Bogus allegations of “racism” undermine honest policy debate

Yesterday, Steve discussed a Reuters/Ipsos poll that measured the views of Americans towards blacks. Here’s how Slate described the results of the poll:

A significant slice of Americans expressed racist views against blacks, and those who identify as Donald Trump supporters are more likely to fall into that group, though Hillary Clinton supporters are definitely there too.

The characterization of “racism” is Slate’s (per author Josh Voorhees), not Reuters’s. It’s a dubious label, but a revealing one.

What were the “racist views against blacks” that so many Americans expressed? The only ones that garnered anywhere close to 50 percent assent from Trump supporters (and 33 percent from Clinton’s) were that blacks are (1) more criminal and (2) more violent than whites.

But these opinions are true. Crime statistics show that the rate of criminality per capita, including violent criminality, is much higher among blacks than whites. In fact, blacks commit as many murders as whites even though they represent only around 12 percent of the U.S. population.

It’s obviously unfair to infer racism among those who hold the correct view of the comparative criminality and violent criminality of blacks and whites. Some who hold this view may be racist, but they aren’t racist by virtue of holding the view.

A fairer statement would be that those who believe blacks and whites are equally criminal and equally violent are poorly informed.

Other findings by Reuters/Ispos are more problematic. Reuters found that 32 percent of Trump supporters (and 22 percent of Clinton’s) placed whites closer to the top level of “intelligence” than they did blacks. It also found that about 40 percent of Trump supporters (and 25 percent of Clinton’s) placed whites higher on the “hardworking” scale than blacks.

I don’t subscribe to these views, but they can be understood without ascribing racism to those who hold them. In the U.S., blacks as a group don’t perform as well as whites on widely-used standardized tests such as the SAT. Many blacks require a significant amount of preferential treatment to gain admission to good colleges.

I don’t attribute this to lack of innate intelligence, I attribute it to lack of opportunities and advantages at school and at home. However, it’s easy to see why many who observe these facts do. It’s a natural, if incorrect, inference.

I also don’t subscribe to the view that blacks are less “hardworking” than whites. However, they are more likely than whites to be on welfare and not to have jobs.

In my opinion, this is due to a variety of factors that don’t have to do with innate willingness to work hard. But again, one can understand, without resorting to accusations of racism, why many draw a different conclusion.

Let’s return, though, to crime. By labeling “racist” those who adopt a fact-based view of comparative black and white criminality, the Slate man and those like him are indulging in dangerous intellectual dishonesty. If it is racist to turn a blind eye to the facts on a matter as important as crime, we risk losing our ability to adhere to sensible policies through which to protect public safety.

We see this most clearly in the debate over sentencing reform. Much of the impetus for softer sentencing and releasing felons from jail stems from statistics showing that blacks are jailed in much larger numbers than their representation in the population would imply.

The obvious, and true, explanation is that blacks commit a great many more crimes than their representation in population would imply. But if this explanation becomes off-limits because it is “racist,” the case for a massive and dangerous jail break wins by default.

Sound public policy and the health of our society require that important propositions be judged based on their truth or falsity, not based on labels or the extent to which they offend liberal sensibilities.