Part 5—The sources of our perceptions: This morning, in a front page report, the New York Times offers a fairly lazy assessment of an important topic.
The Times reports a new national survey concerning “race relations.” Under a gloomy headline, the paper offers an early attempt at analysis:
SACK AND THEE-BRENAN (7/23/15): Poll Finds Most in U.S. Hold Dim View of Race Relations“Respondents tended to have much sunnier views of race relations in their own communities,” the Times reporters soon write.
A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad, and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse. By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed that race relations were generally good.
The swings in attitude have been particularly striking among African-Americans. During Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, nearly 60 percent of blacks said race relations were generally bad, but that number was cut in half shortly after he won. It has now soared to 68 percent, the highest level of discontent among blacks during the Obama years and close to the numbers recorded in the aftermath of the riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.
Let’s consider the generalized gloom concerning the state of race relations in the nation. In particular, let’s consider “the swings in attitude among African-Americans,” which are said to be “particularly striking.”
According to the Times reporters, the number of blacks who say race relations are generally bad “has now soared to 68 percent.”
Why do they say the number has “soared?” The scribes seem to make that assessment by comparing current reactions by black respondents with the more upbeat reactions which were recorded in the aftermath of President Obama’s ascension to office.
In fact, the current number isn’t gigantically different from the gloomy reactions of black respondents during the 2008 campaign. The number hasn’t “soared” since then. The comparison which produced that exciting verb was perhaps a bit selective.
A bit selective, and less than instructive! We decided to see how that number has changed down through the years.
The Times is working with a limited number of surveys. Below, you see the way that number has changed in recent years, dating back to June 2000.
How have black respondents assessed “race relations” in the past fifteen years? We’re including all the surveys at the Times’ disposal:
Percentages saying race relations are “generally good” versus “generally bad,” black respondents only:Reviewing the larger set of data, we can see that negative assessments by black respondents actually have soared. But this change has largely occurred just within the last year!
As late as March 2014, black respondents were saying race relations were “generally good,” not “generally bad,” by a 55-40 margin.
By the August 2014 survey, a substantial change had occurred in the numbers. A steady move toward “generally bad” has continued from there.
Today, 68 percent of black respondents say race relations are “generally bad.” In truth, that number has pretty much “soared” just since the spring of last year!
Why has this change in outlook occurred? At the Times, the scribes were able to link a number from 1992 to the aftermath of the savage beating experienced by Rodney King. Their assessment of the current number is found in this paragraph:
SACK AND THEE-BRENAN: The nationwide telephone poll of 1,205 people, which focused on racial concerns, was conducted from July 14 to July 19, at the midpoint of a year that has seen as much race-related strife and violence as perhaps any since the desegregation battles of the 1960s. It came one month after the massacre of nine black worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., apparently by a white supremacist, and after a yearlong series of shootings and harassment of blacks by white police officers that were captured by smartphone cameras.The implied explanation seems basically sensible. That said, the reporters fail to mention a high-profile event which wasn’t captured by smartphone cameras—the killing of Michael Brown in August 2014, a massively high-profile event which almost surely helps explain the way the numbers have turned.
(Beyond that, we’ll speculate: The May 2014 survey was being taken just as the ludicrous racial behavior of Donald Sterling entered the national discourse. It’s in that survey that the numbers take their initial turn.)
Should the numbers have taken the turn which began in 2014? There’s no objective way to answer that question. This survey question asks respondents, white and black, to offer their subjective assessments. There’s no objective way to determine if “race relations” are “generally good” or “generally bad.”
That said, the change which can be seen in those numbers drives home an important point. Americans’ basic views of the world may change based on the way they understand and perceive certain high-profile events.
The killing of Michael Brown is a significant case in point. In Wednesday’s report, we noted the way a grandiose writer at Salon still doesn’t seem to have heard about the Justice Department’s assessment of that event.
Alas! Back in March, we liberals worked hard—we worked very hard—to keep the public from learning what the Justice Department had said. Four months later, a ludicrous article at Salon was showing us the fruits of our conduct, in which we happily showed the world that we may perhaps be less than obsessively honest about such freighted events.
The killing of Michael Brown was a very high-profile event. We’ve been struck by the role it plays in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, which we’ve been reading in the past several days.
We’ll be discussing Coates’ book at some point, most likely starting next week. At first blush, it strikes us as stunningly good as a personal memoir, stunningly bad as an attempt at social analysis.
The killing of Brown plays a significant, recurrent role in the book. If you blink, you might miss the disguised disclaimer which seems to occur quite late in its 152 pages.
As a matter of fact, you might miss Coates’ disclaimer even if you don’t blink! Can you discern the disguised disclaimer which seems to be administered here?
COATES (page 131): Michael Brown did not die as so many of his defenders supposed. And still the questions behind the questions are never asked. Should assaulting an officer of the state be a capital offense, rendered without trial, with the officer as judge and executioner? Is that what we wish civilization to be?For the record, we can answer Coates’ questions:
We don’t think assaulting an officer “should be a capital offense, rendered without trial, with the officer as judge and executioner.” That isn’t what we wish civilization to be.
That said, how many readers will understand the disclaimer which seems to occur in that passage, in which Coates obscurely says that Brown didn’t “die as so many of his defenders supposed?”
How many readers will understand what that statement seems to mean? How many readers will see Coates saying what he seems to say as he continues—that Brown “assaulted” that “officer of the state” before he was killed, which is what the Justice Department judged in its official report?
That seems to be what Coates has said, although he says it in a way which seems intended to keep his meaning hidden. Is that what we wish civilization to be? We’ll go with Coates’ own question!
So-called race lies at the heart of our nation’s brutal history. Thanks to the legacy we’ve been handed, it lies at the heart of endless interactions, policies and decisions today.
Belief in “race” is one of the many poisoned gifts our benighted ancestors crafted for us. For whatever reason, our own exalted liberal tribe began inventing selective representations of racial events in the spring of 2012, after Trayvon Martin was killed.
We’ll guess that the killing of Martin played a role in the change in black responses, as shown above, between the Times surveys of January 2012 and August 2012. We’ll assume that the killing of Brown has played a central role in the change in responses since August of last year.
In those changing numbers, we discern a basic fact. It actually matters how people understand and perceive such high-profile events as the deaths of Martin and Brown. Rather plainly, our tribe has invented and disappeared facts concerning both events.
Unless we’re mistaken in our understanding, Coates has perhaps been less than obsessively frank and forthcoming at times concerning both these events. Conceivably, a person could make similar complaints about his discussion of the fatal shooting of Prince Jones in September 2000, another key event in his book.
“Michael Brown did not die as so many of his defenders supposed?” Very few readers will understand what Coates is saying there—and in the paragraph which precedes it, he offers a scripted, hackneyed explanation of the reason for Martin’s death.
In our view, Coates has written a brilliant personal memoir. We’re not sure why a person of his caliber can’t give other people plainer, simpler, more accurate versions of basic external facts.
That said, our entire liberal tribe has headed down this road in recent years. We used to howl about Rush and Sean’s endless misstatements. We roared in anger when Keith would complain, dissembling in ways which weren’t disclosed, about BillO’s dissembling!
By now, our tribe seems strongly inclined to carry the purple robes draped behind Rush and Sean. Bring Keith back, we cry in comments to this piece. We loved his inaccurate tales!
There’s more to say about all these topics. That includes those statistics in the Washington Post about fatal shootings by police.
What can we learn from those very large numbers? We’ll continue such topics next week.