Tag Archives: Racism/Race

Monday’s Mtg: Reparations for African-Americans, Yes/No?

It might seem odd to discuss a subject like this these days. Our current president embodies White grievances against minorities and foreigners and he has elevated outright White Nationalists to key government positions.

But, I’ve got some reasons. First, this topic compels us to examine American history from a different perspective than most of us are used to doing. The case for reparations for some form of reparations for African-Americans is not intended as a kind of punitive damages or monetary apology for slavery. As reparations’ most articulate recent advocate argues, it is about the edifice of exploitation that today’s White privilege stands atop right now and going forward. Maybe it’s a bad, wrong argument. But, it is about the present and future as much as the past.

Another reason is that acknowledging the truth of terrible historical injustices and in some instances and in some form compensating the victims is an accepted principle of international law in the 21st century. It’s called “transitional justice,” and it has been tried in a number of countries, such as Germany (reparations to Holocaust victims) and South Africa (truth and reconciliation commissions).

Lastly, the subject of reparations for African-Americans had a brief moment of prominence a few years ago for a reason that is erfect for this group: Because of a single, extraordinary article. “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 Atlantic Monthly was written by a brilliant young African-American intellectual named Ta Nehisi-Coates. I linked to it below, and to some representative critiques of its conclusions and recommendations.

If you have never read the Nehisi-Coates piece I highly encourage you to do so before Monday’s meeting.  His argument – which are entirely about what happened after slavery ended, BTW – are not above criticism, obviously. But, at the least he makes a strong case for seeing our country’s history in a new (for many of us) light.

I am out of town this week.  Be nice to each other.


Restorative justice has been / is being used –

The Case for U.S. Slavery Reparations –

The Case Against –

NEXT WEEK: Encouraging healthy lifestyles – How much govt activism is too much?


Monday”s Mtg: How Important Is White Male Privilege?

Calling out people for being clueless about privilege – usually their White, male privilege – is common these days. Doing so often provokes puzzlement and/or an angry if not furious response, which leads to a frustrated counter-response. Dialogue, much less actually learning something about oneself or society, becomes impossible.

But, understanding what is and is not meant by “check your privilege” is important, whether or not you think there is much to it.  Arguably, disagreement about who is privileged today and who has a right to feel aggrieved was one of the biggest factors in Donald Trump’s shocking from reality TV star to the President-elect. Based on my reading and personal experience, I think that Trump’s election was, well, personal to White American men in a way no other election result in my lifetime has been. A lot of people are saying that this man became president out of nowhere represents either a –

  • Restoration of a White, male-dominated social order, or an
  • Angry reaction to the false accusations of racism and of White, male privilege.

Tough stuff. Aaron L. suggested that Civilized Conversation might be one of the few venues in which people could discuss this awkward topic in a reasonably productive way. Certainly, we can try.

I think the key to civility on this topic is understanding what the assertion of White privilege (and gender privilege) means and what it does not mean. The articles below, especially the first two, explain the term. Spoiler and key point: Crying “privilege” is not an accusation of racist intent or of a personal failing of character. It’s an observation about one’s relative place in a social order, and the advantages (big and small, lifelong and day-to-day) that some people have because of it and others don’t have.

My idea for our meeting is ambitious. I hope we can explore what White, male, privilege means to people that use the term, and what it means to people that feel so offended by its use. We also can get into the actual evidence that White male privilege still is a potent force in our society and the implications for public policy and personal behavior.

We should have a new topic list of Feb – May to hand out on Monday, thanks to Rich and Aaron (The Elder, not Aaron L., Son of Bruce) . It will be Trumptastic.


What is “White male privilege?”

Evidence and Rebuttals –

Trump and White male privilege –

NEXT WEEK:   President Trump’s Priorities.

Monday’s Mtg: Are There Better Ways to “Police the Police?”

This group’s ability to time its topics so well with breaking events is starting to scare me. We’ve discussed issues related to police use of violence several times recently, including in September 2014 on the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. But, there have been some big developments in the field just in the past few days.

Today (Friday 6/3), the Chicago city government released previously undisclosed information on 101 controversial instances of officer-involved shootings and violence, including 68 dash/body cam videos. This was just the latest effort to respond to public outrage over that city’s police department’s use of force. A mayoral task force recently condemned the CPD’s “code of silence” and “institutionalized racism.” Public protests are ongoing and the USDOJ is investigating the CPD as it has many other municipal police departments. Here in San Diego, the SDPD just recently released videos of several controversial use of force.

More broadly, police use of force and racial bias have been on the front burner nationally for 3+ years now, and different types of reforms have been tried in at least some of the USA’s 18,000 (!) law enforcement agencies. Things like increased use of body/dashboard cams, revamped officer training, greater transparency, and civilian oversight boards.

Yes, change is hard. The police have difficult and complicated jobs. Police culture is notoriously slow to change. Law enforcement has powerful political protectors and allies (inc. unions and politicians) that resist change.  Still, I agree with Linda.  We should not let this moment in the spotlight pass without reflecting on what we’ve learned about how to make the police in this country both more effective and humane.

I’ll see you on Monday.


The problem, if you want background:

Reforms Are Happening:

Of special interest – Civilian Oversight boards:

Next Week: Bernie, (The) Donald, and the meaning of populism.


Monday’s Mtg: Why Have U.S. Race Relations Deterioriated Lately?

The mind just reels. Donald Trump will be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee. . One analyst I read said this is the saddest moment in American politics since Nixon’s resignation. I think it’s surely the most shocking political development since JFK was killed. May you live in interesting times, I guess.

But it’s great timing for us! Certainly, it is too simplistic to chalk Trumpism up to GOP voter racism and nothing else, even though progressives will do it anyway. Yet, as calls proliferate to hold accountable the people, institutions, and processes that led us here, the role played by escalating White conservative racial identity and anxiety must feature prominently, IMO. And they must have been caused by something, too. Are deteriorating race relations the answer we’re looking for? If so, how did it happen and why?

I used the old term “race relations” because it conveys more than just the political expression of racial tensions. Race relations refers to the whole spectrum of ways that people of different races in a society resolve (or not) the tensions and conflicting interests that arise between them. Yes, the term often was used euphemistically, to avoid talking about plain old racism and to shovel responsibility for bad relations onto both “sides.” Still, I think it’s a useful bucket term for us in trying to figure out what fissures and fault lines brought us to this extraordinary moment.

Anyway, on Monday I imagine people will be anxious to talk about Trump. Love to oblige (see all the links). But, I also hope we can focus a bit on the broader topic of why racial tensions seem to be so high right now. Is it just a confluence of events, like police shootings and the Trump rhetoric, or is it a confluence of trends, too, like demographic changes and hard economic times?

To take it easy on everybody, I’ll limit my introduction on Monday to a brief description of the (1) possible reasons why U.S. race relations seem to have worsened lately, and (2) some major theories (some subtle, some not) of the role that racial anxiety has played in putting Donald Trump one-person away from the nuclear launch codes.


  1. What do we mean by “race relations?” What fields are race relations played out on: Political, cultural, economic, etc.?  Are any of them level; i.e., can we separate “race relations” from differences in “objective lived racial realities?”
  2. Perceptions:  Regardless of reality, how do Americans view race relations?  Agreements/Differences?
  3. Events: What big events may be straining race relations, like police killings and the Great Recession?
  4. Trends: Same for demographic/immigration and economic and cultural developments.
  5. Culprits: Who has been particularly unhelpful, besides Donald Trump?
  6. Now what?


Next Week: Are there any universal religious principles?


Monday’s Mtg: Thomas Jefferson and his legacy.

April 13 was Thomas Jefferson’s 273rd birthday. I sent a card and signed all your names.  On Monday, Jim Zimmerman, our historian, will be our guide as we discuss Jefferson’s life and legacy. In the past few years, Jefferson’s complex legacy has become fodder for a new generation of historians that hate the guy, love the guy, or condemn/claim various pieces of him.

Outside of the academy, both Right and Left have wrestled with Jefferson in recent years. Conservatives sometimes claim him as the founding father most opposed to centralized big government and as much more traditionally Christian than historians generally allow. Liberals struggle with the paradox of the towering polymath that authored the Declaration of Independence and founded the Democratic Party while keeping a plantation full of slaves, some of whom he raped (Sally Hemings) and few of which he even bothered to free in his will.

So, lots to chew on.  I’ll be there on Monday. But, I will leave it to Jim to run the meeting and you all to discuss history through any lenses you wish to peer through. I think our discussion should be wide-ranging, like Jefferson’s intellect, his accomplishments, and his dark side.

Here are a few basic readings on Thomas Jefferson and commentaries on aspects of his legacy that have been in the news lately.


Next Week: Causes of deteriorating U.S. race relations/politics

Monday’s Mtg: The Changing Definition of Whiteness

Did you know there is an academic field called, “Whiteness studies?” Here’s a primer. Well, Lace, who no doubt is familiar with the discipline, suggested we discuss the changing meaning of whiteness in America. Obviously, who qualifies as white and who does not has been one of the central battlefields of American history.

And for good reason. Being white has always conveyed enormous advantages in life relative to the circumstance of not being born white. The advantages of being white often were invisible to and unacknowledged by its beneficiaries throughout our history, of course. But the power of white privilege in the past is obvious from the endless, furious efforts made over 225 years to devise highly precise cultural – and even legal – racial categories and hierarchies.

What about today, and tomorrow?  As you probably all know, the United States is poised within a few decades to become a “majority-minority” country; i.e., one in which whites are less than 50% of the population. Most Americans seem to sense that the country is changing pretty fast, even if they don’t know this demographic prediction. Some people think that fear of the loss of white privilege and the dilution of whiteness is a factor behind some of the bitter, apocalyptic opposition to President Obama’s policies (“the Redistributor-in-chief,” or Obamacare as “reparations?”) Hatred of illegal immigrants and extreme forms of fear and loathing of Muslims could be connected to this, as well.

Maybe so, maybe not.  Even if you doubt the racial panic argument (and I think it’s too simplistic), I still think Monday will amount to a lot more than just a good history discussion.  Given the malleability of racial categories in our past, the future of them is up for grabs, too. Will our society enlarge the definition of whiteness to accommodate the more diverse country that’s coming? Or will racial identification in America slowly fade away, as it finally has begun to do in recent decades? I’ll open with something short and then we can do our thing.


  1. How has the meaning of whiteness changed throughout American history? Was whiteness a construct of culture, politics, or law? What about science and religion?
  2. Who is considered White in America today and who is not? Why?
  3. So what? What privileges does being white convey – today? Has that privilege eroded over time, or are many white Americans exaggerating what they have lost?
  4. What is the future of whiteness in the United States? Will we ever have our melting pot, or will being white always be aspired to because it always will be a privileged status?


Next Week:  Why do San Diegans pay such high utility rates?

Monday’s Mtg: Racism and Militarization in U.S. Law Enforcement (the Ferguson mtg)

It’s now been almost two months since a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot an unarmed African-American teenager, maybe for no good reason.  Protests over the suspicious killing included some violence, and the local police reacted very aggressively, which led to more protests.  Eventually, state law enforcement stepped in to help Ferguson police get a clue about how to handle civil unrestt.  Now, we are waiting for a local grand jury to decide whether to indict the policeman and for a U.S. Justice Department investigation to untangle the truth.  The death of Michael Brown is just the latest in a recent cluster of suspicious police shootings and violence against unarmed African-Americans in the United States.

What’s going on here?  Are these events isolated or even justified?  Or, are they a symptom of something that has been wrong in the American criminal justice system for a long time?  This group has discussed police brutality and the racial inequities of our criminal justice system several times in the past.  (2011: “Law enforcement: To protect and serve?”  2012: Is our mass incarceration justice system racist?”)  I thought this time we could talk about either race and crime related issues or how law enforcement should handle peaceful protests that contain a violent element.  We also could get into the crazy militarization of local police departments since 9/11 or broader racial (or class!) inequality issues.  I’ll have a brief opening, probably one that just raises a few issues for our consideration.  I’ve got a lot of reading to do on this.

Re: Links. – Tons this week with more description of them than usual so you can hone in on what interests you.  Since Ferguson got vast media coverage, my links focus on broader issues raised by all of this violence, not on whether this or any other shooting might have3 been justified.


  1. Why are so many people so outraged by shootings like this?
  2. Why do American police shoot so many people, especially so many African-Americans?  Is it racism?  What is the evidence for this?  Alternative explanations?
  3. Why do Whites and Blacks have such a different view about the police and the criminal justice system?
  4. What can be done just within law enforcement to prevent police brutality (regardless of whether Ferguson was or not)?  What about outside of law enforcement?
  5. Militarization:  How did American law enforcement get so militarized?  Should it be walked back?


Ferguson, MO –

The chasm in public opinion –

  • Black-White polarization:  African Americans overwhelmingly believe the criminal justice system treats them unfairly; Most Whites scoff at this. Recommended.
  • Partisan racial polarization:.  Worse, Americans are now highly polarized by political party on all racial issues. Recommended, because this is such a huge obstacle to changing anything.

Causes and Issues –

Solutions (kind of) –

Next Week:  Political refugees (like all those border kids this summer): Does the U.S. admit too many or not enough?

Monday’s Mtg: Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk.

Racial profiling is one of those issues that most members of our discussion group probably have very little feel for. Most of us, I’ll bet, have never lived in a neighborhood where young people are routinely stopped and scrutinized by the police, or in one with the crime levels that are used to justify the practice. Racial profiling has been illegal since 1968, when SCOTUS ruled that police cannot legally search someone solely on the grounds that their race or ethnicity makes them “suspicious.” But, the police still have enormous discretion in who they can stop and search and how, and young men/women in many poor communities of color are subject to interrogation and search by law enforcement whenever they leave the house.

Allegations of racial profiling and debates about its effectiveness have been in the news a lot the past few years. In 2013, a court struck down NYC’s controversial “stop and frisk” program, wherein law enforcement made it a deliberate practice to stop lots and lots of people on the street and search them for weapons and contraband. Mayor Giuliani and others argued that it lowered crime in the city and that the inconvenience to law-abiding citizens was worth it. Opponents said stop and frisk violated the rights of tens of thousands of innocent people, did not cause NYC’s drop in crime, and amounted to a kind of tax on poor people of color. Racial profiling also has been a huge issue in immigration, via Arizona’s A.B. 1070 “papers please” law, and in the anti- terrorism realm since 9/11.

We have a special guest Monday night, via Carl, who will talk about another topic and answer questions for the first 20 minutes. Then, I’ll give a very brief issue intro on our main topic and open it up. Let’s all stretch ourselves a little on this one and try to imagine how other people’s experiences might lead them to see the world differently than we do.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is “racial profiling?” Why is it outlawed and what discretion do the police still have to search someone based partially on their appearance?
  2. Stop and frisk: Does it work? How high are the costs to poor communities of color and how do they compare to the benefits of falling crime (if it does that)? Also, who should get to decide what to do?
  3. Read the articles below on what it feels like to be racially profiled. Does this move you to think differently about our topic?
  4. Immigration: Any unique issues that make racial profiling more or less permissible?
  5. Terrorism: Same question.

Links —

Next Week:  How to handle territorial disputes in the 21st century.  (Iraq and Israel/Palestinians, anybody?)

Monday’s Mtg: Why Is America Still So Segregated?

Yes, Virginia, 6 years into the first black presidency and 50 years after the Civil Rights Act America still is a pretty segregated place. It’s not nearly as bad as in decades past, of course A lot of progress has been made in integrating our society, some of it by federal government fiat and some by a changing society. Still, while “segregation forever!” is no longer the battle cry that George Wallace and millions of white Americans once made it, hyper-segregated neighborhoods and school districts live on, well, seemingly forever. There has even been some backsliding, especially in the South where hundreds of federal court orders requiring integration have been lifted in the last decade (see article below and here.).

How can this be? Wasn’t segregation supposed to gradually disappear thanks to declining levels of racism, rising opportunity for people of color, and federal court orders that have been in place for decades?  Where’s the color blind society conservatives say we live in?

Well, that’s our topic. I will explain what I know in a brief opening. But basically, it turns out that some racial segregation persists even when it’s not enforceable by Jim Crow-like legal structures. It just sort of happens, a result of thousands of small decisions made by individuals, families, businesses, and governments. And this is the problem since, in case it’s not obvious, hyper-segregated housing and neighborhoods have devastating effects on the people that live in them.

Please try to read a few of the recommended articles before the meeting if you don’t know much about this issue – or, maybe also if you think you do

Discussion Questions –

  1. What does “segregation” mean (residential versus educational versus employment, etc.) and who is segregated (Whites, Blacks, Latinos, the poor)?
  2. How segregated is the United States today?
  3. Why has some segregation persisted despite decades of efforts to stop it? Did we really make much of an effort to stop it?
  4. So what? What are the ill effects of segregation?
  5. What can be done, given White resistance and the inherent complexity of the solutions? Does the answer lie outside of integration – improving the opportunities of isolated poor people where they already live (e.g., improving their educational and job opportunities)?

Links –


NEXT WEEK: San Diego’s June 3 Primary Election.

Monday’s Mtg: Are Race-/Ethnic Politics Making a Comeback?

I try to make sure we discuss race in our politics at least once a year.  I mean, a group devoted to American politics that ignores race might as well just give up show business altogether.

Luckily, we have a special treat on Monday.  Neil Visalvanich, a friend of mine who is writing his dissertation at UCSD on the role race plays in voter behavior, will be here to help us.  Neil, an experienced teacher and lecturer, will run the meeting by giving a brief opening presentation and then moderating.  I told him on the phone that Civilized Conversation was interested in hearing how experts try to separate out the role that race plays from the zillion other factors that influence our politics.  And, we also wanted to get a better sense of whether race-based politics is making a comeback in America, as it sometimes seems to be doing (not just via the rise of the Tea Party, but also the hardening of partisan attitudes towards the Democrats among other ethnic groups).

Discussion Questions –

Be thinking about questions for Neil.  Mine will include:

  1. How do experts measure people’s racial attitudes?  Do they all agree on how it should be done?  How does “racism” differ from “racial resentment” from “racial identity,” etc.?
  2. How do racial attitudes influence political beliefs?  How do they know?  Is it different for different people?
  3. So, are racially- and ethnically-based politics making a comeback in America?  How do we know this?  Is it just among conservatives?  Really?
  4. If so, why?  Are the reasons temporary (e.g., first Black president, giant recession) or structural (demographic/economy changes)?
  5. [Ay others Neil tells me to add or subtract]

Links –

Neil may provide me more before the meeting, but here are a few to get you started.


NEXT WEEK:    NSA Surveillance State: Who’s Watching the Watchers?