Khalil Gibran Muhammad | How Numbers Lie || Radcliffe Institute

Khalil Gibran Muhammad | How Numbers Lie || Radcliffe Institute


-Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Liz Cohen. I’m dean of the Radcliffe
Institute for Advanced Study. And I am delighted to welcome
you here this afternoon for this lecture by
Khalil Gibran Muhammad. First I want to tell you a
few words about Radcliffe. At Radcliffe, we bring
together, scholars and scientists and
artists who break new ground within their own
fields, but more importantly, who cross disciplinary
boundaries to make an impact
that transcends any one subject area. And we are dedicated to sharing
the fruits of their work with broad public audiences in
person, like today, and online. Each year, for example, we host
our annual gender conference, in which we examine
an important topic through the lens of gender. This year’s gender
conference is called “Ways with Words– Exploring
Language and Gender.” Radcliffe is an
intellectual community dedicated to inquiry
and to action, with its own preeminent research
library, the Schlesinger. These qualities make
Radcliffe the ideal place to host a lecture by
Khalil Muhammad, who is a scholar, a public figure,
and the current director of another major
research library. We often hear about
the elusive figure of the public intellectual. And even more often, we hear
laments about the disappearance of the public intellectual. But Khalil actually is one. And last I checked, he is
still here, alive and kicking. He currently directs the
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the
New York Public Library, one of the leading research
facilities dedicated to the study of the
African diaspora. He is also a historian and a
visiting professor at the City University of New York. And before that,
he was a professor of History at
Indiana University. Moreover, Khalil is
a public intellectual you will be seeing around these
parts more often in the future, because he will be joining the
Harvard community next year as Professor of History,
Race, and Public Policy at the Harvard
Kennedy School, and as a Suzanne Young Murray
professor at the Radcliffe Institute. We are very grateful
to Sue Murray, who’s sitting over here, for her
generous and enthusiastic support of Radcliffe’s mission. And I am so pleased that she
could be with us here tonight to welcome Khalil. Radcliffe professors are
distinguished scholars recruited to Harvard with
a very special invitation– to join a home school as
well, and be a Harvard faculty member there, and to
participate in Radcliffe’s unique interdisciplinary
community. In Khalil’s case, the Suzanne
Young Murray professorship will help him return
to intensive immersion in archival research
and scholarship after a number of years
serving as intellectual leader and administrator of
the Schomburg Center. Khalil will now
have the opportunity to return to research in
manuscript collections after working so hard to
collect and preserve them. And I have to say that
as an historian myself in my fifth year as Radcliffe
dean, I’m pretty jealous. [LAUGHTER] We hope that while
Khalil is here at Radcliffe, which he will
actually be here next year, he will draw on the
unsurpassed staff and resources of our own Schlesinger
Library in doing his research. Throughout his career, Khalil
has brought scholarship and public policy together. He regularly turns a historians
sharp eye and sensitive ear to major issues of our day. His first book, The Condemnation
of Blackness– Race, Crime, and the Making of
Modern Urban America, examines how sociologists
in the early 20th century worked to shift explanations for
crime away from innate biology and toward economic
and cultural factors. But their efforts backfired
for African Americans because they resulted in
widespread association of black culture
with criminality. That stereotyping,
in turn, made it easier for whites to perpetuate
racism and systematically deny rights to black Americans. The Condemnation of Blackness
won critical acclaim, a wide public audience, and the
2011 John Hope Franklin Best Book Award in American Studies. Its relevance today is obvious. In recent months,
daily headlines have transported us from the
streets of Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland,
Ohio into the cell blocks of Waller County, Texas. We have encountered movements
like Black Lives Matter and we’ve watched protests
unfold from city blocks to college campuses. Khalil’s deep research into
how ideas about race and crime circumscribe opportunities
for African-Americans is both timely and
timelessly important. Khalil also helps
us attend to some of our own specific priorities
right here in Radcliffe yard. In fact, even before the
Radcliffe professorship arose, Jane Kamensky, our new
Pforzheimer Faculty Director of the Schlesinger
Library and a Professor of History at Harvard,
had identified Khalil as someone uniquely
equipped to help us with our goal of diversifying
the Schlesinger Library’s manuscript holdings– to
ensure that they document a wide ranging history of
women and gender in America. With that aim in
mind, Jane invited Khalil to come and consult
on building our collections and to deliver
this lecture today. So when Khalil accepted
Harvard and Radcliffe’s offer to join us as a professor,
we had the good fortune of having already
scheduled this visit. Thus today has become
a kind of welcome to what I hope will be
Khalil’s long and happy career at Harvard. I could not be more pleased. So now I’ll turn
things over to Jane. Thanks. [APPLAUSE] -Good afternoon, everybody. Let me add my welcome to
Liz’s and to share with you the Schlesinger Library’s
tremendous sense of excitement and pride
in hosting Dr. Khalil Muhammad here this afternoon. I’m keenly aware that
my remarks are now all that stand between you and
his talk, so I’ll be brief. I want to concentrate on an
aspect of Muhammad’s profile that we mustn’t
lose sight of as we celebrate his many other
striking accomplishments. And that’s his librarianship–
or to be more precise, his work as director since
mid-2011 of the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for
Research in Black Culture. And I’m going to use the
word transformative a lot, which is a kind of term of
art in the Academy often overused and, in this
case, actually true. So Liz has given you a little
of the back story here, that early last fall, right
after I got to Schlesinger, we invited Khalil to visit
Radcliffe this winter. And did so in utter
ignorance that he would soon become our colleague. Many of my best ideas are
done in utter ignorance. [LAUGHTER] Our invitation was part
of an ongoing process of strategic planning
to widen the diversity and deepen the inclusiveness
of our archival holdings, a process that my
wonderful colleagues had set in motion about three
years before I showed up to take credit for it. That planning got an infusion
of energy and expertise from a conference
in October 2014 that Khalil put
together at Schomburg called “The State of Black
Research Collections.” That gathering investigated the
crucial role that institutions collecting African-American
and African diasporic materials play in the future
of the humanities, as well as the extraordinary
pressures on such institutions today and creative solutions to
fight against those pressures. That conference connected two
of my Schlesinger colleagues to two stellar curators,
one from Spelman and one from the Library
Company of Philadelphia, who have since come to Cambridge
to share their strategic acumen with us. So Khalil’s visit to
Schlesinger yesterday, and earlier today we’ve been now
running him hard for 36 hours, is in many ways the
capstone of a project that he himself catalyzed
through his work at Schomburg. As you’ve heard from
Liz and will hear again in a few minutes, Muhammad’s
major scholarly work has centered on the relationship
between quantitative and racial, indeed racist,
regimes of thought and policy. His prize winning 2010 book
Condemnation of Blackness documents the pernicious uses of
statistical methods and claims to create a discourse of black
criminality, a language that emerged in the half
century after 1890 and that we continue
to live inside today. As you know, Khalil’s
topic for this afternoon is how numbers lie. So it is with some
trepidation that I want to give you the
story of his leadership at Schomburg by the numbers. [LAUGHTER] He has raised the
library’s profile through a social
media strategy that includes Twitter feeds with
a combined 25,000 followers and a Facebook community
over 45,000 strong. He has ceded a
substantial increase in media coverage
of the Center’s work from, by LexisNexis, 331
newspaper articles mentioning Schomburg between
2005 and 2010 to 481 since he took the helm
in mid-2011– a growth rate of nearly 50%
which does not include, by the way, last week’s
gorgeous New Yorker cover titled “Schomburg
Center, Harlem, New York.” In the crucial realm
of donor support, Khalil maintained the
Schomburg’s enduring relationship with
Ford and Rockefeller and New York City and
other important funders while bringing in new
resources from foundations and individuals, including
Schomburg’s largest ever individual
donation, a $2.5 million gift from Ruth and Sidney
Lapidus to establish and endow the Lapidus Center for
the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery. Over all, he increased
fund raising enough that he could grow an annual
budget to nearly twice the size of the one that he inherited. Khalil brought the
community into the center and has taken the center even
deeper into its community. Under his leadership, Schomburg
has experienced a 26% increase in overall attendance
in the last three years and a 39% increase in
program attendance. He has spearheaded a $22 million
renovation project, which will break ground
just as he’s leaving and will serve as a monument
to his directorship for decades to come– all of this as
a denominator over less than five years. These numbers, I
submit, don’t lie. [LAUGHTER] Of course, they also don’t
tell the whole story. Muhammad’s phenomenal success
as Director of the Schomburg is a product of expansive
vision and relentless energy. And truly I’m exhausted by just
a day and a half with the man. Under his leadership, the Center
has held pioneering exhibitions on topics ranging from black
gay life to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington
to the Obama presidency. He has innovated in
public programming, in the arts, politics,
and popular culture, as well as continuing to
promote scholarly research. Recent Schomburg
events have featured speakers as diverse as
Tim Boland and Eric Foner and topics ranging
from marronage in the 18th and 19th
century Caribbean to the life of radical black
feminist Florence “Flo” Kennedy whose papers, if you’ll
forgive me a plug here, the Schlesinger holds. Over the last two
days alone while he’s visiting with us at Radcliffe,
Khalil has missed lectures on black conservatism by
our colleague Leah Wright Rigueur and the
premiere of Dapline, a choreographic collaboration
centered on the dap as a conduit for black identity,
solidarity, and history. Among many other aspects of
his innovative programming, Khalil has raised the profile
of women, gender, and sexuality among a menu of topics that
I think had traditionally skewed somewhat less
intrasectionally and somewhat more heroically male. Equally significant as these
marquee public events which feature regularly
in the Times society pages are the programs
Muhammad Schomburg undertakes with New York City school
children from kindergarten through college. This includes not just class
visits, but dedicated calendar spaces like the Junior
Scholars Initiative, which brings high schoolers interested
in black history and culture to the Schomburg on Saturday
mornings for a long program, thus undertaking the
crucial work of sustaining black history and building the
pipeline of scholars of color from the pre-collegiate
level upwards. In all of these ways,
Muhammad forged the Schomburg into a very rare
kind of powerhouse– an institution that hones
the cutting edge of research by supporting advanced study
at the very highest level and by nourishing deep
sustained community engagement. I will not win any
friends here today by admitting that my
first response when I heard that Khalil had accepted
the offer to join us at Harvard was to feel just a
little bit guilty. I quote the Amsterdam News,
the great Harlem newspaper from last December–
“In recent weeks, the Harlem community has been
stunned by a series of shocks in which Muhammad’s
announced departure figured as the latest and perhaps
the gravest of several.” But as Khalil told
that reporter, he leaves the Schomburg far
stronger than he found it. And perhaps most
important to us, he’s bringing the
Center’s agenda to Cambridge, where
he will continue to forge the model of
the public intellectual as community engaged
scholar, who demonstrates that the cutting edge
and the neighborhood are closer together
than we often think. I feel so privileged
to live and work in Khalil Muhammad’s
intellectual and institutional neighborhood now. And I’m delighted to welcome him
to Radcliffe, not just today, but for the future. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] -Thank you very much, Jane. I am totally embarrassed
and entirely grateful for the very warm
and gracious welcome. I really appreciate that. To Dean Cohen, thank you
for your leadership here. As I’ve said to many
people since we’ve gotten to know each other that
one of the first books that I read was her first book. And Making of– I’ve
forgotten the name. Making the New Deal. That’s right. I always remember the
term welfare capitalism. And these parlor immigrants
who surrounded themselves with the accouterments
of the bourgeoisie, which was groundbreaking in
its way of disrupting the usual bromides of labor,
history, and social history. So made a difference. And to be here in this moment,
to be part of this community, and to be able to be
part of her leadership is very special to me. I also want to
say to Sue Murray, thank you very much for
your generosity as a donor to the Radcliffe Institute. I know how important it
is for these institutions to depend on generous people. And I am grateful that I
benefit from your generosity. To my colleagues in
the library world, to Marilyn Dunn and her
leadership at the Schlesinger Library, you’ve done
a magnificent job over the past 10 years. You have an amazing
staff of people. And I know that Jane appreciates
having great morale and a team of people who work really hard. In all the ways
that Jane described, the Schomburg Center’s
success by the numbers– which I appreciate the dig–
partly what I will say, I will explain lying. I have all sorts of
disclaimers, right? But I got you here
in the audience. But to the extent that I get
to take any credit for what has happened at the
Schomburg Center, I take credit because people
show up to work every day and are passionate and committed
to an institution that’s 90 years old. And we carry forward the
responsibility that we inherit. And we try to do the best
that we can to inspire others so that one day they get to
step into those shoes as well. And I certainly got
that spirit with regard to your leadership at
the Schlesinger Library. I see a number of colleagues
at the Kennedy School. And at the risk of
leaving anyone out, I’ll just say thank you
very much for being here. Thank you for selecting
me to be at the school to be a colleague of yours,
to the graduate students, some of whom I saw earlier, and
to so many others who I am meeting for the first time. Even if I’m a peer
and you’re out there, I hope that we get a
chance to talk later. I see Alex. Thanks, Alex, for coming. And finally, to
family and friends. There are old friends and new
friends here in the audience. The person who
taught me how to make blueberry pancakes
as a nine-year-old is literally in the room. So this feels very
special to me. Well, anyone who’s heard
me lecture on my book, and you heard all those great
things that I did at Schomburg, so you’ll bear with
me that I am mostly delivering a lecture
here inspired by the The Condemnation of Blackness. The great part about
the book for me is that it makes a lot
of different arguments and works with a lot
of primary material. And it’s always in
conversation with the present– sometimes attenuated,
sometimes very directly. But nevertheless, I’m still
inspired to talk about it. So if you’ve heard me talk about
The Condemnation of Blackness before, you might get
something new today. And if not, well, thank
you for showing up– [LAUGHTER] Anyhow. The last thing I’ll
say as a disclaimer– I am happy to talk about
the scholarly inspiration, the literature review that
inspired this work during Q&A, if you’re interested. But I won’t roll
it back in the way that I might before
a scholarly audience. I think we’ve got a
pretty mixed crowd here. And lastly, there’s
a lot of text. I have played with
presentation over the years and one of the
things that I find is that rather than reading
either complicated thoughts and showing you an image
to go along with it, I think that people can
stew with the words. Words matter. Ideas matter. In some ways, that is
of the heart and soul of this research. “How Numbers Lie–
Intersectional Violence and the Quantification of Race.” The first part of
this story opens with the assent of the
use of quantitative data to assess the demographic
health and welfare of groups across the world. This is often commonly
determined through literatures on the emergence of eugenics,
the science of breeding better races, partly a
consequence of the evolution of capitalism in Europe, also
concerned about population control. But this is the age
of science and reason. And out of that age
of science and reason, statistics become a
mainline instrument for assessing who is
doing well and who is doing poorly in society. African-Americans, as a group
within a larger constellation of global populations
moving hither and yon, emerge out of a
specific moment having to do with the end or
collapse of slavery in America as a result of the end
of the Civil War in 1865. There is tremendous
instability of thought about what these people
are actually made of. And the very questions
that turn on whether or not African-Americans are
endowed with the capacity to fully participate
in a civilized society turns, in part, on the
received wisdom of the past– having to do with
anthropological assessments of Africa, having to
do with religious ideas about multiple
species of humanity, and perhaps more germane
to this conversation, having to do with the physical
or the constitutional makeup of African-Americans or
people of African descent. Haiti and Jamaica,
for example, also get thrown in as
historical examples of what happens when black
people are handed or forced themselves into leadership
of independent nations. All of these ideas, however,
were hotly contested, north and South, black
and white, regionally. And therefore it wasn’t
until roughly the emergence of a US-based statistical
reasoning that happens right about 1890s. And one of the progenitors
of this idea, he was– for many white
Americans– a kind of Ta-Nehisi Coates of popular
writing for the Atlantic Monthly in the
late 19th century. His name was Nathaniel Shaler. He also was a Harvard
paleontologist and a very
well-respect individual who contributed great bodies
of knowledge, some of which had to do with some of the
earliest writings calling for statistics to resolve
these debates about who black people were and what
were they in fact capable of. So here we hear Shaler
saying statistics will lead the way to a true
understanding of black people’s true racial capacity. I often use the term bookmark to
call your attention to holding onto an idea because where we
start is, as you can guess, where we will finish. But this ultimate
idea that statistics will help us to
solve these problems has been the governing idea
of positivism or empiricism, particularly within the field
of demographics and race since this time period. Just for illustrative purposes,
Nathaniel Shaler was not alone. Richard Mayo-Smith, who
had the enviable job of actually establishing
the discipline of statistical
research, writing here for the Association
for the Statistical Association of America,
an article in 1893, “Statistical Data
for the Assimilation of Races and Nationalities.” There is no origin
story, no genealogy, about the use of
quantitative data to assess demographic groups
that does not turn on race. So there’s no point of recovery. This is not a
point of departure. This is the foundation
of how we come to think about demographics as
a way of measuring communities. Fast forward to the
future and we’re going to play with
this back and forth. This is, in some
ways, anathema to some of my historian colleagues. Might explain why I’m
in the Kennedy School. But that’s OK. [LAUGHTER] But I want to make that visible. Because part of the
point of these ideas is to see the scaffolding,
to see the constructions, and to make them visible to us. So we’re all familiar
with CompStat. It has been, for 20 years now,
the most advanced technology using data and
statistics to correlate criminal activity
by neighborhood using spatial mapping software. William Bratton
was among the first to deploy it under Rudolph
Giuliani in the 1990s. And here we see Mayor Michael
Bloomberg and Ray Kelly presiding over a
CompStat meeting. Now moving from CompStat to
these incarceration rates, essentially you’re
seeing the artifacts of the way in which data has
produced a social phenomenon. But at the same time,
I want you to also be aware of the ways in
which we are all prisoners or creatures of a way of
thinking about how to govern ourselves in society–
how to make decisions about what to do with, say,
inequality or violence, for example. And so I see this mostly
as an illustration in conversation with CompStat. These two are both
policy implications. But they’re also artifacts
of the choices we’ve made. These are the long tails
of those early ideas about statistics leading the
way to the true racial capacity of a group. And so you know these numbers. They’re familiar with you. Here we have tremendous
racial disparity by race and ethnicity
measured as recently as 2010. This comes from Prison
Policy Initiative using Bureau of Justice Statistics. Additionally, as
is often the case, we talk a lot about
the relationship of violent crime per capita in
relationship to incarceration rates. And in some ways, the entire
debate turns on whether or not the people’s– the choice
of individuals to engage in criminal activity or
self-harm or the harm of others is directly related to
those incarceration rates, that CompStat is a reflection
of the behavior demonstrated in these crime charts. Part of the truth of
these numbers, dare I say, is that they do measure
things that are happening. They do measure some reflection
of behavior on the ground. Why that behavior is happening,
what we ought to do about it, is the conceit of this lecture–
that the numbers don’t in fact tell us or answer either
of those questions. Never have and never will. And yet, most of us govern
ourselves under the presumption that they speak loud
and clear and lead to inevitable or
inexorable conclusions. Stop and frisk, yet another
signpost of the time. Except for many people,
particularly on the left, see these numbers as
an absolute reflection of overzealous
discriminatory policing. And indeed, many of
those on the left were, at least in
a federal court, given credence to their
beliefs in a Floyd decision back in 2012 where
there was recognition of discriminatory policing. My point here is not to
adjudicate the case either way, except that these
numbers clearly don’t speak for themselves. They are subject to intense
ideological debates about what, in fact, do they measure. And yet when we have a
conversation about them, I just want to expose
our contemporary logic and reasoning so that you
have a sense, perhaps, of how deeply held these notions are. In an interview
with Meet the Press by David Gregory of Ray Kelly
on the heels of his time as Commissioner of New
York Police Department, he was asked is Stop and
Frisk racial profiling? And here is his response. “It doesn’t mean that people
are not doing anything wrong. If you look at the statute,
it says reasonable suspicion that individuals may be
about to commit a crime. There’s a preventative
aspect to this. People say innocent. That is not the
appropriate word. This is the standard
law enforcement practice around America.” So the numbers
which are supposed to be artifacts of behavior
and potentially policy choices about how to respond
to that behavior now also suggest a moral
claim as to whether you can, in fact, be innocent
whether or not you’ve committed a crime or not. So you can see how we just build
layers and layers of reasoning on top of some very
fundamental things– whether or not there is a cold
body laying on the street, or whether or not there’s
a missing pot of cash. We add and add and
add to those layers. Why do we do this? Well according to Ray Kelly
and the justification for this, it has something to
do with our history. Now here I’m going to do a
little bit of sleight of hand, because it’s not obvious
that it has something to do with our reasoning. So I’ll read what he says. “We think the reasonable
criteria, that is to the question of whether
to judge Stop and Frisk as racial profiling or not, is
presented to us by the Rand Corporation, an institution that
has been in existence for 100 years.” Now first you have to
stop and ask yourself, this is Meet the Press, right? I mean, we’re not
at a conference. We’re not talking
amongst policy experts. We’re talking to
the American public. Do they really care about
the Rand Corporation? So it’s a gesture to
authority, to expertise. So he says, “To take a
look at racial profiling to determine if it
happened, you should first look at the universe
of people who are the perpetrators
identified by the victims of violent crime. And in New York that universe
comports to the racial makeup of the people being stopped.” Translation– that because black
people victimize each other in their communities,
the police response to that victimization
in those communities can’t, by definition,
be either discriminatory or a form of racial profiling. That’s the logic. Now last I checked, the
very constitutional basis, as a matter of legal
principle, does not judge the fitness or
behavior of groups– but for that inconvenient
3/5ths clause that Annette can talk to us about during
the Q&A– but judges people by their individuality. So this does, in fact, say to us
that a social science research organization says it’s OK
as a matter of efficiency or as a matter of public
safety, maybe not as a matter of constitutional
principle, to discriminate against an entire
group of people just because there may
be criminal activity within the group. Now it’s obvious
that, of course, all groups are more likely
to commit harm against people they know and people
just like them, by our usual
demographic categories. So some of this doesn’t
make sense either. Now what does that
translate to in terms of our usual
political discourse? This is an exchange articulated
by Mayor Giuliani in response to a critique mounted by Michael
Dyson also on Meet the Press two years later. This is in response to
Ferguson and a conversation about the uprising
then unfolding. And Giuliani gestures
to this crime statistic. “I find it very
disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that
93% of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. I would like the
attention paid to that.” I call this the
violence card in the way that some people refer
to our discussions about race and racism in
America as the race card because it really is intended
to end the conversation. In this sense, this is
Rudolph Giuliani’s way of saying the numbers
speak for themselves– that by knowing that this
is what black people do to each other, we need not
have further conversation about any
responsibility that lies outside of the black community. Well, it’s an old
yarn, as it turns out. And as I talk, I
will increasingly reveal my own position on how
to interpret these matters. But I leave it to you
to decide for yourself. Ida B. Wells was one of the
first activists and journalist scholars to use
research and knowledge in the service of
social transformation, particularly around the
problem of sexual violence and racial violence
more broadly. She happened to be sitting
at a fancy dinner party where someone was remarking on
the recent events that unfolded in Atlanta, now known
as the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, which was, for
shorthand purposes, a pogrom directed against the really
middle to upper class black community, mostly situated
in the area of the west side of Atlanta today, which
houses the Atlanta University Colleges– Spelman,
Morehouse, Clark. So the discourse around
what caused white people to arm themselves and to attack
wholesale the black community turned, as it turns out,
even in a polite dinner party in Chicago,
on the behavior of black people,
their criminality that has elicited this response. Now think about contemporary
forms of racial violence– whether George Zimmerman
and Trayvon Martin, or the man who
shot Jordan Davis, or various forms of state
violence turning on loud music or grey hoodies. This notion that the
inherent threat of danger posed by these
African-Americans, who are not by definition
innocent and who are menacing, contributes to their
premature death. And so the suffragist
Mary Plummer, who was the wife of a wealthy
corporate lawyer, George Plummer in Chicago,
responds to Ida B. Wells, who is objecting to
what she’s hearing. And she says, “I do not
know what we can say”– this is Plummer speaking–
“about this terrible affair. But there is one thing I can say
and that is to urge all of you to drive the criminals
out from among you. Have you’ve forgotten”–
here’s the gesture– “that 10% of all the crimes
committed in Chicago last year were by colored men, less
than 3% of the population.” Hence, playing
the violence card. It’s her Trump card. This is not about what
white people are doing, even in the South in the height
of the establishment and infrastructure of Jim Crow. Here is Ida B. Wells’
1892 publication Southern Horrors– Lynch
Law in all its Phases, where she turns to mainstream,
largely white, newspapers to document the actual record
of what has caused race riots and lynchings directed
mostly against black men, but occasionally
against black women. And so she says in doing her
research, out of their mouths shall murderers be condemned. This is, in her way, a gesture
to authority and expertise. She wants to essentially say
that your own sources document that the propaganda
and the justifications, the logic, the ideas,
the ways in which they Mary Plummers of the world
are speaking to these issues, is not even true in
your own newspapers. What she discovers is that she’s
able to debunk the rape myth, that only 31% of all black
men accused of rape– and subsequently
lynched, because that was the set of data she was
focused on– were even accused, or she says charged with rape. She also debunked the myth of
black female licentiousness. And we’ll talk a little bit
about that in just a moment, that this notion that black
women themselves could not be raped is part of
the discussion shifting the narrative or inverting the
racial narrative by reporting on white male rape
of black women. What’s fascinating about this
moment is she proceeds Du Bois and really precedes
much of the official, or what I would call
nationalizing, discourse of these ideas as they
become essentially a standard way of assessing
how black people are doing. What are their communities like? Should you live there? Should they have full
access to their mobility, whether it’s in the
North or the South? She tells a story of Pat
Hanifan of Nashville, who outraged a little colored girl. Now here the distinction
for her is important. He was caught. He was not lynched. He served time in
prison up to six months. And then he became
a city detective. [LAUGHTER] Now because of the importance
of this seminal moment, this origin story, the lines
had not quite yet hardened. A lot of people were making
these claims forcefully and reaching toward
sources of authority precisely because they
saw these as openings. And in this way, the fruits
of Ida B. Wells’ early efforts were expressed through the
work of Nathaniel Shaler, the very man who opens
our moment by giving voice to this importance
of statistics. Also, on the eve of his
death– he died in 1904– but roughly 10 years later
writes essentially that “I’m inclined to believe that on
the whole there is less danger to be apprehended from
them in this regard”– that is of rape by men
against women, black women– “from an equal body of whites
of the like social grade.” This was relatively
treasonous in terms of how Southerners understood
the relationship of lynchings to proof of black criminality. And as it filtered into
a national discourse, most people were not
interested in the footnotes or the asterisks in the way
that Shaler here positioned it. What most people were
interested in is a much more simple narrative
that was articulated by one of the
earliest progenitors of this nationalizing rhetoric,
a man named Frederick Hoffman. Frederick Hoffman was the
first to turn to census data in order to determine
by demographic standards at the time that the
story of black people’s true racial capacity was not to
be told in the numbers of birth rates or mortality
rates or morbidity rates based on disease incidence
in the African-American population. But in fact, the most
compelling number was the number of
African-Americans in prison. As a result of that
number, he says, “The city negro brought
into direct competition with the white race has
usually but one avenue out of his dilemma– the road to
prison or to an early grave.” Now it would be nice to say
that the basic construct here, this notion that the evidence
proves that black people will only land either in
an incapacitated cage or die prematurely, we wish it
weren’t as resonant as it turns out to be, even to this day. This is the number
upon which Hoffman made this seminal claim. And there is really no
national audience for this data or for the interpretation
of the data before Hoffman does this as
a result of the 1890 census. But it was because 12% of the
population of African-Americans were represented in
the prison population across the North and the
South, but mostly in the South, as 30% of the
nation’s prisoners. Just so that you believe
me that this moment and the infrastructure
upon which we sit today is still very much with us,
here’s a more recent quote. Back in 2008,
Senator John Edwards, running in the early
days before the news of his adulterous affair
while his wife lay sick with cancer put him
out of the race, he said, “When you have young
African-American men who are completely convinced
that they’re either going to die or go to
prison and see absolutely no hope in their
lives, they don’t see anything getting better.” Now here he’s gesturing to
the statistics, which today are 40% versus
13%– fairly flat, I would argue, although
some might be more concerned about 30% versus 40%. But I would say, given
120 years of history, we could see this as a fairly
flat proportion of the problem. And if you listen
to Hoffman carefully in the quote, “the
city negro only has but one avenue
out of his dilemma”, he’s not actually prescribing
racist responses to it. Not yet, at least. Not in the statement alone. Not in the way that John
Edwards really intends for us– this is a calling card
for us to respond. But you see that the number
doesn’t tell us what to do. The 30% versus 12%
didn’t tell us any more than that it was an
artifact of what? The political
economy of punishment in the Jim Crow South? The establishment and reach of
convict leasing and chain gangs to suppress the economic
and political mobility of black people at
the dawn of freedom? Do we even know how
many people were, in fact, criminals
by some standard that we might all agree
on today looking back on that time period? I like to invoke here Steven
Gould’s Mismeasure of Man, which was incredibly
influential to me as an early graduate student. Because the search for G,
that coefficient of genius, sent a lot of people
into a tailspin trying to prove the
point that you could correlate in native
or innate intelligence by racial categories. And he debunked those
myths time and time again, showing over time that
people failed repeatedly. Well in many ways, it’s
really not worth our time to try to have a conversation
about how many of those 30% are, in fact, criminals that
get what they deserve, any more than it is worth our time
today trying to figure out what portion of those
40% are criminals who get what they deserve. But there are probably a
lot of graduate students here and elsewhere who
are doing exactly that. I’m interested in the
currency of such figures. I’m interested in the
long tail of such figures as being able to simplify
complex reality that govern the choices that we make
and the way that we actually live our lives. And so here are
illustrative examples. And I’m going to
move back and forth between competing definitions
of how we should interpret these statistics. Take this as one example. Here we have a proudly
racist governor. He was a white
supremacist governor. He felt that black people had
no place in the governance or political economy of
the state of Mississippi. And he did not mince his words. One of the benefits of that
day, maybe those benefits are returning in
this day and age. Nevertheless, he also reached
for authority, for expertise. And so where does
he look for it? He says– and I’ll give you
a little context for this. This is a debate
where it turns out you can track basically that
there were disproportionately more criminals in the
North than in the South. And you could track
school attendance in the North versus the South. And of course, when
you’re a social scientist and you need something
smart to say, you correlate those two
things and essentially come up with the answer, that, oh, the
more educational opportunities we extend to black people,
the more criminal they are. So he says, “To school the Negro
is to increase his criminality. Official statistics do not lie. And they tell us that the
Negroes who can read and write are more criminal
than the illiterate. In New England where
they are best educated, they are four and a
half times as criminals as in the Black Belt, where
they are most ignorant. The more money for Negro
education, the more Negro crime. This is the unmistakable showing
of the United States census.” I’m going to resist
using Trump’s name again. [LAUGHTER] But you could imagine
that such logic would be articulated if
he were engaged in the same sources
of information. Now fortunately much of this
discourse in its earliest days was met with resistance
and response, just as Isa B. Wells was
responding to the rape myth, so too did one of Howard
University’s earliest black sociologists, a
man named Kelly Miller. He responded directly
to the allegation that the census
data proved, because of the North-South divide
and the greater access to educational opportunity,
that black people were turned into criminals
because of their education. He says, “Where legal processes
are acknowledged to be fair and where the Negro
has the fullest educational opportunity,
he shows a criminal rate three to four times as great
as his ignorant and oppressed brother in the South. And the conclusion is hastily
reached that education makes the Negro a criminal.” Here’s his proof. He says that, “Black
men are five times more likely in Massachusetts to
serve time than in Mississippi.” If you’re on the left, you
might be disturbed by that. If you’re on the right,
you might say, ah ha. See? That’s the point. Turns out white
men were 10 times over-represented
in Massachusetts in terms of their prison
rates than in Mississippi. Now I’m sure if I
poll the audience, some Harvard brilliance
will issue forth and someone will point out that
the bureaucracies and agencies of the criminal justice system
were far more sophisticated here in Massachusetts with its
very old colonial communities of carceral archipelago,
essentially. And at the same time,
population density and a more urban
population dictated the norms of most criminal
justice activities even in that day. So Kelly Miller
asked the question. Did education make Northern
whites criminal, too? And his answer, “Or shall we
foster the bliss of ignorance only when it is found
under a black skin.” So this back and forth,
this really statistical game of interpretation, is
foundational in the same way that Michael Eric
Dyson is response to Rudolph Giuliani saying
84% of all homicides among whites are
by other whites. They’re just going
back and forth. One of the vocal socialists
and progressive labor party members, a man
named Harry Vroomen, also introduces us
to another thread of ideas that are ascendant
at this time period. So we’ve talked about the
racialization of crime as it pertains to black people. But we start to hear the
de-racialization of crime as it pertains to European
immigrants and poor whites. The project of
decriminalization, as it turns out, also depends
on statistical interpretations. In other words, the
numbers are just the starting point
for a practice of etiological preference
and policy advocacy. And in this case,
the reverse is true. “The whole problem of crime,
as today expressed in society, is summed up in the
problem of poverty. We have churches
enough, schools enough, moral sentiment
enough, to regenerate the world in a decade, were
it not for the awful pressure brought to bear on nine
tenths of the human race which all but forces them
to be vicious.” Now I’ll just gesture
here to part of my work as a progressive era historian. And that is, much of the
history of the progressive era has been written as a Northern
white story of native whites and European
immigrants, and then in the South, a story
of whites and blacks. There’s not a lot– there is
some, but not as much as there should be– of the understanding
of the relationship of the progressive
era as experienced by black people who were there. And so in this case,
here we have the voice of the vast majority
of people who are the focus and target
of social reformers and criminal justice
officials who happen to be white or of European ancestry. And it turns out that an
increasingly vocal argument in favor of what
to do with them is to interpret the crime
statistics as symptomatic of class inequality. This is what Bernie
Sanders would sound like if he were around in 1895. Frederick Hoffman,
the same person who invented– or
I should say, led the way– towards a
nationalizing discourse of racial criminalization
also had progressive leanings when it came to interpreting
the criminality of whites. Here he says, an extended
quote, “The study of statistics, of suicide, madness,
and crime, is one of the utmost
importance to any society. When such an increase
has been proved to exist, it is the duty of
society to leave nothing undone until the
evil has been checked or been brought under control. The health of the people
must come before the wealth of the people. We must be far from
truly civilized as long as we permit
to exist or accept as inevitable conditions
which, year after year, drive an increasing army of
unfortunates to madness, crime, or suicide. It is the struggle of the
classes– the masses– against the classes.” When he spoke of
crime statistics for African-Americans four years
later in a seminal work, Race, Traits, and Tendencies,
he said, prison statistics from all over the place,
from Chicago to Jersey to Charleston, South Carolina,
confirm the census data and show without exception that
the criminality of the Negro exceeds that of any other race
of any numerical importance in this country. We’ll stop there. So just pause. That’s a fact. There’s no disputing the fact. And you have to
understand the difference. We can all look
at the latest data of people who are in prison. We can look at the arrest data. That data isn’t made up. The data is not lying. But what does the data
tell us has happened or why it has happened or
what we should do about it is where the lying begins. And so now Hoffman is going to
tell us how to interpret it, even though he was
very fond of reflecting on his foreign birth. He was German. And that he was very committed
to a very unbiased observation. He was, in his mind, the
Alexis de Tocqueville of the late 20th
century on race. He says, “When the Negro
learns respect life, property, and chastity, until
he learns to believe in the value of a
personal morality operating in his daily life,
the criminal tendencies will increase.” So here we have a
gesture towards how do we fix it– quite at
odds with a notion of this being a reflection
of class inequality or industrialisation’s
strain on everyday people who are turning to self-harm
and the harm of others. He then goes on to
extend the notion. “I have given the statistics
of the general progress of the race in religion and
education for the country at large and have shown
that in church and school, the number of attending
members or pupils–” This is what statistical
regression looks like before we have statistical regression. So rather than coefficients
for church and school factored in to isolate
the independent variable, the notion here is that,
using descriptive data, I can show that black people
have greater and greater access to school and to moral training
and their crime statistics are going through the roof. Therefore, we can isolate
that it’s them and not the structures of opportunity
that are surrounding them. And says ultimately,
“But in the statistics of crime and the data of
illegitimacy–” now marrying, essentially the extended
tropes of black women’s licentiousness and
sexual depravity with the male-centric idea
of criminality as proof that neither religion nor
education has influence to an appreciable degree on
the moral progress of the race. This at the height of the
codification of Jim Crow segregation in
America, the same year that Plessy vs.
Ferguson was formed, ultimately positions this
criminality discourse at the heart of a nationalizing
project that essentially co-signs on premature
death and co-signs on nationalized
explicit discrimination. Now it will take de
facto forms in the North, but the underlying rationale
that black communities ought to be treated differently
is articulated here. And we ought to
think twice about how much to invest in their
opportunity structures. Now to make the
point and to show you rather than just to
simply say that they had different ideas about
what to do with our Irish and Italian cousins,
it turns out that Frederick Bushee did a
groundbreaking study called “Ethnic Factors in the
Population of Boston” published in 1903. He noted that the Irish had the
highest rates of petty crime and the Italians topped the
list for major felonies. Quote, “There is
moral degradation among Irish families
as a result of drink which is not found among
other nationalities, for quarrels which
are serious affairs, for flashes of anger
which mean a knife thrust, one must go to the
Italian quarters.” Hoffman himself agreed. “The Irish and Italians show a
percentage of arrests decidedly above the average”–
but here’s the kicker– “yet small when compared with
that of the colored element.” So part of the statistical
sophistry that’s going on here is a call for an
intervention on one hand, a call for neglect on the
other, and the neglect being predicated on somehow
the racial disparity being so excessive that it’s proof of
the underlying moral degeneracy of the entire group. Instead, our Irish and
Italians were labeled Americans in process. And as Americans in the process,
they just needed more time to work things out. Another Harvard economist
named William Ripley said they “were
fellow passengers on our ship of state” who
simply needed to be nurtured through playgrounds
and public recreation, through all sorts
of reforms that would be pro-social
interventions into their communities. And that begins to look
like the progressive era. Just so that you don’t think I’m
hiding from African-Americans, some of whom participated
for various reasons– sometimes because their class
positions compelled them to denigrate their social
inferiors, sometimes because they truly
fundamentally believe that there was something
wrong with black people and they just happened to be the
exception that proved the rule. In this case, William
Hannibal Thomas wrote a book called The
American Negro in 1901, occurring right in the
midst of this nationalizing debate of which he
himself is responding to. And in his tirade
of black traits, and here’s just a
highlight, he calls blacks, “savage at heart”. He refers to them as “unable
practically to discern between right and wrong.” They are “intrinsically
inferior type of humanity.” “A record of lawless
existence led by every impulse and passion.” “Really,
the inferiority of the Negro in mind, morals,
judgment, and character is such that there is no
doubt that some very plausible confirmatory evidence of
the justice of the simian theory of human origin might be
derived from a close inspection of his demeanor.” I’m at Harvard, so I don’t need
to explain what he’s saying. [LAUGHTER] But those are fighting words. But here’s the part of it
that I think is revealing. They should have been roundly
dismissed by the standards that he brought to the table. He was not a sociologist. He had not been trained
as a sociologist. He had been a reconstruction era
judge during the Reconstruction period, from Ohio, who had kind
of a panopticon view of what was going on in the South. And so that he walked away with
these strongly held positions gave him some credibility
on the subject, but not by the standards of
the social sciences gesturing toward statistics. And yet Franklin Giddings,
founder of Columbia University Sociology Department and the
third president of the American Sociological
Association, says this in his unpublished manuscript
review of Thomas’s manuscript. This is what gets it published. “As a sociological study, it is
one of the most valuable things to be put in the hands
of genuine students of American conditions
that I know of. Presents his subject
without an atom of the sentimentality
which is so often proved a blemish in many books
otherwise most excellent.” I can think of a few
people more recently who have been accused
of sentimentality when writing in defense of or
as a critique of racism in American society. So therefore, even
the justification to publish Hannibal
Thomas’s text is because it is sitting within
an ideological context that doesn’t really depend on
data for its authenticity. Here is the illustration
that brings you all here, curious and
wondering what was this illustration all about. It comes to us as a result of
Newberry Library in Chicago. It is the annual report of the
Central Howard Association. What was the Central
Howard Association? It was a prisoner
reentry organization. Their focus was on trying to
get men back home so that they could reconstitute
families for the purposes of economic and social mobility. This was a standard way of
fund raising and reporting back to fundraisers what
direct social service organizations like
settlement houses were doing. This is on the ground
response to the notion that the criminality was
symptomatic of class inequality and that we needed
to do something about it until the
evil had been checked. Now I will tone down the
way that I often narrate this illustration tonight. But it’s really fascinating
to see– in part because it is an image
of what we might consider an all white slum or an
inner city white ghetto of the early 20th century. Here we have potentially
a single mother. It’s not exactly clear, but
she’s certainly by herself with a lot of babies. Now in the long discourse
of the data of illegitimacy of black women and their
sexual depravity and incapacity keep their legs closed,
this is a presentation of white womanhood
with too many babies. And the intended
consequence of that is they are potentially
juvenile delinquencies. They live in a bad neighborhood. It has all the markings of
the relationship of poverty to moral worth and
undesirability. How do we know it’s
a poor neighborhood? She’s missing shingles
from the home. She does a degraded
occupation as a washerwoman. And every bad neighborhood
from that moment to this moment comes with an abusive
police officer at the end of the street. And there he is carting
away a protesting person. Additionally, bad
neighborhoods usually have bars, at least not the
ones that have been gentrified. And so there in the background
in the top left says, saloon. We could stop there and
see the face of criminality of the Irish or the Italians,
of Jewish immigrants, that all these people are talking about. But what are we to make of it? “How Criminals Are
Made.” “So long as there are bad tenements,
sweatshops, brutal policemen, bad jails, child labor,
dishonest and grinding employers, saloons
and gambling dens, so long as boys
are taught to fight and allowed to carry
firearms, so long as fathers are indifferent
deserters and mothers must maintain the
family by the washboard, so long crime will continue. What will you do to help this
association to prevent it?” No correlation of access
to churches or to schools or the association that the
criminality is something they have to deal
with before anyone can intervene on their behalf. This is a progressive
era robust response to saving these communities
from themselves. Jane Addams was the
archetype of social worker who spearheaded a
national movement and helped to provide cover,
fund raising, and foundation to the universe of
settlement houses and other direct service
agencies like the Central Howard Association of
which we just looked at. What I want you to
see here is this is what sentimentality
looks like when middle class and
elite white women are working on behalf of
the poor, many of whom don’t speak English or the
native language of which these women oftentimes
represented as Americans. In other words, they had no
more in common with these women and their families than their
African-American counterparts except some broad notion
of European ancestry. But weren’t these
women Americans just like their multi
generation black counterparts from the South? And so I leave it to
you to figure out who they had more allegiances to. But essentially, they
narrated the problem of 15,000 young people brought
before Chicago’s juvenile court in 1904 in “The Spirit of
Youth and City Streets” by Jane Addams. She described how these
young people “stole from their parents, ‘swiped
junk,’ pawned their clothes and shoes– did
any desperate thing to ‘get the dope,’
as they called it.” Talked about a
Polish youth shooting an Irish boy in the
head and said “This tale could be duplicated
almost every morning. What might be merely a boyish
scrap is turned into a tragedy because some boy
has a revolver.” And then this is the part that I
think is even really revealing. She says, “We certainly cannot
expect the fathers and mothers who have come to the city from
farms or who have immigrated from other lands to appreciate
or rectify these dangers. Nor could we expect
the young people themselves to kill the cancer
of modern city conditions.” So there’s no discourse of
personal responsibility. This is not about learning
to respect other people’s property. This is not about
chastity or morality. This is about context and
structural barriers baked into a response to the
crime statistics which were symptomatic of
class inequality, as these progressives
kept telling us. She goes on to talk
about prostitution and tells this story
of a young girl who is described
here saying, “I just had to go to dances some
time after pushing down the lever of my machine
with my right foot and using both my arms,
feeding it for 10 hours a day.” This is the
sentimental narration of the experience
that leads people down lives of sexual
or moral degradation, as well as criminality. “The partying ended
when a sympathetic man befriended her only to try to
steer her into prostitution. ‘Of course, I threatened to
kill him,’ she told Addams. Any decent girl would.” And this is a way of
showing their humanity, their resistance in the
wake of industrial grinding. Jane Addams writes in one of
the earliest issues of Crisis magazine– she was a co-founder
along with many others including socialists like
William Walling and Du Bois. She writes in the third issue
of Crisis magazine in response to the problem of
the lack of inherited control in the black community. She says, “One could
easily illustrate this lack of inherited
control by comparing the experiences of a group
of colored girl with those of a group representing the
daughters of Italian immigrants or of any other Southern
European peoples. The Italian girls very
much enjoy the novelty of factory work, the
opportunity to earn money and to dress as Americans do,
but this new freedom of theirs is carefully guarded.” In the same book when
she talks about– in the previous discussion,
she talks about parents can’t control this. Factory work is degrading. These girls are
vulnerable by virtue of having to leave the
house in the first place to contribute to the
household to being steered into lives of prostitution. So we have to ask ourselves
why would she say something to an audience of
black readers dealing with the problem of the
segregated experiences of black people,
girls in particular? But for this notion that
somehow the possibilities of prostitution for
the black community did germinate somewhere beyond
the larger industrial crisis, that there was still something
inside of black people that was that G, that
special coefficient of inferiority that needed
to be addressed before they could be pushed into a larger
project of progressive era intervention. Just so you don’t
think I made it up, when her work was
reviewed in the American Journal of Sociology,
it was noted “sociology has published a classic. So exquisitely and
poetically has Miss Addams revealed the precious stuff
of which young hearts are made that we gladly
give her book a place besides
Wordsworth’s great Ode.” By contrast of Franklin Giddings
praising William Hannibal Thomas for a racist screed
against black people because he didn’t show a blemish
of sentimentality. So almost everywhere we look,
we see– I’m calling them lies, because they are not a
reflection of anything factual or empirical or positivist. They are people’s interpretation
of what’s happening in society. Francis Keller
emerges on the scene also as one of essentially
the first female American criminologist. She is a bad ass by the
standards of that day. And partly a bad ass because she
publishes some of the earliest studies turning
to resolve or end the question of whether you
could locate criminality in the body. And so she does literally
some of the first Tuskegee experiments comparing
black women at Tuskegee with Northern women in college
to measure mostly their memory, because she sees their
capacity to remember things as a reflection of
their brain power. And she finds that
there is no difference. She also compares
black women in prison in the South to white
women prison in the South. After she does a
battery of tests, she comes to the conclusion that
there is no physical evidence that black people are inferior
to white people in constitution or their mental capacity. She also says– or
she says here– “It is impossible to estimate the
persistency of racial traits or the limitations, mental
or physical, imposed by the racial development
until a parallel environment is removed.” So she’s shifting the gaze
from body to community. “And that is the
environment must be shown to be of
such a nature that it offers every opportunity for
development and improvement. In no phase of the Negros life–
domestic, social, industrial, political, or religious– does
this appear to be the case.” This is a big deal. It’s a really big deal. Now that she happened to the
first female criminologist, she doesn’t get much
traction with this idea. But the idea basically here
is to say black people don’t have equal conditions of life. And therefore we can’t turn
to their crime statistics as a measure of what
they’re capable of until we quote unquote, “create
a parallel environment.” Yet even here she turns
on black women’s behavior as some, again, co-efficient,
some residue, something extra that suggests that
they themselves are not fully prepared for
the full fruits of freedom. She said, “They left their
happy-go-lucky cheerful life in the South.” Now, really? [LAUGHTER] “As migrants only to end up
drifting into immorality.” Now talk about
passive voice here. They just simply leave the South
and now they’re prostitutes. “They often had the
best of intentions, but partly due to their
‘ignorance,’ their inflated ambitions–” Think about that. Because part of knowing
your place in this time period is knowing
what to reach for. And choosing not to
reach for your place also means, in the South,
landing on a convict leash or in a chain gang and in
the North, being surveyed or racially quarantined. To them, going to
Philadelphia or New York seemed like going to heaven. How dare they think such things? Mary White Ovington also wrote
essentially the second major study of the black urban
experience as a sequel to Du Bois’ The Philadelphia
Negro, published in 1911. When she turns to the
experiences of black women, she says “a very
large percentage of crime among colored women,
unduly large percentage of disorderly, depraved
colored–” I’m sorry. That’s a little choppy there. She then goes on to excuse
black men’s criminality was no higher than could be
expected, because she’s much more interested
in a book called Half a Man on understanding that
black men faced barriers to their economic
participation and she did believe that
that contributed to their criminality
in the same way that Francis Keller
was beginning to talk about structure. But depravity among the girls
and improper guardianship– he girls and their mothers– were
the races most serious defects. So this is what the
intersectional violence looks like in the
progressive era, which then turns on what the
race is capable of because of its defective
daughters and mothers. Du Bois weighed in also
that resistance was always around the corner. He talked about the unscientific
use of the statistical method in response to Hoffman. He pointed out in
the acerbic way that Du Bois often did that
“German cities, Montreal, Naples, Belfast, Budapest,
Breslau, and Madrid all have shown within a few year,
death rates equal to American Negroes in cities” as if to
completely up-end, as Ida B. Wells had once done, the notion
that you couldn’t correlate the evidence of premature
death with the racial capacity of groups. Because if you could,
then were Europe’s races becoming extinct? He talked about
illegitimacy rates in Rome, Munich,
Stockholm, Paris, Brussels, as being higher than
Negroes in Washington DC, to call fundamentally
into question the lie or the interpretation
or the etiology at play. What happened to Bushee’s
Italian and Irish criminals? Though I like to
ask it another way. How many Italian Americans
committed armed robbery last quarter? How about
Irish-American burglars? Does anyone know? You don’t know any
more than you know how many police shootings there
were in police departments. Because at some
point, we decided that this was not useful data. And the moment that we
decided it was the moment when social scientist
Edward Sutherland, the first canonized
American criminologist, who wrote several editions of the
book Principles of Criminology, noted that “the second
generation of immigrants appears to approach the
native-born of native parentage in regard to the kinds
of crimes committed.” Translation– well, they’re
just like white people, therefore we don’t need
to know anything specific about Italian-Americans
and Irish-Americans. This is decriminalization. Though whereas
we’ve seen nothing but continued racial
criminalization of blacks, we are seeing both in
the policy response to poverty in white and
immigrant communities, a mechanism for decriminalizing. We’ve seen a literary trope
of sentimentality directed towards these groups as
young kids getting caught up in the spirit of urban adventure
and the tragedy is on us. And now we begin to
see the disappearance of the statistical
gaze that had been born in the eugenics era
across the 19th century to prove that certain
groups were inferior and should no
longer be supported. This was also part of the
Social Darwinist argument, that it was in an
inefficient use of resources to prop up inferior groups. The Uniform Crime reports, we
should not be surprised then, begins in 1930 and by
1933 is able to say that “it is believed
that figures pertaining to the number of Negroes
and foreign-born whites who were arrested and fingerprinted
can most fairly be presented by showing them in proportion to
the number of such individuals in the general population.” This is essentially the
fermentation and foundation for how we use crime
statistics to this day. This is the most
authoritative evidence of local criminal activity by
arrest data across the nation beginning in this moment. There’s a back story to that. I’m not here to
tell you that story. But guess what happens fairly
quickly between 1933 and 1940. Notice it says “it is
significant to point out that the figure
for native whites includes the
immediate descendants of foreign-born individuals.” Hence what happened
to Bushee’s Italians and Irish is that
they became white, they disappeared, and so
too did their criminality, leaving blackness as the
dominant and primary measure of statistical deviation
and behavioral deviance in American society,
because it always still captured as an artifact the
fundamental inequality that existed in American society. And that’s where we are
today, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll just mention here
Charles S. Johnson, leading black
sociologist, pointed out that there was
bias in the system because when they studied it
and asked white criminal justice officials in Chicago in the
wake of a major race riot, they admitted to it. They said, yes. We police black
communities differently. As a result of that, the Chicago
Commission on Race Relation considered it best to
avoid giving currency to figures which carried
such clear evidence of their own inaccuracy
and misrepresentation. But it didn’t matter to
the Uniform Crime Reports. So here again you
see the resistance. We had choices. We could’ve chosen differently. We might not have lied. But as a set of policy
choices, we continue to do so. In the “Department of
Justice Ferguson Report”, we shouldn’t be surprised
then, coming up to more recent history, that “City officials
have frequently asserted that the harsh and disparate results
of Ferguson’s law enforcement system”– this is according
to the officials in Ferguson– “do not indicate problems with
police or court practices, but instead reflect a
perverse of lack of personal responsibility among certain
segments of the community.” If we gave them the most
generous reading possible, for their explanation,
it’s still not obvious that they should have been
using dogs on children or surveying the community
for the purposes of generating revenue, that they might have
responded like progressives, that they might have
taken the evidence of a lack of personal
responsibility among certain segments
of the community as a robust
opportunity to engage in that community with
pro-social interventions. But once we baked
in these layers of saying from
the very beginning that you don’t treat
black people the way you treat white people,
even when they’re criminals, or that there’s criminality
in their community, as Ray Kelly
reminded us, then we shouldn’t be surprised at
the harvest or the outcome. FBI Director James Comey tells
us that our greatest challenge, in a speech that he
gave two years ago– I’m sorry, last year.
“The greatest challenge is to grow drug resistance
and violence resistance kids.” How are we going to do that? “The first step to understanding
what is really going on in our communities
and in our country is to gather more and
better data related to those we arrest, those
we confront breaking the law and jeopardizing public safety,
and those who confront us. Data seems a dry
and boring word, but without it we cannot
understand our world and make it better.” It’s a little
depressing, I know, but I leave it to
you to figure out. Responding to
Black Lives Matter, “it’s because
blacks commit murder eight times more per capita than
any other group in our society. And when I assign
police officers with Commissioner
William Bratton, we did it based on statistics. We didn’t do it based on race. If there were a lot of
murders in a community, we put a lot of police
officers there.” Remember how criminals are made? Maybe it’s just they don’t know. Our historical memory
is so corrupted that if they just knew
better, they’d do differently. Frankly, that’s what
I’m holding on to. Finally, yesterday’s– I’m
sorry, The New York Times. I saw it yesterday,
published on February 22. “Why are White
Death Rates Rising?” And I read this, I
pulled out a few quotes, but here we are back
again almost full circle 100 years later. In our global capital moment
of an information age, we are seeing yet
again the ravages of the industrial economy take–
the post-industrial economy of the information, they take
hold of white communities across America. Both studies attributed
at the higher death rates to increases and poisonings and
chronic liver disease, which mainly reflect drug
overdoses and alcohol abuse, and to suicides– not
unlike Frederick Hoffman talked about the
health of the people. A 35-year-old white man
who did a construction job said it’s much harder
for me as a grown man than it was for my father. Already we’re in that
sentimental space– the pathos of what’s
happening to white Americans? And then here, evoking a version
of Robert Merton’s strain theory, we have a gesture to the
failed expectations of people expecting more out of life but
meeting structural barriers at every turn. Reference group
theory here noted at the bottom explains
why people who have more may feel that they have less. What matters is to whom
you are comparing yourself. It’s not that white
workers aren’t doing worse than
African-Americans or Hispanics. It’s that they think
they’re doing worse than their parents’ generation. And I should’ve included that. So I’m going to
leave you at the end of my talk with
the question to you that we can hopefully engage
in Q&A is, do numbers lie? Because the issue is not
that we can’t use data in order to discover
and describe the communities, the
world in which we live. But that won’t help us figure
out what to do about it. And often times it does
just the opposite– serves as a shorthand
reference for what we want to do about
it, which in this case, has been to do intersectional
violence to black people since the 1890s. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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