Correction: An earlier version of this Letter to the Editor was incorrectly attributed to Lee Fisher. The correct attribution is for Johnathan Gully, as now cited below.
By Jonathan Gully
There exists among some people, those often apt to express their opinions freely, a mindset that gravitates both toward certainty and insecurity in their feelings about specific topics. A person with this mindset is willing to overlook or deny obvious facts when the facts are incompatible with his worldview, whatever the worldview happens to be.
I’ve recently seen evidence of this mindset in the Opinion section of The Miami Student newspaper. It caused Steven Beynon, in his article “Police Starting to Serve and Protect Themselves,” to imply that a 15 percent rate of failure to find contraband in SWAT team raids is a high number. It also caused him to imply that police allowing Michael Brown’s body to lie in the street for six hours had something to do with police being wanton in their killing of civilians, rather than their commitment to a thorough investigation of the shooting and the crime scene. Numbers can be illustrative when building an argument, but his case might be better served by leaving out the numbers that speak against it.
In his article “Race is the Driving Force Behind the Ferguson Tragedy,” Brett Milam displays the mindset and downplays the present impact of illegitimacy in the black population by pointing out that the rate of blacks was 2.5 times the rate of whites in the early 20th century. However he and Professor Ruggles both miss the well-known fact that the rates of illegitimacy were very similar (12 percent for blacks vs. 4 percent for whites) in the early 20th century compared to the 21st century (68 percent for blacks and 30 percent for whites). Since we know from large bodies of research that illegitimacy is associated with criminal behavior for people of all races, this is not unimportant. And dwelling on the fact that it was 2.5 times higher for blacks early on is no less than deceptive since it overstates the significance of illegitimacy at that time, and especially because the point that Thomas Sowell was making is the dramatic rise (by more than 5 times) during the 20th century, which was ignored by Milam.
Milam also oddly dwells on the fact that criminals tend to victimize people of their own race in an effort to downplay the significance of black crime, and in the process overlooks the fact that blacks commit crime 6 times more than other races in America (Like illegitimacy, crime rates by blacks and whites were more similar in the early 20th century). It’s also worth mentioning that black unemployment was lower than white unemployment in the early 1900’s, while it’s been persistently over twice the rate of white unemployment for the last 20 years. I doubt anyone would argue that racism was less of a problem in the early 20th century, so this would (clearly) cause us to look for explanations for the plight of blacks in America in areas besides discrimination based on race or a “legacy of slavery.” Whether or not Milam is aware of all these facts is unclear, but they are easy to find for anyone researching the topic. However if I’m correct about Milam’s mindset, then he would dismiss these facts because they don’t align with his worldview.
Interestingly, people with this mindset also tend to think about people as abstractions in an abstract world, rather than flesh and blood human beings. Steven Beynon admits his own prejudice when he states that he thinks Michael Brown would still be alive if he looked like a Miami University student. His prejudice is assuming cops are racist (Don’t forget that being called racist is a pretty bad insult in this day and age). But this occurs because he is thinking of Officer Darren Wilson as an abstract racist cop, rather than a man with two eyes, a smile, a mother, and an expressed commitment to his town, who may or may not think ill of black people.Beynon and Milam would do well to take the advice of James Baldwin, whom Milam quotes in his article, and face all sides of the debate about blacks in America. Perhaps then we could truly identify what policies have inflicted such bad circumstances on blacks in America and get to work