerns of a 91-year-old because the latter is “getting up in years” seems a little ridiculous.

Making this a little stranger still, H.W. Bush suggested he wasn’t altogether pleased with some of his son’s phrases, most notably “axis of evil,” during his presidency. “I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there – some of it his, maybe, and some of it the people around him,” he said of W. Bush.

This led Jeb Bush to defend his brother against his father’s mild rebuke. The former governor told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, “My brother’s a big boy. His administration was shaped by his thinking, his reaction to the attack on 9/11. I think my dad, like a lotta people that love George wanna try to create a different narrative perhaps just to – just ‘cause that’s natural to do, right?”

Jeb added, “As it relates to Dick Cheney, he served my brother well as vice president, and he served my dad extraordinarily well as security of defense.”

Update: In H.W. Bush’s book, he also refers to his 1988 rival, former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), as a “midget nerd.” Some of the instincts that did not serve Bush well during his White House tenure, regrettably, never went away.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 5, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George H. W. Bush | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Republican Reality Show Rat Race”: Embracing Magic Hairball Economics And Quack Cures

The current Republican presidential race is less a political contest than a reality TV series: a stage-managed melodrama with a cast of characters selected to titillate and provoke. By that standard, last week’s CNBC debate succeeded far beyond expectations — all but guaranteeing a larger audience for the next exciting installment.

Viewers who tuned in to see Donald Trump boasting and hurling insults at the Sleepwalking Surgeon, the Sweaty Senator, and the Amazing Spineless Governor, found themselves invited to boo an entirely different set of villains — CNBC’s frustrated and argumentative moderators.

In professional wrestling, of course, the referees are always part of the show.

Senator Ted Cruz got the party started with a cleverly contrived bit of bombast camouflaging evasiveness as high principle. Asked if his opposition to the recently negotiated congressional budget compromise showed he wasn’t “the kind of problem solver American voters want,” Cruz attacked moderator John Harwood instead.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. “You look at the questions: ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”

In fact, none of those characterizations was accurate. Nobody called Trump a villain, although Harwood did ask about his “comic book campaign” promises to deport 11 million immigrants, build a giant wall, make Mexico pay for it, and slash taxes by $10 trillion while balancing the budget.

Nobody had to urge Ohio’s governor Kasich to insult Trump and Ben Carson. He’d opened the debate by lamenting that his party’s two leading candidates were people “who cannot do the job.” He’d specifically cited their fantastical budget promises along with Trump’s immigration vows. Elsewhere, Kasich suggested that many Republicans had lost touch with reality.

CSNBC’s Becky Quick never challenged Dr. Carson’s mathematical ability. But she did get visibly frustrated at his serene unwillingness to acknowledge basic arithmetic, and fell into bickering.

No matter. Sen. Cruz, who has carefully avoided antagonizing Trump, had identified the villains. The studio audience of GOP loyalists went ape — hooting, beating their chests, and all but flinging dung at the hapless CNBC moderators. Nothing so animates the GOP base as the perception that they’re being sneered at by effete intellectuals. Pollster Frank Luntz reported thunderous approval among his all-Republican focus group. Poor babies.

I’d argue that something historic is going on. As Kasich suggests, beleaguered Republicans are currently engaged in a retreat from reality as profound as communist apparatchiks during the last days of the USSR. Hence the predominance of hucksters, sharpers and mountebanks among the candidates onstage.

In deference to the astonishing avarice of billionaire donors, instead of Five Year Plans they’re embracing magic hairball economics and quack cures. It’s no accident that the renowned brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson lent his prestige to Mannatech, an outfit peddling “nutritional supplements” that supposedly cure autism and cancer.

The company recently paid $7 million to settle a deceptive practices lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General. Texas! Asked by CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla about this unseemly connection, Carson dismissed it as “propaganda.”

Anybody can watch Carson’s video endorsements online.

Similarly, Mike Huckabee promised to cut health care costs by curing Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Of course, the former Arkansas governor has no more chance of becoming president than I do. He’s in it for the book sales, going so far as to hint during the debate that his predecessor Bill Clinton had political opponents murdered.

Hay for the cattle, except that my cows are more skeptical than the average Huckabee reader.

Alas, much of the GOP electorate has reached that sublime point of self-deception where they refuse to acknowledge any reality they don’t wish to believe. In consequence, the saner sorts of conservatives are bailing out. CNBC’s Harwood brought up former Bush-appointed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s statement that “the know-nothingism of the far right” had driven him out of the Republican Party.

That merely showed his “arrogance,” said Sen. Rand Paul of the man who arguably saved the nation’s financial system post-2008.

Bruce Bartlett, the one-time Reagan Treasury official who thinks the GOP has gone badly astray, mocked Cruz’s crybaby rhetoric. “We’ve just seen Hillary Clinton go through 11 hours of questioning, and these guys can’t go a couple minutes of questioning,” he said.

Pressed about his own save-the-billionaires tax scheme, Sen Marco Rubio went off on CNBC’s Harwood.

“Democrats have the ultimate super PAC,” he whined. “It’s called the mainstream media.”

Boo-hoo hoo.

So would you like to hear Anderson Cooper’s first softball question to perennial press favorite Hillary Clinton during the recent CNN Democratic debate?

It was this: “Will you say anything to get elected?”


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, November 4, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, Debate Moderators, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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