New frontiers in racial bias

Minneapolis’s Star Tribune dominates news coverage in the Twin Cities by setting the agenda for the rest of the local media. To the extent that it has influenced Minnesota politics — and its effect is certainly not insubstantial the left-wing tilt of its news coverage and opinion pages has done untold damage. Today’s Star Tribune story by Chris Serres on “racial bias” in child protection shows how it can be done.

The headline puts it this way: “State accused of racial bias in crackdown against child abuse.” To make a bad pun inspired by my favorite movie, what we have here is failure to commensurate.

We have a disparity in the race of parents whose children are protected against abuse. Black parents have their children protected against neglect and abuse at three times the rate of white parents. To put it another way, black children are protected from parental abuse at three times the rate of white children.

Are these statistical disparities the result of bias against blacks? That is of course the gist of the Star Tribune story, though it could be written from the point of view of the children to show that the the system discriminates against white children by failing to protect them against abuse to the same extent. Or we could be treated to a study in the underlying behavioral disparities that account for such numerical disparities. But we can’t go there.

We are instead going nowhere. We are going nowhere because the story is devoid of any serious analysis. In the style to which we have all grown accustomed, Serres gives us numerical racial disparities and implies that they somehow speak for themselves: “Black children in Minnesota are now slightly more than three times more likely than whites to be reported to child protection and to be removed from their homes, according to recent state data. Once removed, they are also more likely than whites to remain in foster care until they become adults, permanently breaking up families and causing lasting trauma.”

What is going on here? Serres doesn’t have a clue. Together with information gleaned elsewhere, a reasonable reader might suspect that the black family is in a state of crisis posing great risks of harm to black children. This is of course a taboo thought in the world of the Star Tribune.

Serres implies that greater cultural understanding on the part of child welfare authorities is called for. Serres also attributes the racial disparities to recent reform of the child welfare system in the wake of tragic incidents. Yet elsewhere he acknowledges: “Racial disparities have long persisted in Minnesota’s child welfare system.” It’s not a new problem.

Serres links to his own Star Tribune story reporting on the civil rights lawsuit brought last week that “accused state and county child protection agencies of wrongfully removing their children and placing them in foster care for what they consider to be ordinary parental discipline, such as spanking.” Serres also links to proposed legislation aimed expressly at blacks. The right of black parents to beat black children is our new frontier in civil rights.

The only thing missing from Serres’s story is any evidence supporting his idea of what is going on here. We know what he wants us to think. We know what his sources assert. There is nevertheless a gaping hole between the numbers and our understanding of the reality they represent.

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